Hitting the dusty trail with Kelly Reichardt

0

Comments

Add +

We talk to the director about her remarkable western, 'Meek's Cutoff'

On the back of two remarkable, quiet portraits of life in modern America – ‘Old Joy’ (2006) and ‘Wendy and Lucy’ (2008) – Kelly Reichardt is fast becoming one of the country’s most exciting directorial talents. Her new work, ‘Meek’s Cutoff’, which opens on Friday, is an unusual riff on the western, telling of life on the Oregon trail in 1845 from the viewpoint of the female travellers. It stars Michelle Williams, Shirley Henderson and Bruce Greenwood.

Did you watch any classic westerns before making ‘Meek’s Cutoff’?
‘Yes, but I feel like I was more influenced by films like Robert Flaherty’s “Nanook of the North”(1922) than classic westerns. But I adore the films of Anthony Mann, Budd Boetticher and William Wellman.’

Is it even right, then, to call ‘Meek’s Cutoff’ a western?
‘I’m not sure. I’m wise enough to know that, as one of my colleagues at Bard College where I work as a film teacher asked me, “This film isn’t for ‘real’ audiences, right?” I’m realistic. “Wendy and Lucy” was seen by so many more people than I expected. I’m not quitting my day job, if that’s what you’re asking?’

Do you feel the film has more of a European sensibility than an American one?
‘I’m a fan of European cinema, I’ll say that. I like American films up until the end of the ’70s, but  that’s where I drop out. As a viewer, I’m more suited to the pacing of early Japanese cinema. I go to a cinema now, and by the time the adverts and trailers are over, I’m completely worn out!’

The slow pace of this film feels very deliberate.
‘A lot of American westerns are all just about heightened moments and everything peaks with excitement. I was trying to get across how different the concept of time was in 1845. Things didn’t come quickly. Life was labour intensive.’

Michelle Williams plays Emily Tetherow in Meek's Cutoff.jpg

Was it easy for you to find areas to shoot in that were untouched?
‘Yeah. But I almost don’t want to say it, because I know someone will rush in and build a golf course if you mention an unspoilt area.’

Geographically, ‘Meek’s Cutoff’ is different to the classic western.  
‘We had a “no vistas” rule. That explains why the film is shot in the more boxy 4:3 aspect ratio, to keep you really with the characters and to deromanticise the landscape.’

You clearly spent a lot of time making the film feel authentic. Was there a historical advisor on set?
‘Our production designer had a huge job. All the dresses were hand stitched. We started researching really early on in New York, it was like being back in sixth grade. We went out west and we took a bunch of field trips to historical societies. We had a week of re-enactment camp, and found this guy who’s obsessed with the period. We borrowed a ton of props from him. He came out, and for five days before the shoot the actors were picking the stuff that was going to be in their wagons and learning how to load and unload them, start a fire without matches, cook bread in the ground, fire the guns and walk the oxen. We became friendly with this guy in Oregon whose entire livelihood comes from restoring nineteenth century wagons.’

Was it tough for the actors to be shooting out in the wild?
‘Oh yeah. Some of the actors work on bigger films, and, it can be quite shocking for them. Although someone like Shirley Henderson, who’s worked with Mike Leigh, is not fazed by anything. It’s sometimes hard for an actor when they have to be on set all day and we film their back for ten minutes.’

Do you get actors contacting you requesting to work with you?
‘Nobody contacts me about anything! C’mon get it touch! I think that I’m still a little off the grid. I guess because we’ve been in our own little world doing this stuff. In my experience, British actors are less affected by the “star system”. The actors here were incredibly good sports. I mean, we virtually gave them nothing. It was ridiculous. All the women just sat there knitting in a tent for hours.’

You imagine if it’d been made in the ’70s that someone like Warren Oates might have played the Bruce Greenwood character.
‘Wouldn’t that’ve been a dream to work with Warren Oates? I mean it probably would’ve been a nightmare for a female director to work with him. I think the fantasy would probably be better. It was a boys’ party. There’s a fun Warren Oates biography, and a bunch of books on Sam Peckinpah, and the deal seems to have been that, for men of that era, women were for fucking and having babies.’

Do you have anything else lined up?
‘Jon [Raymond] and I are writing a script right now. I can’t really tell you more than that, but for us, it has more action and more story than usual. But that’s just for us! Don’t worry: it’ll still be safely outside the mainstream!’

Read our review of 'Meek's Cutoff ' here




Author: Interview: David Jenkins



Users say

0 comments


Top Stories

Paul Thomas Anderson interview

Paul Thomas Anderson interview

The director talks Scientology and working with Joaquin Phoenix.

Read the interview

Hilarious horror films

Hilarious horror films

Ten funny horror movies which went spectacularly off the rails.

Read 'Hilarious horror films'

What's your film guilty pleasure?

What's your film guilty pleasure?

Mean Girls? Dirty Dancing? Tell us your favourite film guilty pleasure.

Read 'Film guilty pleasures'

50 years of James Bond

50 years of James Bond

From Connery to Craig, we revisit all 22 Bond films.

Read '50 years of James Bond'

Autumn horror films

Autumn horror films

We round-up the five best horror movies of Autumn 2012.

Read about this Autumn's best horror movies

On the set of Skyfall

On the set of Skyfall

Time Out visits Istanbul to see the latest Bond movie being made.

Read 'On the set of Skyfall'

When teen stars turn serious

When teen stars turn serious

Ten young actors come of age on the silver screen.

Read 'When teen stars turn serious'

Bond: then and now

Bond: then and now

Does Skyfall refresh or rehash the James Bond franchise?

October film highlights

October film highlights

Daniel Craig’s 007 comeback, a genius indie romcom and all the mysteries behind ‘The Shining’ unravelled.

Sam Mendes interview

Sam Mendes interview

Dave Calhoun speaks to the director of 'Skyfall' about the latest film in the Bond franchise.

Sally Potter interview

Sally Potter interview

The British director explains why 'Ginger and Rosa' is her most mainstream film yet.

Daniel Craig interview

Daniel Craig interview

'I’m almost as in demand as Brad Pitt’

Tim Burton interview

Tim Burton interview

The director talks about his new film, 'Frankenweenie', which he describes as 'the ultimate memory piece'.