You Can’t Go Homestead Again: Notes on Western Revisionism

010wildbunch     The dirty little secret about revisionism is that it rarely provides the intended setting for demythologizing without creating, not a revealing truth, but a substitute mythology.

      The move toward revisionism in the western film genre is generally identified in earnest from the early to mid 1960’s onward, with the last years of the 60’s earmarked as the time in which the traditional western met a prematurely announced demise while supplanted by revisionism in the form of both a vastly more cynical vision of the West (which, in itself, is not specific to the definition of revisionism, but more a result of violent cultural mood swings) in the American cinema, the continuing influence of Italian spaghetti westerns (which in regard to a discussion of revisionism may be relevant if the discussion is limited to aesthetic exaggerations rather than a general rethinking of the contextual constructs within the traditional western form) and the sudden growth of a societal bent toward introspection by way of publicly pronounced shame built on a sense of forced historic guilt, which was not specific to film, but whose strangulating tentacles would nevertheless eventually cripple open expression as much as the then-recently jettisoned Production Code. This, however, predisposes the theorem that westerns are entirely intended as historical documentations, an erroneous assertion which fails to account for the very formulaic tropes which define the genre, and if taken into account the elemental half dozen or so monomythic thematic threads which essentially characterize all western films, it might be truthfully said that there hasn’t been a genuinely ‘new’ western in decades, merely shadowy variations of the same drama. The true Art within the genre, if indeed it may exist (and let’s presume it does) in a film type born of such a seemingly restrictive formulaic nature, might be found in finding ways to reach beyond that formula, not through cosmetic aesthetic alterations, but in an elevated expression melding new contextual priorities within the increasing predictability of the genre. (All films genres are beholden to the same type of adherence to formula; perhaps with only the noir film approaching as strictly rigid a guiding set of foundational strictures.)

     And history is far too precious a mistress to be left entirely to the capricious whims of Art.

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About chandlerswainreviews

I've been a puppet, a pirate, a pauper, a poet, a pawn and a king, not necessarily in that order. My first major movie memory was being at the drive-in at about 1 1/2 yrs. old seeing "Sayonara" so I suppose an interest in film was inevitable. (For those scoring at home- good for you- I wasn't driving that evening, so no need to alert authorities.)Writer, critic and confessed spoiler of women, as I have a tendency to forget to put them back in the refrigerator. My apologies.
This entry was posted in cinema, Culture, Film, Film Reviews, History, Italian cinema, John Ford, movie reviews, Movies, westerns, writing. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to You Can’t Go Homestead Again: Notes on Western Revisionism

  1. Rick says:

    In graduate school, my teacher asked if we watched Westerns because true students of history would never watch them. I replied that Westerns got me interested in history and true students know the difference between entertainment and scholarship.

  2. Teepee12 says:

    I love westerns. I hate westerns. I grew up wanting to be a western hero, maybe the Lone Ranger. Never mind the gender issue. I knew by the time I was 5 that boys get to do a lot more stuff than girls, so I wanted to be one. When I was a kid I didn’t know much. I didn’t count bullets and wonder how come they didn’t reload. I had no idea how many bullets there ought to be. I didn’t notice prejudice, bigotry and the near-genocide of Native Americans … hey, I was a kid. But I’m not a kid now. I know what it means when someone says “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.”

    I understand westerns are not historical documents and I don’t need them to be. I’m used to manipulation and ignoring facts to make a story work. But I can’t ignore cruelty, mass murder, the adulation of psychopaths. The claims of heroism for acts of malice, stupidity and greed. It doesn’t roll off me. Big things bother me a lot … small things are like itches I can’t scratch. “Print the legend” does not work for me. I can’t wrap my head around the myth. There are exceptions of course … but mostly … westerns have become painful to watch. New and cynical — or old and racist — it’s the same difference.

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