Each Monday, I am sharing reviews of Westerns I studied to prepare for making 12 Westerns in 12 Months during 2020. I am watching these films not from an audience perspective but as a filmmaker, as a student of the genre.

Week Seven: Brimstone & The Struggle



I would call this a Western fairy tale, a very dark one. From the get go, it’s clear we are not watching a real world and I loved watching this nightmarish cowboy fantasy unfold.

Many of the wide tableau shots are stunning: Pearce and his congregation in black against the cold blue walls, the warm yet uninviting interiors of the brothel and its workers dressed in white or nothing at all, Pearce dragging his victim across the ground… All these images linger with me, some of them may even do a bit of haunting.

I also find it interesting how this film fits in recent string of “feminist” Westerns. If DAMSEL shows nearly every man to be an idiot (I can’t think of one that wasn’t portrayed at best as stupid) and if JANE GOT A GUN shows one abused woman taking action surrounded by competent but violent men, then BRIMSTONE is my favorite in this context for the way it better shows a balance of good, bad, and stupid men and also how it explores in more depth the history of abuse a woman could and can go through. This fairy tale feels more real than most films that strive for “realism”.

Seen on DVD.


The Struggle

My study of the Westerns directed and/or produced by Thomas Ince goes on with this film. Though not as powerful as Last of the Line, it is definitely a silent work that has not lost its power.

The movie begins without pulling any punches: there’s an attempted rape, a murder, and a getaway by the villain in the first few minutes. From there, the narrative doesn’t evolve in a predictable way. Yes, the last half is a little “by the numbers” but it plays by them without losing its suspense.

I continue to be impressed with the action in silents which seems so well-choreographed and much more complex within the frame than what we see nowadays.

As my cinephile friend Gus said this morning, Ince is due for rediscovery and I plan to keep exploring his work.

Seen on YouTube.

-Travis Mills

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