The road to this Western has been a bumpy one, the film was initially announced before the script was later leaked, which caused Quentin Tarantino to throw his toys out of the pram, it happen that scripts get leaked, all to do with his massive ego which you can see in The Hateful Eight (2015). Thankfully he calmed down enough to film it for. We’ve been teased with trailers that had no footage, he wanted to wet our appetites without even a single frame of footage being exposed. And that’s another thing, he has celebrated the fact that it was filmed traditionally on a format that is rarely seen, Ultra Panavision 70 even when film has only been saved by himself and few other die-hard directors for the medium. Its been quite a journey for the film.
Staying with the format of the film, I’m not sure that from where I sat (in packed screen near the front) that I got the full impact. There is something to be said for seeing a physical print of a film, when its projected through light the image has more authenticity, the grain, the noise of the image that bounces on the screen. Its more alive than a crystal clean image that has been delivered on a memory card or transmitted to the cinema. I did however feel overpowered by the commanding presence of the format, not the medium but the screen ratio that forced you at times to move your had to take in all of the action that was at times wall to wall. There are moments when we have just met a few of the 8 that conversations are all you see, the characters heads fill the frame to the point that they are spilling out over the frame. These close-ups are intense, not those of Sergio Leone but something else that draws into the conversation and you don’t want to leave, you’re trapped.
Technically the format has restricted the box-office return that the film will ultimately make. In the UK alone 4 cinema chains cannot show the film as they are no longer equipped with film projectors. It shows the current state of film, but I don’t hear the director complaining, more concerned with the format that its projected in. Previously talking about a roadshow format that could allow audiences to see the film. A very old way of seeing a film. Gone are the days are staggered release in a country, this would however make it more of an event that simply choosing your time and go which we are used to today.
Ok so less about the technicalities of the film and more about the plot, trying to be as a spoiler free as I can. A few days ago I caught Reservoir Dogs (1992) which this has long been compared with. Which to a point it is, and zero to do with Rio Bravo (1959) which I thought, however a strong influence over the length of the dialogue, as much as we don’t just hang with these 8 people we are instead kept in a state of tension as discussion tightens and tightens as the film progresses. That’s after a long stretch on the snowy road up to Minnie’s Haberdashery where the film revolves. We meet one half of the group that will occupy the wood cabin in the snow-storm. Tarantino regular Samuel L. Jackson returns to another role as Major Marquis Warren, tailor made for the actor who chews up the dialogue and regurgitates is deliciously on the ears. Opposite a semi-regular Kurt Russell as John Ruth the hangman accompanied by his latest bounty in chains, the devilish Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who we are encouraged to feel sorry for. A beaten woman in chains, yet holds her own in the face of a black soldier who fought in the recent civil war.
There are political and racial tensions in the film which do indeed reflect America today, as there isn’t a week goes by when a black person is shot and for very little reason. Something that has seen Tarantino in the news for as he campaigns against. With the arrival of a Confederate soldier Sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) who has some great lines. I can’t imagine another actor in the role (besides Billy-Bob Thornton) make the balance between comedy and outright racism for other Civil War veteran. The Sheriff of Red Rock, the next town where everyone is heading, for a new job, to die and other to collect payment.
When we finally arrive at Minnie’s we still have to wait before they are still in the same room. It’s all about build-up as we meet the other characters who have already escape the storm. Having just met these we have to start all over again. Most have already been in director/writers films so do take easily to the dialogue. Two from Dogs Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth) and Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) who each have the backstories. I personally took to the old cowboy Gage, the centre of the Western genre, waiting to get home to see his mother for Christmas. Of course this is all surface which we have to interrogate between them all. Its all about what we listen and understand. There is one dangerous conversation between Maj. Warren and General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern) that ends badly for one of them. As an event is grusesomely retold for those in the cabin and us in the audience. It’s also good to see Dern on-screen whose gaining another audience as a cranky old man who can surely bite, the grey hair is only a facade when it comes to Dern.
The structure of the film is broken into 5 chapters, 2 on the road and 3 in the cabin, something that you don’t see in the genre. It helps to structure the film, and allows to breath if only for a moment. I felt the narration by Tarantino just wasn’t necessary, if it was really needed, someone else could have taken on that role. It all adds to the stroking of his ego which is massive to say the least with the comments he has come out with. You easily take out the narration and just carry on. The flashback sequence which does explain a lot goes someway to giving some characters more time.
