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Über dieses Buch

This collection explores the post-2000 film Western. With examples ranging from major American films, through acclaimed international productions, to works such as experimental films and television commercials, the contributors seek to account for the appeal and currency of the film Western today.





In The Rhizomatic West, one of the most important recent books on the representations of the eponymous region in film and other visual arts and media, Neil Campbell describes the West as a “geographical, cultural and economic crossroads defined by complex connectivity, multidimensionality, and imagination, even if these have often been elided in favor of a more inward looking and emotive vision” (3). The Deleuzian metaphor of the rhizome serves to illustrate the diversity and interdependence of spaces in which the imaginings about the West have been shaped as well as the variety of cultural discourses that have informed these imaginings. While subscribing to Campbell’s postulate that artistic representations of the West should be analyzed in a broad transnational context, the essays collected in the present volume aim to balance two concerns: the theme and the form, as their continuing reinventions account for the contemporary currency of a fundamental American genre that the Western is. The year 2000 does not really constitute a caesura in the history of the film Western, but it does mark a caesura-even if merely symbolic-in the development of global cultures. If the West is a rhizomatic, deterritorialized space, then the Western is a rhizomatic genre; or perhaps it has always been one, but the technologies of film production and distribution the acceleration of which we have witnessed in the new millennium have made this aspect of the genre more visible than it ever was before.
Marek Paryz

The Western “At Home”: Dialogues with the Tradition


1. “Is There Actually Any Jiménez?”: Believing as Seeing in The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

No other film since John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) has offered so sustained a rumination on the classic Western as Tommy Lee Jones’s The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005). Yet unlike its predecessor, Jones’s film seems hardly a Western at all, with neither nostalgia for a simpler past, nor investment in the triumph of law and order, nor contemplation of the redemptive power of violence, nor (most importantly) attention to appropriate forms of masculine behavior. All those aspects familiar to the genre are absent-aspects that Ford’s film embodies in the coffin holding the dearly departed John Wayne, representing the death of Western heroism itself, resuscitated in the long flashback that forms the film’s central narrative. Yet four decades later, after hundreds of reinventions, the corpse of the Western is harder to revive. And perhaps for that reason, Jones begins in a more fragmented fashion, presenting a series of random gestures that remind us vaguely of the genre yet fail to contribute to a coherent narrative. Even the meaning of the central event, the shooting of Melquiades Estrada (Julio Cedillo), is left indeterminate. Only as his best friend, the rancher Pete Perkins (Tommy Lee Jones), seizes control of these disparate scenes does the narrative coalesce.
Lee Clark Mitchell

2. “You Must Pay for Everything in This World One Way or Another”: The Economics of Justice in True Grit

True Grit (2010) appears to be a remarkably “pure” Western, given the Coen brothers’ predilection for postmodern eclecticism in their treatment of genre.1 The Coens have often been criticized by the likes of Pauline Kael, Emanuel Levy and Jim Hoberman for their “exercise [s] in postmodern pointlessness, with [their] wacky mixture of genres and huge inventory of quotations both literary and cinematic not adding up to much” (Palmer 12). Instead of an “engagement with the ‘real’ or with ‘history,’ ” their films offer nothing more than “pointless deconstructions or hybridizations of familiar generic categories, art objects that become, in Hoberman’s phrase, ‘lost in a hall of mirrors’ ” (Palmer 45). Such a critique overlooks that genre deconstructions along the lines of the Coens can and do challenge the myths, values and beliefs that these genres promote. In the case of the Coens, this includes an emphasis on absurdity instead of rationality and failure instead of achievement, whereby their films, even at their most farcically postmodern, always retain a subversive political edge (cf. Palmer 60; Kriest 70).
Martin Holtz

3. A Spaghetti Southern: Landscapes of Fear in Django Unchained

Years ago, in The Return of the Vanishing American, Leslie Fiedler explored what he saw as the re-emergence of the American Indian as a central character in literary writing. His title may have referred back to the wistful construction of native Americans as a vanishing race, most poignantly in Edward S. Curtis’s photograph, captioned “The vanishing race,” a photograph of a small group of Indians riding off into the dark, as if in a film’s closing shot. But, as Fiedler reminded his readers, the news of the Indians’ demise had been greatly exaggerated. They had returned to a number of fields of artistic imagination, in literature, in film, and more often than ever before as agents of their own representation. Never mind that their return could come in many guises—and Fiedler recognized American Indian agency in the shape of the modern hipster, blurring the features of the returnee—it did not prevent Fiedler from suggesting the field for their return as constituting one reservoir for American mythology alongside three others. He saw four main regional varieties in the American literary imagination; next to the Western—crucially to do with the encounter between American Indians and white settlers—he distinguished the Southern, the Northern and the Eastern. Obvious examples come to mind, such as Faulkner’s imaginary South or New England as imagined by Nathaniel Hawthorne. If they are separate genres, with their characteristic narrative tropes and typical heroes, we should guard against setting the categories too neatly apart.
Rob Kroes

