Sunday, December 10, 2023



Perhaps Martin Scorsese is playing with conventions, but 3 hrs 26 mins sounds like a very long movie. Killers of the Flower Moon is that long but I can honestly say that it didn't drag, the evening just had to be rearranged to accommodate it, and that's no bad thing. The murders, the casual racism and the downright evil intent of William Hale are dramatisations of real-life events that took place in the 1920s and were explored in David Grann's book of the same name Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI. The film script is based on the book. But although we get a bit about the FBI, the film concentrates on the strongly drawn characters and the atrocities that they unleash. Leonardo diCaprio, as Ernest Burkhart, is excellent at playing a character who is weak, confused and easily manipulated by William Hale (Robert deNiro) whose charitable mask hides a seething caldron of malice.  Most sources categorise the film as a Western and there's plenty to be said about that - how the genre has evolved and what it means now. I don't find it a particularly useful box to put this film in, but through a series of co-incidences, work on the mostly grim encounters between white settlers and Native Americans has been on my mind a lot recently. Delving into the work of Sebastian Barry had taken me into the brutal world of the Indian Wars - a bloody chapter in American history, which Barry handles so well. In Days without End he manages to weave in delicate intimacy, love and yes, even gender fluidity, with the trauma of human atrocity without lessening the impact or significance of either. I didn't need Faber to include the first chapter of A Thousand Moons in that book, but I went on to read it anyway. Equally brilliant writing. So although reading the two, one after another, was no co-incidence at all, I didn't think of either in terms of a Western - and good for Faber, they don't go down that route, either. Then, in a second-hand bookshop, I picked up West by Carys Davies. If anything was at work it was subliminal. I just wanted something fairly short, something with a lively narrative and a quick flick through suggested that's what I'd get. What a great first novel it is too. It's short, there's a strong storyline and some pitch-perfect writing. Always fascinated by writing about writing I thought she has a particularly deft touch in looking at that particular settler practice from a different perspective. One of her central characters has a Native American companion who dispassionately observes the act of writing 'the dip of the point of one of his half-bald feathers into the ink, the sound that was like the working of the claws of a small creature on a leaf or the smooth bark of a tree.' Wonderful! With a title like 'West' it's easy to think of it as a Western, but it's so much more than that. And again it exposes colonialism and the bloody violence of the settlers, the land grab, the fight for domination, the inhumanity of those who think of themselves as civilised or somehow superior. And then we watch the news.

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