The Western Lands
July 29, 2013 11:17 AM   Subscribe

 
Hasn't the western been dying since at least the late sixties?
posted by MartinWisse at 11:26 AM on July 29, 2013 [8 favorites]


Arguably, the Western's popularity in mass consumption started winding down in that period, but I think it's fair to say that the Western as a genre is one that simply will not die. It might grow withered at times, but if you glance at media over the last two decades it just keeps popping up. Definitely not at the level when it reigned supreme, 50s and early 60s, but in bad jest, American can't quit it. Everything from Unforgiven to the Lone Ranger, from the Adventures of Briscoe County, Jr to Firefly, shows that even if a mass audience no longer exists, an audience of some sort does. The Western will never vanish from American culture, it just might sit in the backseat a lot more.

The other great theme of the Western, after that of the conquering of native peoples and the establishment of civilization in the desert, is that of loss and of nostalgia for a certain way of life--the early freedoms of the West, the idea of riding across an unfenced landscape, the infinite possibilities of the frontier. That "West," of course, is already gone, fallen, conquered. It has been for decades, even though holding onto some sense of it seems crucial to our identity as Americans. Movie Westerns have been tracking that loss for a century.

Well, really, the "West" as envisioned in the Western was already gone by the time the Great Train Robbery came out.

And for shame for not mentioning Rango in that article, which was a delightful update to and honoring of the Western.
posted by Atreides at 11:36 AM on July 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


Totally lost me at "[t]he wonderful Brokeback Mountain and the awful Wild Wild West..."

Well, I'm a badass Cowboy livin' in the Cowboy days!
Wikky, wikky, scratch, yo, yo, bang, bang!
Me and Artemis Clyde Frog save Salma Hayek from the big metal spider!
A wikky wik wig wiggy wiggy wik!
posted by Cookiebastard at 11:38 AM on July 29, 2013 [9 favorites]


This feels like at least the fifth or sixth time in my film-criticism-reading life that somebody has written a serious article about The Death of the Western. Genres don't die, they turn into other things.

For the last five or six years, one of my pet movie ideas that I'll make when I inherit $100 million (adjusted for inflation) has been an epic weird-Western retelling of Lord of the Rings. It exists solely in my head and as a collection of extremely scattered notes on my hard drive, but I figure if we can make Kurosawa samurai movies into Westerns, why not epic fantasy?

In order to survive into the next 100 years, Westerns can't just be about America's mythology anymore, they have to become part of the world's mythology. The Lone Ranger succeeded in becoming a series of Lego sets, but not much else.
posted by Strange Interlude at 11:39 AM on July 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


CTRL-F "Deadwood"

This article is useless.

Seriously, though, even though this article focuses on movies, it kind of seems Deadwood is worth discussing, given it was the last successful/acclaimed Western to grace our screens to my recollection.
posted by entropicamericana at 11:39 AM on July 29, 2013 [17 favorites]


Yes. Aside from a brief revival in the nineties and very few exceptions since, the Western, as a genre, has been well and truly dead for a long, long time.

As it should be. There's only so much to do with it, and it's all been done. Might as well cry over the death of the Tarzan genre.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:41 AM on July 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


Everyone knows that. Westerns, on the contrary, are traditionally about cowboys and Indians, or at least homesteaders and land and railroad barons

Or samurai.

Westerns are fundamentally about political isolation. The government is far away and weak. Institutions are largely irrelevant in a somewhat isolated town of 100 people. The law is what the sheriff says it is, or what the marshall riding through town says, or the posse. At that scale, there may be no meaningful distinction between war and crime. A single individual's choices can tilt the balance of power. Samurai and Western stories cross-pollinated because when you strip away the surface detail the settings are surprisingly similar. The villagers in Seven Samurai and the women in Unforgiven are both buying justice/revenge because there is no one to appeal to from whom they could expect justice. Westerns are interesting in part because they are stories where individual moral judgment is almost totally unsupported by institutions.

Westerns clearly are not dying. We get a really great film in the genre once every few years. However, they've lost a lot of their place at the center of pop culture because the idea of an isolated community has grown increasingly implausible. In what has become a surveillance state, the idea of a place where the state has no authority does not resonate as relevant.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:43 AM on July 29, 2013 [81 favorites]


it kind of seems Deadwood is worth discussing, given it was the last successful/acclaimed Western to grace our screens

Also the best.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 11:44 AM on July 29, 2013


True Grit and Django Unchained were two of the finest movies period of the past few years, nevermind westerns, and going back a little further, "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" did fairly well for itself critically.

The western is fine - Hollywood will always make more stinkers than stunners.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:44 AM on July 29, 2013 [19 favorites]


We also don't churn out lots and lots of cheap genre movies cause, TV exists for one thing.
posted by The Whelk at 11:45 AM on July 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


The Western can never die -- it is at its heart nothing more than an in-depth character study. As long as you have drama, you will have character studies, and the Western is so perfectly adapted to that, it can never disappear.

As for the decline of the Western as a wide-spread genre, it's a simple reason, just two words: Blazing Saddles.
posted by Capt. Renault at 11:45 AM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also the best.

I'll drink to that.
posted by entropicamericana at 11:46 AM on July 29, 2013


it kind of seems Deadwood is worth discussing

Deadwood is always worth discussing.
posted by dobbs at 11:47 AM on July 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


And on a totally unrelated note, everyone go watch Johnny Guitar right now.
posted by The Whelk at 11:47 AM on July 29, 2013 [8 favorites]


Or, you know, we could create NEW myths and heroes that have meaning for our culture as it exists now in the 21st Century, instead of the early 20th.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 11:48 AM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


So this story gives us The Lone Ranger (2012), Cowboys and Aliens (2011), and Jonah Hex (2010), with an average Metacritic rating of 40 (out of 100). Combined total budget (per IMDb): $460 million. Combined total gross (per IMDb): $191.9 million (to date).

And I counter with True Grit (2010), Rango (2011), and Django Unchained (2012), with an average Metacritic rating of 79 (also out of 100). Combined total budget (per IMDb): $273 million. Combined total gross (per IMDb): $457 million.

Not that a Metacritic score is a be-all and end-all of anything, but the fact is all six of these movies are "westerns" (unless you disqualify Rango because: cartoon) and only three of them are widely considered to be any good. Those three are not the ones in the Atlantic piece.
posted by Mothlight at 11:48 AM on July 29, 2013 [17 favorites]


Why not come out five abreast, cavorting and taunting - Deadwood was left out!
posted by Lorin at 11:48 AM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Deadwood is always worth discussing.

Might not be wise. How much profanity can MeFi's server take before it melts down?
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:49 AM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Westerns are fundamentally about political isolation. The government is far away and weak. Institutions are largely irrelevant in a somewhat isolated town of 100 people. The law is what the sheriff says it is, or what the marshall riding through town says, or the posse. At that scale, there may be no meaningful distinction between war and crime. A single individual's choices can tilt the balance of power. Samurai and Western stories cross-pollinated because when you strip away the surface detail the settings are surprisingly similar. The villagers in Seven Samurai and the women in Unforgiven are both buying justice/revenge because there is no one to appeal to from whom they could expect justice. Westerns are interesting in part because they are stories where individual moral judgment is almost totally unsupported by institutions.

One of the interesting things to learn about Deadwood (which is among my very favorite TV shows of all time) is that David Milch originally planned to make the series about the formation of a police force in ancient Rome, because he liked the way that people move from chaos to order as a way of fostering justice. But! HBO had just greenlit the TV show Rome, so Milch was like, "uh... what about the old west instead?"
posted by Greg Nog at 11:50 AM on July 29, 2013 [10 favorites]


Sometimes that's what the fuck life is: one vile Atlantic article after another.
posted by thelonius at 11:51 AM on July 29, 2013 [12 favorites]


Did he just glancingly mention True Grit because it didn't fit his thesis? Because a $244 million worldwide gross with $171 million US on a $38 million budget is pretty damn good for a "dead" genre.

Maybe people just aren't seeing shitty movies? But then Grown-ups 2, which I will ignore because it doesn't fit my thesis.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:51 AM on July 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


Ah; here:

Milch went to a meeting at HBO to propose a series that was reducible to the pitch line "St. Paul gets collared." More expansively, he wanted to write about the lives of city cops in ancient Rome during Nero's reign, before a system of justice had been codified. "I was interested in how people improvised the structures of a society when there was no law to guide them," he said. "How the law developed out of the social impulse to minimize the collateral damage of the taking of revenge."

According to Carolyn Strauss, the president of the HBO entertainment division, she and her boss, Chris Albrecht, though enamored of the concept, "were, like, grimacing, because we both knew that we already had a Rome show in the pipeline." It focussed on a different emperor, "but, still, how many shows about ancient Rome can you have?"

posted by Greg Nog at 11:51 AM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


This article is useless.

Yes. Some lousy Westerns have been made to try and create blockbusters. That doesn't mean the Western is dead, it just means lousy ones won't do well.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:53 AM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Totally lost me at "[t]he wonderful Brokeback Mountain and the awful Wild Wild West..."

I am now imagining Brokeback Mountain, but with Dr. Arliss Loveless in the Randy Quaid role. It makes about as much sense as the time I took The Pianist and mentally replaced Adrien Brody with the Kool-Aid Man.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:53 AM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


(Rango is awesome, by the way.)
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:54 AM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Calling Lone Ranger, Cowboys & Aliens and Jonah Hex "westerns" is really stretching things. Sure, they take place in this place called "the west" but the location is used more as wallpaper. They aren't "westerns" in any real sense. And those movies probably failed as much because they weren't informed by the "western" tradition, as much as they failed because they were shit concepts. Had Lone Ranger been played as a straight-ahead serious western (and without the mega-buck, over-the-top production), it may have actually succeeded.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:55 AM on July 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


True Grit was a remake. Do remakes count?

That said: It's a Coen brothers movie, and just about everything they've done could be considered a Western. Maybe the genre's not dead after all.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:56 AM on July 29, 2013


> Westerns are fundamentally about political isolation. The government is far away and weak. Institutions are largely irrelevant in a somewhat isolated town of 100 people. The law is what the sheriff says it is, or what the marshall riding through town says, or the posse.

This seems to be where the Western as a genre tails off (when order and civilization finally comes to town) and where science fiction picks up (when order and civilization finally comes to town... entirely on local terms, since the next town over is a couple lifespans away by sublight space travel). And where science fiction can continue plotting new scenarios, not only because of the added complications of interstellar travel but because there's always new terrain to hypothesize: The Wild West doesn't have to be dusty and funded by gold prospecting and cattle raising any more.

