Filmmaker Kelly Reichardt is to Oregon / the Pacific Northwest and film what playwright Samuel D. Hunter is to Idaho and live theater.
Besides the obvious formal and aesthetic differences between the two mediums, their biggest separation point is one of temporality: Hunter’s explorations of the average — which can be anything but average — American existence focuses predominantly on the here and now, whereas Reichardt’s oeuvre bounces around in time.
Otherwise, their multitudinous similarities prove striking: both have dedicated their careers to chronicling the everyday lived experience of characters usually relegated to the margins of not only society, but the stage and screen as well. They replace dramatic fireworks with the no-less-interesting drama of ordinary work, with an eye towards the generational fracturing and deterioration of American industrial growth, and the relationship between this process and the (d)evolution of the identity (and identities) of small-town Americana and small-town Americans.
They revel in sometimes-painful naturalism, while maintaining a sense of the magical spiritualism that has always been tied up in the landscapes and vistas of their chosen geographical areas, juxtaposed against the claustrophobic confinement, isolation, and loneliness that beset so many living amongst this sprawling terrain of plains who nevertheless feel left behind in a nether region no man’s — nor woman’s — land. With their traditional American dreams deferred by the country’s insatiable quest towards modernity, they seek connection, community, companionship, and kinship at the crossroads of the then and the now.
Though this all might sound exceedingly political, a trademark of their work is an avoidance of explicit debates involving the hot-button topics relevant to their stories, specifically class, gender, and race. Instead of being discussed directly, politics remain on the periphery, allowing the audience to consider their ramifications on the daily realities depicted.
And now, a Kelly Reichardt retrospective ranking:
- Meek’s Cutoff
- Old Joy
- First Cow
- Wendy and Lucy
- River of Grass
- Certain Women
- Night Moves