Dusting 'Em Off
Revisiting an album, a film, or an event on its anniversary

It Will Be an Honor: Defending Legends of the Fall

on December 17, 2014, 10:30am

“Brother, it will be an honor.” – Legends of the Fall (1994)

You’ve caught me in a rather nostalgic mood, dear readers, but don’t let that frighten you. The following words may read as schmaltzy, but please know it is not my intention to pour sugar upon the past and insist that you eat it up. I don’t wish to burden you with cavities from the past, and with an expression that dire, at least you’re aware that my saccharine soliloquies can only go so far. Everything that follows comes from a warm place that I tend to drift away from as a writer, succumbing to the 140-characters-or-less train of thought and the need to bite down and not let go on any given topic, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, etc.

It’s a place of unabashed sincerity that I don’t get to come from often. Writers, especially critics, need to remain as impartial as possible as to not alienate the reader, though when critiquing, this becomes nigh on impossible. You have to give an opinion, and it’s your opinion, so how can you be totally impartial? Hell, I’ve already broken at least two cardinal rules by using forms of “I” and “you” several times already. “You” will be used sparingly from here on out, but the “I” will dominate, because in addition to bringing you a feature showcasing a movie about brothers that I find to be underrated, there is also a personal story of brothers not bound by blood, but by choice.

But first, for that movie in question: Edward Zwick’s follow-up to Glory, 1994’s Legends of the Fall, which celebrates its 20th anniversary next week. The plot follows the story of the Ludlow family: patriarch Col. William Ludlow (Anthony Hopkins), impossibly responsible Alfred (Aidan Quinn), impossibly handsome Tristan (Brad Pitt), and impossibly innocent Samuel (Henry Thomas). Their bond appears unbreakable until Samuel brings his fiancée home for a visit. Slowly but surely, jealousy, death, disease, and debt threaten to permanently tear the family apart. But in the end, brotherhood wins the day.

Legends of the Fall is a film about brothers who remain linked together as time marches ever on. One may fall, one may run away, and one may stay, but they are always together (remember this for later). For all of its soap opera trappings and some bouts of overacting (ahem … Mr. Quinn), Legends is not a “chick flick.” The critics weren’t big fans, with USA Today’s Mike Clark declaring it “long, lumbering, pretentious, and for some a possible laff riot.”

The storytelling is open to criticism, but the look of the film is not. Legends of the Fall looks amazing, with John Toll winning the Academy Award for Best Cinematography for his efforts. Though the film takes place in the mountains of Montana, Legends of the Fall was actually shot in Canada. One look at the Ludlow lands will have you clamoring for a trip to British Columbia as soon as the movie ends, with its waters of blue and its mountains on high (so much for my promise to stay away from the saccharine). It’s the very definition of a handsome film.

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It’s a story about brotherhood that happens to resonate with me tremendously thanks to three other boys I was friends with who have grown to become men. No, I’m not referring to my blood brothers (though I love them very much). The men in question are Gary, Lenny, and Walter.

This part of the tale begins with Gary, one of my oldest friends. He is to blame for my writing about movies at all, thanks to a viewing of Pulp Fiction at his house back in the fall of 1995 (my mouth agape after Amanda Plummer’s “Execute every motherfucking last one of you!”). He also insisted that Legends of the Fall was a good movie. Like most kool dudes in their early teens, I dismissed his beliefs. I remembered the trailer, and I remember believing it existed solely to launch a new “heartthrob” onto the big screen.

I gave in and watched it anyway … and I was stunned to discover that I loved it. It sold me as much then as it does now. I can acknowledge how manipulative the story is and how James Horner’s score is unrelenting in its “Do you understand this is a very sad moment and a wise, old Native American is narrating the story?” way of going about its business. But that’s fine. I bought in. I became a card-carrying member of the Ludlow family.

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The next year, I encouraged my friend Lenny to watch the film, and he too was taken by it. Before too long, my two friends and I would go off on quoting tangents that would put Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s exchanges in The Trip films to shame:

“Once … once!”

“And make an honest woman of her?”

“Yes!”

“Just give him a God damn beer!”

“I am a hunter.”

Samuel!”

“Quit … quit!”

“‘What’s goin’ on … here?’”

“It was a good death.”

“I don’t want my boy to see. I don’t want my boy to see.”

I could go on, but by now the point is as sharp as Tristan’s hair is long.

If my memory serves correct, the third friend in my story, Walter, did not like Legends of the Fall then and does not like it now. Defending his stance, he would bring up the fact that Sir Anthony Hopkins himself isn’t a fan of the finished piece, despite starring in it. (I cannot find evidence supporting his claim.) But that’s fine, because like the film’s Alfred and Tristan, we can have our disagreements, and that doesn’t change anything. I’m Tristan in this scenario.

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Legends of the Fall isn’t going to get the attention of a Shawshank or Pulp Fiction this year, despite its anniversary. I understand why, and so I’ve come to accept it as a guilty pleasure in many ways. But whenever I catch it heavily edited on TNT or on a premium channel, I’m reminded of the friendship I have with Gary, Lenny, and Walter. Unlike the brothers in Legends, we haven’t had to deal with one of us passing away or setting off to war, but we have had our fights. We’ve grown apart in ways both personal and geographic, and we’ve just plain grown up. There are now wives and children in the equation, but the brotherhood we shared then and now still resonates with me, as I hope it does with them. I’ll put it this way: Should any corrupt politicians and bootleggers ever attempt an attack on their lives, I’ll be ready in my three-piece suit with shotgun in hand. Ready to defend.

It would be an honor.

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