4. Who Was That Masked Man? Conception and Reception in The Lone Ranger

One of the longest running franchises in the history of American popular culture-the Lone Ranger-“rides again.” In July 2013, the Disney Corporation/Bruckheimer film opened six years after the initial idea inspired an equally epic nine months of on-location filming, mainly in New Mexico, Utah and Colorado. A result of the brainstorming of director Gore Verbinski and initially the writers Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott who were trying to get the rights from Sony—all collaborators on the successful Disney franchise “Pirates of the Caribbean”—the possibility of the film really took hold when Johnny Depp declared his interest in playing Tonto, the long-time sidekick of the Lone Ranger. “So we hired Justin Haythe [to rewrite],” says Verbinski, “but one of the conditions was that I was going to tell this thing from Tonto’s point of view.… Otherwise, you miscast Johnny” (Rosen). With Depp’s reputation and the success of the “Pirates” franchise, the film emerged as Disney’s “tentpole” event of the summer with expectations of another blockbuster. But with the Western dead to contemporary audiences and the original franchise hero and sidekick unknown except to baby boomers, the typical Disney audiences—children and juveniles—were questionable consumers.
Shelley Armitage

The Western “Abroad”: Transnational Variations


5. “Crossing the Beast”: American Identity and Frontier Mythology in Sin Nombre

The 2,000-mile border that separates Mexico from the United States has long provided producers of popular culture with fertile grounds for exploring American identity. Hollywood has typically viewed the region through the broader prism of US national frontier mythology, cementing the Western as its inspirational genre of choice for myth-infused explorations of the borderlands. The source of the frontier myth itself was a political discourse informed by notions of Anglo-Saxon racial superiority, American exceptionalism and of imperialism justified through divine sanction. Among other things, belief in this Manifest Destiny misrepresented a history by which one can acknowledge Mexico as the victim of US aggression. The 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended one-and-a-half years of a conflict that Mexicans still call the War of the North American Invasion. In defeat, vast tracts of Mexico’s territory-from Texas to California-were ceded to the United States and the US-Mexico border was officially established as a geopolitical entity. Throughout the twentieth century, the US attitude to the border has generally been one of paranoid defense: typically (if tacitly) understood in terms of race, of safeguarding Anglo-American civilization from the Latin American other, something “to distinguish us from them” (Anzaldúa 25, original italics).1 Maintaining this distinction meant resisting-often with extreme violence-the attempted “incursions” of this other.
Matthew Carter

6. Wild West in the Mild West: Reading the Canadian Anti-Western through The Englishman’s Boy

Concluding an essay titled “Dances with Wolfers: Choreographing History in The Englishman’s Boy,” Herb Wyile writes: “Somewhat ironically, given Vanderhaeghe’s sentiments about images, yet not surprisingly, given the success and cinematic potential of The Englishman’s Boy, Vanderhaeghe is working on the screenplay for a movie version. Let’s hope Kevin Costner is busy with other projects” (48). The tone of Wyile’s comment on Guy Vanderhaeghe’s 1996 novel seemingly indicts the ability of film to actively subvert genre. The novel itself, meanwhile, offers an excoriating critique of the ideologically distortive effects of Hollywood. Wyile’s repetition of the common critique that Dances with Wolves, well-intentioned though it may have been, ultimately falls into the generic binaries and heroic codes of the conventional Western, implies, however, that even a novel as explicitly critical of those conventions as The Englishman’s Boy is not guaranteed a successful transition to film. Whether or not it is another Dances with Wolves, the $11.7 million two-part dramatization of The Englishman’s Boy by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (2008) was similarly lauded, winning six Gemini awards.1 It also paralleled the novel’s earlier success, which earned the Governor General’s Award for 1996 and a nomination for the Giller Prize, both significant markers of entry into, and establishment in, the Canadian literary elite.
David Stirrup

