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Acid Western: The Legend of God's Gun

Now here’s a wonderfully weird chimera, a film of many parts; part music video, part homage to spaghetti westerns (and part pastiche), part delirium, part cult film. And with so many parts sutured together, it’s inevitable that a few things escape through the seams. Characters developed beyond one-sentence summaries, for example, or hard-hitting, suspenseful drama driving the film forward to its climax. This tale of a man looking to avenge the death of his woman by seeking out the culprits in the debauched town of Playa Diablo doesn’t quite demand emotional investments in the characters’ plights.

Showdown in Playa Diablo But the absence of gravitas doesn’t mean The Legend of God’s Gun is an empty cinematic experience. Far from it; the film is an aesthetic surgery of sorts, one that dissects and plays with the rich filmic and graphic design vocabulary that makes spaghetti westerns so unique. From the opening titles onwards, The Legend of God’s Gun demonstrates a highly kinetic kind of drama, a drama of cinematic form. While director Mike Bruce could be accused of occasionally indulging gimmickry and neglecting the value of quiet moments to give the characters and settings room to breathe, the imaginative direction and visual effects, including the film’s hallucinatory colouring, are for the most part stunning examples of how to take ordinary scenes, put bullets to their feet, and make them dance. A gunfight — two men, two guns, a space between — becomes a tense, nerve-wracking affair defined by quick edits, changing camera angles and spiffy graphic enhancements. A church becomes hell on earth in a blaze of smoke, fire and the bullets from a crazed gunman’s attack, courtesy of dynamic visual and editing distortions. A bounty hunter’s desert trek becomes a heat stroke- induced phantasmagoria of strange colours and lensing effects. There’s no shortage of mind-blowing manipulations to chew on, some of which surprise by simultaneously satirizing and dramatizing key scenes. Example: A well-populated standoff to the death recalls the infamously endless staring contest wrapping up The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly by split-screening multiple pairs of staring, scanning eyes. Tense? Yes, but funny, too, considering Sergio Leone’s classic film and the conventions of the western showdown.

A Grand Artistic Experiment

Bobby Bones as The Preacher Granted, The Legend of God’s Gun is rarely subtle. Instead of insinuating the moral depravity of Playa Diablo, for example, Bruce and collaborator Kirkpatrick Thomas offer a double-barreled shotgun blast that, in a darkly comic fashion, includes everything from the sport-beating of an old man to even less savoury practices. For subtlety, one has to turn to other parallels between the film and the spaghetti westerns it takes its cues from. Case in point: faces. Sergio Leone’s films have always been striking for fascinating faces that often fill up the entire frame – not necessarily pretty or ugly, but unquestionably etched with character. So it is with the capable cast of musicians populating The Legend of God’s Gun.

When taken as an experimental art film rather than a conventional narrative film, bold and direct are actually superb qualities to have – preferable, in some instances, to understatement. There’s a certain post-modernism at play, which in part explains (without excusing) the narrative’s literal simplicity by favouring meta-narrative and multi-sensory qualities. Obvious manifestations include flashbacks accompanied by the sound of film projectors, an effect that complements the overall look of the film – scratchy and filled with artifacts, as if we’re watching a movie of a movie. In this vein, The Legend of God’s Gun isn’t so much a western in itself, although it is, but a western about westerns. The characters are extracted and drawn from familiar archetypes – the Sheriff, the Bandit, the Bounty Hunter, the Gunslinger – and placed in the sparsest expression of good versus evil’s brutal mythology. The result is a wonderland of western themes distilled into their most concrete, basic elements. Call it an acid western.

And then there’s the score. Ennio Morricone, of course, by way of a hip and unique psychedelic update courtesy of phenomenally talented local band Spindrift (of which Kirkpatrick Thomas is a founding member) with equally electric support by Gram Rabbit and the now-disbanded Low Flying Owls. (Speaking for myself, I sense new additions to my CD collection in the near future…) As much the film’s raison d’etre as anything else, the music is perfectly tuned to the film’s surreal western world but also fully capable of standing on its own. No surprise there: The music was originally conceived by Kirkpatrick Thomas and Spindrift as the inspired soundtrack to a non-existent movie. The movie came later and it speaks highly of Messieurs Thomas and Bruce about how brilliantly the music and film work off each other.

A Victory for Independent Filmmaking

If the film is impressive as it is, it’s even more so considering the long and difficult birthing process. In an email, Mike Bruce explained to me how

Kirkpatrick and I had no budget to work with nor did we have any industry connections while making this film over 2 1/2 years. We just pulled friends together and went out and shot it slowly over time. As expenses came up, we paid out of our own pockets. KP delivers pizza, and I get whatever odd jobs I can find to get by. At times, we were homeless while making this thing. I actually moved 14 times (with my entire editing bay) during the 2 1/2 years we spent on this. The majority of that time was me editing, colourizing and tweaking. Somehow we managed to finish it, which is a small miracle in itself.

The obvious passion that went into making The Legend of God’s Gun, along with genuine skill and purpose, make for a film that is not only exciting, but worth getting excited about. It’s a victory for filmmaking outside the studio system. Unapologetically fun, cinematically clever, The Legend of God’s Gun has many parts, but is 100 percent visionary.

Entertainment Value: ** (out of two)
Technical Quality: ** (out of two)

The Legend of God’s Gun. Directed by Mike Bruce. Written by Mike Bruce and Kirkpatrick Thomas. Starring Bobby Bones, Kirkpatrick Thomas, Dave Koenig, Mike Bruce, Scott Dyeswell, Julie Patterson and Emma Salerno. 78 minutes. Not rated, but contains violence and sexually suggestive scenes that would annoy the MPAA.

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