ALL THE PRETTY HORSES
About The Locations
In ALL THE PRETTY HORSES, the rugged, unforgiving, beautiful and yet sometimes blighted landscape is as much a character as John Grady Cole, Lacey Rawlins or Jimmy Blevins. Just as Ted Tally worked to capture Cormac McCarthy's tight, spare way with dialogue, Billy Bob Thornton and director of photography Barry Markowitz attempted to turn McCarthy's words into images that are equally bracing to the senses.
Both wanted to stay away from archetypal Western imagery and aim for a more original, authentically transitional look. Says Markowitz: "One of the things Billy and I talked a lot about is staying away from a traditional Western feel visually, even though we were working with this fantastic Southwest landscape. We
eliminated images like the typical Western town, the rustic feeling associated with most Westerns. Instead, we shot it more like the story of two run-aways who head back into a mysterious past, holding onto the traditions they grew up with, even as the future catches up with them."
Throughout the film, Markowitz's images underscore the haunting and evocative feeling of a boy facing an unpredictable world. Simple but radiant moments -- such as the camera spinning in rhythm with the spinning umbrellas in a Mexican train station — set in motion the idea that the world around John Grady Cole is itself reeling out of control.
Other moments become luminous and raw, including John Grady Cole's dreamscapes which allow for an understanding of his emotional journey. When he is first thrown into jail, he experiences dreams of Alejandra and wild horses running free, which signify the first time in his life he enjoyed the freedom he had once hoped he would find by coming to Mexico. Billy Bob Thornton and Barry Markowitz used a flowing, surreally beautiful flurry of hooves, manes and tails churning through the air as if nothing could hold them back to contrast starkly with John Grady Cole's much harsher reality.
In a haunting dream, later in the film, in which John Grady envisions himself sitting on a lonely cliff-top with young Blevins, his incredible guilt about the boy's demise manifests itself in one simple, sad question asked against a back drop of emptiness and open sky. This is interwoven with an unforgettable image of his prison-mates, gathered together in the yard, who in John Grady's dream are at once unified in an angelic and peaceful moment — a moment of hope.
Ted Tally was astonished by how well Markowitz's camera was able to capture Cormac McCarthy's themes and even his style, bringing to life McCarthy's transcendentally lyric prose and lush, supple descriptions of landscapes. "What it took many words to bring to life on the page, Billy Bob and Barry Markowitz were able to just catch in a moment with the camera," he says.
The film was shot primarily in Texas and New Mexico, two vast states that capture the many different environments through which John Grady passes on his journey. Barry Markowitz was particularly drawn to the astonishing shifts of light in New Mexico, which for ages has drawn artists and photographers to its stark, moody landscapes. "Because the altitude (around Santa Fe) is 7000 feet high the nature of the light and what it does to objects is incredible, unexplainable," he notes. "There's a beauty, especially as the day goes on, that if you are careful can truly be captured on film."
"You can derive a great deal of nourishment from this atmosphere," adds Bob Salerno. "The colors are iridescent — the skies are blue and dotted with puffy, white clouds and the sunsets are spectacular.
The film's most formative moments, the time John Grady Cole and Lacey Rawlins spend on the ranch known as La Purisima in unmapped Mexico, were shot at the Hill Ranch, thirty miles west of San Antonio, near the town of Helotes, Texas. Finding an old hacienda in today's world wa
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