Bright Lights Film Journal

Out Hud – 2008 New Year

I thought now that the smoke’s cleared it would be a good time to share my new years movie moment. I was home, too ill to make it to the barn dance, and decided to finally watch HUD (it being a sort of oil fields and Texas movie marathon, in honor of NO COUNTRY and THERE WILL BE BLOOD) – the 1963 black and white character study about a hedonistic son (Paul Newman) of a scrupulously moral old rancher (Melvyn Douglas, amazing and all but unrecognizable).

Aside from some smoldering going on between Hud and Patricia Neal as the hired housekeeper, the main thrust of the plot settles on a possible outbreak of hoof and mouth disease amongst the old man’s cattle. Hud votes to keep the outbreak quiet and quick sell off the stock, so as to not lose $$. The old man calls a government vet (Whit Bissell) to come out and quarantine the herd.

In the end all the animals have to be shot, and normally I’d not mention that as to not spoil the show, but the context is everything in this case: I live right on 12th and 2nd ave in the East Village in New York City. Any weekend night is an opportunity for the mesomorphic louts of NYU to get their drink on and shout at the moon like ornery owlhoots on their way home to their dorms after a late night of failin’ to score. For new years eve? Those dumbass boys are pissing and vomiting on every corner, hootin’ and raisin’ quite the ruckus out my 5th floor street-side window.

It’s moments like this that make me sure God exists, and that He or She is not without a sense of humor. HUD managed to play out so that, right at the stroke of midnight (in real life time), the cowboys opened fire on the thousands of cattle, all herded together into an about to be bulldozed over pen-pit. It’s a grueling, intense scene but the joy was in hearing the guns and moo-cried of the cattle mixing in perfectly with the whooping and hollerin’ of the yahoos out my window. Happy New year! Bam! Moo! Bam! Woo-Hoo! Boom! Yeah! boom! Woo Hoo! Noisemakers and guns and mooing intermingling in a joyous mix that made me wonder if it wasn’t some Nostradamus-style prediction about 2008 being the year we reinstate the draft.

I share this anecdote for many reasons: the most important though is not to state my imagined Waldo Lydecker-style superiority to those NYU cretins–I may have been just as obnoxious at their age, and certainly drunker–but rather to show how set and setting can really enhance viewing a film.

Another example would be watching AMERICAN BEAUTY as you debate telling your wife you’re having an affair with one of your students–ah the resonance! As if the film and your life are reflecting each other in the mirror, or then watching LAST TANGO IN PARIS with that same student, lying on the wooden floor of your rented studio after a tryst. Then, when she leaves you for a younger man, you watch HUSBANDS AND WIVES and cry hysterically all alone with a bottle of cheap whiskey. Get the picture? Life and art go together – feel the poetry and beauty all around you… it’s happening and HUD is there.