I've seen it argued, a little less than half-in-jest, that Firefly is as pure a western as modern broadcast television has ever had. It seems valid, even if you ignore the occasional deliberate-or-not literal evocations of Western drama tropes like the train robbery, the belle of the ball, and the gunfights.
posted by ardgedee at 11:58 AM on July 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm more concerned for the fate of the film noir, the western's urban cousin.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:58 AM on July 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


There's only so much to do with it, and it's all been done

"The West" is a setting, "the Western" has some loosely-adhered to genre conventions that many filmmakers relish breaking. But there will always be stories to tell, so I'm not sure what you mean here by "it's all been done".
posted by Hoopo at 11:59 AM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Change the date on this article to sometime in the future and substitute the westerns for super hero movies. Markets become saturated, stars and movie makers grow old and exit the stage, and tastes change. It's not about westerns, it's about trends overall. I recall a huge swath of disaster movies in the 1970s and 1980s. Now you get one or two a year. It all evens out.

I think it's pretty plain to see that mixing western with sci-fi, comic book, etc. has failed pretty badly, but well made and gritty westerns are well received. The Lone Ranger was just an attempt to pump a super hero into the old west and it is no shock it didn't work.

It seems to me that in an effort to make news out of nothing (because it is less expensive than actual investigative journalism), I've seen a proliferation of articles about Hollywood that are little more than opinion pieces.
posted by Muddler at 11:59 AM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Westerns are fundamentally about political isolation. The government is far away and weak. Institutions are largely irrelevant in a somewhat isolated town of 100 people.

So, the nuclear\zombie\enviromental collapse postapocalyptic film supplanted it then? I think there's a related, but slightly tangential interpretation of the Western as a film about radical self-reliance; and as others pointed out, there's nothing in that formula that requires that it be accompanied with horses, six-shooters and black hats. That's just the most familiar American package for that sort of story.
posted by bl1nk at 12:00 PM on July 29, 2013 [10 favorites]


Also the Wikipedia entry had No Country For Old Men and Breaking Bad as fitting the Western mold, which actually kind of makes sense, so maybe we're still good for a while.
posted by Hoopo at 12:00 PM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


All Westerns are in many ways ABOUT the death of the West. Many Westerns are also about the Death of the Western. The best example of both kinds recently was the amazing updating of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Blackthorn. Fanfictastic.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:02 PM on July 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Under the presidency of Barack Obama, there has been a short-lived Western revival that would seem to match America's tentative new moral authority.

Hah!
posted by KokuRyu at 12:03 PM on July 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


The big problem with Cowboys & Aliens was that it was overly serious, brown, and gray. How can you have a movie about cowboys and aliens - called Cowboys & Aliens - and not make it fun or funny, let alone take advantage of the visual contrast between alien technology and the dusty West? Imagine how a 19th century cowboy would react to even just a candy apple red Corvette.

I also have a hard time imagining that cowboys would see aliens and think that they were anything other than devils sent from Hell. It would have been interesting if the cowboys kept viewing the conflict through that lens, even though the audience knows that the monsters are really aliens.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:04 PM on July 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm more concerned for the fate of the film noir, the western's urban cousin.

I think that's been even more thoroughly eaten by the Oscar Movie genre.
posted by Artw at 12:06 PM on July 29, 2013


Came in the thread, Control+F'ed for a Firefly mention, hit Favorite.
posted by planetesimal at 12:06 PM on July 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


substitute the westerns for super hero movies

No, that doesn't work. Both story types are character studies where individual choices matter more than they do in normal urban life but that's where they diverge. In Western/Samurai/Space-Cowboy stories individual choices are unusually important because there is no state to constrain choices. Superhero stories are about individuals who are so powerful that the law cannot constrain them. Superhero stories are fundamentally aristocratic in ways that westerns are not.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:06 PM on July 29, 2013 [16 favorites]


...but, still, how many shows about ancient Rome can you have?

Lots more?

I mean, there is enough material in Gibbon's Decline and Fall for at least 8 miniseries full of intrigue, sex, betrayal, conquest, desperation and murder. And that starts almost 200 years after the events of HBO's Rome.

I especially want to see HBO's Justinian.
posted by General Tonic at 12:08 PM on July 29, 2013 [11 favorites]


I submit Red Dead Redemption.

A very good game that is, of course, a Western. (Film is not the totality of media.)
posted by oddman at 12:10 PM on July 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


Rome was supposed to have a 3rd season but it got cut because $$$. This is why the 2nd season seemed so rushed, and all of a sudden we were at Actium.
posted by thelonius at 12:10 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


According to Carolyn Strauss, the president of the HBO entertainment division, she and her boss, Chris Albrecht,

According to this book, which has far too little Deadwood, the idea to move it to the west was Albrecht's.

And this year I plan on building the ultimate Milch online archive--Deadwood and otherwise. If you've got links to anything Milch related, please memail them to me.
posted by dobbs at 12:10 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


- Westerns are fundamentally about political isolation.
- So, the nuclear\zombie\enviromental collapse postapocalyptic film supplanted it then?


That's very clever. If you're right, the Western genre is very much alive and if anything saturated. Supporting your thesis, Walking Dead has a prominent cowboy hat and for the whole second season it's set on a ranch.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:13 PM on July 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


I would characterize There Will Be Blood as in the western genre as well...
posted by jim in austin at 12:15 PM on July 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


though, now, in the vein of "stories about political isolation, where justice, law and retribution are dispensed at the hands of the sheriff, posse or the local crime boss." I kind of want to see a modern Western in one of these loose plotlines

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly / Three Kings style treasure hunt where a C-130 full of hundred dollar bills goes down in the middle of the Iraqi desert and a Sunni militia, AWOL National Guard unit and a squad of private military contractors all converge on the bonanza.

A young illegal immigrant has to find their daughter/friend/PersonInDistress in the midst of a human trafficking chain running across the grey borders of the American Southwest, where none of the authorities have an interest in their plight, and the only appeal to force comes from narcotraffickers, neighborhood gangs and Minutemen vigilantes.

Seven Samurai / Magnificent Seven reboot in Southern Sudan where a disillusioned South African security contractor takes on the defense of a village in Darfur plagued by the Janjaweed.
posted by bl1nk at 12:17 PM on July 29, 2013 [27 favorites]


How can you have a movie about cowboys and aliens - called Cowboys & Aliens - and not make it fun or funny

Also, it was called Cowboys and Aliens. As anyone familiar with even the most basic understanding of cinema will tell you, the "and" implies that somewhere in the middle of the third act, whatever animosity that existed between the cowboys and the aliens will be put aside so that both groups can work together in order to save the West from the wealthy railroad barons who plan to jump everyone's claims and secure all the water rights for their industrialized ranches.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 12:20 PM on July 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


Two Westerns I enjoyed recently are Open Range and Meek's Cutoff.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 12:20 PM on July 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


HBO's Justinian.

Metafilter's own!

I'd actually really want to see a Caesar show from the Starz Spartacus team, though Steven DeKnight's next show for them already sounds pretty intriguing.
posted by kmz at 12:22 PM on July 29, 2013


Sam Raimi's The Quick and The Dead (1995) is (in my estimation) an underrated little gem of a western. Gene Hackman, Sharon Stone, a very young Leo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Lance Henriksen, Gary Sinise!!! Our proverbial cup runneth over...
posted by fikri at 12:23 PM on July 29, 2013 [9 favorites]


Sys Rq: True Grit was a remake. Do remakes count?

That said: It's a Coen brothers movie, and just about everything they've done could be considered a Western. Maybe the genre's not dead after all.


Sure remakes count. If there were fifty new big-budget film versions of Shakespeare plays this year, you'd call that a tremendous resurgence of Shakespeare films. You wouldn't say they didn't count because they had all been filmed before.

I really wouldn't say that everything the Coens have done is a western though. No Country for Old Men, sure. I remember remarking when I watched it that it seemed to be going for a blend of Western and Crime Drama cinematic tropes. Fargo, at a stretch. But that's about it. When I think "Coen brothers film", the ones my mind leaps to are the character pieces like The Big Lebowski, The Man Who Wasn't There, A Serious Man, Barton Fink. These are not westerns by any stretch of the imagination. Lebowski even derives humor from the incongruity of having a cowboy narrate the introduction.
posted by baf at 12:23 PM on July 29, 2013


Raising Arizona totes counts.
posted by Artw at 12:25 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Superhero stories are about individuals who are so powerful that the law cannot constrain them.

"Western" is a pretty capacious genre and it contains examples of the above. 'The Lone Ranger" is as much a "superhero" story as "Batman" is. Spiderman is in many ways a version of the "noble gunslinger" character: on the outs with Johnny Law but using his superhuman capabilities for Good. I think it's a mistake to single out just a handful of the recurrent themes of the movie western and declare that only films that take up those themes qualify; you'll get too many movies with guys in stetsons wearing six-shooters pushing through the bat-wing doors of the local saloon and having shootouts etc. etc. that you have to end up saying "well, sure, they're set in the West, and they're about cowboys and everyone at the time called the Westerns but, you see....."

"Western" is really a family-resemblance category more than a "genre" per se. Give it enough elements on a variety of fairly disparate lists (settings, protagonists, themes, music, plot etc.) and it will qualify as "a Western": even though it may have very little in common with some other film that you'll also categorize as a "Western."
posted by yoink at 12:26 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Westerns are fundamentally about political isolation. The government is far away and weak. Institutions are largely irrelevant in a somewhat isolated town of 100 people. The law is what the sheriff says it is, or what the marshall riding through town says, or the posse.
justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow

Didn't the classic Western morph in the 70s into the urban crime drama? Movies like Dirty Harry, where the city has a million people but it's still a lawless place where the lone cop has impose order on scum that infest it?

However, they've lost a lot of their place at the center of pop culture because the idea of an isolated community has grown increasingly implausible. In what has become a surveillance state, the idea of a place where the state has no authority does not resonate as relevant.

I think rather that this libertarian myth of the individual as an island into themself totally unconstrained by society save for what they voluntarily submit to is what became increasingly impluasible as an increasingly interconnected world showed it to be false. I think we're still seeing political and cultural echoes of our inability to accept the shattering of that myth, one America has long cherished.

Superhero stories are fundamentally aristocratic in ways that westerns are not.

This is a really interesting idea, but I still think both genes are more about the fantasy of the individual's power in society, just from different sides.
posted by Sangermaine at 12:27 PM on July 29, 2013


The Burrowers was a nice mix of Western and Horror.
posted by bstreep at 12:27 PM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Catch me in a mood and I'll explain how the Western is a science-fiction genre, the impact of all these new, life-chanigng technologies (razor wire!) creating and then destroying a particular way of life in a short time span.
posted by The Whelk at 12:28 PM on July 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


The western died with the duke .. I've tried to watch his movies but just can't .. It's like McCarthyism and everything else that was wrong with the 50s in one concentrated dose.

but I still have a soft spot for Josey Wales ...
posted by k5.user at 12:31 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sys Rq: As it should be. There's only so much to do with it, and it's all been done. Might as well cry over the death of the Tarzan genre.

Where to begin? Tarzan is a character, not a genre, and the story of isolation and return to one's rightful posistion is as hold as time.

The Western isn't any more limited than any other genre. Westerns have been stories of adventure, war, love, regret, isolation, despair, and optimism just like any other story. Westerns, perhaps more than some other genres, lend themselves very easily to monomyth-type archetypes. It can still be a vital artform.

True Grit was a remake. Do remakes count?

