“Godless” (2014) is a vid series in the Cormac McCarthy style, meaning many atrocities. It’s hard to know whether it’s a counter-Western or a logical extension to rather an extreme. It could have gone farther, but violence can be so excessive that it’s unintelligible.
I kept thinking I’d seen parts of this series before, which was easy because there were so many parts in what didn’t always create continuity, but human brains can make logic out of almost anything, which is one of the drawbacks of depending on logic. This 7 part series used just about every trope, meme, metaphor, conceit, snippet, clip and wet dream that could be found. Luckily, American culture is packed with them. We export them to spaghetti Westerns and then reimport them while insisting they are American.
This one tries to avoid offense to everyone by including an entire Black (buffalo soldier) town. Some nasty guys with horned buff heads appear in what have might either a dream or a memory. Miscegenation was narrowly avoided by killing the lovable young white deputy gunslinger. “Indians” were represented by a boy, a mysterious man who is supposed to be dead, and Tantoo Cardinal who makes the whole series worth watching. I’m esp. fond of her “wise and mysterious old woman” role which she repeats in various films, vastly improving them. Actually, she seems to be getting younger.
Of course the whole thing ends in a shoot-out, a bravua marathon that kills almost everyone and ends with the town burning. Not to worry — it’s one of those movie set towns with only fronts which are re-labeled from one film to another. I like them. Maybe one will be finished inside so tourists can stay there and drink a lot of cold tea while pretending it’s rotgut.
It’s clear that the actors thoroughly enjoy making these stories, though it takes a special level of foolhardiness to ride a horse off a roof into a blazing fire. I don’t think that was “green screen” cgi. The insurance company must have been cringing.
I strongly suspect that this series was once a conventional length movie with much more narrative logic but it was so popular that all the out takes, maybe from two movies, were added back in as dreams or flashbacks. The success is not about the art of doing it — though I’d be fascinated by a sequence analysis of all the women forted up with Winchesters in the saloon/hotel and the thirty-plus miscellaneous bad guys who rode into town in a well-organized and spaced line. I mean, is there somewhere a storyboard that has a card for each quick vignette? The dialogue is above average. Too bad the
“Why it's a keeper: It's hard to find a series that is partly a feminist Western and also a commentary on fathers and sons. Apart from the magnificent cinematography, the show's dialogue is almost poetic. Godless is truly a unique find on Netflix, and is totally worth watching.”
“Production for “Godless” began in September 2016 and was housed at Santa Fe Studios, though most of the film was shot on location throughout northern New Mexico. It is executive produced by Casey Silver and Steven Soderbergh. “Godless” features the largest Western film set ever built in New Mexico.Nov 26, 2017”
If you want to think about all this some more, the link above will answer a lot of questions. Michelle Dockery helped get the movie financed, I’m sure, and her bonus was sinking that “Downton Abbey” image once and for all.
The severed arm thing did involve “green screen” or at least “green sleeve.” (No song.) It turns out that there was a ground-level fake roof for the horse to come off of, but still. . . Some of these guys were truly excellent horseback riders. They didn’t say anything about digging the well and, in fact, the actors themselves are only interviewed in this post off camera and then quoted by the article.
I always get more interested in these writer/producers once I’ve seen their film. Looks like Scott Frank may have a second “season” in the works. He wins prizes and easily translates the Western context over to Sci-fi as in “Logan” which is about the aging of “Wolverine,” quite a good movie. Frank is not confined to one genre but uses bits of "tech noir, whodunit, thriller and science fiction genres, as well as a traditional chase film.” No one accuses him of violating the American indigenous genre, though it exists and walks with Tantoo Cardinal. I guess “tech noir” is close enuf to “gothic” to get by.
Since watching this series, Netflix has taken me out of the Euro “police procedural” silo and now I’ve got tons of Westerns too macabre to watch. At least I’ve escaped Disney.
And “Godless” is a misnomer. The 19th version of God is all over the movie.
I was sorry that the lesbian was portrayed as mannish and "sturdy", but her character was a fav of mine (I'm straight.) and the actress, Merrit Wever is excellent. All the other women were very skinny.
So there's one of the secrets of a good Western -- a little someone for everyone. Good thing it's long.