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Funny thing, the Western

I’ve postulated before, but clearly not online because I can’t find evidence of it, that the Spaghetti Western is like Film Noir all over again. Film Noir took a genre that was growing stale, the crime picture, and injected new life into it by adding what at the time was controversial subject matter. Many of the themes contained with in Film Noir are things the mainstream public weren’t either unwilling to discuss or didn’t want to have in their movies. They were able to get away with making these films because they were B Pictures, which means they were made for much less money and thus could still be profitable even if most audiences rejected the film. They often starred B Grade actors or A list people who’s stars had fallen or decided to slum it for a day or two in order to make a more interesting picture.

The Spaghetti Westerns were much the same, taking the worn out Western* for a ride and injecting much needed life into it. Like Film Noir they were cheap, often being made with bits of capital collected from investors all over Europe and starring one or two Americans who were slumming. The only this was that the social morays they wanted to challenge were so taboo that you couldn’t do them in Hollywood at all. Most those things are on the… well… seamy side of things. There were more graphic levels of violence than people had seen before, there was a certain amount of nudity and there was the sort of treatment of women that you just don’t get anymore… with good reason. It’s not even that you can’t do some of those things, but you really shouldn’t. It’s not needed, there is no statement to make there anymore, unless you want to make a statement that you’re still 14 and have no idea how to deal with women… YES I’M TALKING TO YOU ELI ROTH!

Much like Film Noir, Spaghetti Westerns come and go every once in a while. About ten years ago, there wasn’t a lot of people talking about Film Noir besides a few cinema geeks. Slowly the Noir ball started rolling and about five years ago, there was a pretty big wave of Film Noir things suddenly available. I might be my perception, but I seem to remember three companies rolling out Film Noir collections, box sets and what not all at once. In less than 18 months, my collection went from 5 or 6 movies that were called Film Noir to about 30 or 40. I don’t know how many really, I haven’t counted in a while, I’m guessing.

My point is that it had gone from something only movie geeks talked about to something everyone was talking about. For the last two years or so, I’ve been hearing people talking about Westerns and the Westerns of this style specifically, in the same sort of way that they were talking about Film Noir a few years before the DVD explosion happened. I can’t help if people had something kindled by Deadwood, since the serious rumblings started just as that was being canceled. The difference of course is that just about every Western (Pasta based or no) is already on DVD. Whatever horse picture fetish you have from Tom Mix style to John Ford and all the way to the Italians and beyond, you can already get sets, collections and so on. So there isn’t a stream of new discs coming out for you to discover. However, there may be a resurgence going on anyway. There has been a steady stream of New Westerns being made since at least the mid 90s, and some of them have been pretty good. Not many of them have been really big though, they’ve all either been small independent pictures or made only a small dent at the box office. I just wonder if there isn’t going to be a sudden surge of popularity in the mainstream soon.

Part of the reason it’s in the forefront of my mind is that I played Red Dead Redemptionand so a lot of people have sort of come out of the closet as it were as being long time Western fans. The game has been doing fairly well, and it’s really fun if you want to play it. I’m just find it interesting and wonder if a lot of people are going to star clamoring for more westerns.

Personally, I came late to the Western party, but for a good reason. See, Westerns always looked the same to me. All those John Wayne movies where he struts all look exactly alike to me. I’ve seen pretty much all of them as well as every other damn western made between about 1956 and 1989, but with a few exceptions, I really am lost at sea. It’s all guys, being sort of manly in a very Conservative Golden Age sort of way while the women act all submissive and shit. Then they all go on horsey rides, because that was really the only reason they wanted to make these movies. Unless you’re watching an Italian western, then the men are being sort of manly in a very Film Noir sort of way. Tough, but more because they’ve been beaten hard by life instead of because that’s the way Regan likes them. The problem is, all the Spaghetti Westerns more or less look the same too. A lot of guys in long coats and ponchos riding across what is supposed to be the American west, but is CLEARLY Spain or northern Italy.

I actually know more about Westerns from reading about them then watching them. I’ve got a fair few, and I’ve seen a few since my childhood. I should point out that there is a break in my life, about age 18, where I started to really pay attention to movies and things that came before that can become sort of blurred. Unless I’ve seen at movie in my later years, after I started hunting down movies to study on my own, I really can’t distinguish the memory of one western from another. Which one had John Wayne wearing an eye patch? Fucked if I know. Hang on… True Grit, unless he wore one in two movies. My point, and I do have one, is that it seems like the time may be right for everyone to take the old six-shooters again. Might be that we’re due, it would be interesting to see this generation have their hand at the most heavily used genre in film history. Could be cool, but then it could remind us why we put westerns into mothballs in the first place.

*If I tried to talk about how the Western as a genre has risen, fallen, risen again and then fallen hard only to be resurrected it would seriously side track me. Suffice to say, there were a lot of westerns made once upon a time, but by the ‘70s or so it was a more or less dead genre. It’s only kept on the merest hints of life support these days with the occasional movie coming out now and then. Yet, there are still movies being made and there does seem to be at least a small a market hungry for more.

June 8, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

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June 8, 2010 Posted by | Photo | | Leave a comment