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Eight Movies for "Ten Paces" by Ruen Brothers
A cinematic mixtape.
My favorite band, Ruen Brothers, released their latest album, Ten Paces, last month. It combines two of my favorite things: the music of Ruen Brothers and movies. Inspired by the themes and motifs of mid-20th-century genre pictures, Henry and Rupert put together a record that sounds the way that movies feel.
I thought I would turn it back around, using their album to create a cinematic mixtape of sorts, programming a movie marathon that includes all of the bullets, silver and gold, and supernatural found in their music.
The Old Way (2023)
An old gunslinger and his daughter must face the consequences of his past, when the son of a man he killed years ago arrives to take his revenge.
Westerns are often lodestars for morality. Yes, good guys do good things and bad guys do bad things, but they're so much more interesting, and the genre is at its best, when good guys do bad things and bad guys have good intentions.
There's a version of The Old Way where Nicolas Cage's mustachioed gunslinger is nothing but the bad guy, where Noah Le Gros' character's revenge is the heart of a vengeful tale. That's a worse movie, however. It's so much more interesting the way that it is: shady pasts, dark secrets, sinful bloodlines, good guys who were once bad, and bad guys who you understand.
I found my ride beside you
And I wrapped my coat around you
You’re in my picture
Where the good surely die
I took my ride beside you
I took ten paces from you
This is the part
Where the good surely die
The Tall T (1957)
A pair of newlyweds, a ranch foreman, and their stagecoach driver are held up by a trio of outlaws who kidnap the woman after learning that she is heir to a rich man.
With a little help from a story by Elmore Leonard, The Tall T leads off the collaborations between director Budd Boetticher and actor Randolph Scott with all of the themes and motifs synonymous with their films. Above all, it’s a movie about people who only care about themselves. Forget friends, confidantes, or even spouses...it's every man for himself.
Willard Mims: Would I save my own skin and leave my wife here?
Usher: I think you would.
Doretta: I don't care what happens to me.
Brennan: Well, I care about me! I'm not going to be shot in the belly because you feel sorry for yourself!
The standout here is western veteran Richard Boone. One of the few guys of the time to pull off both good guys and bad guys, Boone brings that good guy charisma to this villain - almost making him sympathetic. Unfortunately, almost no one is - save for Maureen O’Sullivan, the only woman in the whole picture. Coincidence?
Taking aim at me and you
When we’re open like a wound
Directly, affects me
The Fool Killer (1965)
After the Civil War, a southern boy, aged 12, runs away from his foster home, wanders the countryside, and meets various odd characters along the way, including Milo, a mysterious drifter who may or may not be the vengeful “Fool Killer” of folklore.
When the announcement of this western/noir-inspired album dropped, I asked Ruen what films inspired the record. Henry responded by only giving up one title: The Night of the Hunter.
I knew the one movie that couldn't be on this list. Too easy!
So how about the movie that director Joe Dante, appearing on the Video Archives Podcast, called, "Very Night of the Hunter. It's the most Night of the Hunter movie that isn't Night of the Hunter."
Directed by Servando González, this hard-to-find '60s picture is very similar: stark black-and-white photography (it would, of course, look a lot nicer with a good transfer - VHS quality isn't forgiving), religious overtones, the hyperboles found in American folklore, and a view of a torn-America from someone growing up in it.
It's very lacking one Robert Mitchum, of course, with a mighty creepy Anthony Perkins (is he the titular Fool Killer?) as a substitute. But don't worry, we'll find some space for Mitchum on this list.
The pace at which they move is frightening
Too much all the time like lightning
People all around the globe
Beat my brain, overload
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
Vignettes weaving together the stories of six individuals in the old West at the end of the Civil War. Following the tales of a sharp-shooting songster, a wannabe bank robber, two weary traveling performers, a lone gold prospector, a woman traveling the West to an uncertain future, and a motley crew of strangers undertaking a carriage ride.
Henry told Paste Magazine, “I binged movies throughout COVID. The Coen Brothers’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs was a favorite which I probably watched four or five times. It lit the light bulb in my head. I wanted to write something that I could picture playing in the movie. I took out my acoustic guitar, turned the volume on the TV off and played along to the picture.”
