/Cowboys in bow ties

Cowboys in bow ties

By Jim Poling Sr.
From Shaman’s Rock

There are a couple dozen versions of Psalm 22:20, depending on what Bible you read.

After watching the Oscar-nominated movie The Power of the Dog, I have a version of my own: 

“Deliver me from bad storytelling, and my precious time from pretentious filmmakers.”

Netflix’s much-ballyhooed movie about toxic masculinity is pretentious and really bad storytelling. Thomas Savage, author of the 1967 novel, must be squirming in his grave over how director Jane Campion fuzzified his story.

The Power of the Dog is expected to win big Sunday night at the annual Academy Awards. It has been nominated for 12 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. 

If it does, we’ll have yet another example of a world that has lost focus.

This movie has no focus. It’s based on a good story told so vaguely that it is hard to figure out. 

Many movie goers like a movie that has them a bit befuddled and trying to figure it out. The good movies leave some clues that help solve the puzzle and make us proud at doing so. This one leaves us so few clues that we walk away frustrated.

Campion has chosen to satisfy herself instead of her audience. She made a pseudo-intellectual film designed to gather prestige, critical acclaim and awards. The audience gets a collection of underdeveloped pieces that never come together to tell a powerfully interesting story. 

The greatest fault of The Power of the Dog is its lack of energy. It’s like looking into a bowl of freshly-cooked spaghetti. 

It is sort of a western that has been criticized as a slow horseback ride. The opening 45 minutes would cure the worst cases of insomnia.

Strong criticism has come from American western actor Sam Elliott who described it in words that cannot be used here. He also said the cowboys in the film are like Chippendales dancers who “wear bow ties and not much else.”

“They’re running around in chaps and no shirts.” 

Good stories become great stories when left alone to tell themselves. They become lesser stories when self-centred filmmakers try to manipulate them into something that they are not.

Some folks who liked The Power of Dog tell me I need to watch it again to better understand it. Sorry, but once is enough. It has great cinematography and some decent acting, but wet noodle story treatment.

The only other Oscar-nominated film I’ve seen this year is West Side Story, the recent adaptation of the 1961 musical classic that won 10 Oscars. This new one, done by Steven Spielberg, is nominated for seven.

It is a great movie because Spielberg and company have not tried to turn the basic story into something it isn’t. They’ve let it tell itself, making changes needed to put it into the 21st century, but the basic story, and its important messages, are the same.

One brilliant change was the replacement of drugstore owner Doc with his widow, Valentina, played by 90-year-old Rita Moreno, who won a best supporting actress Oscar for her role as the fiery Anita in the 1961 version. 

In the new version Moreno sings (in her own voice) “Somewhere,” the iconic ballad that yearns for “a new way of living . . . a way of forgiving.” In the original movie, it was a duet by star-crossed lovers Tony and Maria.

Unlike The Power of the Dog, West Side Story leaves no audience puzzled. Its themes of tribalism and bigotry are crystal clear. It is a well told story of a world torn apart by racism, poverty and lack of hope. 

It is, however, a story in which leave opens the possibility that love can prevail and make the world a better place.

I won’t guess which movies will take away Oscars Sunday night. It doesn’t really matter to me. Awards are simply awards based on someone’s feelings.

As my mother use to say about such things:

“Everyone to their own taste, said the old lady as she kissed the cow!”

What really matters is that great movies are being made from great stories. The Power of the Dog, in my view, is not one of them.