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Review: Tombstone Rashomon (2017)

Alex Cox rose to fame in the ’80s with the incredible one-two punch of Repo Man and Sid and Nancy. And almost as quickly big-budget failures like Walker and Straight to Hell sent his career, well, straight to hell. Since then, though, out of the limelight, he’s stayed active with films that range in quality from Revenger’s Tragedy to Repo Chick. His most recent film Tombstone Rashomon, as the title might suggest, applies the style of Kurosawa’s classic Rashomon to the Gunfight at the OK Corral.

The opening text tells us that on October 27th, 1881 a time-travelling film crew arrived in Tombstone to film the Gunfight at the OK Corral. However, realizing they were a day late, they instead interviewed the survivors.

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And, as in its namesake, those interviews provide the story for Tombstone Rashomon. I suppose I should say stories because the fun is in seeing the conflicts between these eyewitness accounts. The novelty of this approach has worn off over the 70 years since the original was released. Which means it’s up to the quality of the tales to drive the story. And they’re a bit of a mixed bag.

For example, while it was nice to get a different perspective, Kate (Christine Doidge), Mary Katherine Horony-Cummings to give this woman of many aliases her actual name, rambles all over the place. And, while funny and apparently authentic, her scrambling of male and female pronouns may seem like a bad attempt at humour to viewers.

Other accounts, such as those of Wyatt Earp (Adam Newberry) and Doc Holliday (Eric Schumacher) are overly familiar. Cox’s approach to the telling of them is a bit unusual. Or would be for anyone but Alex Cox. Having Wyatt Earp and his brothers along with Doc Holliday get to the fight via a police car, for instance.

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There’s actually a fair amount of anachronistic scenes in Tombstone Rashomon. Footage shot in the present. Our present, not that of the futuristic film crew. Or when we see the makeup girl at the start of Johnny Behan’s (Jesse Lee Pacheco) segment. Apparently, styles haven’t changed between now and whenever we invent time travel. It’s also interesting that none of the characters seem phased by the time travellers and their technology. If you’re not used to Alex Cox’s rather anarchistic style of storytelling, this may be somewhat of a shock. I’ve seen enough of his films to expect anything and everything from him.

Tombstone Rashomon, in the end, is an interesting retelling of an iconic Western tale. It doesn’t quite approach the true Acid Western weirdness of El Topo or Day of the Stranger, but it has its moments. And while it may not be the most entertaining version of that famous shooting, I’ll take it over sanitized versions like Tombstone any day. It’s available to stream and on DVD from TriCoast Entertainment. You can check the film’s Facebook page for more information.

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