Monday, March 31, 2003

Thinking about why I like Western movies.

I still feel like a dabbler. Never read a McMurtry novel, f'rinstance, although I liked McCarthy's Blood Meridian enough to name a song for it. I tend to like the visual iconography of Western movies better than novels (and that cinematic feel in Blood Meridian was the reason I liked it & haven't much cared for any other McCarthy books). I've never seen a lot of the early Westerns, but it is interesting to me that the quintessential Western situation (man vs. man vs. nature) can be used to create works that are politically deliberate in both liberal and conservative veins (or maybe Lockean and Hobbesian might be a better split, casting the honor-among-men motif of The Wild Bunch as the former, and the strength-through-distrust motif of The Man With No Name trilogy in the latter) or as politically ambiguous as McCabe & Mrs. Miller. Jesus Christ, I'm sorry for the convolution of that last sentence. Anyway, when they're good, Westerns ask the hard questions and undermine their own answers, with plots easily cast as "men conflicted in difficult situations over their philosophical differences". I dig that kind of primordial storytelling.

So, I've seen Stagecoach, Rio Bravo, The Searchers, The Mag 7, The Wild Bunch, Ride the High Country, Deadly Companions, The Man With No Name Trilogy, Unforgiven, the other (less good) Eastwood westerns, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, and probably some others besides.

I'd put Dead Man into my top tier. It does what Westerns should do by subsuming the action into a sprawling meditation on the meaning of life. I also quite enjoyed the hallucinatory picaresque allegory of the "plot," and the conceit of Gary Farmer's character has always rang true to me as a mostly unexplored Western archetype (I mean, he's basically the Noble Savage, but instead of being naive like so many NSs, he's a sharp guy with nothing left looking for meaning).

I've read about a half-dozen Cormac McCarthy books, but only loved Blood Meridian. McCarthy has a tendency to wax poetic in what reads to me like an attempt to honor both Faulkner and Burroughs at once, but, like with Dead Man, I like the hallucinatory approach to the West. It brings home the madness that characters would feel from the hardships of living & surviving in the desert with nothing much in the way of possessions, not to mention the unreality that would creep into people's heads when living with the constant threat of violence. In short: heat, dehydration, solitude, and murder make people crazy. Good Westerns, to me, consider what those conditions do to people's souls.

Also, for the record, I dig Morricone & Calexico.


My photo
Cary, NC, United States
reachable at firstname lastname (all run together) at gmail dot com

About This Blog

From Here To Obscurity, founded ca. 2003, population 1. The management wishes to emphasize that no promises vis-a-vis your entertainment have been guaranteed and for all intents and purposes, intimations of enlightenment fall under the legal definition of entertainment. No refunds shall be given nor will requests be honored. Although some may ask, we have no intention of beginning again.

  © Blogger templates Brooklyn by 2008

Back to TOP