Sunday, March 01, 2009

The Fine Art of the Western

The western as genre is generally a film style that you either love or loathe, and I really only gained an appreciation for westerns in film class. One must submerge/submit oneself to the archetypes presented.

My husband has little patience for them--they are stories to be watched at that is all. We ended up watching two relatively close to each other.

The first, the remake of 3:10 to Yuma was fairly straightforward--most interesting for the fine acting of the two leads who, of course, are not American. And the Western is American, although the best of them borrow from other myths as archetypes are archetypes for a reason.

The second was The Assassination of Jesse James... I can't say that I liked it. In most good westerns the landscape--the west--is a character, as real and as important as any human as cities are in the stories I mentioned below. I say West, but of course, Jesse James was from my childhood home--KC, MO area. Like a student film, we watched long shots of waving prairie grass, rolling hills, and... I didn't care. The first half of the film is unbearably boring and the last is rushed.

But what is the fascination with the Western? With cowboys and outlaws, gunslingers? Is it the appeal of the outlaw with the heart of gold? That men want to be him and women want to be with him? Or vice-a-versa as the case may be. That idea that in order to survive in an unjust world, these noble men must break the law. It was certainly enough for Joss Whedon to create his space western--Firefly. Is it part of the appeal of House? Or vampires. The new vampires, not Nosferatu, all hunger and id, but the erotic vampires of Ann Rice and Twilight who suffer torment over what they must do, and in the end are always alone.

The truth is that none of these men are actually what they seem. In reality one would not want to date a man like House, a cowboy or a vampire. Their needs, their emptiness, would be torturous and would override all else. Yet they are larger than the men in reality. Their very damage is what makes us admire them more than the average schlubs we encounter daily. John Wayne's obsession in The Searchers seems admirable. In reality we would wonder why.

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