Someone needs to resurrect the western.
It’s either dead or dying now, and little is being done to give it life – True Grit (2010) notwithstanding.
There was a time back in the 1980s when the paucity of films in the category, save the intermittent flick such as Silverado (1985) and Pale Rider (1985), spoke to the genre’s walk to the tombstone. Yet movies such as Dances With Wolves (1990) and Unforgiven (1992) brought it back for a time, proving once again – à la mid-century works like Broken Arrow (1950) and The Searchers (1956) – that oaters didn’t have to be juvenile, poverty-row entertainments … that they could deal with adult themes and treat their subjects with respect and realism. They even proved that they could continue to score at the Oscars, as well as at the box office.
What in the name of Randolph Scott happened?
The truth is, we’re not seeing great, iconic films of their ilk anymore. In fact, it’s rare that we even see any period, as studio executives seem to be spending more time examining the lives of present-day outlaws, sheriffs and Annie Oakleys than the ones who roamed the American frontier 150 years ago.
Oh, and Cowboys & Aliens (2011) doesn’t count, in my humble opinion.
Granted, we’ve seen television pick up some of the slack, with shows such as Deadwood (2004-2006) providing their own take on the genre. But the theatres haven’t followed suit, and that’s a disturbing problem. Even the Hollywood musical – once thought to be dead in the water – has returned with great flash, if not great tunes. (Sorry, Les Misérables (2012), I’m just not a big fan.)
So where’s that other product of studios past, the western? Hm?
I’m not one to believe that the category has run out of steam. A genre that has given us the likes of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), Stagecoach (1939), Little Big Man (1970), The Wild Bunch (1969) and The Shootist (1976) has got to have some time left.
It’s not the end of the West yet, my friends.
What I’d like to see is an influx of novel, personal projects that don’t re-tread old ground. The latest incarnation of True Grit was a virtuous attempt, but its 1969 cinematic predecessor prevents the new version from being entirely original. Something like Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man (1995) would be welcome. Parody would not. Can Hollywood deliver? Or maybe the question is, does it want to?
I think it must. It has to. We’ll have nothing to print if the fact becomes legend. And I reckon that would be a crying shame.