It wasn't really a remake; it was a second adaptation of the novel. Very different in tone and quality from the original. (John Wayne only got an Oscar for it because it was the end of his career and he was never properly recognize for his excellent early work in movies like The Searchers.)

1970s Antihero:Or, you know, we could create NEW myths and heroes that have meaning for our culture as it exists now in the 21st Century, instead of the early 20th.

Do you feel the same way about the Odyssey? Myths are timeless, but Westerns lend themselves the the sort of anti-heroes that very must resonate with our times. To wit: The Man With No Name Trilogy is good for the same reasons as Drive.

Please name something that is, by mere virture of its genre, more meaningful for a culture.

oddman: I submit Red Dead Redemption. A very good game that is, of course, a Western. (Film is not the totality of media.)

For games, I'd throw in Fallout: New Vegas, and I agree the focus on films misses a lot of "culture", and how much Hollywood material comes from other vital sources. Let's see what happens when the finally adapt Blood Meridian.
posted by spaltavian at 12:31 PM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


In what has become a surveillance state, the idea of a place where the state has no authority does not resonate as relevant.

This is a good example of a hopelessly inadequate rule of thumb for what constitutes a "Western." I would venture to say, in fact, that only the tiniest minority of Westerns are interested in "a place where the state has no authority." The Western is almost always interested in places where the state is struggling to fully assert its authority; there is a local sheriff, there is a local mayor, there is the railway, the US mail etc. etc., but there remain traces of either anarchic or heterarchic (think "injuns") forces not yet fully subject to state control. One of the great Western themes, is, of course, the simultaneous lament for the lost freedom of the anarchic past and the sad recognition that the new forces of state order are necessary for the good functioning of the emerging social order. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is, of course, the great statement of that theme.
posted by yoink at 12:33 PM on July 29, 2013 [10 favorites]


Catch me in a mood and I'll explain how the Western is a science-fiction genre, the impact of all these new, life-chanigng technologies (razor wire!) creating and then destroying a particular way of life in a short time span.

Anyone mentioned Firefly in this thread yet?
posted by yoink at 12:34 PM on July 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Raising Arizona totes counts.

Ok. Who invited that creepy high school teacher who kept using "rad" and "gnarly"?
posted by Thorzdad at 12:35 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]




justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow In what has become a surveillance state, the idea of a place where the state has no authority does not resonate as relevant

A whole host of Westerns are about the encroaching authority of civilization/the state/technology etc on the frontier. That's part of the reason the cowboy is an iconic figure of freedom; he's almost always contrasted with more settled, controlled and restrained life.

How does that not resonate with a society struggling with individualism and privacy?
posted by spaltavian at 12:37 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why is The Wire not on this list!
posted by munchingzombie at 12:38 PM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


RE: intersection of western and sci-fi: I submit Tremors (1990). Added bonus: a side of Bacon (Kevin).
posted by fikri at 12:39 PM on July 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


The Lone Ranger is the third Western to flop in four summers, and the most expensive, capping a trend set by Cowboys & Aliens and Jonah Hex

And other than being set in the old west, none of them are westerns. And all three are terrible. (OK - I haven't seen Lone Ranger, but it sure looks terrible) and that is why they flopped.

I'm a fan of westerns, classic and contemporary. I sadly have to agree that the age of the western is long gone. It's like jazz now. There's good and there's bad still being made, but it isn't the dominant thing, and on some level it is perceived as an exercise more than a pure thing. Whatever.

The 'good' westerns mentioned (Brokeback - not particularly a western, unless taking place in the West makes it so), True Grit, and Django Unchained (more westerny, but QT calls it a southern, and like all Tarantino movies is more in the genre of his movies than whatever genre it is purportedly in. Is Kill Bill really a martial arts movie?) are so much better movies than the three movies the article is pointing to. Better evidence for the death of the western would be something like Open Range, which was really pretty great, has a killer pedigree, a good story, is filmed beautifully and is overall a terrific western, if not the most revolutionary. But it died at the box office*.

When garbage like Jonah Hex doesn't set the world on fire we should be happy about it. When good movies don't rate because they happen to be westerns, that's when the sniffly articles should come in.

*It died when it came out in 2003! The western had been dead for 30 years by then! Argh!
posted by dirtdirt at 12:41 PM on July 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


I love Westerns, but as a genre they don't speak to our culture in the same way that they used to. Why this is would be a great book-length dissertation, containing many of the factors mentioned in this thread, but it's undeniable. Little kids would rather pretend to be superheros or Jedi than cowboys these days. Musketeer stories are a better analogue I think--being a servant of the aristocracy isn't romantic anymore, being a cool rebel is.

Why is The Wire not on this list!
Very funny.

And no, Whelk, this is the threads theme song.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:42 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Samurai and Western stories cross-pollinated because when you strip away the surface detail the settings are surprisingly similar.

Not just Samurai, but particularly Ronin movies. A Ronin was a Samurai who had no master, for whatever reason. (Often it was because his master had died, and some Ronin thought you should only have one master in your lifetime.)

And the mythos is that the Ronin answers to his sense of honor and duty but not to any higher authority, and is willing to fight, for honor and for righteousness.

Which is what we like in the hero of a good Western, even though the cowboy may have gotten to that place a different way than the ronin did.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:44 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Watch this ... and it will answer all your Questions ...

Rich Hall's - How The West Was Lost (BBC Documentary)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PKuw8MgvmAE


Bonus:

Rich Hall's - Inventing The Indian (also BBC)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GMDy-1mXw4o


Enjoy!


-
posted by homodigitalis at 12:44 PM on July 29, 2013 [15 favorites]


Little kids would rather pretend to be superheros or Jedi than cowboys these days...being a servant of the aristocracy isn't romantic anymore, being a cool rebel is.

Maybe the John Wayne-style Western, but when I think "Western" I think Eastwood, and there isn't an ounce of "servant to the aristocracy" there. *quietly waits for comeuppance*
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 12:46 PM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


A few things.

1. You can't get the kind of action that defines the modern blockbuster in a Western. You can get a bit of it on trains, but that really limits things, being a train. But the kind of tension you see in a classic gunfight standoff is simply not part of modern Hollywood storytelling.

2. Obviously you can't do the classic Cowboys vs. Indians anymore. That's a good thing but it limits the options.

3. Americans are bad at dealing with their history and don't flock to historical movies that aren't painfully clear cut.

4. Westerns were built on the fact that there was an industry surrounding them, and the film capital of the US was conveniently in southern California. During the heyday you could do a period movie on the cheap as long as the period was Old West. Now, you have to go through all the trouble you'd need for any other period movie just to make a Western.

5. Westerns became cliche and corny because they were over-produced. Relatively few things escaped unscathed. Hollywood movies desperately want to be cool, and have been totally unable to make cowboys cool again.
posted by graymouser at 12:46 PM on July 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


Samurai and Western stories cross-pollinated because when you strip away the surface detail the settings are surprisingly similar.

That's how you can remake Yojimbo as Fist Full of Dollars and The Seven Samurai as The Magnificent Seven.

This shows that gangster/mob movies fit in to these templates pretty well to since Yojimbo was based on a couple of Dashiell Hammett novels set in the 1920s.
posted by octothorpe at 12:57 PM on July 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Potomac Avenue: being a servant of the aristocracy isn't romantic anymore, being a cool rebel is.

Westerns are all about iconoclastic rebels. I'm guessing you mean how cowboys work for wealthy ranch owners, but how often is literal cowboy-ing the focus of a Western movie?

And Jedis aren't really cool rebels ; they themselves are aristocrats who put their own fairly stupid rules ahead of everyone's well being. Kids didn't want to be Luke, they wanted to be Han Solo.

Because Han Solo is a cowboy.
posted by spaltavian at 12:58 PM on July 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


1. You can't get the kind of action that defines the modern blockbuster in a Western.

I suspect that my be a feature, not a bug. One thing this summer is proving pretty solidly is that GIANT CGI SPECTACLE is not at all a recipe for box office success. One of the great things about action scenes in a western is that they more or less force you--if you're even halfway competent as a writer--to address the things that actually matter to an audience in any action scene: providing a story context that explains why we care a damn about the people involved and the outcome. The other great advantage of the Western action sequence is that the physics and the spatial logic involved is inherently graspable. We understand why "being shot at" is a Serious Problem and why "avoiding getting hit by the bullets/stampeding horses/whatever" is Important. It's a lot harder to figure out whether the Giant Fleet of Invading Spaceships really needs to care about the energy pulses/atomic weapons/plasma bombs or whatever are being flung their way.
posted by yoink at 12:59 PM on July 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Tarzan is a character, not a genre

You know what I meant. Jungle movies. They were A Thing once.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:59 PM on July 29, 2013


Obviously you can't do the classic Cowboys vs. Indians anymore.

A lot of the westerns of the 40s and 50s didn't actually do what we consider "classic Cowboys vs. Indians." Take 1948's Fort Apache, for example; the characters and plot involve multiple approaches to the Apache and are at least as morally complex as some of the later revisionist Westerns of the 60s and 70s (and John Wayne is far from a McCarthyist in that one, for sure).

Same goes for 1953's The Naked Spur, in which Anthony Mann and Jimmy Stewart blur moral lines at least as much in the Pre-Vietnam era as Westerns did in the 60s.
posted by mediareport at 1:03 PM on July 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


One rarely sees Cowboys near any cows.
posted by The Whelk at 1:04 PM on July 29, 2013


One of the great things about action scenes in a western is that they more or less force you--if you're even halfway competent as a writer--to address the things that actually matter to an audience in any action scene: providing a story context that explains why we care a damn about the people involved and the outcome.

Given the formulaic nature of so much Hollywood writing nowadays, I'm not confident that they're able to pull this off. Could be a big part of why there is so little confidence in the Western today; if you are relying on the kind of screenwriters who pen blockbuster movies today, you can't count on the scenes that need tension to actually have it.
posted by graymouser at 1:05 PM on July 29, 2013


Another difficulty is that the basis of the fight is the hero having a strong moral instinct and fighting against something that he considers unacceptable.

Moral certainty is out of fashion. Everyone is supposed to be post-modern and cynical now.

Used to be that someone who had a strong ethic was seen as praiseworthy. Nowadays he's considered a fool.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:07 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Westerns out of fashion and a bit old timey... hmmm...

Clearly the solution is to make Westerns for hipsters. Perhaps the story of a rogue cowhand and his crusade to keep cattle pasture-fed, against the designs of an evil ranch owner who wants to try a new-fangled grain feeding method for quicker fattening and fatter profits...

Skinny jeans, western shirts, handlebar moustaches, and some righteous foodie-ism. It'll practically sell itself!
posted by fikri at 1:08 PM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Considering the alarmingly hgh number of people I know involved in back to the land organic farming....that could...work.
posted by The Whelk at 1:10 PM on July 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Eli Cash.
posted by Artw at 1:11 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Moral certainty is out of fashion.