As with all Tarantino films violence is at the centre, well tale end of the film, its all stacked up and shared out in the last 45 minutes as characters are killed off in shocking order. Saying little as possible, pay no attention to the billing as no-one is safe with a gun in your hand. It’s always a pleasure to see a Tarantino film if only for the dialogue, he’s tried something new year, well rehashed and shaken up as an Agatha Christie as learn who these people are. Heaps of talking, but where I get frustrated with Christie there is no action. There is always the intent of violence. it switches from character to character in the room. They discuss politics, justice and everything in between, opinions are strong and forthright.
Even if Leigh is the only female and gets a lot of grief and violence in her direction she is just as strong as her male counterparts in the film. Westerns are traditionally male heavy which maybe right or wrong, that’s a discussion for another article. What does it however add to the genre though? Its heavily stylized, still violent and rooted in the same era as most Westerns. It’s very contemporary still but not a light watch, it demands your time which is what you can go easier on the classics if you wanted and still enjoy it as a whole.
My first encounter with this film was on my birthday during the install of my degree show. I was recommended to watch it by a friend who knew I would like it. That’s an understatement, I loved it. My memory of High Plains Drifter (1973) has long since faded, all I could remember was the ghoulish red town and the whipping flash-backs which stay with you long after the credits have rolled. In terms of the western genre this has more in common with its Italian cousin, the spaghetti western which strictly speaking are not westerns, they have the form of the genre but don’t really have the language of the American full-breed which if I’m honest are less violent during their greatest period. The violence was exploited and amplified. Once you get over the dubbing of all but the American star of the film (Lee Van Cleef, Clint Eastwood et al.) you have this pumped up action film with more sex and violence than you’d have found to that point in the home of the genre. They didn’t carry the legendary status in the characters as subtly as Shane (1953), having built them up in the opening titles as these already fastest guns in the west-types such as Django (1966) where we are treated to another installment. Back home they’re stirred into action, not wanting to fight and draw their guns so easily, having more progression in the gunfighters.
Looking at Clint Eastwood’s influences his time with Sergio Leone strongly influenced him, the violence the stranger with no name, the anti-hero who you end up routing for comes out on top. His first western behind the camera he is still find his own unique voice, one he is adopting from the persona of the man with no name. The tone of Drifter is very European, its hard to sum up in a few sentences, the town looks freshly built, making it more become a backdrop that standout, it’s a newish town that is trying to sustain itself. Laying it’s foundations next to a lake that seems too close for comfort, suggesting it could all be washed away in stormy night. It all becomes very fragile. The town of Lago is actually another character that’s abused in the film (more about abuse later) which we see is transformed, blown up and eventually burnt down. Its part on the film is on some levels more important than the people who inhabit it.
Turning to the townspeople I’m reminded of Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) a town with a dark secret that is bubbling on the surface ready to spill over. Except we don’t have a strong replacement for the mean Robert Ryan who did actually scare the life out of Spencer Tracy (during filming) who was the outsider looking for the truth. The secrets a lot looser here as the film takes on more of a horror tone, Clint’s not giving us a straight Western, it’s a Western-Horror complete with flashbacks which you don’t really see in genre, that plague your mind. A sequence which is played out at least twice but feels a lot more in the mind. It’s the conscience of the town put on the screen.
There is also a strong influence of The Magnificent Seven (1960) or should I say more precisely The Seven Samurai (1954) a cowardly town turn here to one outsider (not seven) that is more dangerous than the men they have been home to for at least a year that have played host to that have just been killed. Except these are all Mexicans who are fighting off bandito’s, they are American citizens who should by rights be able to pick up a gun and fight without fear. They seen off the Mexicans and almost solved the “Indian problem“, why are they so afraid? They need Clint’s stranger who doesn’t really care for them at all. Which leads me back to the flashbacks which are very important in our understanding of who he is, or in fact was. He is not so much flesh and blood as he has ghostly presence, he knows more about the town than he lets on. I believe he is ghost of the whipped town Marshall Jim Duncan (Buddy Van Horn) who we see in versions of the same scene that we’re reminded off. It’s the reason that The Stranger is here, the reason the town’s scared of the men who will be riding back for revenge after a year in prison. We follow these men back, they are ruthless in their journey, killing for horses, clothes and fun, these are dangerous men for sure.
