The 'Jesse James' revival sets sail from Queens
NEW YORK — The big screen revival of Andrew Dominik's 2007 western "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," economically dubbed the "Jesse James Revival" by a passionate young man named Jamieson McGonigle who set the whole thing in motion, kicked off in earnest Saturday night with a presentation of the opus to a sold out crowd at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens.
If you've been following our coverage in the run-up to the event then you're aware of the mission statement: bringing a masterpiece that deserves to be seen on the big screen back around after it wasn't given half a chance to reach an audience in its original theatrical run. After New York, the next stop will be at The Loft in Tuscon, Ariz. on Dec. 17 (a screening made possible by the passionate support of Oscar-winning screenwriter Diana Ossana), but McGonigle made a big announcement from the stage while introducing the screening: the Revival will head even farther west as the American Cinematheque in Los Angeles has set a Feb. 15, 2014 screening of the film at the Egyptian Theater with Dominik in attendance again for a Q&A. Tickets for that will go on sale in about a month.
As for Saturday's big event, it was a wonderful start to what will hopefully be an endless line of bookings on the repertory circuit, not just nationally, but internationally. It was the first time I had seen the film theatrically since September of 2007 and the DCP was naturally more beautiful than a typical release print. I couldn't possibly write more about this film other than to put it, simply, this way: Every December, basically around this time of year, after I've seen another 12 months'-worth of cinema, I always say to myself, "Well, another year gone, another year without a film as good as 'Jesse James.'" That's how passionate I remain about this film; I don't believe the world has seen a better one since. (You can read more extended thoughts on the next page.)
The post-screening Q&A was fantastic and lively because Dominik is such a candid and pragmatic guy. He'll shoot you straight and won't fuss it up too much. He didn't ooze gratitude by any means but you know he's touched by all of this. "I'm embarrassed, in a good way, in a happy way," he said when someone just asked him point blank how he really felt about the Revival.
For instance, he talked about how Warner Bros. didn't like the screenplay but probably figured, "Brad [Pitt] wants to do it and we can do it for under 40 [million dollars] and we want him to do the next 'Ocean's' movie so fuck it." He said he felt the film was "doomed" from the outset but nevertheless noted, as he did in our exclusive interview with him, that his naiveté had plenty to do with the ultimate post-production gridlock the film found itself in. "I can't remember how many times they fired me," he said, "but I always managed to get back in there."
Indeed, no version of this film was going to ever exist all that far from his ultimate vision of it. It just wouldn't work under a certain length. Someone in the audience asked the obvious question: "Would you put out a director's cut?" His response: "It's not up to me, mate." He talked again about his preferred three-hour cut of the film but made it clear that if it were up to him, that version would have already made it out into the world, theatrically. So hope springs eternal that Warner Bros. might see fit to revisit this thing and help an even fuller vision of what's already a brilliant piece of filmmaking see the light of day.
For now, though, it's all about breathing new life into a 7-year-old film in need of the resuscitation. McGonigle is making it happen, and again, I'm hugely honored to have had a hand in it.
Check out some extended thoughts on the film I wrote up for Saturday night's hand-out program on the next page. And be on the lookout for the Jesse James Revival should it come to your town.