Well, first of all there are lots and lots and lots of Westerns which are all about moral ambiguity, without clear cut "heroes" and "villains." And second of all, what could possibility be more black and white in its morality than, say, the Star Wars universe? Or, really, the current Marvel/Avengers universes? Sure, Captain America is the only one who is willing to come out and say right upfront "I'm fighting for Good with a capital G!" but they're all of them at least as unambiguously "good guys" as the average western hero. Even Tony Stark/Ironman--the most ironic of them all--is just quirky and impish and a bit-of-a-lad. Even back in the 1950s your average Western hero would be made at least that complicated; nobody much like priggish heroes even back then.
posted by yoink at 1:15 PM on July 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


Obviously you can't do the classic Cowboys vs. Indians anymore. That's a good thing but it limits the options.

This isn't really as much of a limiting factor as you might think. Even with Native Americans out of the equation as a culturally acceptable threat, you still have nasty outlaws, corrupt industrial barons, the malign forces of the wilderness, and even the inexorable march of modernity as valid antagonists, all of which have figured into dozens upon dozens of great Westerns. But at its core, the Western doesn't have to be a genre built on racial antagonism or blunt physical threats, as long as the story is about ordinary people surviving, thriving, or dying in a world where the normal laws of civilization have been momentarily suspended. If a filmmaker can't make a Western worth watching out of that, then they have no business making movies at all.
posted by Strange Interlude at 1:15 PM on July 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


There's a new Casey Affleck western coming out in August, Ain't Them Bodies Saints. Here's a brief review from Film Comment.
posted by Jahaza at 1:17 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Clearly the solution is to make Westerns for hipsters.

Jim Jarmusch beat you to the punch almost 20 years ago.
posted by Strange Interlude at 1:17 PM on July 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Skinny jeans, western shirts, handlebar moustaches, and some righteous foodie-ism.

Ted's eyes narrow. A hush falls. "Are you tellin' me that these beans ain't locally sourced, Bill?"
posted by yoink at 1:19 PM on July 29, 2013 [13 favorites]


RE: intersection of western and sci-fi

Speaking of which - I liked how in the Star Trek universe, itself being set a few hundred years in the future, the setting was referred to as "the Ancient West".
posted by XMLicious at 1:21 PM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


One rarely sees Cowboys near any cows.

Open Range
posted by Thorzdad at 1:21 PM on July 29, 2013


Everything from Unforgiven to the Lone Ranger, from the Adventures of Briscoe County, Jr to Firefly, shows that even if a mass audience no longer exists, an audience of some sort does.

Sadly for fans of both Adventures of Briscoe County, Jr and Firefly (myself included), not enough of a mass audience was perceived to exist to keep them on the air very long.
posted by Gelatin at 1:21 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's a bullet made out of silver. You probably hadn't heard of that.
posted by Artw at 1:22 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's another genre of the 50s and 60s that we've lost even more than westerns: comedies about country bumpkins (Andy Griffith, Green Acres, etc.). I think they're both reflections of the same concern, that we had become an urbanized society and were losing touch with our rural roots. They're both genres that have a special appeal to city folks who've still got family back in the country. As that number dropped and fewer people felt like they had to stay in between the two worlds, westerns stopped being in theaters and bumpkins stopped being on our TVs. They're still around, but the westerns tend to be prestige pieces and the comedies tend to be about city people visiting the country and being confused by cows or whatever.

In a similar way, maybe in 50 years we'll see fewer heist movies because the idea of outsmarting the cops no longer appeals to so many people, or fewer paranormal romances because teenage boys aren't grotesque monsters or whatever.
posted by Copronymus at 1:23 PM on July 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


Another thing of note: how come there haven't been new genres? Certainly there have been a lot of sub-genres and different formats and styles, but nothing as broad and big as "western."
posted by Apocryphon at 1:25 PM on July 29, 2013


I won't decry the death of a genre because one big budget movie stank so very, very bad. Or a series of them. It's not the genre's fault, it's the studio and filmmaker's fault for making such horrible films. I reckon that remake of True Grit was purty good, for example.

The Atlantic seems to thrive on breathless declarations like this article.
posted by Catblack at 1:28 PM on July 29, 2013


how come there haven't been new genres

I suspect that this will always be one of those questions that just leads you into pointless arguments about what counts as a "genre" and whether or not it's "really" just some older form in modern drag. You'll always get plenty of hero-with-a-thousand-faces people who'll tell you that there have been no new plots since Homer. Or you'll get people who end up so hung up on exceptions that every single film becomes a genre unto itself.
posted by yoink at 1:29 PM on July 29, 2013


fewer paranormal romances because teenage boys aren't grotesque monsters or whatever

Speaking as a former teenage boy, I beg to differ.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:30 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


This article glided right over what seems to me to be the crux of the whole thing, which is that growing awareness of the plain political foulness of "winning the West" poisoned the genre. Even when the cowboys don't actually fight the Indians. The point of the Western was that people were free to work out their destiny independently because they were in a place that was a completely blank slate, with no rules and no history, and people just can't sit comfortably with that idea anymore.
posted by ostro at 1:30 PM on July 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


Another thing of note: how come there haven't been new genres?

The film industry is having a hard time coming up with an original character, relying almost exclusively on rebranding, rebooting, re-imagining, doing sequels, prequels and spin-offs and otherwise retelling already existing stories, and you want an entirely new _genre_?
posted by Dr Dracator at 1:32 PM on July 29, 2013


Samurai and Western stories cross-pollinated because when you strip away the surface detail the settings are surprisingly similar.

Something that is still happening with the remake of Unforgiven.
posted by Quonab at 1:33 PM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


The point of the Western was that people were free to work out their destiny independently because they were in a place that was a completely blank slate, with no rules and no history

This is wildly incorrect. What westerns are people watching that give them such weird ideas about it?
posted by yoink at 1:35 PM on July 29, 2013


Well, first of all there are lots and lots and lots of Westerns which are all about moral ambiguity, without clear cut "heroes" and "villains." And second of all, what could possibility be more black and white in its morality than, say, the Star Wars universe? Or, really, the current Marvel/Avengers universes?

Amen to that. I went on a classic Western kick a couple of years back and was frequently surprised at how Westerns from the 40s and 50s defied my expectations with plots more odd and characters more morally ambiguous than most of the modern action/Western films I'd seen. Simplistic timelines don't do those early films (like The Naked Spur and Fort Apache) justice at all.
posted by mediareport at 1:36 PM on July 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


The review at Jacobin, The Fantastic Failure of The Lone Ranger, has a better grasp of the Western as a genre and themes in Verbinski's film career.
posted by clockwork at 1:43 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would suggest that none of his examples are westerns.

The last good western was The Proposition.

Cowboys and Aliens is as much of a western as Reign of Fire is a combat flick. It's like comparing Saving Private Ryan to X-Men.

Jonah Hex was just too weird of a movie and again, not what I would call a western. It's like comparing Bewitched and Married with Children and calling them both shows about witches. I just don't get it.

Somehow I think Depp's career will be just fine.

Can we just say that these were all bad movies?
posted by cjorgensen at 1:47 PM on July 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


Westerns are all about iconoclastic rebels. I'm guessing you mean how cowboys work for wealthy ranch owners, but how often is literal cowboy-ing the focus of a Western movie?
spaltavian


Nah I was saying Musketeers have completely disappeared because they are defenders of aristocracy which was romantic at some point but just looks gross now. While cowboys have disappeared for different reasons, many of which are pointed out above. Personally I blame Paula Cole.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:48 PM on July 29, 2013


Somehow I think Depp's career will be just fine.

Only because other people than me have money.
posted by srboisvert at 1:50 PM on July 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


This is wildly incorrect. What westerns are people watching that give them such weird ideas about it?

Is this not what you get from, say, High Noon? Or all those movies where Confederates go west after the war? I always figured what was going on with those (apart from the fact that people really did that, of course) was that directors grasped the appeal of Confederates-as-they-see-themselves, which is to say as doomed, outmatched fighters, and realized that they could get interesting results if they displaced that mentality such that the Confederates could still be Confederates without having to be Confederates. In the Western you carry your history into a place without history. What do you see there instead?
posted by ostro at 1:51 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Let's see what happens when the finally adapt Blood Meridian.

If Hollywood can make Depp into Tonto, let's see Christopher Lloyd as The Judge.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:52 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, apocalypse movies may not be an absolutely new thing, but they've exploded in the last 20 years. Fantasy movies (as in, alternate world from start to finish) have only really been a thing since the 80s. Slacker/loser comedy?
posted by ostro at 1:53 PM on July 29, 2013


A quarter billion to make The Lone Ranger? What did they do, shred Benjamins and feed the horses with them?
posted by telstar at 1:54 PM on July 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


the remake of Unforgiven.

Whoa, how did I not know this was happening? Cannot wait to see it.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 1:56 PM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ted's eyes narrow. A hush falls. "Are you tellin' me that these beans ain't locally sourced, Bill?"

Is this before or after Bill and Ted save the princesses?

As apparently one of the few people who saw the Lone Ranger, I will state that to declare it not a Western would be the same as declaring Pirates of the Caribbean not a pirate movie (if you declare the later, then I give you your point). Gore Verbinksi, if anything, is a man who loves Westerns. This was most obvious in Rango, but it's also very apparent in the Lone Ranger. I recall noting definite homages to the genre and the movie is simply chalk full of themes you find in Westerns, be it the evil Railroad Company to vengeance for the death of a loved one(s).

If one must point to a reason it failed, it was not because it was not a Western, but instead, due to the Depp portrayal of Tonto and it's controversy (a large one here on the blue), the great amounts of gossip about its expense and troubled shooting (Hollywood loves to drag these things out as proof a movie will be a flop and then intentionally or not, it bleeds over into reviews and the general public consciousness of a film - which results in a self-fulfilling prophecy) and perhaps the actual franchise, the Long Ranger, which people may have felt was dated and thus, chose not to give a chance at the theater. As an aside, my father who grew up loving Lone Ranger and watching westerns loved the movie.

Cowboys and Aliens and Jonah Hex are two franchises that tried to inject something into the genre and simply failed in execution. (I do want to see Harrison Ford in another Western role, tho'!)

Is this not what you get from, say, High Noon?


High Noon has no right to be as good as it is and up unto now, I never realized it's been viewed as an allegory to black listing of Communists. Huh.
posted by Atreides at 2:12 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


the remake of Unforgiven.

Holy shit, I thought this was gonna be an ill-advised American remake, and was somewhat baffled by the comment:

Whoa, how did I not know this was happening? Cannot wait to see it.

...But seeing that it's part of the long tradition of samurai-cowboy cross-pollination cover-versions is AMAZINGLY exciting. Fuck, I am REALLY excited about this!
posted by Greg Nog at 2:17 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, they are saying "westerns", that aren't even really westerns, like Jonah Hex don't have much box office appeal but "prestige westerns" like True Grit do fine at what they are aiming at. Not to mention that Westerns are doing ok on cable.

Maybe I am misunderstanding this but I don't have a problem with that. I'm a pretty big fan of westerns and in the past few years we got The Asassination of Jesse James by Coward Robert Ford, Hell on Wheels, Hatfields & McCoys, Deadwood, and probably a slew of others I forgot.