The Stranger’s presence in Lago shakes everything up, from his first hours he has raped a woman Sarah Belding (Verna Bloom) which is brutal to watch, yet filmed from the woman’s perspective a glimmer of what is to come from Unforgiven (1992) nearly 20 years later. As much as Eastwood is a feminist he wants to come across as the revengeful type who will take what he wants. Maybe this was Duncan’s lover, we just don’t know. We do know that she vocal in her experience to the law who simply want to pacify her modern views that wont be accepted until the next century. We don’t linger as much on the rape as we do in Eastwood’s later film which hinges on request of the prostitute who places a bounty on the man who disfigured her. From a lower position in society they are exerting more power than the men who want to keep both cases quiet. Ironically their next encounter is much more consensual after working his charm and danger, as if he has broken a horse in, now he simply has to ride it when he wants (yes I know it’s a poor analogy but suits the film).
Here in Lago having The Stranger in town is very much to their advantage who abuses that power. From the beginning he turns things on there head. With a free card to do as he please, have what he wants he makes the much small person Mordecai (Billy Curtis) the sheriff and mayor of the town, the butt of the jokes, is placed in the strongest position behind the stranger. He’s not there for comedy with Clint who wants to play with these people who are fighting themselves more than they had before. It’s chaos in Lago. In-fact Mordecai’s built up, from being this typically comedic role to one of great importance, he uses his position to abuse those who have given him s*** for years, now it’s his turn. He is also another way into the past of the town, he too has a connection to the late Marshall, which may lead to his role in the film being so prominent.
I could go on forever about this film there is a lot going on so I’m going to turn instead to the ending which once again got me thinking of another piece I could make in the future, as the town is literally painted red, bringing new meaning to the phrase, which ironically has roots in my home county of Leicestershire in the town of Melton Mowbray when the Marquis ran riot causing mayhem and literally painting the town red in places. This is too strong to be coincidence, turning the idea on its head so the townspeople are causing the mayhem, they are preparing themselves, practically inviting the trouble. Renaming the town Hell, which has move to the surface of the Earth. The town can be seen far quiet a distance now, in one uniform colour of bright fake-blood.
All brought about by Eastwood’s ghost which is more than just showing up the town. He is getting revenge on them all, luring them into a false sense of security before deaths unleashed upon them. The role of the gunfighter’s turned on its head, no longer is he the gun for hire or protector of the people he is using his position to induce fear and draw it from his own past. Could he be the devil as the film draws to a close, he rode literally out of nothing and back into nothing, as if the ghost can now rest peacefully knowing that he has settled his unfinished business. Eastwood early on is showing that the standard western has to change, with his Italian influences and the changing language of cinema. You could say this is more fun than the formulaic Western but that would be ignoring the level of violence and rape that goes on. He is definitely pushing the boundaries of what you can do with the genre which he is reshaping in his image.
- High Plains Drifter (1973) (westernsontheblog.blogspot.co.uk)
- High Plains Drifter as Social Commentary (thewesternwordslinger.blogspot.co.uk)
- High Plains Drifter (1973) (buddiesinthesaddle.blogspot.co.uk)
- Clint Eastwood’s film High Plains Drifter (1973) (tim-shey.blogspot.co.uk)
- High Plains Drifter (1973) (sonofcelluloid.blogspot.co.uk)
- High Plains Drifter (nothingiswrittenfilm.blogspot.co.uk)
- High Plains Drifter (1973) (commonsensemoviereviews.blogspot.co.uk)
- HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (1973) (cinefilestv.blogspot.co.uk)
- High Plains Drifter (Universal, 1973) (jeffarnoldblog.blogspot.co.uk)
- High Plains Drifter (1973) (voyagesextraordinaires.blogspot.co.uk)
It’s been years since I last saw one of the films from the Mad Max trilogy (1979-85) leaving me with a thirst for more on-screen violence from in the post-apocalyptic outback of Australia. George Miller and Mel Gibson creating a myth built on legendary characters. Ok the first outing Mad Max (1979) was made on a budget, it hash;t aged to well. With all the larger than life characters that were painted, the danger and Gibson a then unknown having loads of fun. The idea of a desolate future was being written. The next instalment we meet him in Mad Max: Road Wrarrior (1981) very much a changed man after witnessing the death of his family at the beginning of this apocalyptic future. A few years down the line we are in this world where anything goes, with even larger than life characters in all kinds of contraptions, spikes, spears and skulls on cars of all shapes and sizes from bygone days, pimped up cars, kitted out for the desert. We can see that life does go on, there is hope. Where the is hope this is also despair as factions of bikers and other gangs of petrol-heads are after all they can get as we find, more dangerous than the good guys, It’s all a giant play-ground for the male imagination, cars explosion and death and destruction to revell in on the big-screen. Before reaching new levels with the last part of the trilogy Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) trying to be more commercial with the inclusion of even more kids and the bombastic Tina Turner as Aunty Entity leader of a group built on-fear and control. Modern society in the later two has clearly broken down, reverting back to a more primal state. It’s far beyond what we have in The Rover (2014).
