The Shooting and(The Criterion Collection, 11.11.2014)
Ride in the Whirlwind (Blu-ray)
It’s hard to believe now, but the pair of enigmatic westerns Monte Hellman directed in 1966 were both produced under the auspices of exploitation guru Roger Corman. More Samuel Beckett than Edgar Allen Poe, these minimalist gems operate according to sensibilities that Corman spent his career rejecting. Rather than seek moments of visceral impact, the director finds power in the unspoken, building emotions far more complex and elusive than we expect from classic westerns. As Hellman repeatedly explains on this disc, Corman came close to pulling the plug when he read the two scripts (rapidly generated by Jack Nicholson and Carole Eastman), but he ultimately chose this guaranteed break-even proposition over the possibility of any wasted investment. While these films had little commercial impact in North America, they have gone on to become two of Corman’s most enduring -- and challenging -- works of art.
As recently as 15 years ago, this outcome could not have been anticipated. Along with most of Hellman’s other films, The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind had faded into obscurity, but they were unexpectedly resurrected in 2000 when VCI released a pair of worthwhile (if imperfect) special editions. In the ensuing years, Hellman’s stock rose significantly, thanks to an assortment of DVDs (including Criterion’s excellent Two-Lane Blacktop) and tributes from filmmakers like Kelly Reichardt (who directed the unmistakably Hellmanian Meek’s Cutoff). This has culminated in Criterion’s stunning restorations of both The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind, packaged together with an impressive array of extras that finally give these films the respect they deserve.
While the commentaries from VCI’s discs aren’t included, Criterion includes two new commentaries and roughly two hours of featurettes. Most of the interviews are moderated by Hellman and prove to be wrestling matches with the particpants’ varying degrees of memory loss. Nearly everyone he speaks to is either closing in on 80 or has already surpassed that landmark. Unfortunately, two of the most welcome interviews (with Roger Corman and Harry Dean Stanton) also prove to be the two shortest. Corman qualifies his initial issues with the scripts and commends Hellman for his impressive career, while Stanton shares a key piece of guidance he received from Jack Nicholson (“Let the wardrobe do the acting”) that went on to inform much of his subsequent career.
Another highlight of this disc is the interview with Millie Perkins, who stars in both films and seems to have settled on a slightly ornery disposition. She explains that Nicholson still sends her flowers every year on her birthday, but expresses some unresolved ill will toward her former co-star. She is more generous in her assessment of the late great Warren Oates, who she once dated. However, her most intriguing revelation concerns her performance in Ride in the Whirlwind, which she attributes to the influence of chickens. Even Hellman is shocked by this unexpected source of inspiration, though this is precisely the kind of subtextual enigma that makes these films so resilient to the effects of time. -- Jonathan Doyle