Classic westerns are great. The ones that are really problematic for modern audiences are John Ford westerns. Even unreconstructed westerns from the 40s really hold up. The Westerner by Wyler, The Oxbow Incident by Wellman are two of my favorites. They are really worth watching.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:18 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Even back in the 1950s your average Western hero would be made at least that complicated; nobody much like priggish heroes even back then.

There certainly were a lot of nobodies back then...
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:18 PM on July 29, 2013


the remake of Unforgiven

The original is pretty much perfect. This is like remaking Casablanca.

Why not just remake Die Hard starring Ryan Reynolds?
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:25 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


In the Western you carry your history into a place without history. What do you see there instead?

The great bulk of Westerns are deeply rooted in a sense of history: the time of frontier lawlessness is passing, a new age of civilization is coming in. The man who hopes to act as if he were free of the burdens of history/society almost always becomes a haunted/hunted figure in the Western. Shane is a good example, but it's simply the nth iteration of the genre. Shane makes no sense at all if we don't understand the film's setting as completely defined by a driving historical narrative. Gunslingers like Shane represent a dying past which is both noble but also savage and lawless. Shane is not a hero because he's Good (he has very little sense of abstract moral purpose--he's on Jean Arthur's side because, well, she's Jean fucking Arthur), he is the hero because he recognizes and does not stand in the way of historical inevitability. In this way, he is a tragic hero; succumbing to a destiny that is far larger than his own personal interests. He kills the Bad Guys, sure, but he also recognizes that there is no place for him in the new order that is emerging in the West. The debate over whether or not he is mortally wounded at the end of the film is badly missing the point. Shane can't live to fight another day because there is no world left for Shane to operate in.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is a very similar story, of course, and is, again, drenched in a pervasive historical consciousness; True Grit would be another. But it would take less time to write a list of Westerns that are not profoundly aware of the West as a theater of history writ large than those that are.
posted by yoink at 2:26 PM on July 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Slacker/loser comedy?

were abbott and costello winners?

and i got your theme song right here
posted by pyramid termite at 2:27 PM on July 29, 2013


The original is pretty much perfect. This is like remaking Casablanca.

Why not just remake Die Hard starring Ryan Reynolds?


For the same reason some American hack stole Seven Samurai to make a dumb cowboy picture?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:28 PM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


There certainly were a lot of nobodies back then...

From your link:
Meston relished the upending of cherished Western fiction clichés and felt that few Westerns gave any inkling of how brutal the Old West was in reality. Dunning writes that Meston was especially disgusted by the archetypal Western hero and set out "to destroy [that type of] character he loathed." In Meston's view, "Dillon was almost as scarred as the homicidal psychopaths who drifted into Dodge from all directions."[5]
The TV series tamed Dillon considerably, to be sure, but even then he was nobody's idea of a prig.
posted by yoink at 2:30 PM on July 29, 2013


I would enjoy watching a Western retelling of Ame Agaru.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 2:38 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


The original is pretty much perfect. This is like remaking Casablanca.

Oh, I'm sure I can think of a couple of "modern" actors with as much gravitas as Hackman, Freeman, and Eastwood...

Um.


(It might be a while.)
posted by entropicamericana at 2:40 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Props to what I hope is a Burroughs reference with the title.
posted by byanyothername at 2:40 PM on July 29, 2013


By the way, all the talk about Western "re-makes" of Kurosawa needs to be balanced a little by the fact that Kurosawa practically worshiped the ground John Ford walked on and studied his films obsessively before he became a film maker. The Western influenced Kurosawa just as much as Kurosawa influenced the Western.
posted by yoink at 2:42 PM on July 29, 2013 [8 favorites]


I feel like the last western with actual castle as a central plot device was maybe Hud or Giant. Both used cattle as sort of symbolic of the west itself.

Someone should do a 70s style character study of people who work in modern day feed lots and factory slaughter houses.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:42 PM on July 29, 2013


"Place of Dead Roads" would be the more appropriate book, but makes less sense.
posted by Artw at 2:43 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


By the way, all the talk about Western "re-makes" of Kurosawa needs to be balanced a little by the fact that Kurosawa practically worshiped the ground John Ford walked on and studied his films obsessively before he became a film maker. The Western influenced Kurosawa just as much as Kurosawa influenced the Western.

Red Harvest
posted by Artw at 2:45 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Red Harvest

There's actually a scholarly debate over whether or not Yojimbo was influenced by Red Harvest or whether it was just thematically similar to other works that Kurosawa has acknowledged being influenced by (notably The Glass Key).
posted by yoink at 2:49 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Whaaaat, no Dead Man? The frontier as a mythical place, an interesting and respectful Native American character, Iggy Pop in drag, daguerreotype photography and... "That weapon will replace your tongue. You will learn to speak through it. And your poetry will now be written with blood" — POW!
posted by Tom-B at 2:49 PM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I feel like the last western with actual castle as a central plot device was maybe Hud or Giant. Both used cattle as sort of symbolic of the west itself.

Open Range, if you haven't seen it, revolves around open ranging of cattle. Without cattle, there's no movie.

For those who are complaining about Unforgiven being remade...do know, it's being made with swords. That help? (I.e., your irritation is based on a new Western...not a samurai flick...if still irritated, then you're free to do so...unless you string barbwire up and keep my cattle from grazing).
posted by Atreides at 2:51 PM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also Lonesome Dove. I'm going to stop before I prove myself even more wrong.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:55 PM on July 29, 2013


OK and since we're discussing the samurai/cowboy crossover, I'll just leave this here... Sukiyaki Western Django
posted by Tom-B at 2:56 PM on July 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


re the remake of Unforgiven, justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow: The original is pretty much perfect. This is like remaking Casablanca.

Why not just remake Die Hard starring Ryan Reynolds?


You realize that now you've got me trying to imagine samurai remakes of Casablanca and Die Hard.

(Die Hard is a lot easier to imagine.)
posted by baf at 2:56 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bogart with a Babycart.
posted by Artw at 2:59 PM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


For those who are complaining about Unforgiven being remade...do know, it's being made with swords.

I have to admit, I might be willing to see Casablanca remade with Kaiju instead of Nazis.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:00 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


The hardest Western to remake: Blazing Saddles.
posted by Cookiebastard at 3:00 PM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Even back in the 1950s your average Western hero would be made at least that complicated; nobody much like priggish heroes even back then.

See the original 3:10 To Yuma -- a psychological thriller in western clothing.
posted by swift at 3:02 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


High Noon is of course best in the original Science fiction comic by Jim Steranko.
posted by Artw at 3:13 PM on July 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


The Whelk: "One rarely sees Cowboys near any cows."

You do sometimes. And those are my very favorite westerns - the ones that take at least a semi-realistic look at what it was like to live on a frontier (where most sensible people didn't want to go), and the kind of iconoclasts that could thrive there. Rawhide is a 50s TV series, but there's a wonderful feeling of realness to it, with the characters calling themselves "drovers" instead of cowboys. They hate the "beeves," they hate the horses, they hate living out in the open with no company but other ignorant, dirty saddle tramps - but they also love the cattle, they love the horses (So patient and forgiving!), and they love living under the stars, surrounded by friends, with no obligations to tie them down. And at the end of the drive they swear they'll never do it again, but they're always right there next year, ready for another adventure.
posted by Kevin Street at 3:17 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have to admit, I might be willing to see Casablanca remade with Kaiju instead of Nazis.

King Ghidorah: We have a complete dossier on you: Gojira, reptilian, age 65 million. Cannot return to his country. The reason is a little vague. We also know what you did in Tokyo, Mr. Gojira, and also we know why you left Tokyo.

[hands dossier to Gojira]

King Ghidorah: Don't worry, we are not going to broadcast it.

Gojira: [reading] Are my eyes really brown?
posted by Strange Interlude at 3:18 PM on July 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


OK and since we're discussing the samurai/cowboy crossover, I'll just leave this here... Sukiyaki Western Django

You will never hear me say a discouraging word about Takashi Miike, but all I remember about this movie is the extremely unfortunate, deeply problematic cameo by Quentin Tarantino.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:34 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Gojira: [reading] Are my eyes really brown?

Here's looking at you, Mothra.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:38 PM on July 29, 2013


I'd argue that Stephen King's _Dark_Tower_ series is an excellent example of the modern Western.
posted by evil otto at 3:42 PM on July 29, 2013


bl1nk's excellent ideas + thoughts of Casablanca = a modern retelling of Casablanca set in an Iraqi border town. All the ingredients would be present. War just barely off-screen, occupiers have a presence in the town but not an overwhelming one, a large number of people fleeing the war and a smaller number of people rushing into it (contractors taking the overland route and resistance fighters making their way through quietly). Because of the isolation and the relative lawlessness, there would be commerce in guns, drugs, prostitution, and the myriad ways one can exploit frightened refugees.

Caught in the middle is a secular and urbane Iraqi man, formerly of Baghdad, now operating a coffee shop / hookah joint / secret gambling and/or brothel joint in this grimy dustpit of a town, trying his best to ignore the pressures brought on by the Americans and the resistance while making as much money as he can from both, and then one day he finds his ex-wife in the mass of refugees.
posted by honestcoyote at 3:43 PM on July 29, 2013 [8 favorites]


"It doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans beneath the claws of Rodan."
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:44 PM on July 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


Oh god.

I just remembered Barb Wire.

Near scene for scene Sci-Fi Cassabranca remake with Pamela Anderson.

Bring on Kaijublanca.
posted by Artw at 3:46 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


"See the original 3:10 To Yuma -- a psychological thriller in western clothing."

The original 3:10 to Yuma is a wonderful movie, and a comparison between it and the 2007 remake is a good encapsulation of what's wrong with so many modern westerns. The 1957 movie is about a very ordinary man who's forced to take a stand against evil, and in the process he learns that the bad man isn't that different from him. The 2007 movie is about ACTION, fighting, shooting, the amazing supervillain that is Ben Wade, and oh yeah, some ordinary guy that's in there too. Any attempt at realism is lost underneath spectacle.
posted by Kevin Street at 3:47 PM on July 29, 2013




The article's focus on movies is odd, as Deadwood, Hell on Wheels and other westerns on televisions have been successful. The problem is bloated Hollywood blockbusters which are westerns only in the sense that they take place in the West.

And the Wild Wild West was pretty good fun.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:56 PM on July 29, 2013


The article's focus on movies is odd, as Deadwood, Hell on Wheels and other westerns on televisions have been successful. The problem is bloated Hollywood blockbusters which are westerns only in the sense that they take place in the West.

