FANTOMfilm No. 44 (March 2008)

In Focus: Revival of Western

The Czech film and DVD distribution is just introducing two noteworthy western movies. In cinemas, 3:10 Yuma had its premiere recently, and on DVD the audience will soon be able to get hold of Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

On this occasion FANTOMfilm comes up with its In Focus issue, this time dealing with the Revival of Western. The articles relate to both of the above mentioned films - which could possibly stand at the outset of another new rise of the moribound genre - and also to other issues, such as penetration of western into other genres (Ravenous by Antonia Bird). A great deal of attention is paid to less known films and filmmakers of the climax period of western’s revisionist age (texts on Ralph Nelson, Tom Gries and Missouri Breaks by Arthur Penn). The “magnificent seven” are then rounded off by a study on Budd Boetticher, one of the pioneers of western revision. A bonus presented by FANTOMfilm is the editors’ BEST OF choice, selecting a number of fundamental, yet less noted films from the history of western.

Jesse James as a Construct of Myth

Andrew Dominik's The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

The article focuses on the relation between the western and the Andrew Dominik's film, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. It points out that the classical western techniques are being transformed into new story and narrative qualities. The fundamental interpretative key is constituted by the movement on the crime—myth—history axis and its realization in various planes of the film. It turns out that the film's narrator contributes to the reflective understanding, the reconstructive character of myth and the unique relationship between fiction and history.

Vít Gvoždiak

Arthur Penn's The Missouri Breaks

An essay deals with the works of an important New Hollywood director Arthur Penn, whose filmography (rich in various genres) contains three important revisionist westerns (Left-Handed Gun, Little Big Man, The Missouri Breaks).

The essay points out several phases in the development of this western sub-genre (a psychological and more realistic phase, revision of the Indian problems, other genre variations, demythologization and a naturalism phase) and characterizes them by way of example of the three Penn’s westerns mentioned above. It takes notice of the latest Penn’s western called The Missouri Breaks and its place in progression of revisionist western.

Vít Peřina

A New American Western of Tom Gries

This study deals with three western movies by Tom Gries, which categorically rank to the new conception of the genre of the New Hollywood period. In the text we tried to disclose and clarify the thematic and stylistic inspiration of Gries’s films in the Italian spaghetti-western as well as in the revisionist forms of the western genre in the American cinema of 1960’s. Attention is paid also to the social and political background of the movies, which to a certain extent make use of the contemporary trends and tendencies for politicalization of the western genre and utilize the Mexican revolution as a background setting for the stories. Gries does not focus on rennovation of the history of the American West only. He notably transforms the genre itself and he experiments with the thematic aspects as well as the cinematic means of depiction. He pulls down accepted conventions and replaces them with new ideas and methods. Gries’s western movies present modern variations of the original classical forms as well as they introduce a new model of the genre by violating – in its realistic, yet stylized concept – the tradition in any sense.

Jan Švábenický

Politically Engaged Western of Ralph Nelson

The text deals with three politically engaged anti-westerns by Ralph Nelson, often underestimated and nowadays almost forgotten filmmaker, whose work ranks among the New Hollywood production. In his films, the director’s main concern is rennovation of the history of the American West and viewing the original inhabitants of the continent from a new perspective. The genre of western serves Nelson also as a means of metaphorical and critical comments on the contemprorary problems and foreign policy of his country. In scope of his extreme emphasis on correction of the history and some of its events, Nelson’s films are considered individual accusation of the present day America and its social and political system. Nelson’s deconstruction of the traditional western iconography, rhetoric, and style often finds inspiration in the Italian spaghetti-western. The director reflects the crucial topics of the contemporary American society, such as violence and rasism, interpreting his views by means of a western movie. The cruel genocide of the Indian population shows the brutality and cynism of the nowadays world.

Jan Švábenický