A beautiful thing about recording a podcast dedicated to a show as old as Deadwood is that we have the advantage of jumping more than a decade into the future to see its eventual finale. This is Deadwood: The Movie, but it’s also an abridged Season 4, a compact, fast-paced culmination to one of the best television series of all time. To tackle this impossibly climactic event, we’re joined by Vox editor-at-large, Emily VanDerWerff, whose Deadwood reviews at A.V. Club have shaped much of the online discussion of the show.
Our conversation is wide-ranging. We jump from the spirituality of the series (as movingly outlined by Randall Colburn at The A.V Club) to fun trivia about the props and costumes in the movie. We allude to a hypothetical extended cut of the film revealed by W. Earl Brown which may one day offer a few additional character moments that didn’t make it into this version. At one point, Emily even brings up Deadwood: The Film‘s thematic connection to George Eliot’s Middlemarch.
We talk about the movie as a deviation from history in a manner distinct from the show. Whereas the series is almost unshakeable in its desire to approximate life in the real Deadwood, the film takes much greater liberties with characters like Al Swearengen (Ian McShane); his fate here is far different here than his actual head injury-related death. It seems as David Milch brought together so many disparate threads for the audience, certain (quite reasonable) concessions had to be made. And indeed, there are exceptions to the film’s ahistoricity. Robin Weigert reportedly imagined her version of Jane off-screen all these years performing with Buffalo Bill Cody, as she did in real life, and Franklyn Ajaye continues Samuel Fields’ documented habit of finding himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I point out that Emily’s article on the women of Deadwood dovetails nicely with the Rachel Syme’s reflections in The New Republic on the complex gender dynamics of the film and show. Emily draws connections between the Deadwood Season 3 finale and the contemporaneous presidential election in her review of “Tell Him Something Pretty,” a trend she sees continue with the film’s release during our current political moment. And of course, throughout our back-and-forth we cite Deadwood expert Matt Zoller Seitz on several occasions. In one instance, we discuss David Milch’s Alzheimer’s by way of his compassionate article on the film’s production. In another, we invoke his plea for critics to write about filmmaking.
In the spirit Seitz’s essay, we also dive into the technical side of Deadwood: The Movie. Daniel Minahan, arguably the show’s most talented director (which is saying something for a series as consistently excellent as Deadwood), takes the helm in this finale. But this isn’t an episode the show in any aesthetic sense. For the film, Minahan pulls the camera back to offer new wide angle shots of the town. In this way, he escapes from the claustrophobia of the series (including his own episodes). We get a more distant look at the characters we’ve come to know as we see them from a place of remove — perhaps mirroring the distance time has wrought between viewers and our memories of the show, or perhaps as a way of letting us finally say goodbye.
The cast’s figurations are also clearer than they’ve ever been: the pristine nature of digital photography means the characteristic film grain of the show is conspicuously absent. This compounds with the much brighter lighting of the movie’s new, modern vision of Deadwood. It’s a stylistic and thematic choice that’s a far cry from the isolating primordial night time of the series, so often lit only by flickering lanterns. Considering the film’s themes of solidarity and cooperation, this has the feel of an intentional shift in visual tone and message.
The film tackles an impossibly long list of ideas, from memory to forgiveness, from shame to mortality. It’s an artistic feat of ingenuity on the part of David Milch, Daniel Minahan and the entire cast and crew. Speaking on behalf of all three folks on this podcast today, I can say that Deadwood: The Film is a victory lap by any metric. You can go home again, and Deadwood has been ours for a few years now. What a ride.
That’s a wrap on Deadwood for us here at Movie Fail. Thank you again to Emily VanDerWerff for her contributions this week. Remember to check out Emily’s comedy-mystery podcast, her TV history podcast and her arts interview podcast for more of her thoughts on media and other subjects. Her book, Monsters of the Week: The Complete Critical Companion to The X-Files, can be found here. Follow her on Twitter @tvoti.
We hope you’ve enjoyed Hoopleheads! We’ve had an absolute blast dissecting this series up and down, although goodness knows there’s so much more to say. We’d also like to thank our listeners for their steadfast support of the show, down to their comments and thoughts about the podcast series and beyond. They mean the world to us.
We can’t wait to get started on something new — keep an eye out for news, and again, thank you from all of us here at Movie Fail.