Ok with a some context in place this latest instalment 30 years later or should I’d say Mad Max:Fury Road (2015) re-boot is more of an amalgamation of the three earlier films. With the past built into flashbacks the other two are built-in in terms of borrowing elements here and there to recreate that world for a new audience. I’m usually one to say on Facebook when I see a post that yet another classic is being remade or rebooted, I hang my head in shame or despair, why return to something that worked so well. Going back to the watering hole for more of the same instead of being original. However I have no doubts about this one thanks to George Miller being all over this film. Only he could deliver a fresh take on what makes Max tick, the cars the insane characters that roam the desert.
The reusing of the same elements has ensured that there is some continuity to the universe. We left Max last time as he sped off into the distance, the kids and any responsibility they believed he had to them. We had images of a ruined city and that theme tune that has done far better than the film. We find Max now still getting into scrapes, fighting to get free, now also afflicted by flashbacks, the guilt for leaving others to die. A haunted and complicated man of few words. Gibson’s Max had a few more. We do still retain the over-protectiveness for his car though, not much really changes. Held prisoner by Immorten Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) ruler of the Citadel a figure straight out of a H.R. Giger sketch who is held together by the best technology and fear that he can inspire. He probably has about as many lines as Tom Hardy who struggles to keep one accent for a single page of dialogue. He needs to really find and focus on who he is, with a voice that is all over the place, he’s Australian one minute, American the next, just make your mind up. Unlike the rebellious Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) who has left the faction on a routine delivery, made out to be the best of her kind, having proven herself to Immorten Joe. She’s fully formed and a deeper character, Max we can’t get into, needing to rely on the flashbacks and the original trilogy to fill in the gaps. He does however fall into the Leone figure of the west more so that Gibson’s take on the role.
If you’ve see the previous films you’ll know what I mean when you see this film begin making you feel at home with what you know before cranking up the explosions which come at regular and welcome intervals as the Furiosa takes her truck of a detour away from it’s destination. We learn her true mission. Its not just a male dominated world, women still have a voice, something that has been lacking from the other three. Ok there were families and Entity but not on this scale. A rare action film that will definitely pass the Bechdel test.
It turns into a rescue and escape mission for Furiosa who you can see and had to fight for all she has in life. Harbouring 4 of Immorten Joe’s wives, reflecting the current state of immigration and refugees in the world today. The Although there isn’t the fear of crossing the channel and having someone break into your car and your lorry. There is still that core ideal of wanting a better life on a world that is no barren. Max is caught in the middle of all of this after being tied to a stake on his car part of a war party, driven by Nux (Nicholas Hoult) a glory hungry half life, one of the legions of loyal soldiers who will kill for Joe.
This group of unlikely characters band together to get the promised land, this time the Green, which does sound like paradise. we do capture glimpses of such a life, hidden behind the guarded world of Citadel. If it wasn’t for the recession we may not have had another Mad Max, not to say we should have economic disasters to make films, it’s an interesting reflection of our times placed in a future where s*** has hit the fan big time and everyone is picking up after the fallout. The powerful have find ways to control the people whilst others band together. There’s a lot going on, I saw Mad Max in 3D which was perfect, given all the action, the crazy explosions, it feels too much then you end up wanting more. Its better than “mediocre” its marvellous. Can there be a sequel? I’m not sure, there is plenty of room to go to other tribes/factions, see how Max is thrown into it all. However it needs to break free of the past to be truly modern, build on what it has to be truly fresh.