7. “Australia. What Fresh Hell Is This?”: Conceptualizing the Australian Western in The Proposition

Writing a transnational, comparative study of the Western film forces a confrontation with a fundamental question (and the eternal question for Western film scholars): “What is the Western?” Clearly the Western film genre has undergone multiple transformations over its long life; today we generally accept that the conceptualization of the Western film in US cinema has moved away from (if it ever was) a celebration of the patriarchal, imperial and uncomplicated narrative of the white man’s conquest of the allegedly “free” lands of the American West. Rather, from at least the 1960s, American Western films have, generally speaking, taken the generic tropes of the Western-the racial and feminine “Other,” white masculine hegemony, man’s mythic connection with landscape-and subverted them to various degrees, and in various complex and occasionally contradictory ways. Such subversion sought to reposition public conceptualizations of the meaning of “the West,” re-visioning it as a part of America’s historical, rather than mythic past, with “real” implications for American identities. Increasingly these films were concerned with seeing the West as an historical space within which to discuss American values and the impact of the historical past in transmitting those values into the present.
Emma Hamilton

8. Staging the “Wild Wild East”: Decoding the Western in East Asian Films

As the oldest film genre in American cinema that is “intimately… woven into the imaginative fabric of American life” (Langford 75), the Western has been adapted, revised and transplanted along its multiple historical and geocultural trajectories. From cinematic projections of the American frontier and Spaghetti Westerns to more self-reflective revisionist renditions and postmodern parody within and outside Hollywood, the Western’s global appeal bespeaks the genre’s inherent mobility and continued transmutations despite the apparent decline in production output and popular reception. Critical interest, on the other hand, seems to be waxing just as the Western as a mainstream genre is on the wane (Nachbar 179). While the box-office failure of Heaven’s Gate (1980) might have sealed the fate of the genre, film scholars have observed signs of its revival, albeit in augmented and hybridized forms in the global mediascape, noting in particular the intertwined processes of generic crossbreeding in postmodern film cultures and cross-cultural critical reception.1 If post-centennial Westerns are struggling for a place in popular cinema in the twenty-first century, the question why the genre continues to inspire the cinematic imaginations of filmmakers working in, and across, different cultural contexts through adaptation and subversion is more complex than a desire to imitate or mimic a long-standing Hollywood paradigm.
Vivian P. Y. Lee

The Western “Out There”: The Allure of the Fantastic


9. Decolonizing the Western: A Revisionist Analysis of Avatar with a Twist

James Cameron began work on his 3D blockbuster fantasy Avatar in 1995, the first year of the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People (Duncan and Fitzpatrick 14). The film opened in 2009 during the Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People (2005–2015), the same year that Bolivia elected an Indigenous president, two years after the United Nations adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and a year before the 2010 Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth.1 These highlighted moments in the process of global recognition of Indigenous rights, sovereignty, decolonization movements and environmental justice represent centuries of Indigenous resistance to ongoing systems of subjugation, racism and colonialism. They signify survivance, a term Anishinaabe writer and theorist Gerald Vizenor uses to express the ongoing survival and dynamic thriving of Indigenous people despite centuries-long colonialist and imperialist oppression. Cameron’s diegetic world of Pandora and its Indigenous people, the Na’vi, reflect the influence of these real-world struggles as the narrative foregrounds Indigenous survivance and resistance to genocide and the ecocide of the Na’vi homeland. In so doing Cameron continues a tradition of Indigenous and non-Indigenous filmmakers working within the First Cinema genre system to (re)present Indigenous histories and points of view.2
M. Elise Marubbio

10. The Post-Apocalyptic Western as a Bookish Genre: The Book of Eli’s Vision of an Archival Future

The opening scene of The Book of Eli (Hughes Brothers, 2010) establishes the film’s skewed relation to the Western. A dead man, apparently killed in a fight, lies crumpled on the floor of a gloomy forest, his six-shooter-the cylinder open and empty-fallen in the dirt near his outstretched hand. The soundtrack hints at the historical shift immediately substantiated by the camera pan. We hear amplified breathing, which turns out to be filtered through the gasmask worn by a shrouded figure aiming his bow and arrow in the direction of the corpse. Eli is no Indian, rather the survivor of some obscure apocalypse poised to shoot a strange animal that has been attracted by the scent of death. It turns out to be a hairless cat, which Eli will cook over a campfire for dinner, collecting the drippings to use as lip balm in a wasteland (the forest disappears after the opening scene) where water has become scarce and survivors wear sunglasses to protect themselves from the sunlight pouring through a hole in the sky.
Andrew S. Gross

