Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The state of the Western

To use a trite expression, the reports of the Western genre's death have been greatly exaggerated. Look no further than Hell on Wheels, the recent new premiere by AMC. Now, still in it's infancy, it is too early to say whether Hell on Wheels deserves to rank among the rest of the channel's award-winning line up. However, the fact that a major channel such as AMC is even gambling on a Western television show is commendable.

Tell me that doesn't look badass.

I admit, I used to turn my nose up to the genre. I considered the main characters in Westerns to be nothing but hicks and no good story can come of that. I was an appreciator of art and there was no way a cowboy story could constitute art. Luckily, I finally decided to sit down and watch John Wayne with my dad. While I may not be the biggest fan of The Duke, watching Westerns with my dad allowed me to get over my pretension. After getting acquainted with singing cowboys I moved on to the more exciting spaghetti Westerns. I could finally see what made Westerns so cool.

A film as epic as it is long.

You see, nothing represents Americana or the American identity more than the west. Manifest Destiny may have had some major shortcomings but the pioneer days were purely American. Fueled by the lust for gold and the racism against Native Americans, our Western expansion makes for a wonderful platform for a good story. From word of mouth stories, to Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, to dime store novels, stories of the west made up American folklore and entertainment. One early landmark film, The Great Train Robbery, was by the very definition a Western.

A film as epic as it is short.

While the heyday of the genre is over with that doesn't mean Westerns are completely dead. Hollywood just needs to put trust in the genre again. By trying to mix the storyline with other genres, like in Wild Wild West or Cowboys & Aliens, they are taking away from what makes a pure Western so compelling. Films like True Grit, 3:10 to Yuma and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (one of the most underrated movies of the last decade) prove that modern day Westerns can be incredibly engaging. The Proposition, one of the best Westerns in recent memory, doesn't even take place in America. Instead it transposes itself to the Australian Outback and, despite the location, shows everything that can be done right with the genre.

Rule: If Nick Cave writes the soundtrack it's probably good.

Westerns are the perfect way to examine the darkness of man. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy may be a Western but it's also the most brutal examination of the human spirit since Joseph Conrad. Even comics books can be an excellent home for the Western genre. Don't let the 2010 flop fool you, Jonah Hex is an awesome comic book character. The movie producers just didn't trust the character enough, resulting in the 81 minute cinematic mess.

Jonah Hex volume 3 was amazing.

So now that Hell on Wheels has premiered, maybe the genre can finally be down right. And, while Deadwood already attempted, the fact that it's on cable and not a channel like HBO is victory enough. AMC has had a pretty good track record so far, let's hope Hell on Wheels is just a continuation of that. Because the Western genre deserves a victory, if only to prove its relevance.

1 comment:

  1. I'm interested in seeing how the show goes. I hope it's better than Deadwood.