I’ve been waiting to catch the Japanese remake of Unforgiven (1992), wondering how it would compare, which I can’t help but do. On the face of it these two films are the same in terms of the basic plot, the three men who ride into avenge a prostitute has been attacked. There is however more added depth to Unforgiven/Yurusarezaru mono (2013) with the added strand of their countries civil war between the now samurai and Shoshon in the 1860’s, which mirrors the American civil, I don’t remember that in Eastwoods western at all. (However I haven’t seen it in 4 years) which gives the characters more of a back-story, not just gunfighters who left a trail of death and destruction in their wake. Much the same goes for the two elder men Jubei Kamata (Ken Watanabe) and Kingo Baba (Akira Emoto) who start out on one last job in hopes of collecting the reward money. Something that Jubei has long since given up since his days of killing to survive. To raise a family and work a small farm. You could say on the surface that he is a changed man who is simply struggling to keep his family alive in the 1880’s. Whilst Kingo is willing to go on one more job.
With Jebei’s wife long dead he soon gives into his friends persuasive words, riding out a while later. Its still very much the same film, switching 19th century America for Japan, its’s that simple. Of course the dialogue is different, at times I can’t read the subtitles as some bright spark decided to make them white in a font that becomes invisible in the snow. Moving on we soon meet up with a younger man who wants to join up with the veteran swords men, ready for another killing. Even his back story is fleshed out more, finding out he is a Anui a race that the then Emperor was trying to reduce, much like the taming of the Native American over the other side of the Pacific.
Add into the mix the small town where all the action takes places we have the sherif who exerts more power than necessary. Using violence to quell violence. Much younger than Gene Hackman‘s Little Bill Daggett who mirrored by the far younger sherif who doesn’t care who he hurts, using the law to shield himself. Whilst the group of prostitutes are struggling to be listened to. You could say it’s a feminist film, but I’m not too sure, as much as there women are willing to defend themselves, they still pay for men to do the dirty work. They are hiding behind the strength of a man and his gun/sword.
I think to really compare both films I need to re-watch the original Eastwood classic to truly understand what is going on. I think there was a conscious effort to make this version stand alone, whilst the main story elements are the same, it would;t be the same without the final showdown which was shaken up and completely different. I didn’t feel the terror at the transformed man, maybe it was the snow that soften it, not as dramatic as the rain on the soaked ground. Again I have to see for myself. It was however interesting to see once more the relationship between American and Japanese cinema. Before it was Kurosawa‘s Yojimbo (1961) and Seven Samurai (1954), who influenced Sergio Leone and John Sturges The compliment is being returned from Clint Eastwood by Sang-il Lee.
Moving onto or backwards to the original as directed by Clint Eastwood I found myself understanding both in greater detail and his own observations of the western as a genre, how it formed. The violence of the west and the gunfighter which has recently seen his latest film American Sniper (2014) becoming the most successful war film of all time (probably to be beaten later his year). Focusing always on the man behind the violence, not the act itself, what drives man/person to act in such a brutal and dangerous way toward others. Scaring those around you, in order to have power, dominance, material wealth, and self-confidence.
When a man gives up that violence as we find with both Jubei and William Munny they are tamed by wires who have died by the time we meet them. Now a shadow of their former self’s, trying to do good by their family. Before we have seen the lone gunfighter’s come into town, not looking for a fight, always walking into it by the films end. Which happens here in great style. And in great tradition of the aged gunfighter Eastwood carries that on, in his last western role, becoming then too old to really so it justice. I can see strokes of El Dorado (1966), The Gunfighter (1950) and The Shootist (1976) they are no longer the young men they once were, struggling to get on a horse or even walk without some ailment holding them back. Time is their only true enemy. Munny is no longer able to shoot straight without changing weapon at least once.
The legend of the gunfighter and the west itself it question the form of travelling writer/biographer W.W. Beauchamp (Saul Rubinek) who arrives with English Bob (Richard Harris) one of the last great gunfighter’s who legend is bigger than himself. A status constructed by the writer and a lot of creative license to mythologize the untamed west, glorifying a man to become more than his actions. Creating a history that sells to the masses, attracting tourism and money. The very foundations of the genre, which can sometimes be based more on fact if in the right hands. Beauchamp spends most of his time discussing the events of English Bob’s gunfights with Daggett who puts the writers book to shame, the truth behind the legend which. The facts are sometimes harder to swallow than fictions. We discover that the man now in jail had only survived so long was down to pure luck Drawing your gun first was never a sure way to win a gunfight, it takes skill and thinking to win at a draw. Draw your gun first as your aim is not always right, giving the other a chance. Add to that the alcoholic element for Bob who is painted in a far darker insidious light, is more malicious in his killings. Not the brave man who saved the day, more of a lucky drunk who could’t stop shooting. The skill of the gunfighter in the pages of dime novels or the screen is a romanticised vision of an age of survival; kill or be killed.
