October 22, 2018

Certain Women from the Criterion Collection

Posted September 12, 2017 by D. K. Holm

For being the third biggest state in the union, Montana hasn’t been utilized as much as it could be by Hollywood, or movie makers anywhere for that matter. Wikipedia lists around 45 films shot there, including The Horse Whisperer, and Rancho Deluxe, and bits of Montana appear unidentified as such in Jurassic Park and John Carpenter’s The Thing From Another World, the script for which names some of the characters after cities in the state.

It takes a special filmmaker, though, to grasp the quiet beauty in this spacious and varied state, and such a filmmaker is Kelly Reichardt. Most of her films are set in the Northwest, but in Certain Women she shows special sensitivity to the prairies and cities of the rocky state.

Certain Women is adapted from stories by Montana writer Maile Meloy and tells three different but slightly interlocking tales of people living, thinking, and changing. In one, a lawyer (Laura Dern) is troubled by a client (Jared Harris), who basically won’t listen to her and who goes on a hostage-taking spree. In the second, a professional from out of state (Michelle Williams) is eager to buy some sandstone from an aging neighbor (Rene Auberjonois) for use in decorating her summer retreat. In the final story, a young ranch hand (the terrific Lily Gladstone) is intrigued by the people entering a night school, and ends up meeting the instructor (Kristen Stewart), a lawyer who has been tricked by her firm into teaching a class many miles away from home (this actually happened to Ms Meloy’s mother).

Each facet of the film contemplates prairie loneliness and you can feel the film’s wind, and the chill of mostly unpopulated streets at night, as the sounds of trains going back both beckon one away from and at the same time affirm one’s isolation in this vast spaces. The final shots of the film, showing Ms Gladstone driving and stoically shrugging off a disappointment is one of the most profound moments in contemporary cinema.

The prestigious Criterion Collection recently released Certain Women on Blu-Ray, and it is well-worth the attention. Going for $39.95, the Blu-Ray went on sale on Tuesday, September 19th

On the disc, Certain Women comes in 14 chapters, and with three video interview supplements. The first is with Reichardt, who reveals that because the film was shot in Livingston, the windiest city in Montana, the original title was going to be “Livingston Blows.” She adds that the film was shot in 16 MM, though it sure doesn’t look it.

The second is with director Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven), a career mentor to Ms Richardt, since the time she worked on his film Poison. Here, he reveals inadvertently the old buddy system of “gatekeepers” who run the movie industry far and wide. Even indie films have their gatekeepers and brown-nosers. That truth may explain an otherwise inexplicable moment in Haynes’s video interview, when he pauses to praise someone named Jon Raymond, even flashing a photograph of the man, and calling him “smart, lovely, unique,” but who is also someone who has nothing to do with Certain Women as far as the credits are concerned. A former Reichardt writer, Raymond was apparently cast aside, as Haynes recounts diplomatically, because she wanted to work with “a writer she didn’t know,” who turned out to be the subject of the third supplement, Ms Meloy, who explains many aspects of her stories that might fly past non-residents and non-readers.

The final supplement is a 12-page insert with cast and crew and transfer information and an essay by Ella Taylor, an NPR contributor and USC professor.

If, having seen Certain Women, you want to read the original short stories, they are “Tome” (the Laura Dern story), “Native Sandstone” (the Michelle Williams story), both in Half in Love, and “Travis B.” (the Lily Gladstone story), which was first published in the New Yorker, and was reprinted in Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It.