Speaking of McCabe & Mrs. Miller, here’s a cross-century scene comparison between westerns of a different color, anchored by a similar leading presence:
Two all-time-massive movie-stars as alcoholic dreamers with questionable intellects (more on this subject to come later) monologuing to themselves, searching for self by reckoning with themselves, literally in a mirror, striving to preserve by strengthening the crumbling “empires” they’ve created for themselves to make something of themselves, surrounded by their wooden trailers (representations of their hand-built but flimsy “empires”), with liquor nearby (a cornerstone of both their vocations!), set down their aggressively-introspective (but debatably-insightful) cognitive and oral rabbit holes by women in their lives challenging them to be better (for Warren Beatty’s Miller, it’s Julie Christie’s Mrs. Miller; for Leonardo DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton, it’s young’un Julia Butters’ Trudi “That was the best acting I’ve ever seen in my whole life” Fraser).
Though the connection between the scenes is too tenuous to be definitively intentional, it’s always a possibility when dealing with King Homager/Moocher Quentin Tarantino, especially because, in Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, Rick Dalton’s starring in the sort of old-timey western that McCabe and Mrs. Miller riffs.
The key difference between their respective performances cuts to the base of the fundamental difference between their performance styles; chameleon LDC is playing stupid, whereas Warren Beatty…well…let’s just say he made a career out of blurring the line between acting and, um, reality? In McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Shampoo, and Heaven Can Wait — the three of his movies I’ve watched during quarantine — he seems to be embodying various versions of himself.
For instance: Leo clearly yucks it up for the camera in the above clip, while Beatty’s scene feels more like Robert Altman secretly filmed him muttering under his breath to himself between takes in his actual trailer. Leo performatively stutters throughout, whereas Beatty looks like he’s legitimately stumbling over his lines, searching his psyche for the next words on the page he just memorized.
Now, I’m in no way disparaging Beatty’s approach, nor am I suggesting that Beatty’s actually a dim bulb; acting that can be mistaken for naturalism is equally impressive — you ever try to act naturally in front of a lens? Exactly.
Warren Beatty: himbo?