I don't think there's been a western Hollywood spent this much money on since Wild Wild West, and it'll probably be a decade or more before it happens again. Maybe longer, since it seems that the Hollywood blockbuster and the western just don't go together that well. But they'll probably continue on their own paths more or less okay, if not to the same level of financial reward.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:02 PM on July 29, 2013


I'm always sad that it seems that Hollywood takes Brokeback Mountain as the official little check in the box for Western + Gay Stuff, because there's a really amazing history of same sex love and intimacy in the days of the Wilde West, both among the colonials moving west and the aboriginal populations.
posted by sonascope at 4:05 PM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


The way I heard it was that Blazing Saddles so effectively skewered Western cliches and genre conventions that it became impossible to keep churning out Westerns without people laughing at them.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:10 PM on July 29, 2013


I don't think parodies ever kill the things they parody; by and large you have to really love something either to parody it well or to really enjoy the parody.
posted by yoink at 4:13 PM on July 29, 2013


just so you guys know, this is the thread's theme song

The Whelk, dude, I love Supernatural, but it may be time to stage an intervention.
posted by FelliniBlank at 4:14 PM on July 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Does Six String Samurai have a soundtrack album?
posted by Artw at 4:19 PM on July 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm just going to sit here and wish they'd do a beautiful glossy 20th anniversary revival release of Tombstone. This is the go-to example of how you can do a classic mainstream big-budget Western with a stellar cast, smarts, good humor, a modern sensibility, a bit of gravitas, and great production values. How the hell did that happen in 90s Hollywood?
posted by FelliniBlank at 4:20 PM on July 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


The Whelk, dude, I love Supernatural, but it may be time to stage an intervention.

that time has come and gone.
posted by The Whelk at 4:21 PM on July 29, 2013


because there's a really amazing history of same sex love and intimacy in the days of the Wilde West, both among the colonials moving west and the aboriginal populations.

There has been some very interesting historical research on why being totally alone and away from public view along side one or a few other men might have been a particularly attractive option for some guys.
posted by The Whelk at 4:25 PM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Westerns were gearing down, so to speak, all though the 1960's-1970's. Instead of huge, blockbuster pictures by big name directors, they became small movies, mostly shot by new or unknown directors, set further in the past and away from civilization. That was when you got your Jeremiah Johnsons, Grizzly Adams, and Mountain Men. Some westerns made then were more "classic" in theme (like The Hired Hand and The Long Riders), but they also seemed smaller, dirtier, more realistic and lonely.

It wasn't until 1985 and Silverado that westerns became truly escapist again.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:27 PM on July 29, 2013


I think that thesis needs some revising to make room for Sergio Leone and his imitators.
posted by yoink at 4:31 PM on July 29, 2013


I always forget about the Spaghetti Westerns, because they barely qualify as westerns to me. They take one type of western story and exaggerate it to the point where it almost breaks down. With the exaggerated mythic archetypes and endless violence, their west doesn't feel like a real place. But yeah, Sergio Leone and some of his contemporaries were doing pretty good there for a while. Sam Peckinpah, too.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:37 PM on July 29, 2013


There has been some very interesting historical research on why being totally alone and away from public view along side one or a few other men might have been a particularly attractive option for some guys.

Can you direct me to some of that? It'd be way useful for when I teach Westerns in my pop. lit course. Related: Bret Harte, "Tennessee's Partner".
posted by FelliniBlank at 4:44 PM on July 29, 2013


I guess that was a separate conversation that was going on in the 60's-70's. Domestic westerns shrank in scope and became more realistic and lonely, while overseas (and at home with Peckinpah) you had these grandiose, operatic westerns that took all the cliches in the genre and exaggerated them.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:44 PM on July 29, 2013


Westerns were gearing down, so to speak, all though the 1960's-1970's. Instead of huge, blockbuster pictures by big name directors, they became small movies, mostly shot by new or unknown directors, set further in the past and away from civilization. That was when you got your Jeremiah Johnsons, Grizzly Adams, and Mountain Men. Some westerns made then were more "classic" in theme (like The Hired Hand and The Long Riders), but they also seemed smaller, dirtier, more realistic and lonely.


Not long ago I saw the 1972 flick Bad Company for the first time: an overlooked revisionist western made twenty years before Unforgiven, starring a 22-year-old Jeff Bridges as a the naive and overconfident leader of a gang of would-be desperadoes. Their attempts to be bad guys are in the nature of pathos, but are all the more poignant for being only a few feet away from comedy: at one point they are held up by a more successful gang of bushwackers and relieved of their weapons and cash.

Bonus for fans of Jeff Bridges: the other group led by a character named Big Joe (David Huddleston). Bridges' character tries to scare the other group off by pulling a gun on Big Joe. Joe calmly replies, "My boy, let me give you a little piece of advice." To my great disappointment, the next line is not "Do what your parents did! Get a job, sir!"
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:48 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Did someone say theme song?
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 4:54 PM on July 29, 2013


Felliniblank, I'll ask my friends, I was at some paper presentation called something maddeningly generic like Same Sex Desire In the American West but it was fascinating.
posted by The Whelk at 4:56 PM on July 29, 2013


Crazy Heart starring Jeff Bridges from 2009 and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada starring Tommy Lee Jones from 2005 are probably the 2 best "modern Western" movies I've seen in the last 10 years, and yes, I get that its producers didn't see Crazy Heart as a Western, but if you let songs substitute for 6 guns, it surely is. I've also got a lot of love for Robert Duvall's efforts in the genre, from earlier days, including Geronimo: An American Legend from 1993, and the 2006 TV mini-series Broken Trail. And I even liked, and still do, Bruce Willis' version of Tom Mix (even though James Garner publicly panned Willis' performance in the movie, and said he'd never work with Willis again, and never has) in the 1988 "Western action comedy" Sunset, to which I was probably one of only about 10 ticket buyers in original theatrical release. So I guess you could say that I'm pre-disposed to liking Westerns, and that's probably because, through thousands of hours of watching them through my childhood, a horse, a 6 gun, a guy in a 10 gallon hat, a cloud of dust and a few saguaro cactuses in the background signaled me that a good time was probably comin' soon!

I really think the paucity of new Westerns on TV, in the form of regularly scheduled series, is a big part of why bigger audiences aren't showing up at the movie box offices for classic Western stories. As a kid growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, I watched The Lone Ranger, Sky King (a Western with airplanes!), Roy Rogers, Have Gun - Will Travel, Rawhide, Bonanza (and its later Michael Landon produced spinoffs like Little House on the Prairie), the iconic Gunsmoke, Bat Masterson, Branded, The Rifleman, The Big Valley (with Barbra Stanwyck!), F Troop (slapstick Western comedy), The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, and a ton of others.

A month ago, my 16 year old neighbor kid didn't even know that Wyatt Earp was a real, historical personage, nor could he name the U.S. President born in Abilene (Dwight D. Eisenhower). His mental "West" is something Adam Sandler dreamed up for an LA based movie, and doesn't have a single stirrup or stagecoach in it. In the little, warped imaginary space of his head, I can see why Depp's bizzaro bird-head Tonto was such a weird, unbelievable flop, and why Westerns, to him, aren't a great draw.
posted by paulsc at 5:21 PM on July 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


The original 3:10 to Yuma is a wonderful movie, and a comparison between it and the 2007 remake is a good encapsulation of what's wrong with so many modern westerns. The 1957 movie is about a very ordinary man who's forced to take a stand against evil, and in the process he learns that the bad man isn't that different from him. The 2007 movie is about ACTION, fighting, shooting, the amazing supervillain that is Ben Wade, and oh yeah, some ordinary guy that's in there too. Any attempt at realism is lost underneath spectacle.

The original 3:10 to Yuma affected one nation's very language.
posted by Atreides at 5:21 PM on July 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Everybody knows about this thing, right?
posted by box at 5:23 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


The frontier as a mythical place

Indeed, and that's why I think the Western will remain more resilient than given credit for. If you look at the symbolism - bigger than the neocolonialist/cultural anxieties symbolism - it's clear that frontiers have a long and potent history in our narratives and cultures. Frontiers are a very metaphorical landscape, they tie intimately into ideas of identity, known and unknown, safe and unsafe.

And frontiers are always being discovered, opened up, populated, and abandoned. We discover internal frontiers throughout our entire lives, and must grapple with them as individuals one way or another. I think Westerns will always survive, so long as there are frontiers. I love westerns.
posted by smoke at 5:37 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


"I've also got a lot of love for Robert Duvall's efforts in the genre..."

Me too! With Broken Trail, Open Range, and (possibly the greatest western ever) Lonesome Dove, he's made more truly fine westerns in his later career than most actors do in their whole lives.
posted by Kevin Street at 5:42 PM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


The last good western was The Proposition.

Hear, hear. That movie was a fantastic tribute to the best of the western movie traditions, butit rarely gets mentioned in the category thanks to its location (for the uninitiated: rural Australia in the 1880s). It hit on all the best moral and inner conflicts that a western should hit on, and just rocked that Sergio Leone-type cinematography. Terrific stuff, and I was sad to see it only get mentioned once in this thread so far.
posted by ZaphodB at 5:43 PM on July 29, 2013


Let us note that Rawhide was built around cattle drives (so lots of cattle) and had a regular character called Rowdy Yates, played by some guy named Eastwood. Also Wanted, Dead or Alive, which starred Steve McQueen. There was even a Canadian Western - Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, starring his dog, Yukon King.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:52 PM on July 29, 2013


Speaking of current TV westerns, I've been mildly surprised so far to see no mention of Justified, which, though set in Kentucky, features a cowboy-hat wearing hero, a fair number of shoot-outs, and various other Western tropes.

Also, there's Longmire, about a small-town Wyoming sheriff whose various cases involve ranchers, Native Americans, and other familiar characters and plot points associated with the western genre. Not a bad little show, actually, and hey, Katee "Starbuck" Sackhoff is one of Longmire's deputies!
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 6:04 PM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's kind of amazing that Clint made A Fistful of Dollars and then went back to do another season of Rawhide. Talk about cognitive dissonance!
posted by Kevin Street at 6:04 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes, I wanted to bring up Justified, which opened with Raylan giving a bad guy 24 hours to get out of town. That the town was Miami really doesn't lessen the Westernity of the scene. Also, the scene and character were created by Elmore Leonard, who wrote a bunch of fine Western stories, several of which became movies - including 3:10 to Yuma.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:15 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


What about Django Unchained, which felt like a spheghetti Western and was very sucessful?

Or The Proposition?

Or, moving into videogames, Red Dead Redemption, which both reconstructed and deconstructed Westerns while still allowing hours of lassoing, horse-riding, and six-gun shooting?

It seems like the Westerns that failed are Weird Westerns - Cowboys & Aliens, Lone Ranger, and Jonah Hex. And they were just done badly - Firefly and the Western episode of Doctor Who proved a modern Weird Western can work well if the Western element, not the Weird, is foregrounded.

To be honest, I'm too young for Westerns, but the tropes still work, and every time I see one on TV I love it, no matter how old. I really wanted to love the new Weird Westerns.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:16 PM on July 29, 2013



Or, you know, we could create NEW myths and heroes that have meaning for our culture as it exists now in the 21st Century, instead of the early 20th.


Like... space cowboys? Post-apocolyptic cowboys (Mad Max 2 and Fallout: New Vegas are also fine Westerns).
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:17 PM on July 29, 2013


That movie was a fantastic tribute to the best of the western movie traditions, butit rarely gets mentioned in the category thanks to its location (for the uninitiated: rural Australia in the 1880s).

