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Western The American Creation Mythology The major defining genre of the American film industry, a nostalgic eulogy to the early days of the expansive,

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Presentation on theme: "Western The American Creation Mythology The major defining genre of the American film industry, a nostalgic eulogy to the early days of the expansive,"— Presentation transcript:

1 Western The American Creation Mythology The major defining genre of the American film industry, a nostalgic eulogy to the early days of the expansive, untamed American frontier (the borderline between civilization and the wilderness). One of the most characteristically American genres

2 Roots The Western has its early roots in pulp fiction novels written for an Eastern audience recounting the frontier exploits of Western heroes. Most of the exploits were either fabricated or exaggerated, but the novels were popular and led to the development of a frontier mythos that has survived, if in a changed fashion, until today.


4 Setting The frontier West, usually from about 1850 to 1900 –A number of westerns use the Civil War, the Battle of the Alamo (1836) or the Mexican Revolution (1910) as a backdrop.


6 Specific settings include lonely isolated forts, ranch houses, the isolated homestead, the saloon, the jail, the livery stable, the small-town main street, or small frontier towns that are forming at the edges of civilization. They may even include Native American sites or villages.

7 Westerns often portray the conquest of the wilderness and the subordination of nature, in the name of civilization. Another view celebrates the conquest of the barbarian natives by the civilized White race. –Recent Westerns have portrayed Native Americans in a more sympathetic light

8 Western Plots The classic, simple goal of maintaining law and order on the frontier in a fast-paced action story. –Bandits rob the stage –The cattle baron tries to drive sheepherders/farmers out –Indians attack

9 Western plots Extremely simple –Some evil force (Indians, gunslingers, power hungry rancher) commits a crime that calls for retribution (or preys upon some good person or people) and a hero rises to protect the weak or to right the wrong. The trials and tribulations (gun battles, chases, fist fights) usually lead to an ultimate gun battle or arrest of the evil doer and order and happiness are restored. The hero often rides away rather than be tied down to a woman. Sometimes getting the girl is the point, though.

10 Typical Elements Hostiles (often Native Americans), Guns and gun fights Bar-room brawls Indian attacks/massacres Horses Trains (and train robberies), bank robberies and holdups, runaway stagecoaches, wagons Outlaws and sheriffs, Cattle drives and cattle rustling, stampedes, Posses in pursuit, barroom brawls, Distinctive western clothing (denim, jeans, boots, etc.) Dependent women (farmer’s wives, school marms, saloon gals).

11 Primitive Naïve Great emotional impact Establishes conventions

12 Classical Genre’s conventions well established Balanced and rich execution of conventions

13 1959 TV Westerns 1. Gunsmoke CBS 18,437,250 2. Wagon Train NBC 17,568,000 3. Have Gun Will Travel CBS 15,875,250 9. Wanted: Dead or Alive CBS 13,130,250 11. The Real McCoys ABC 12,901,500 13. The Rifleman ABC 12,581,250 15. The Lawman ABC 11,986,500 17. Cheyenne ABC 11,849,250 18. Rawhide CBS 11,803,500 19. Maverick ABC 11,529,000 20. The Life & Legend of Wyatt Earp ABC 11,437,500

14 Revisionist Turn to symbolic Ambiguous relationship to values Complex More intellectual/less emotional

15 Spaghetti Westerns

16 Parody Mocks the conventions Exposes clichés Produces laughter

17 Revisionist treatments

18 Homage Revisits the genre References conventions without mocking them Updates conventions

19 Western Heroes Often local lawmen or enforcement officers, ranchers, army officers, cowboys, territorial marshals, or a skilled, fast-draw gunfighter Masculine, even hypermasculine--courageous, moral, tough, solid and self-sufficient, maverick characters (often with trusty sidekicks), violent (sometimes only if necessary) –The Western hero could usually stand alone and face danger on his own, against the forces of lawlessness (outlaws or other antagonists), with an expert display of his physical skills (roping, gun-play, horse-handling, pioneering abilities, etc.). Independent, honest and honorable attitude Often shy and self-effacing around women (Aw, shucks ma’am)

20 Early heroes The first Western heroes were simplified as strong, independent, of high moral character, and chivalrous They were also often violent and vengeful Some during the 1940s were more upbeat and playful, etc.


22 Gradual change in the hero Over time, the hero became somewhat less ideal in moral fiber and, at times, more concerned with romance As depth of character was gradually added, the moral conflicts and uncertainties of violent behavior began to be portrayed –Questioning of vigilantism At times, a questionable past or less-than- savory deeds were part of the persona

23 The development of the anti-hero One of the most significant changes in the Western since the 1950s has been the inclusion of the anti-hero into the Western –Spaghetti Westerns –Clint Eastwood Known more for extreme facility with a gun and more mercenary goals than earlier cowboys

24 What about women? Most women of the West fell into either the salloon-hall girl, the settler or the school marm role. The former, often portrayed as having a good heart but bad judgment and ashamed of her past. The latter two much the same as the chaste, supportive, very feminine woman.

25 The occasional strong woman would emerge (Annie Oakley) but only became common in more recent Westerns

26 Gradual decline During the 1960s the success of new Westerns declined and the genre gradually gave way to more successful programming, such as situation comedies and detective/cop shows –A number of Westerns continued to enjoy high ratings Gunsmoke Bonanza The Big Valley The High Chapparal The Virginian

27 Themes Freedom –A number of critics have argued that much of the appeal of the Western relates to its representation of a simple world more under the control of the individual –If ‘civilization’ becomes too constraining, he can pack up and move –Law, bureaucracy, family, etc. disappear and just open space, man against the wilderness remain

28 Themes Closing of the West –Some later and revisionist Westerns took the gradual closing of the wild and open West as a significant theme Magnificent Seven The Shootist –The idea that you could always move further to avoid the trappings of civilization, or live the life of the badman was coming to an end

29 Cowboys and gunslingers became tragic heroes, lost in the modern world and longing for the simpler times of the classic West

30 Themes Vengeance –Often, some atrocity sets the hero off on the road to ‘right this wrong’ May have killed his family, leaving him free to pursue and punish the killer

31 Themes Civilization v. barbarism –Many of the Westerns pit the civilization of the White man against the savagery of the Indian –Revisionist Westerns often challenged this notion

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