11. The War on Terror and Intersecting Film Genres in Jonah Hex

Jonah Hex was created by writer John Albano and artist Tony DeZuniga for DC Comics in the early 1970s. In the course of time, he became a hero of a long-running series of comic strips (1977–2005, two volumes) and was featured in a variety of crossovers with other characters from the DC universe. He then appeared in a series of Batman cartoons in the 1990s. The choice of Jonah Hex for the protagonist of a feature film was thus a natural outcome of his continuing presence in the American popular imagination. Jimmy Hayward’s Jonah Hex premiered in 2010, featuring an impressive cast, with Josh Brolin as the eponymous hero, Megan Fox as prostitute Lilah, his beloved, John Malkovitch as Quentin Turnbull, his enemy, and Michael Fassbender as Burke, Turnbull’s most trusted helper. This article offers an analysis of the film, focusing on its two aspects: the modification of the convention of the Western and the construction of the political subtext. Jonah Hex is based on a confusing, excessive combination of genres, but the Western remains its most easily recognizable narrative schema, which testifies to the resilience of the Western in films that undo its rules through some kind of exaggeration. The present chapter demonstrates that even though a number of conventions come to mind in reference to Hayward’s film, its generic status essentially depends on a parallel employment of the Western and the superhero action film in which the protagonist with a superhuman gift fights with an obsession-driven villain who has control over a weapon of mass destruction. The connection between these two genres
Marek Paryz

The Western “Elsewhere”: Classic Inspirations and New Technologies


12. Avant-Garde and Experimental Westerns: The Frontier at the Limits of the Moving Image

The Western is typically regarded in scholarship as falling clearly and nearly exclusively into the realm of popular culture. Instantiations of Western films may achieve the cinematic version of high art, as John Ford’s Westerns are often understood to do. But, in fact, there is also an avant-garde history of/in Westerns that goes back, in one version, to Andy Warhol’s Lonesome Cowboys (1968) or, in another, to The Great Train Robbery (1903—when all cinema was still in an experimental phase). These films are outside of mainstream practice, but their concerns may not be. In an avant-garde or experimental mode, the Western’s aesthetics are allowed to expand, and the critical register of any given text can be as powerful a critique, and use, of the genre’s past (and its future) as any feature film. Here I concentrate on two key works in an experimental mode that represent important tendencies and questions in the avant-garde/Western interface: Mandy Morrison’s video work Desperado (1999), and Rebecca Baron and Douglas Gordon’s digital work Lossless #3 (2008). Mandy Morrison’s Desperado (first seen widely when it was exhibited in the Whitney Biennial of 2000) uses the medium-specific aesthetics of video art to think through masculinity and sexual identity using Western semantic codes and a destabilized version of Western narrative.
Alexandra Keller

13. “The Faces May Change, the Names, but They’re There, Now and Fifty Years from Now”: The Myth of the Cavalry in Post-9/11 US Armed Forces Recruitment Commercials

A third of a century has passed since John Wayne rode off into the sunset one last time, yet the Duke’s legacy is alive and well. Annually featured around the top of Harris Interactive’s “America’s Favorite Movie Star” rating and still the reigning number one among old timers, Wayne’s status as an American icon seems solidified (Harris Interactive Poll). His apparition still strides across TV screens in the heartland, yet it has also acquired a life of its own in popular culture, exceeding a mere embodiment of conservative sentiments. Mockingly sketched in Sherman Alexie’s Dear John Wayne as a crypto-feminist secretly romancing with a Native American extra while shooting The Searchers, reincarnated as a sadistic drill sergeant in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket or ironically evoked for his grit in Morning Joe during Hillary Clinton’s 2008 Democratic nomination campaign, the Western hypermale as epitomized by Wayne (and scores of his epigones) has become part and parcel of American popular culture, inspiring American copywriters to market all sorts of goods, from Marlboro cigarettes through Wrangler jeans. Although this mode of advertising began to wane toward the end of the past century—the crackdown on the tobacco industry purged the wilderness of the Marlboro Man, and the associative power of denim transcended the confines of the rodeo arena—images and slogans informed by the myths of the Frontier are still employed by major agents on the American market, including the US Armed Forces.
Józef Jaskulski


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