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The Western: An Overview

Page 1Page 2Page 3Page 4Page 5Page 6Page 7    by Gary Johnson -- page 7 of 7

Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven.

The Western Survives

The Western limped through the '80s with few hopes for recovery. Silverado (1985) attempted to pump up the old clichés and stock situations with rapid-fire editing, larger-than-life images, and a tongue-in-cheek attitude, but for all its verve, the movie wasn't genuine. Its well-rehearsed crescendos carried the aura of movie brats gussying up an old form. Audiences largely stayed away. Even Clint Eastwood's Pale Rider disappointed with its cloning of Shane. Young Guns strived to create a teenage audience for the Western by giving us Brat Pack alumni in Western garb. While modestly successful at the box office, Young Guns pointed down a dead end path.

As it struggled into the '90s, the Western finally discovered salvation in the form of Kevin Costner's Dances With Wolves. It packed in audiences and carted away the Academy Award for Best Picture. And soon afterwards, the TV mini-series Lonesome Dove (based on Larry McMurtry's Pulitzer-prize-winning novel) attracted a huge following. Eastwood's Unforgiven followed in 1992. It's a magnificent meditation on the Old West, filled with bitter ironies and brutal violence meted out by lawmen and outlaws alike. Unforgiven took home the Best Picture Academy Award in 1992.

Kevin Costner in Dances With Wolves.

A variety of Westerns then soon appeared, from The Quick and the Dead, an inspired but hyperactive fusion of horror movie sensibilities and Spaghetti Western situations, to Posse, a black Western with a rap soundtrack. The legendary Gunfight at the OK Corral provided the material for two movies, Lawrence Kasdan's ambitious but stodgy Wyatt Earp and George Cosmatos's intermittently dazzling Tombstone.

Even with the minor resurgence of the Western in the '90s, the Western exists in limbo. It still has the power to fan the sparks of imagination, but our distance from the West has weakened its authority. While the West once represented a simpler time in America's history, we now see that the power of the gun (as shown in Unforgiven and Tombstone) could make lawmen just as dangerous as the outlaws. And although justice may have been swift; it was not necessarily fair and at times it was absolutely deadly. As the myths and heroes of the American West fade away, the Western becomes just another genre, a genre that becomes more remote with each passing year.

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Page 1 Introduction

Page 2 Beginnings

Page 3 The B Western

Page 4 The Rise of the Feature Western

Page 5 The Western Matures

Page 6 The Western Loses Its Way

Page 7 The Western Survives

[Works Cited]



Other Western articles in this issue:

The Western Menu Page

The Western: An Overview

The Silent Western as Mythmaker

Spaghetti Westerns

Western Web Links


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