There's probably a fair number of sub-genre Westerns set in Australia, from Quigley Down Under to Australia (the first half is a straight up Western with a cattle drive).
posted by Atreides at 6:21 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]



Clearly the solution is to make Westerns for hipsters.


El Topo
Can't count how many times I've seen Jodorowsky at the background of a hipster bar.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:22 PM on July 29, 2013 [4 favorites]



Jim Jarmusch beat you to the punch almost 20 years ago.


Is it true that the new Lone Ranger movie is a semi-sequel to Dead Man? AV Club reckons it is.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:24 PM on July 29, 2013


Does Six String Samurai have a soundtrack album?

Oh man, does it ever. I snagged a promo copy of the soundtrack about a year before the film came out on video (1998/99 or so), and it was basically my favorite thing for a couple of years. When I finally saw the movie, it was kind of a letdown from the world that the soundtrack had created in my imagination. Now there's an untapped hybrid-genre somebody should be mining: Post-apocalyptic rockabilly martial arts.
posted by Strange Interlude at 7:17 PM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yes, Justified is totally a western. The main character a Deputy U.S. Marshall for pete's sake.

Crazy Heart starring Jeff Bridges from 2009 and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada starring Tommy Lee Jones from 2005 are probably the 2 best "modern Western" movies I've seen in the last 10 years, and yes, I get that its producers didn't see Crazy Heart as a Western, but if you let songs substitute for 6 guns, it surely is.

I was thinking about this this afternoon, but wasn't sure if anyone else would buy it. I totally see Crazy Heart as a western.

RE: Robert Duvall

My current rule is that I will see any movie Robert Duvall signs up for.
posted by Jahaza at 7:25 PM on July 29, 2013


Speaking of current TV westerns, I've been mildly surprised so far to see no mention of Justified, which, though set in Kentucky, features a cowboy-hat wearing hero, a fair number of shoot-outs, and various other Western tropes.

A quick-drawing cowboy-hat wearing hero.
posted by Jahaza at 7:26 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think the in-story explanation is that Raylan often found refuge with his step-mother Helen when his father became abusive. She'd let him watch TV, and it was watching all those old classic westerns on her little set that taught him the difference between right and wrong.
posted by Kevin Street at 7:36 PM on July 29, 2013


Another thing of note: how come there haven't been new genres? Certainly there have been a lot of sub-genres and different formats and styles, but nothing as broad and big as "western."

This caused me to pause. Superhero movies and zombie/apocalypse movies are the two obvious ones, and heist movies and political dramas have maybe only recently become genres. Instances of these always existed, but they're starting to develop their own tropes and conventions, which are what compose a genre and distinguish it from others.

But I've never really considered that the future might have totally new genres that we wouldn't recognize as genres at all. There obviously aren't a finite number of genres, and new ones will come about. Why is it so hard to imagine a new genre?

Do science fiction stories ever try to depict a future in which there are new ones? Alan Moore made pirates replace superheroes as the comic book genre in Watchmen (to show that superheroes wouldn't serve as escapist fiction in a world that contained them), and I think I remember some other scifi setting where westerns were portrayed as the most popular genre. But these were just changing genre popularity, not inventing whole new ones. The only thing I can think of that comes close is Hypnotoad.

I guess the reason it's so difficult to imagine a new genre is that genres are carved out by the common knowledge shared by artist and audience about the sorts of plots and themes and stereotypes that are possible. This is something that can't just be stated outright. You need to gain a familiarity with the conventions by experiencing a bunch of instances of the genre. You can't just be handed a definition.
posted by painquale at 7:41 PM on July 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


I always rather felt that Sukiyaki Western Django was just Takashi Miike looking at Tarantino and saying, "ok, fine, I will see all of your cultural appropriation of ninjas and martial arts and fucking raise you a Gatling gun." So, in the same way that Kill Bill doesn't get mentioned in the canon of martial arts cinema because it is a caricature and homage to the genre as opposed to being of the genre, then Sukiyaki Western Django is more a film about westerns than a western itself.

The more interesting Asian western is, I think, The Good, the Bad and The Weird which is a Korean take on The Good, The Bad and The Ugly but set in WWII Manchuria. not quite ronin western, but still a great mashup of cultures, and a reminder that Koreans have been doing their own westerns for a long time now.

You guys started it, but as The Proposition shows, your country no longer holds the monopoly.
posted by bl1nk at 8:12 PM on July 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh! And the other western idea that I had was to be set in 1970s following a Mossad Kill Team sent to Patagonia to hunt down a notorious Nazi concentration camp doctor. It's in that deliciously chaotic period before Pinochet hardline cracks down in Chile and Argentina's overrun with leftist revolutionaries and counterrevolutionaries dueling in the wake of Allende's fall, so of course, none of the authorities are paying attention to the South and it's kind of its own world anyway. Most of the major highways like the Carreterra Austral and Ruta 40 probably weren't fully paved so you have ample reasons to ride horses everywhere.

Come on people, the frontier is still out there, you just have to look outside your own borders for it.
posted by bl1nk at 8:26 PM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Why are you scolding us?
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 8:29 PM on July 29, 2013


While we're wandering afield, this is only indirectly relevant but I have to drop it here because it has a better chance of doing good than most other places I tend to drop it:

If you want to read one of the great lost cowboy novels of the 20th century, The Cowboy and the Cossack by Clair Huffaker was recently reissued as part of librarian/author Nancy Pearl's Rediscoveries series, after being out of print for decades. It's a beautifully written adventure story about a group of Montana cowboys in 1880 contracted to deliver a huge herd of cattle to a starving town in Siberia, chaperoned by an equally odd group of cossacks.

Trust me: it's one of the most fun and fascinating cowboy novels ever written, with tigers replacing mountain lions, Tartar warriors instead of Native Americans, tons of gripping action and so much heart it'll make you ache. The indirect relevance is that Huffaker was a screenwriter on a bunch of Westerns and TV shows including The Comancheros, Flaming Star, The War Wagon, Bonanza and Rawhide. Folks have hoped since the 70s The Cowboy and the Cossack would be made into a movie but there is no god so it never happened.

My recommendation would be to get one of the older editions with the evocative illustrations by Brad Holland, but read whatever copy you can find. You'll thank me later.
posted by mediareport at 8:31 PM on July 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


Sorry, didn't mean it that way. I just take umbrage at folks who say that the genre is dead because its conventional appeal is used up. That may be true, but it can mutate in interesting ways, still telling stories about what happens in life on the margins.
posted by bl1nk at 8:31 PM on July 29, 2013


I see "Tombstone" of the 1990's has already been mentioned, and I'd like to second it. Also, can't we get a little love for the 1990's "Wild Bill?" I mean, yeah, David Arquette kinda brought the film way down, but I think that it was still a decent western movie.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 8:33 PM on July 29, 2013


Sorry, didn't mean it that way.

Ah, no worries, I meant that with one of those accompanying laughs that rarely comes across in text. In fact, I apologize as well for my seeming lack of humor. I come across as irritated all too often.

Actually, I agree with you about The Good, the Bad, and the Weird, though I thought it had a bit to much Wild Wild West thrown in.

Truth is, frontier movies of all kinds strike me as being Westernish. Modern stuff set in Northern China and Manchuria like Blind Shaft (Wang Baoqiang's performance is out of this world) and some of those dusty Warring States period pieces Tsui Hark keeps dropping on us -- even the well-trodden Liangshan Marsh material the Shaw Brothers mined so well -- seem like Western plotting. Then again, it's probably just essential storytelling, especially the stuff based on classic literature.

Ditto Star Wars.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 8:55 PM on July 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Now that I think about it, I'm honestly surprised that our growing interest in Lovecraftian horror as a culture has not cross-bred with the Western on film. I would totally go watch a good Weird West film.
posted by egypturnash at 9:18 PM on July 29, 2013


Or you know, we could create NEW myths and heroes that have meaning for our culture as it exists now in the 21st Century, instead of the early 20th.


That would be the hard ass government agent who tramples over civil rights in order to save the nation and get the bad guys. Or maybe the friendly neighborhood criminal.

You know, our modern myths suck.
posted by happyroach at 9:36 PM on July 29, 2013



That would be the hard ass government agent who tramples over civil rights in order to save the nation and get the bad guys. Or maybe the friendly neighborhood criminal.


Huh? 'friendly neighborhood criminals' have been mythologized for thousands of years... Robin Hood, Ned Kelly, Chinese bandit heroes, etc

I think our modern myth is 'the supercriminal who gets captured by the good guys to outsmart them', which is related to 'the ominipotent serial killer'
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 9:40 PM on July 29, 2013


'the supercriminal who gets captured by the good guys to outsmart them'

I'd really like a ban on that for a few years.
posted by Artw at 10:02 PM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Cowboys & Aliens is a cynical attempt at a post-racial Western--just take the Indians out of the equation so we can be good guys again!"

At this point, I stopped taking anything this guy says seriously. Did this guy actually watch the movie, or even at least look over the Wikipedia page? Native Americans have a much larger role (read: repeatedly save the asses of the white guys) in the original graphic novel, but 'out of the equation?' Yes, it wasn't a very good movie, but this "interpretation" is so off the mark that, as Willie Nelson once said in a Western whose name escapes me, that "He couldn't hit a bull on the ass with a banjo."
posted by chambers at 10:03 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


bl1nk: “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly / Three Kings style treasure hunt where a C-130 full of hundred dollar bills goes down in the middle of the Iraqi desert and a Sunni militia, AWOL National Guard unit and a squad of private military contractors all converge on the bonanza.”
I can't decide if this sounds so good to me because I really like Kelly's Heroes or if it's just that good of an idea. Either way I want to watch this movie.
k5.user: “The western died with the duke .. I've tried to watch his movies but just can't”
Even She Wore a Yellow Ribbon?
posted by ob1quixote at 12:34 AM on July 30, 2013


OK, I'm waaaaaaay late commenting on this, but homodigitalis, DUDE. I NEED more of these documentaries that Rich Hall is doing for the Brit's, MAN. It's, like, fuck, whoa.
posted by daq at 2:05 AM on July 30, 2013


I think it would be more accurate to argue that The Lone Ranger failed not because the Western as a genre is dead/dying, but because:

1) Johnny Depp playing Captain Jack Sparrow is getting old by now and people are kind of tired of the whole, "hey look, Johnny Depp will act all silly and weird" thing. Putting a bird on Captain Jack Sparrow's head does not make him a new character.

2) Johnny Depp being racist as all get out by playing a character in redface is wrong on so many levels that even the less perceptive and sensitive of the American audience got embarrassed by it.

I think the linked piece completely missed the point of the objection to racism. Django was a well received and high grossing movie, and it was filled to the brim with racism, in fact racism was rather central to the whole plot. People don't mind racism as an element in movies. But they do object to racism in the movie itself. If the part of Django had been played as yet another Captain Jack Sparrow character by Johnny Depp in blackface then Django would also have flopped. I think the difference between "the movie deals with racist themes" and "the movie is blatantly racist in a cringingly embarrassing way" is significant and the author of the linked piece seems to be unable to differentiate between the two concepts.

