This is how much I love you people: at this moment, it's 3:30 on aweekday morning, and I've spent the last three hours watching a40-year-old western musical that features an intermission, twodistinct forms of polygamy, and a singing Clint Eastwood. The unluckyamong you will have already guessed I'm wrapping up Western Month withPaint Your Wagon, one of the most bizarre movies I've everstumbled across.
Maybe it's because he's staggering drunk at the time, but prospectorLee Marvin doesn't know what he's in for when he buys Jean Seberg atauction. In a small mining town with no other women, the maleattention his new wife attracts drives Marvin so crazy he has nochoice but to hijack a stagecoach full of prostitutes.
That's one corner of the plot, anyway. Paint Your Wagon triesto cover more territory than Lewis and Clark. It's aggressivelytime-wasting, unafraid to bust out in song at any moment, totallyunconcerned it's got enough sideplots to fill a sideplot factory.
Yet I went into this expecting a serious Big Awful Friday candidateand came out indescribably entertained. Not because it was great--it'smuch too big a mess for that, and for all its fun, it often feels likea chore--but because it's so dang crazy you can't help but get sweptalong.
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It's the mixture of depravity, sentiment, and wholesome comedy thatreally makes it weird. After Marvin buys his wife, how are we supposedto feel when the whole town shows up to sing along at his riversidemakeover? Or when he's so fall-down drunk at his wedding (there's morekeeling over in Paint Your Wagon than when the Brazilianrainforest gets clear-cut) he can't even say "I do"?
There are few things on earth more stupefying than listening todrunken quasi-rapists tenderly croon their feelings about women andthe wind and then get tree-climbingly excited about the incomingshipment of kidnapped whores. It's especially confusing when thesethings aren't presented as sleazy or even all that questionable, butwith the good-natured cheer of a Broadway musical.
After all that lawless excitement, the climax is heartlesslyjudgmental, a huge, stupid showstopper that only seems to be therebecause the story had to find a new way to top its own excess.
Paint Your Wagon is a wrecking ball of contradictions: perverseyet clean, serious and silly, tedious yet fun. If you're going totackle this one, I'd recommend doing so with someone else in the room.Disaster is always best survived in the company of friends.