This is also a macho trait which we find in the youngest of the two men in ride with Munny to avenge the prostitute. The ‘Schofield Kid’ (Jaimz Woolvett) creates his own legend, first recruiting Munny to join him on what could be an adventure, a quick job that itself had been blown out of proportion. Stating that he has killed 5 men before they start even begin, knowing his youth is holding him back to match Munny’s record which is never really totted up. A very masculine trait to “big” yourself up to look and feel better, reputation is a very important part of masculinity. This doesn’t wash with Munny who eventually joins up with on friend Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) who then all join up. I can see even at the start, the subtle changes that were made between this and the Japanese remake to have its own identity, to not just be a scene for scene copy unlike I Died a Thousand Times (1955) which allows it to be the same in terms of structure whilst having its own identity, its own culture.
Both have these built-in myths of past fighters, with swords or guns who have had great battles which have been constructed around the events which were probably bloody and full of horror, alcohol, and fear. If you deconstruct both films down to their main points we have a male figure who has lead a violent life, which has a built in legend and reputation that others have built up and admired. Without the facts to hand we have no idea what really happened, the trauma, the horror, more importantly the shame they now carry with them. I remember from my first review a few years back of the Eastwood original I focused on how the violence in a man can be tamed or even suppressed, able to reform. Until it’s triggered we don’t know how dangerous we can still. Eastwood’s gunfighter will always be more terrifying cinematically, probably because I am a great western fan than of samurai which is almost equal in its horror of the slaughter of the men. The changing of the end is what I was most critical of, going for the sherif first was a wrong footing, the main villain is always killed last.
Whatever these two films are, they do carry on that great tradition of that American/Japanese cinematic relationship of informing each others story telling. Showing the western is not dead and both countries have very different but similar histories which at the heart of human. All cultures create legends out of historical figures from moments they would sooner forget.
- Unforgiven (2013) (disasteryear20xx.blogspot.co.uk)
- Unforgiven (2013, Japanese) (yacowar.blogspot.co.uk)
- Unforgiven (1992) (rogersworst.blogspot.co.uk)
- Sound in Unforgiven (1992) (tdf165.wordpress.com)
- 4. Unforgiven (1992) (maltinsworstratings.blogspot.co.uk)
- Unforgiven (1992) (haksreviews.blogspot.co.uk)
- Unforgiven (1992) (coffeebeancinema.blogspot.co.uk)
- Unforgiven (1992) (unitedstatesofcinema.blogspot.co.uk)
To mark just over a year ago since my chat/discussion/conversation with professor Neil Campbell of American Studies at Derby University, I feel I should share that conversation, to allow you all to understand more where I am coming from, my position on the Western, from my degree show piece and my fascination with the Western genre. I will link the conversation back to my writing on some of the films that we discussed
Q. Why did the Western genre lose popularity in the late 60’s?
A. The impact of television was clearly apart of that. The Television programs in that genre, was saturating the market. The genre was more accessible to viewers, here and in the U.S. Hollywood had to look to other styles or forms to gain their audiences. There was also the political climate, that of the civil rights movement that had reached a high, with riots and the death of Martin Luther King. Jr. Also the American people were beginning to question the conflict in Vietnam. This also questioned American values. In-turn the style of the Westerns didn’t tap into that at all. Being covered by the likes of John Wayne and John Ford, who were going into decline themselves. The Western doesn’t die it simply takes different forms. The classic formula was that a problem needs to be solved, the people can’t solve it, so a hero arrives. The film becomes action packed, solving the problem with violence. The classic John Ford’s fit the age anymore, being based on mythologies. Younger people are looking for something else. New directors like Sam Peckinpah, and Robert Altman who directed McCabe and Mrs Miller (1971) and Arthur Pen who directed both Left Handed Gun (1958) and Little Big Man (1970). The genre is seen now as Post Western, films about the West in the 20th and 21st century, such as No Country for Old Men (2007), that alters and plays around with the genre. The idea of the hero is now too simplistic. People don’t want to question the myth, as it sacrilegious to do so; it’s the national narrative, best seen in the Western. Today people are more cynical and sophisticated. Open Range (2003) is a classic western but also modern, so it’s like a Ford, but the Ford Western can no longer be sustained. It survives in a new form, the Contemporary America, using Western elements. So the Western has to adapt to the times to survive. The classic Western genre will always have a place, as apart of the culture, but also seen as a product of it times that tried to adapt, but was lost in the idea of the hero. Too simplistic to really survive when political tensions increased around the world and at home concerning America. The WWII required escapism, to have heroic figures saving the day, and seeing America as a place for possibilities and progress, the American dream.
