“I was hoping I could show you how special I am. I honestly believe I'm destined for great things, Mr. James. I've got qualities that don't come shining through right at the outset, but give me a chance and I'll get the job done - I can guarantee you that.”
Andrew Dominik’s “The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford” was doomed from the start, at least that’s what Dominik himself told a sold out crowd at New York City’s Museum of the Moving Image this past Saturday. That comment seemed particularly ironic, however, considering that the crowd had all turned out to watch his little-seen and much-beloved 2007 feature on the big screen on a random Saturday night in December. The Brad Pitt- and Casey Affleck-starring film may have been doomed six years ago, but the launch of a new revival targeted at, well, just plain reviving the feature is already off to an auspicious start, at least if its first two screenings are any indication.
The revival is a passion project of Jamieson McGonigle, who originally conceived of his “Jesse James” screening as a bachelor party of sorts, with the Museum of the Moving Image playing host simply because that’s also where he will be married early next year (incidentally, in the same theater where this weekend’s screenings took place). McGonigle even owns his own print of the film, which would have made his private screening a damn easy feat to accomplish. Instead, he got something else entirely – a full scale revival that has so far included two sold out screenings at the Museum of the Moving Image, involvement from Dominik himself, a large-scale campaign to launch a true screening tour, and a thinly veiled desire to get Warner Bros. (the film’s distributor) to take notice of what’s brewing amongst the “Jesse James” faithful. What that could be exactly – a snazzy home video release, a Director’s Cut, a limited theatrical release, support for the revival itself – remains to be seen, but there’s clearly something going on with this film and its dedicated fans.
The revival – amusingly called “No Eulogies” – kicked off this weekend with a pair of screenings at the museum’s Sumner Redstone Theater, with Dominik himself in attendance on Saturday night to talk about his apparent masterpiece and the long road to the big screen.
McGonigle is understandably blown away by the support he’s received so far from other fans, fellow cinephiles, and Dominik. As he said while presenting the film, “I never imagined it being this in the end.” When he took the stage to introduce the film on Saturday night, he made frequent mention of his nerves, but he still lovingly ticked through a long list of people who had aided him, a brief explanation of how all this came to pass, and an impassioned bit about his feelings on the film itself. It was a reminder of how loving a piece of art – particularly a piece of cinema – can change a fan’s life in ways they could never imagine. For McGonigle, that meant almost accidentally launching a worldwide revival of his favorite film that comes with the full blessing of the man who made it.
The film is just as good as it ever was – during the film’s train robbery sequence in the first act, I was acutely aware that I was actually thinking, this is so good, it’s still so good, why is this film so damn good?, which doesn’t happen nearly as much as it should – and seeing it amongst a group of fans only made the experience more pleasurable. Dominik’s after-screening Q&A did the same, but for entirely different reasons.
Dominik is nothing if not candid, and the filmmaker took to the stage to chat about the film with Chief Curator David Schwartz with guns blazing (well, at least metaphorically). Despite being in a room filled with people who love his film, Dominik did not balk at describing the feature as “fruity and weird.” Sentimentality, it seems, does not drive Dominik’s work or his reflections on the subject. (He later referred to the film as “plotless.”) And yet “Jesse James” was clearly a passion project for the filmmaker, who endured months of editing, numerous firings and re-hirings, and a seemingly unshakeable fear that the studio would take the project away from him and destroy his vision along the way.
To that end, Dominik also makes no bones about his final product, at least as it relates to the expectations ascribed to it by Warner Bros. – “they heard Jesse James and Brad Pitt, and the last thing they were expecting was that film” – and while he still doesn’t think it’s a perfect thing, he’s proud of it. The director does, however, seem more prone to pumping up other versions of the film, specifically two different cuts of the feature that he deems “perfect.” One of those cuts is only a bit far off from what hit the screen, but the other one is apparently crammed with a number of additional scenes – and, when asked to describe them, Dominik announced, “That would be like talking about dead kids. 'They were great. Now they're gone!'”
“The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford” is, however, not dead – it’s revived.
Revival screenings of “The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford” are already scheduled in Tucson and Los Angeles, and fans around the world (yes, the world) are working on getting their own events on the books.
You can read more about “The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford” revival at its official site.