Since it’s essential inspiration for him, it needs to be on this list. Here’s my no context ranking of the stories:
1. “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs“
2. “Near Algodones“
3. “Meal Ticket“
4. “The Gal Who Got Rattled“
5. “All Gold Canyon“
6. “The Mortal Remains“
Tick goes the clock
It’s time to stop
It’s time to go
Go down a level
Go meet the devil
Go get your soul
Listen whistle roll
Baby the, the sun is getting low
Westworld: “The Original” (2016, Series Premiere)
At a remote park, guests pay to share wild west adventures with android hosts; a programmer warns the park founder about the behaviour of some recently re-coded hosts; in the Westworld town of Sweetwater, a rancher's daughter encounters a gunslinger. (Rotten Tomatoes)
This premiere episode of the HBO series kicks off the sci-fi and fantasy portion of the list. If we're thinking of this cinematic mixtape as a marathon, it's getting late - it's time to get funky and weird.
I've seen the first two seasons of Westworld and it's all great. There are probably better episodes to program here concerning the record, but for those that haven't seen the show, you have to start here. (But it looks like you'll have to go with physical media, as HBO took it off of Max a few months ago...despite being one of the best things on the service).
A lot of the record is set modern, with references to cars and heading into the city and grabbing drinks, while other parts go full-force on the cinematic settings. I think that this show, taking place in both the near future and a recreated past, fits the bill.
Like a sci-fi dream
Or a story in the west
That I don’t wanna see
Though I wanna know the end
Cowboys & Aliens (2011)
A stranger stumbles into the desert town of Absolution with no memory of his past and a futuristic shackle around his wrist. With the help of mysterious beauty Ella and the iron-fisted Colonel Dolarhyde, he finds himself leading an unlikely posse of cowboys, outlaws, and Apache warriors against a common enemy from beyond this world in an epic showdown for survival.
Here's where we take it up a notch with the bonkers. To be completely honest, I'm not the biggest fan of this movie. I'm usually a Jon Favreau apologist, but this...
It did, however, seem to be the next logical step in cranking up the heightened genre aspects. I mean, it’s called Cowboys & Aliens - promising and delivering on both of those things?
I watch the world slowly die
And I’m comfy in my bed
Comfy in my home
You can rock my Twilight Zone
Dead Man (1995)
On the run after murdering a man, accountant William Blake encounters a strange North American man named Nobody who prepares him for his journey into the spiritual world.
Dead Man completes the fantasy/sci-fi portion of the list, while crossing off a few boxes we haven't yet:
We need some Robert Mitchum after excluding The Night of the Hunter. Here, the seventy-something appears in only one scene - the cast is almost filled with enough heavyweights to make you miss that fact.
We need more black-and-white! Despite being from 1995, it's one of the few b/w films on the list. That is an unfortunate shame for a marathon of movies inspired by a record inspired by '50s genre pictures.
We needed some good music! Other than a little ditty in Buster Scruggs, we're lacking some distinct and iconic music here - also a necessity for a piece inspired by such a great record. Neil Young's improvised guitar riffs are the perfect companion to Rupert's campfire chords.
William Blake: Am I going to die?
Nobody: The circle of life has no ending.
William Blake: Why are you helping me?
Nobody: A bird told me.
William Blake: A bird told you?
Nobody: A small magical bird with bright blue feathers.
Cigarettes will burn
While dreamin’ on
All the guys and girls
With eyes wide as worlds
Free as the birds
I wish I had learnt
Heeded their words
Free as the birds
Lonely Are the Brave (1962)
A fiercely independent cowboy arranges to have himself locked up in jail in order to then escape with an old friend who has been sentenced to the penitentiary.
We're gonna go out with the best film on this list, one that perfectly captures the allure of being a cowboy, but, as Kirk Douglas' character realizes in the film, that can only mean outlaw in the modern world.
If you've seen the Rambo film First Blood, you've seen this film, as Stallone's picture directly rips off this tale of a guy who just wants to be left alone, but the world around him won't let him be. As the frontier of the Wild West is now history, Douglas' character just can't let the idea go. The film does the same thing, however, as it's the early '60s and westerns aren't what they used to be - this movie practically invents the neo-western. Ten Paces feels like it rides that line, finding interest in the poetry of westerns, but knowing that it's just myth. That perfect world can only exist in music. And movies.
In fact, the lyrics to the First Blood theme include the line, “It’s a long road, and it’s hard as hell…"
I’ll leave you with lyrics to the final song on the record, “Long Road,” because, as Henry puts it, “it really is.”
You put some music on the radio
You’re singing loud and driving slow
You’ll be sailing under stars
On your long road in his arms
Oh I know
I was missing all the signs
Crossing all the lines
Losing touch, given up
But I can’t change
‘Cause it’s me
And it’s all I’ll ever be
And I will miss you, yeah I will miss you
Credit: Each plot synopsis comes from Letterboxd via TMDb.
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