Q. How has the depiction of the Native Americans effected their identity, their political position and racially?
A. In the classic western the Native Americans were seen as inferior, they had secondary importance. This produced a stereotype. They were seen amongst other obstacles to be overcome in order to progress. They were treated as just material. There was slow recognition to see them as human, not wanted to be seen on the same level as white people. Their importance really increased around the time of the civil rights movements. Hollywood had to acknowledge this. At the time of films such as Gone with the Wind (1939) they didn’t have the vote. John Ford tried to explore this through his films Cheyenne Autumn (1964) and Sergeant Rutledge (1960) and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). The minorities gradually become more human and less stereotyped. However things don’t really change until the Native Americans start to make their own films, in Post Westerns, but not in the Western style, such as Smoke Signals (1998) by director Chris Eyre, being set in a contemporary reservation. The film acknowledges the stereotypes are now apart of their identity, but seen critically and ironically, drawing stupidity out, they can laugh at it. Films such as Little Big Man (1970) is a civil rights film about the Native Americans, with lines such as “Sometimes it’s a good day to die”. Dances with Wolves (1990) however Campbell sees it as actually quite limited . Sadly there are not many Native American films being made, as they can’t get access to funding.
Q. How has the depiction of Early America been distorted by film?
A. It’s all about the myth; the first movies that were made during the silent era were about the West. At that time, the frontier was still out there. The Indian wars were still going on. There was a gap between the frontier and the Western expansion; these two grew up together. They had a ready-made landscape which could be mythicized. Dime novels that were being published created heroes out of gunfighter’s, for instance Jesse James who has recently been portrayed by Brad Pitt (in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007). Beachamp follows up the idea of the Duke of Death in Unforgiven (1992). The dime novels mythicized the West. This was symbiotic in radio and film and the myth takes over. People don’t care for the real West, they are more persuaded by the myth where the hero walks away and we forget the violence. The real record of the West is by the photographers such as Muybridge in landscapes that he took, the photographs are slightly more honest, but get sucked away. Ansell Adams photographs are more empty, there is no community, how America was. Films such as Heavens Gate (1980) and The Deer Hunter (1978) by director Michael Cimino depict the West more honestly regarding immigration, when people just arrived off the boats. John Ford being an Irishman, depicted immigrants but using broken English, at a time in reality when there were all sorts of languages in the country. This is explored more in Deleuze’s Cinema 1 & 2. By 1945, things changed dramatically when WWII ended. The Neo-Western was coming into being. Ford represented the old style of Western. Directors such as Altman and Peckinpah were directors of the changing genre. The genre had to find a new form; life was no longer simple. They can’t go back to the American dream, or maybe not so, with films such as No Country for Old Men (2007). Also films such as Bad Day at Black Rock (1954) by John Sturges, which was so different with slow ponderings, looking at the internal space and the landscape, looking at war and racism. The Misfits (1961) set in the Nevada open desert starring Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable. The film was based on a book by Arthur Miller directed by John Huston. The film Lone Star (1996) starring Kris Kristofferson set in the modern West, with classic elements but certainly looks at new ideas.
Q. Do you believe the majority of our knowledge of the West now comes from films?
A. In short, yes in Europe and America, only through the images, T.V. adverts and art etc, which take aspects of the mythologies. There are lots of examples of distortion, which come from 19th century American Art. I’m recommended to look at West is America, an art collection that was held in the 1990’s. The paintings are mythical, by the likes of Russel, Remington and Beerstat, from which the film-makers borrow from their art. Where as the work of Adams is not original, borrowings from paintings, and film borrows from photographs.
Q. Do you think that the Native Americans have fair representation in film and politically?
A. Yes, generally, but it depends on the voices being heard, more so now through the news, painting and films. However there are problems that still exist, people’s perceptions are broadly better and fairer, but still thought to always have feathers. There’s a film called The Exiles (1961) about a group of Native Americans who move to Los Angeles from a reservation, after being encouraged by the government. They found difficulties with alcohol, poverty and employment. However they are not shown as victims. The Urban world is so different from where they came from. Lastly the films of Sergio Leone lean towards the New Western genre.