Guest post by Craig Simpson, Manuscripts Archivist at Lilly Library.
“For me, McCabe & Mrs. Miller is the standard for a sort of emotional purity, a movie whose feeling permeates you without ever once forcing a thing. Emerging from it, I always feel like the town drunk who attempts a jig on the ice in one scene: drugged, unsure of my footing, as if one step would send the whole enterprise crashing to the ground. I try to clutch the images to me even as they seem to evaporate like smoke.”
– Charles Taylor, Salon. March 21, 1997
A test of a great film is when you can tell it’s great even when it looks and sounds terrible. This was certainly the case for Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller, released in 1971 and available only in a very poor transfer on home video for many years since. Even though watching it was like squinting through a smeared glass windshield, it remained one of the most beautiful movies I have ever seen, all the more so when Criterion gave it a glorious restoration in late 2016. (The IU Cinema’s 2K DCP screening of the film on February 10 at 6:30pm is based on the same restoration.) Although the movie was not a box-office success, it has stood the test of time. Martin Scorsese is a fervent admirer. David Milch’s seminal HBO series Deadwood is a direct descendent. The late John Huston deemed it the best Western he had ever seen.
Although McCabe & Mrs. Miller is one of the most accessible films of an often challenging filmmaker, it immerses you into its world so completely that the effect can be disorienting. To offer a lay of the land, then, here are ten pieces of contextual information about the movie: