Tommy Lee Jones made his big screen directorial debut with "thoughtful modern western" The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada. He was also named Best Actor at the Cannes Festival for his portrayal of a man who inflicts redemption upon a churlish border patrol guard (Barry Pepper). Guillermo Arriaga won Best Screenplay and the film went on to achieve cult status among cinephiles.
We go behind the scenes in Texas for a half-hour 'Making Of' featurette in which Barry Pepper offers some useful insights into an ambiguous story. "My character represents the fallen man," he says, adding that Jones' character Pete mentors him in how to "truly become a man." The rest of the cast chip in too and Jones appears with his director's hat on, although he is characteristically reticent. Later, we get to see how the publicity machine goes to work selling the film to European audiences and Jones gives short shrift to a photographer who wants him to strike a "silly" pose, leaning nonchalantly against a tree.
A few more silly questions are put to Jones in a brief Q & A at the Cannes Film Festival so it's left to screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga to delve into the nitty-gritty of effective storytelling. When asked about his penchant for juggling timeframes he explains that this is "the natural way to tell stories," and it helps to "portray the confusion of the character [played by Jones]". He also points out that while this is a story about "guilt and redemption" it has nothing to do with religion. At this point Jones quotes French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre, who said, "I'm still an atheist, thank God."
Cacti, Ants, And Corpses
There's nearly half-an-hour of deleted and extended scenes to pick over, including more from Dwight Yoakam as the menacing Belmont and Pepper's character Mike trying to revive the freshly dead Melquaides (Julio Cedillo). Perhaps the best scene finds Pete and Mike midway on their journey to Mexico discussing the fidelity of their wives. Of course Pete knows something Mike doesn't know and seems to relish in this private knowledge...
Jones' own efforts at sound design take the element of danger up a notch. In his commentary for the film he reveals that he asked his Hispanic wife if she wouldn't mind letting him set fire to her hair to "determine just the right sound of a Mexican's hair burning..." The animal rights people drew the line when it came to swatting ants though. Jones explains that he had to use "ant dummies" for the scene where he bats the insects off Melquiades' corpse! It's worth sticking through the quiet lulls in this commentary for a few of these wacky behind-the-scenes titbits. It's a shame that actors Dwight Yoakam and January Jones are given to chuckling and mumbling their way through the regular silences.
It's a small set of extras and while there are a few interesting behind-the-scenes notes, overall it's pretty banal. There's no word from Holly Hunter or co-star Giovanni Ribisi and not a peep from the writer either.
It feels a little patchy in places, but this DVD offers you more behind-the-scenes access to a low-budget film than you might normally expect. If you're an existential thinker who likes westerns and Weekend At Bernie's, this is well worth a look.