It was Lonesome Dove weekend on American Movie Classics. I found this out at 9 pm on Sunday. Oh, well, better late than never.
I have seen the Lonesome Dove series about ten times. It IS a classic, a true modern classic, that never ages and grows in power and punch each time you watch it. If you are unfamiliar with the film, it is a mini-series adaptation from Larry McMurtry's Pulitzer prize winning novel first broadcast in 1989. I cannot believe it was that long ago, (22 years!!) but there you have it, the obligatory comment 'my how time flies' wonderment from a middle aged woman. It is widely regarded as the best Western ever put to screen, and I've seen many Westerns and I agree.
I don't know what it is about the story, but its sweep and scope, the enormous expanses of land from the scrub of Texas to the prairies of Nebraska to the undulating hills and mountains of Montana's Big Sky country, but each person in the movie has an intimate story to tell under that expanse. It is true to life of the times and gritty too. Death is a constant companion in the film. There are many casualties, death occurs from from Indian raids to animal bites to accidents and even simple infections. Life was short in the late 1870s, and never secure.
The story is based on real life men who blazed trails in new lands and thus are forever part of the memorializing of the history of pioneers who made this country great. The history of the men the series is based on can be read here, and the series seems to be accurate in many of the details, right down to the lengthy funeral procession of Gus's body to the epitaph on Deets' grave marker.
I think my very favorite part among many favorite scenes is the part when Call returns to Lonesome Dove. After he buries his friend Gus, having dragged his body from Montana to Texas as a fulfillment of his friend's wishes, he cleans up and walks into town. Looking dapper, almost civilized, he views the town which he had left only a couple of years before with new eyes. It boasts a telegraph station and a reporter for a San Antonio newspaper. The whorehouse burned down and no other had taken its place. The town is quiet, genteel. The reporter gets wind of who Call is and pesters him with questions for an interview. "They say you dragged Gus's body three thousand miles...they say you were a Texas Ranger, they say back in the old days you cleared the country out of Comanches..."
After the epic sweep of seeing just these few years of a man's life that was really too big for one life, you narrow in on one moment. Just one. Call returns to settle down, and you realize as the reporter asks him about the 'old days', ...he has outlived himself and his time. He is a living anachronism.
It brings to mind Jimmy Buffett's line from the song "Nothing but a Breeze",
"One day I'll soon be a grandpa
All the pretty girls will call me "sir,"
Now, where they're asking me how things are
Soon they'll ask me how things were"
Everyone ages, but in the late 1800s the furious rate of progress butted up against history and sometimes outpaced it. Woodrow Call was one of those men who outlived himself. The final scene literally shows him walking into the sunset, where his future has already occurred but his past is gone too.