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Shoot the Sun Down(1978)
In the tradition of Sergio Leone, a stylish meditation on America's history of violence, observing the intersection of a former soldier-turned-bounty-hunter, a British chambermaid desperate to escape indentured servitude, and a vicious mercenary in search of Montezuma's gold.
For more about Shoot the Sun Down and the Shoot the Sun Down Blu-ray release, see Shoot the Sun Down Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on October 18, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.5 out of 5.
Starring: Margot Kidder, Christopher Walken, Jorge Cervera, Jr., Geoffrey Lewis (I), A. Martinez
Director: David Leeds
» See full cast & crew
Shoot the Sun Down Blu-ray Review
Long Forgotten Early Walken
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, October 18, 2013
The history of home video has been one of winnowing. When VHS appeared, nearly everything made its way to the new medium, from blockbusters to the most obscure titles imaginable. When DVD arrived, though, thousands of movies never made the transition, whether it was due to rights issues or a sheer lack of interest. And now, with Blu-ray, that weeding out has continued. Although it seems like we live in a time when the entertainment options are endless—and when film preservation has increasingly been acknowledged as an important task—countless movies have disappeared into the void of cultural ephemera, never to be seen again. It raises some interesting questions: Should all films be preserved? What about truly bad, utterly irredeemable films? Or films that no one cares about anymore? Personally, I fall into the yes, all movies should be preserved camp. For one, I don't think any film is completely without merit, even those I'm willing to dismiss as garbage. Someone made that garbage. Raised the money to fund it and poured hours, maybe even years of their life into it. And second, as the internet has taught us, there's always someone who cares.
Which brings us to Shoot the Sun Down, a little-seen western made in 1978 by first-time writer/director David Leeds, who never got another feature off the ground. While the film did receive a VHS release, it skipped the DVD generation entirely. Yet, here it is in a Blu-ray edition from Kino- Lorber, newly restored in high definition. Why now? What brought this about? I don't really know. To be blunt, Shoot the Sun Down is not a very good western. Sure, it's not bad bad—and it does have some value as a curiosity, particularly because of its ensemble cast—but it is often boring. It ambles pointlessly at times. It's longer than it should be, even at a slim 99 minutes, and the editing, acting, and story all leave much to be desired. And yet, I'm glad it's here. Glad that I can choose to watch it if I want. Glad that it's been rescued from the void.
The setting is the Mexico-controlled southwest circa 1836, where Mexicans, whites, and Indians, all with "deadly gold fever," have come to seek their fortunes. Riding into this morass of greed and lawlessness is Mr. Rainbow (Christopher Walken), a former soldier—the back of the Blu-ray case calls him a "Confederate," although that would be impossible in the 1830s—who has deserted the army after finding that being ordered to murder natives was morally disagreeable. He's a ronin-like figure, a poor man's "Man With No Name," and he's handy with the tiny throwing knives he keeps in the buckskin utility belt around his waist. We're also quickly introduced to three other characters who vie for the role of protagonist. The Scalphunter (Geoffrey Lewis) is an opportunistic buffalo slayer and scalp-seller out to make a quick buck, The Captain (Bo Brundin) is a landlocked seaman who somehow came into possession of an ancient map to Montezuma's gold, and "The Woman from England" (Margot Kidder) is his indentured servant, a chambermaid who sold herself into white slavery to fund her passage to North America.
It's notable that this was the film Margot Kidder made immediately prior to finding stardom in Superman, as well as being Christopher Walken's last role before winning an Oscar for The Deer Hunter. The disjointed script and hazy direction are probably to blame, but neither actor is particularly impressive here. Kidder does gratuitously take a bath in a see-through negligee, though, and Walken's laconic sing-song speech patterns are fun to observe in their infancy. You may also recognize Swedish actor Bo Brundin from bit parts in a lot of 1970s and '80s TV series—Wonder Woman, The A-Team, Dallas—while Geoffrey Lewis has achieved moderate success as a you know, that guy who was in that thing-type character actor. Semi-recently, he appeared in, uh, Thomas Kinkade's Christmas Cottage. (He's also Juliette Lewis' dad.)
