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Winter Kills

April 26, 2012

Winter Kills is a 1979 film starring Jeff Bridges and John Huston, along with Anthony Perkins, Eli Wallach, Sterling Hayden, Ralph Meeker, Elizabeth Taylor (in a non-speaking role), and Toshiro Mifune (!). I read about many years ago and filed it away in my mental to-see list, but I forgot everything about it except that it was a seventies conspiracy picture, presumably along the lines of The Parallax View. It sort of is that. The plot is about the uncovering of the many layers of conspiracy surrounding a fictionalized version of the Kennedy assassination. It is also a comedy. Though not a very funny one. On the whole it is just utterly bizarre and vertiginous, eluding any clear tone, point, or purpose. It may be best understood as a document of the high-tide of a drug-fueled era in the film industry. It was produced by a couple of drug smugglers, one of whom was gunned down by “business associates” (as director William Richert puts it right at the start of his audio commentary, which is well worth listening to) during the production; the other did a long stint at Sing Sing afterwards. The production ran out of money repeatedly before going entirely bankrupt — apparently drug money is not very reliable. On the creative side I can only speculate, but the movie does become more understandable if we assume that its makers were, if not coked out of their minds, at least regularly smoking up. It shows a grandiose overconfidence combined with incoherence in execution, as well as paranoia combined with goofiness in its content, that may indicate chemical influences, if not directly on the brains of the makers than at least through the contact high of the times and the scene.

Watching it stone cold sober over twenty years later, I could not call it a good movie. But to certain connoisseurs, who know who they are, it is a must-see.


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