Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Gone west

Hey! What happened to the old Westerns? Being a parent you tend to spend more time at home and a regular classic Western on the television would be very welcome. Lots of desert and dust; whiskey poured from a bottle in saloons full of loose women and crazy piano playing; mysterious feuds and quests; snuffling and skittish horses; climactic shoot-outs. It would pleasantly while away a rainy Saturday afternoon.

TV is obviously hopeless (it's what's to blame for this blog). But given there are literally hundreds of channels now, why isn't there one devoted to Westerns? They're obviously not popular nowadays - Hollywood has really given up trying to revive the genre. But then if popularity was a criterion most of what appears on multi-channel TV wouldn't be screened. My guess is they'd be cheap, too.

I think my younger self would be shocked by this state of affairs. Westerns seemed such a fixture then, an inter-generational male thing: often watched with Dad or Taid, both connoisseurs. Richard Widmark, Audie Murphy, Alan Ladd, Randolph Scott, Glenn Ford were names that tripped off the tongues of any red-blooded lad. My guess is that anyone under thirty-five would never have heard of them.

Richard Widmark (above) was a personal favourite. Blonde and handsome, a tough guy, of course. But he had a slightly crooked face, a bruised look in his eyes, and often a sardonic, almost wretched, moodiness which really appealed to me. Almost totally forgotten now though. He died last year.

So, I may be a member of the last generation of kids to watch Westerns on rainy weekend afternoons. I wonder what effect it had on me, an impressionable boy, witnessing these illustrations of what it was to be a 'real' man, whilst in the reverent presence of the mature males of the tribe? Anyway, it's an experience my boys won't have in quite the same way; just save us from films featuring Tom Cruise as his usual jumped-up, snotty little glove-puppet.


worm said...

I'm under 35 and I've heard of them!!

I like cowboy movies, but only really since they became postmodern - as I suspect is the case with other younger movie viewers. The traditional good guy/ bad guy stuff is a bit cheesy for me, but I admit I do occasionally like a good John Wayne movie on a sunday afternoon

Leone's movies were great (esp. once upon a time in the west), and then of course the allegorical and ghostly themes of all the Clint movies is what I really like -the empty camera shots of desert and the raw cold Badlands and whole scenes where nobody talks at all. great!

did you see 3.10 to Yuma? Thats a recent cowboy flick that was pretty good

Brit said...

I was slightly but not totally disappointed by 3.10 to Yuma. The ending didn't work for me. There has been a little spate of the post-Unforgiven type western. Appaloosa was decent.

I used to watch them with my dad, but he was pretty selective. Favourites were Outlaw Josey Wales, Hud, The Searchers, High Noon and Shane. Had them all on VHS for regular rewatching.

Really it's the lone, monosyllabic 'fixer' motif he likes - the western setting is an excuse for it. You get it in a lot of Japanese films too, which he also likes.

For me, you can't beat Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.

Kev said...

I'm under 35 and I haven't heard of most of them. I have seen old westerns but generally those that would have the status of classic movies outside of being genre pieces, John Ford movies, Leone, that sort of thing.

I think that the best of the genre will be preserved and remembered the also rans forgotten. The modern equivalent is probably comic book/ super hero films. This trend will no doubt pass as well.

There is a channel here in Ireland that always shows a western on a Friday, maybe I should check it out.

worm said...

yes brit - it's that 'monosyllabic fixer motif' that I like so much - which is why I also always had a thing for Lassie and The Littlest Hobo -

Im a sucker for that melancholy kick in the guts when the person (or dog)who has saved the day doesn't ask for thanks but merely walks off into the sunset without looking back

The parting is such sweet sorrow

Brit said...

... Ah, yes. The monosyllable being 'woof'.

worm said...

*sob* thats the one - brings a tear to my eye just thinking about it

Gaw said...

Worm and Kev: Perhaps the definitive cut-off age is 25? I certainly don't recall Westerns on tv much in the last 15 years or so.

I really don't like the clever, post-modern, ironic takes on the West. It's all a bit too easy. I think the rot set in with Leone. Straight-up or not at all, in my view.

Brit: It's very much a Dad thing. Your old chap obviously addressed the Western with the seriousness it demands.

Lassie: The music over the opening credits was enough to set my little sister off. Worm, I dread to think what my dog-killing tractor post did to you.

Hey Skipper said...

Deadwood is a western, both recent and popular.

WWII was just as popular a theme 35 years ago -- Combat, The Rat Patrol, etc. Not anymore.

My son and I bond over Top Gear.

Gaw said...

Skip: Jeremy Clarkson is the new John Wayne.

Stephen Fawcus said...

"Skip: Jeremy Clarkson is the new John Wayne."

The hell he is.

Gaw said...

Stephen: Nice one - you can almost hear the drawl.

I looked up some other John Wayne quotes and they almost all would sound quite natural coming out of Clarkson's mouth:


How far we've fallen...