Anyway, the four characters converge in a tiny saloon somewhere in Texas, where Mr. Rainbow causes a scene by saving the life of Sunbearer (A. Martinez), an Apache caught cheating at craps. Afterwards, The Woman visits Mr. Rainbow in his room and propositions him, attempting to convince him to kill The Captain—thus freeing her—and escort her through Apache country to New Orleans. Mr. Rainbow has other plans, however, including setting off through the desert—for some reason—on what the locals call the "Journey of Death." Nonetheless, though all of these characters go off in separate ways, they keep meeting up by coincidence, eventually joining forces—and then betraying one another—in the quest for Montezuma's gold.
The film is tedious for long stretches, with a surfeit of disposable, drawn-out shots and scenes where nothing much of consequence happens. Others— like when Mr. Rainbow briefly joins up with the Apaches and then leaves as quickly as he arrived—seem weirdly edited, as if large chunks of narrative were cut out and subsequently go unexplained. There are a few requisite gunfights and showdowns, but none feel urgent or tense or even remotely exciting. It's odd. Shoot the Sun Down feels caught in this awkward netherworld between arthouse western and commercial western, never fully embracing the aesthetics of either. The influence of spaghetti westerns in general, and Sergio Leone's in particular, is heavy here, and there's a sort of post-hippy countercultural/revisionist vibe going on too, including an obvious homage to Alejandro Jodorowsky's freakshow acid-western, El Topo. (See the screenshot below.) The overall effect is something akin to cut-rate Kurosawa, and ultimately, Shoot the Sun Down doesn't really work. But that's just my take. Now that the film's finally back in print, you're welcome to check it out and make your own call.
Shoot the Sun Down Blu-ray, Video Quality
True to Kino-Lorber custom, Shoot the Sun Down is essentially presented "as-is," with a 1080p/AVC-encoded presentation that preserves the flaws of its slightly beat-up 35mm source materials. Black and white specks dot the print, light scratches show up occasionally, and in several scenes you'll notice the shadows of tiny hairs that were stuck along the edges of the camera's film gate. On the plus side, there's been no excessive or unwarranted digital intervention here—no DNR grain-erasing, no harsh edge enhancement, no contrast boosting, etc. The picture looks wholly natural and film-like, and with plenty of room on a 25 GB disc, there are no obvious compression issues. Clarity is highly variable from scene to scene—some look much sharper than others—but I'm sure this is quite a leap from VHS quality regardless. Color is balanced well too, with no oversaturation, crushed shadows, or blown-out whites. The print is quite grubby, but I'm not sure we could've expected any better.
Shoot the Sun Down Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Kino's uncompressed Linear PCM 2.0 track is likewise true to source. Though not without a few light crackles, the audio is fairly clean, with no loud pops or hisses. Dialogue is always easy to understand, gunshots pack a more-than-sufficient punch, and the percussion-heavy score from Ed Bogas and Judy Munsen thumps along nicely, accompanied by bright brass arrangements, strummed acoustics, and an electric guitar run through some kind of funky phaser peddle. No issues here. Unfortunately, Kino has not opted to include any subtitle options for those may need them.
Shoot the Sun Down Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Shoot the Sun Down Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Out of print for years, Shoot the Sun Down—which was never released on DVD—is finally seeing the light of home video day again on Blu-ray, courtesy of Kino-Lorber. The film is often painfully slow and uneventful, and it's probably better known for the future success of its cast than the quality of its story, as Christopher Walken was soon to appear in The Deer Hunter and Margot Kidder in Superman. I'm glad that Kino is taking the chance of re-releasing a movie like this, though. I like to imagine some glorious hypothetical future where every film ever made—regardless of quality or popularity—is easily available to be watched in some form. I know it won't ever happen, but a movie lover can dream.
Shoot the Sun Down Blu-ray, News and Updates
• David Leeds' Shoot the Sun Down Detailed - October 8, 2013
Kino Classics has officially announced that it will release on Blu-ray the restored director's cut of David Leeds' 1978 counter-culture Western Shoot the Sun Down, starring Christopher Walken, Margot Kidder, Geoffrey Lewis and A Martinez. The release will be available ...
• Kino Lorber Blu-ray in November: Sokurov, Petzold, Leeds - August 29, 2013
Kino Lorber will add three titles to their Blu-ray catalog in November: acclaimed Russian director Aleksandr Sokurov's groundbreaking film Russian Ark (2002), German director Christian Petzold's Barbara (2012), and David Leeds' classic western Shoot the Sun Down ...
Shoot the Sun Down Blu-ray, Forum Discussions
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