As for the Western dying as a genre, I think there's no arguing that it's much less popular now than it was in the 1960's when it seemed that close to half the movies made involved guys in cowboy hats. But there are still Westerns being made, and even good ones. Just not as many.

Also? Wild Wild West was one of the better movies of 1999. And I say that fully recognizing that 1999 also gave us The Mummy (you want to talk dead or dying genres, try the Cliffhangers genre), The Matrix, Eyes Wide Shut, The Green Mile, and Being John Malkovich. Wild Wild West rocked, and by failing to recognize it's brilliance I think the linked article seriously undermined itself.
posted by sotonohito at 4:15 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


> Speaking of which - I liked how in the Star Trek universe, itself being set a few hundred years in the future, the setting was referred to as "the Ancient West".

Specifically, Gene Roddenberry's elevator pitch to the networks was "Wagon Train to the stars". (I don't know if they actually had elevator pitches as such back then, but the one-sentence high-concept summary of a movie or entire TV series was pretty well established by then.)
posted by ardgedee at 4:29 AM on July 30, 2013


I just have to add my $0.02 for Open Range. It's about a decade old now, but I haven't seen a better Western since. Very very good, and deserved better at the box office.

Also, I really liked Tombstone.
/ducks
posted by zardoz at 4:36 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


A quick-drawing cowboy-hat wearing hero.

Don't forget the boots.


So, in the same way that Kill Bill doesn't get mentioned in the canon of martial arts cinema because it is a caricature and homage to the genre as opposed to being of the genre...

To be fair, lots of movies that are mentioned in the genre are caricature and homage to the genre.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:38 AM on July 30, 2013


Young Guns
posted by panaceanot at 5:51 AM on July 30, 2013


Thanks to the post by homodigitalis, I just watched the film he provided a link to: the BBC / Rich Hall documentary How the West was Lost.

Just brilliant. Many thanks.
posted by Mister Bijou at 6:36 AM on July 30, 2013


Specifically, Gene Roddenberry's elevator pitch to the networks was "Wagon Train to the stars". (I don't know if they actually had elevator pitches as such back then, but the one-sentence high-concept summary of a movie or entire TV series was pretty well established by then.)

Pitch document (PDF)

I get the impression that it's more about the show format having similarities to Wagon Train than the genre as such.
posted by Artw at 7:18 AM on July 30, 2013


Worth noting that Star Trek's use of the phrase "The Final Frontier" is an obvious reference to the west as being the previous frontier.
posted by octothorpe at 7:52 AM on July 30, 2013


I don't know. I was just a kid back then, but I seem to recall that is was in the 60's
(1960's) that books and articles started to come out about the theme of "The End
Of Westward Expansion", the dream, etc. (I guess it took about a hundred years
for people to realize that there weren't no more West to expand to (the end of the
dream apparently cushioned by the post-war boom of job and population growth
in California)), and how this affected American psyche, etc. Sort of like how the actuality of outer space as seen by the real imagery of the real explorations of the time seemed to take the wind out of the sails of the excitement of space travel ("Hey, where's the effin' Tribbles? No Klingons??" etc.). It took a mighty rethink (ie, Star Wars) to rekindle space romance, to refresh the "there-ness" of "out there". but,
sadly, you can't as easily convince people that there are more future states to
explore/exploit beyond Cali. So you get sad, fat old men buffing their basketball trophies of youth-type Western nostalgia, anathema to excitement and inspiration.
posted by Chitownfats at 10:41 AM on July 30, 2013


That's the big difference between Star Trek and Star Wars.
Trek is a serial western. Wars is an epic samurai drama.

Might as well cry over the death of the Tarzan genre.

Tarzan genre not over!
Tarzan films mise-en-scène. Jungle good. Boy like films.

Better evidence for the death of the western would be something like Open Range

Part of the shift there was from the tangible to the intangible. Open Range and other westerns like it have concrete things that are being fought over - cattle/grazing vs. barbed wire/ restriction. And the responses are also fairly simple. You don't want the open rangers there so you beat them.
And while there might be some moral wrangling over who's got the right over the land, beating someone to make them leave is an obvious bad.

With more modern films there's a switch to more conceptual conflicts. Who's right if no one hands out the first beating?

One of the things I notice about most westerns, at least the ones I seem to like, there aren't mass indian battles. Those problems are there, but it's an intangible problem that is essentially beyond the power of the characters to even address.
In part because no matter how quick they are on the draw, there isn't much they're going to do with mass political movements or in an actual war to affect it either way beyond small mercies - and The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly hits that note perfectly - and because they're tied up with the immediate and concrete problem (the gold, the cattle the women, the ranch, the outlaw - whatever).

You could have a modern western with conflict with Native Americans, it would just require some nuance and focus on just the characters. Sure, they're sympathetic, but what can they do with a six gun against smallpox or the union army coming over the hill to drive the Cherokee? And from the other side, your people have hunted these lands for generations, suddenly someone builds a house and tells you to leave. What else are you going to do but drive them off, regardless of some treaty somewhere?
(William Thomas' life alone is worth a trilogy)

Part of the problem is that many westerns are about the west as portrayed in westerns. And that can be fun, referencing other films, but it gives diminishing returns.

What I liked about Open Range was that it was so fresh in perspective (I don't know how good the source material from Paine was). The "not looking for trouble, but willing to use violence if necessary" trope is common. But the first part - the "not looking for trouble" part of the film was great. Cowboys doing cowboy things, society at that time and how it worked as the story played out, very nifty.
Then, turns out Costner was a guerrilla. Meh. (good gunfight though).

Although Appaloosa completely avoids the "I'm secretly a bad-ass"/ drawn out gun battle schtick. My favorite scene was the two second shoot out. The good guys and bad guys are all serious gunmen and they have a faceoff and blow the hell out of each other almost instantly. "That was quick" one guy says "We're all good shots" the other guy says.
Well, yeah.

It rings true in a way that the knowing references don't. Eat too much of your own supply and the product becomes a maze with no way out.

Part of the thing about westerns is taking a step back. And we haven't had time or space to step back to. We, as a culture, don't seem to value that enough to commit the time to it. But that's what the frontier has traditionally done. Or allowed us to do for ourselves.
I think we'll have more pop eating itself type films no matter what the genre.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:25 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Appaloosa is an interesting film in that it squarely addresses the idea of vigilante justice that runs through so many westerns. Kind of the opposite number to Ox Bow Incident.

Then there's The Jack Bull, where the protagonist starts out in the right but takes things so far he becomes a danger to society.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:04 PM on July 30, 2013


Kind of the opposite number to Ox Bow Incident.

Yeah. I think a lot of folks forget how literate and self-aware those early westerns were. I watched The Westerner a bit ago (god love ya solar power), definitely a shoot-em up, cattle rustling, roundhouse throwin, horse tacklin, drunken cowboy fightin film, but it was completely not just a surface film. You can see how even though someone is a corrupt bastard, they can still be likable and understandable. And how the perspective isn't cut and dried as one side is good, the other is evil. And how you still might have to kill them.
posted by Smedleyman at 6:28 PM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Might as well cry over the death of the Tarzan genre.

Tarzan genre not over!
Tarzan films mise-en-scène. Jungle good. Boy like films.


I'm not even sure what genre Tarzan would be part of - some lost genre of Pulp Adventure, making it a cousin to Indiana Jones?
posted by Artw at 6:40 PM on July 30, 2013


Right alongside John Carter, wherever it lands.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 7:04 PM on July 30, 2013



Right alongside John Carter, wherever it lands.


Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptations?

John Carter is a Planatery Romance, and Tarzan is a Jungle Adventure film... they used to make heaps of them, and i remember reading about them on bad movie blogs.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 7:12 PM on July 30, 2013


Nobody has tried making those into Oscar Movies, perhaps it is time.
posted by Artw at 8:03 PM on July 30, 2013


Yeah, pulp lit adaptations. I might throw the Conan flicks in as well. Of course these all straddle genres, the Cimmerian could just as well be filed under Sword and Sorcery. So that's more a category along the lines of how I would organize my own bookshelf, not a public library.

Planetary Romance is definitely a long gone genre for sure. Jungle Adventure seems to have kept up a bit more.

Personally, I thought John Carter was great, and if success at the box office isn't all that counts for posterity, I'd be unsurprised if it were considered a classic in forty years. Likewise Adjustment Bureau. Not my favorites, not the best of a genre or era, but better than the sum of their parts, exciting, and strangely timeless. That and chance unearth classics, decades hence.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 8:24 PM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Adjustment Bureau

Was a lot better then I was expecting. Not great, but very solid. A good outing.
posted by The Whelk at 8:30 PM on July 30, 2013


I tell you what, Adjustment Bureau was a tourist brochure for the city of New York. A locations masterpiece built into the film's very conceit.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 8:53 PM on July 30, 2013


I'm not even sure what genre Tarzan would be part of - some lost genre of Pulp Adventure, making it a cousin to Indiana Jones?

Yup, Exotic Locale Adventure with Imperialist Overtones, like King Solomon's Mines or She. The kinder, gentler Exotic Locale as Refuge from Modernity flavor would be stuff like Lost Horizon or Green Mansions.
posted by FelliniBlank at 11:06 PM on July 30, 2013


Avatar would be a good example of current Exotic Locale Adventure.
posted by FelliniBlank at 11:08 PM on July 30, 2013


Jungle Adventure was definitely a thing. The Flickchart users are biased toward newer films, but once you get past page three of that list you start to see the real stuff.

To people in the early 20th century, Africa was as mysterious as the Moon. Wild animal attacks, violence, actors in skimpy clothing... It was a formula for success.
posted by Kevin Street at 12:09 AM on July 31, 2013


Since a lot of the early Hollywood genres where invented out of necessity (shooting locations, existing sets) and a lot of production follows local tax codes - I'd say we manged to create a totally new genre (in TV at least) with SPOOKY SHIT HAPPENING IN OR AROUND VANCOUVER.
posted by The Whelk at 9:08 AM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, also lots of films.
posted by FelliniBlank at 9:18 AM on July 31, 2013


In my mind British Columbia is like 80% paranormal investigators in coats staring into the misty shoreline.
posted by The Whelk at 9:21 AM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


In my mind, British Columbia is what half the inhabitable worlds of the galaxy look like.


The other half consists of small flat areas with sandy surfaces, foam rocks, and fake looking greenery.
posted by Atreides at 11:07 AM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is a good place to point out that in Brazil, we have a western spinoff genre: it's called Nordestern — our wild frontier is the dry Northeast, a place that was so violent that as late as 1938, our most famous outlaw, Lampião, was beheaded along with his band and the heads were brought south to be put on public display.

Filmes de Cangaço
posted by Tom-B at 12:15 PM on July 31, 2013 [7 favorites]


« Older 50 shades of gray: A research story   |   Iconic Data Graphs Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments