RARA-AVIS: Winter...

From: Steve Novak (Cinefrog@comcast.net)
Date: 12 Aug 2010

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    Several friends have seen Winter's Bone and praised it and all mention the words noir and goth about the story and the film itself. Several critics talk about links to Jim Thompson and other noir writers or to the Southern writers vein such as James Dickey...etc...etc...

    I¹m very curious about the opinion of Rara-Avians on this novel and film...and if it is in the realm of our Œnormal¹ discussions... I include here a review of the book from UK and review of film from Salon...

    Any input and opinion will be most welcome,

    Montois on his way to the Ozarks...

    PS:...a word that comes apparently from the French ³aux arcs²...!

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2006/jul/16/fiction.features Culture Moonshine mountains Daniel Woodrell's seventh novel, Winter's Bone, is a characteristically short novel of tremendous and, at times, ferocious power, says Niall Griffiths

    Niall Griffiths The Observer, Sunday 16 July 2006

    This is Daniel Woodrell's seventh novel and his fourth set in the Ozark Mountains, one of those American regions 'that the world at large has decided to pass by', to quote John Williams from his forthcoming book, Back to the Badlands. 'Inasmuch as the Ozarks have any public profile or place in the national myth, it's as a Deliverance-style backwoods place, full of illiterate rednecks fishing and drinking moonshine and intermarrying,' Williams writes. Woodrell's work is little known on this side of the Atlantic, except maybe for his second novel, Woe to Live On, which was filmed by Ang Lee as Ride With the Devil. While it is fair to call his career somewhat patchy, his recent books have evinced a care and a commitment and a skill that he continues to nurture and hone so that his most recent book tends to be his best. This trend continues with Winter's Bone, a characteristically short novel of tremendous and, at times, ferocious power. Words such as 'bleak' and 'beautiful' and 'heartbreaking' spring to mind.

    The main character is Ree, a 16-year-old female member of the terrifying Dolly clan, to which we were first introduced in the late-Nineties novel Give Us a Kiss. She has 'abrupt green eyes' and 'a body made for loping after needs'. She longs to join the army, the usual gimcrack route for those born lacking luck or money to get out of a place where, at 12, people are
    'dead to wonder ... dulled to life, empty of kindness, boiling with mean', even though those before who have taken that route have ended up like Uncle Jack, 'who'd lived through Khe Sanh [the Vietnam war battleground] and four marriages, then died at a roller-skating rink from something he'd snorted'.

    Ree shares a house with her two younger brothers and her mind-fried mother; her father, Jessup, a locally renowned 'crank chef', has jumped bail, after putting the house up for a bond. Unless Ree can track him down and persuade him to attend his hearing, the house will be taken. If he's dead, which she begins to suspect he is, then she'll have to prove that. So she sets off on a search, sometimes accompanied by her Uncle Teardrop (four blue tears inked under the eye on the melted side of his face) or her not-quite-Platonic-friend Gail, across the ice-blasted Ozarks, a place of ruins and valleys with ramshackle villages clinging to hillsides and populated by extended clans of killers and drunks and those modern moonshiners, the meth makers, chemists of amphetamines, who live under their own odd but rigid laws and have witnessed a certain biblical fundamentalism mutate into another kind of merciless orthodoxy. Here live brutal women who have about them 'a domineering reek of udder balm and brown gravy, straw and wet feathers', and the clan patriarch, Thump Milton, 'a fabled man, his face a monument of Ozark stone, with juts and angles and cold shaded parts the sun never touched'. Everything about Ree's quest is utterly compelling; everything evoked about the landscape and its people convinces completely.

    Woodrell's language fascinates and intrigues; he manages to make this sort of American-English seem aeons old, ancient, a trait he shares not with Cormac McCarthy (whose idiom has in it the echo of the King James Bible smacking into Plymouth Rock) but with Thomas McGuane [see review, right]. It's not just the use of the demotic ('coggly', 'wamble'), although that helps; it's more the sense that both writers give of a language evolved over millennia into a kind of loose but recognisable facility with meaning and of reference; an impression that the tongue is so old and developed that it can be used to lasso the whip-quick change of conceptual signifier evident in a place where people use sat-nav to guide them to the wells and rivers from where they'll draw their water. This is apt, of course (not to mention fantastic, given that this kind of American-English hasn't existed for more than a few centuries), but it's not as if Woodrell has chosen a form to follow function; it's more that he can't write any other way, so absorbed is he by this rich and ringing vernacular. He conveys the clipped and functional utterances of the characters as strongly as the bleak beauty of the Ozarks themselves and the moving elemental force of Ree across them. There are occasional lapses into cutesiness - a baby's eyes opening 'slow as a school day', for example - but this is a natural and allowable side-effect of a vital loquacity: 'Inside the hood, Ree came to know the flavours of her own wind. The sound of her own bellows at work. The whistling breaths and smells that were her. She was loudly alive in her own ears and OK to smell.'

    Winter's Bone pulses between innocence's triumph and annihilation; it recognises that there is 'a great foulness afoot in the world' but that we still walk among miracles and, despite the unexpectedly upbeat ending, reading it will make you feel that you walk on very, very thin ice, and know that chaos is very, very close. Such knowledge has many consequences; one of them is exhilaration.

    · Niall Griffiths

    http://www.salon.com/entertainment/movies/andrew_ohehir/2010/06/12/winters_b one SATURDAY, JUN 12, 2010 19:01 ET
    "Winter's Bone": American film of the year? Sopranos meet Ozarks as a plucky teen heroine battles her own (scary) extended family in this knockout thriller VIDEO BY ANDREW O'HEHIR

    Jennifer Lawrence in "Winter's Bone" This year's Sundance festival felt like a major coming-out party for female filmmakers -- remember, that all happened before Kathryn Bigelow's Oscar moment -- and none made a bigger splash than Debra Granik, whose eerie, pulse-pounding regional noir "Winter's Bone" won the festival's big prize. Never mind what hardware it's collected, or its director's gender; this movie's an absolute knockout. I know it's only June, but I'm damned if this isn't the breakthrough American film of the year. (A trailer for "Winter's Bone" follows, below this article.)

    "Winter's Bone" might look like different things to different viewers. You could call it a Sopranos-style crime-family melodrama, a quasi-documentary portrait of poor, white rural culture in the Ozarks, a Southern gothic fable or a coming-of-age yarn with an irresistible and unstoppable teenage female protagonist. Really, it's all those things, and even where those genres or styles seem incompatible, Granik pulls them together into a forceful, breathless, compassionate thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat.

    Among Granik's accomplishments here is the discovery of a potential movie star in 19-year-old Jennifer Lawrence, who plays Ree, the iron-tough teenage scion of an Ozark extended family of bootleggers, outlaws and meth-cookers. Ree cares for her younger sister and brother on her own in their remote mountain cabin. Actually, her mom lives there too, but she's lost in a haze of catatonia, pharmaceuticals and other traumas we probably don't want to know about. In adapting Daniel Woodrell's novel (she co-wrote the screenplay with Anne Rosellini), Granik has resisted the customary movie temptation to overexplain everything; the desperate, half-feral context of Ree's world is clear enough without elucidating every detail.

    Ree's thoroughly disreputable dad has gone missing, which doesn't exactly qualify as headline news. But before disappearing he put up their house and 300 acres of land -- most of it valuable virgin forest -- to make bail. She's got a week to find him, dead or alive, before her family becomes broke and homeless and her brother and sister are shipped off to relatives or foster care. There are definitely people scattered around the hollows and hilltops of Ree's rural Missouri county who might know where her Pa is. But they're a bunch of impressively mean and scary guys who live in a rigidly gender-segregated realm of crime and violence, they're all related to her, and they ain't sayin' shit to no uppity girl. Anyway, the stuff they know might not be stuff Ree wants to learn.

    This is only Granik's second feature (after "Down to the Bone" in 2004) but she's learned a lesson many indie-arty-type directors never do: Telling a clear and urgent story is never a bad idea. "Winter's Bone" is as moody and inflected a work of cinema as you could want, with Michael McDonough's cinematography capturing the chilly, harsh beauty of the Ozarks and the grimy interior landscapes of the characters' crumbling cabins and trailer homes. But it never feels like medicinal social realism, because the clock is ticking and Ree's got to find her no-account dad somewhere in this world of terrifying and dangerous backwoods thugs.

    None of them seems more hostile, at least at first, than Ree's wiry, speed-cooking Uncle Teardrop (memorably portrayed by John Hawkes), whom we first see telling his wife, "I already told you to shut up with my mouth." But Teardrop is, after all, the missing man's brother and Ree's closest relative, and over the course of the film, this menacing ex-convict becomes her only halfway capable adult ally. Anyway, Teardrop looks like Mahatma Gandhi compared to Blond Milton (William White), the monosyllabic and murderous meth-lab king Ree must eventually confront if she's going to learn the truth.

    I should make clear that "Winter's Bone" is a violent and stylized film; don't expect Ree's quest to reach an easy or painless conclusion. Despite the strong undercurrent of documentary realism and the plucky female protagonist, this is ultimately a crime thriller. The world it creates has elements of grotesque fantasy, and comes a lot closer to the realms of Jim Thompson or Elmore Leonard (or even "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre") than it does to "Because of Winn-Dixie," or to your typical indie low-budget drama where people sit around on busted furniture and not much happens.

    A couple of critics (I'll cite Mike D'Angelo and James Rocchi) have drawn an intriguing, off-kilter comparison between "Winter's Bone" and Rian Johnson's high-school detective yarn "Brick," in that both films create a distinctive universe that in some respects resembles the real world and in others is highly artificial. That might be valid, insofar as Granik's film and Woodrell's novel have imbibed the traditions of 1950s American crime dramas, and so did "Brick." But I think this is actually closer to the mythic and Gothic traditions of Southern fiction, as found in James Dickey, Flannery O'Connor or Faulkner.

    But let's leave that game to the film-theory autopsy experts, who should be talking about this one for a while. The point here is that if Ree's exhilarating and dangerous odyssey sounds like it's anywhere close to your teacup of bourbon, then this really is one of those rare occasions when you should ditch the gizmos and the couch and see some little film made by people you've never heard of, and not because it's good for you, either.
    "Winter's Bone" is a gripping, harrowing ride all the way through, as well as a ridiculously well-made and satisfying motion picture. Amid a dismal Hollywood summer season, here is a goddamn American movie.

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