The Classical Western genre began in 1903 with the film “The Great Train Robery.” The works of directors John Ford and Howard Hawks and their heroes like John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Audy Murphy and others define this sub-genre. Books would include writers like Zane Gray, Max Brand and Louis L’Amour.
Revisionist Westerns literally revise how we previously thought of the western. In the revisionist western, Native Americans are viewed in a more positive perspective. The roles of blacks and women cease to be background and come forward to reveal stronger, more pertinent characters.
Spaghetti Westerns emerged in the 60’s and 70’s, most notably defined with the actor Clint Eastwood. The filming locations in Spain were similar in landscape appearance to the American West. They were generally more violent with a missing thread of morality - hence the birth of the Anti-Hero.
Contemporary Westerns take place in modern settings – usually within the western United States, but not always. While this sub-genre is most often defined by anti-heroes who are out of touch with the modern world. “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada” and “HUD” are a couple examples. Often violent, they present a confused perspective of morality.
Acid Westerns were often chilling with their violence and cultish themes. More like something from a drug induced hallucination than reality, these were produced in the 60’s and 70’s.
Science Fiction Westerns take future concepts back to western settings. The popular “Wild, Wild West” was an example of this genre. “WestWorld” was another.
The Ostern, or Red Western, was developed in the Soviet Union, and often filmed in Central Asia. They were more sympathetic to the native American tribes and followed the good vs. evil route.
Curry Westerns were Indian westerns, such as “Sholay” where two hired hands are trying to catch a bad man in the rugged terrain of India. These “Bollywood” films were produced in India, where they eventually became popular.
To me, a western is more about values and honor - the sacrifice and struggles in a primitive environment. I agree heartily with the presence of horses to complete the western setting. In fact, I think they played a major role in categorizing Gene Autry and Roy Rogers films as westerns. So, with that in mind, I think a western can be in a modern setting, such as my "The Useless Horse" which pits a man and his horse against a boy and his ATV on a western Texas ranch. (yeah, the man and his horse come out on top - intact with values) Another western that comes to mind is City Slickers. It is not only a modern western, but a comedy as well. And yet, honor was certainly an important part of the story. To my way of thinking, Spaghetti westerns with their anti-heroes, cynical outlook and brutal violence, are not westerns - regardless of other qualifications. They should have another genre - like porn. But then, some movies are classified as adventure or drama when they don't quite fit the western genre. "Across the Great Divide" and "Breakheart Pass" are a couple examples. Ghosting from one sub-genre to the next, the western manages to please a wide audience. Pinning down the exact reason why we like it might be as difficult as capturing a spectre in a jar, though. For most of us, it is simply enough that we do.
The Ghostly Western Genre
by Linda L. Rigsbee
The “Western” genre is like a ghost. The details are clear enough to form an impression, but the conclusion is debatable.
Webster defines a western as: “a story, motion picture, etc. on the life of cowboys or frontiersmen in the western United States.” Hollywood would argue that point. Many devout western movie lovers insist that a western must have horses and take place in a specific time period. Western readers often classify the genre in moralistic terms – value, honor and struggle in primitive conditions. To them, it could be in any frontier setting. When “Quigley Down Under” hit the big screen, response made it clear enough that a good western didn’t have to take place in the American west – but it did have horses and was in a specific time period. Amid the action, humor and violence, one theme was clear – honor.
Actually, the western genre is divided into sub-genres including Classical, Revisionist, Spaghetti, Contemporary, Science fiction and Acid. Other countries and cultures created the equivalent of the western, such as the Ostern or Red Western of the Soviet Union and the Curry Western made by Bollywood in India. Western comedy is no more western than western romance, though both have western settings complete with horses and cowboys. The same is true with any other genre dealing with that era. Sometimes one grazes over into the western pasture and then back again, but most of the time it is in another field.
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