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Elizabeth Samet

Listening to "The Man from Laramie" [by Elizabeth Samet]

The Man from LaramieThe first thing you have to know is that the opinions I express as a guest blogger on the Best American Poetry site are my own and do not reflect those of the United States Military Academy, the Department of the Army, or the Department of Defense. The second thing you have to know is that I've been teaching a film course this semester. One of my favorite things about this class is that it allows me to see old films in new ways. One of the several films my students and I screened together was Anthony Mann’s The Man from Laramie (1955), with James Stewart, Arthur Kennedy, and Donald Crisp. David Thomson is exactly right when he suggests in The New Biographical Dictionary of Film that what fuels The Man from Laramie as well as the other Westerns Stewart did with Mann are “the suppressed neuroses” of “the adventurer hero.” Some of my students were a bit surprised at Stewart's anguished character and at the film’s open-endedness. They expected less ambiguity in a movie from the 1950s. Perhaps part of what helped to create that expectation was the obligatory title song, “The Man from Laramie,” which, like the songs that begin High Noon and so many other Westerns of the period, digests the whole messy business into a straightforward ballad. The experience of seeing Laramie again got me thinking about music in Westerns in general and about the music from a very different kind of Western: Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood. Jonny Greenwood’s score for that recent film is a world away from “The Man from Laramie.” Blood, however, like certain older films, is as remarkable for its silences as for its sounds. I admire Anderson’s willingness to let the picture speak for itself. He clearly trusted the image (and the acting of Daniel Day Lewis). Today going to the movies can be a deafening experience--especially the previews. Quiet movies are increasingly rare, as are filmmakers who permit long periods of silence. Remember the prairie bus stop scene in North by Northwest? Silence on the screen; I’d like to hear a little more of that.

from the archive; first posted May 19, 2008


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May 19, 2008

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Radio

I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark


from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

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