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The History of the Western Genre

A journey of the different Western sub genres
by

Emily Glover

on 28 April 2013

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Transcript of The History of the Western Genre

The Weird Western blends elements of a classic Western with other elements. The Wild Wild West and its later film adaptation blends the Western with steampunk. Jonah Hex blends the Western with superhero elements. This sub genre can encompass others, such as the Horror Western. The History The Western Genre What is the Western genre? The Western genre is often devoted to telling stories set primarily in the latter half of the 19th century in the American West. However, some Westerns are set as early as the Battle of the Alamo in 1836.
The Western genre sometimes represents the wilderness, lawlessness, savageness and confiscation of territorial rights to the original inhabitants of the American West.
The popular perception of a Western involves a story that centers on the life of a semi-nomadic wanderer, whether that being a cowboy or a gunfighter as well as frequent involvement of the rescue of a damsel in distress.
The Northern genre is a sub genre of Westerns taking place in Western Canada or Alaska. Examples include The Far Country with James Stewart and North to Alaska with John Wayne. The Northern Western After the early 1960s, American film-makers started to change many traditional elements of Westerns. One major change was in the increasingly positive representation of Native Americans who had been treated as "savages" in earlier films (Little Big Man, Dances with Wolves). Audiences were encouraged to question the simple hero-versus-villain dualism and the morality of using violence to test a persons character or to prove that they were right.
Some recent Westerns give women more powerful roles. One of the earlier films that encompasses all these features was the 1956 adventure film The Last Wagon in which Richard Widmark played a white man raised by Comanches and persecuted by white settlers. The Revisionist Western This sub genre places science fiction elements within a traditional Western setting. Examples include Wild Wild West, Westworld, its sequel Futureworld, Cowboys & Aliens, "Back to the Future Part III", and the hybrid film Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter.

Prolific author and screenwriter Frank Gruber listed seven plots for Westerns.
1. The Union Pacific story: The plot concerns construction of a railroad, a telegraph line, or some other type of modern technology or transportation. Wagon train stories probably fall into this category.
2. The ranch story: The plot concerns threats to the ranch from rustlers or large landowners attempting to force out the proper owners.
3. The empire story: The plot might involve building up a ranch empire or an oil empire from scratch, a classic rags-to-riches plot.
4. The revenge story: The plot often involves an elaborate chase and pursuit, but it may also include elements of the classic mystery story.
5. The cavalry and Indian story: The plot revolves around taming the wilderness for white settlers.
6. The outlaw story: The outlaw gangs dominate the action.
7. The marshal story: The lawman and his challenges drive the plot. The Western sub genre itself has sub sub-genres that include the spaghetti western, the epic western, singing cowboy westerns, and a few comedy westerns. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Western was re-invented with the revisionist Western. The Classical Western Edwin S. Porter's 1903 film starring Broncho Billy Anderson 'The Great Train Robbery' is often noted as the first Western, though George N. Fenin and William K. Everson point out that the "Edison company had played with Western material for several years prior to The Great Train Robbery."
Nonetheless, they concur that Porter's film "set the pattern—of crime, pursuit, and retribution—for the Western film as a genre."
The film's popularity opened the door for Broncho Billy Anderson to become the screen's first cowboy star, making several hundred Western film shorts. In fact, the genre was so popular that he soon had competition in the form of Tom Mix and William S. Hart. The Golden Age of the Western film is epitomized by the work of two directors: John Ford and Howard Hawks (both of whom often used John Wayne in lead roles). The Florida Western Florida Westerns or Cracker Westerns as the title suggests are set in Florida. The film Distant Drums (1951) was one of the earliest Florida Western made. The Euro Western 'Euro Western' is often used to describe Western films made in Western Europe. One example of a Euro Western is the 1961 Anglo-Spanish film The Savage Guns. Several films were made in Germany, derived from stories by novelist Karl May. The Spaghetti Western During the 1960s and 1970s, a revival of the Western emerged in Italy with the "Spaghetti Westerns" or "Italo-Westerns". The most famous of them is The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Many of these films are low-budget affairs, shot in locations chosen for their inexpensive crew and production costs as well as their similarity to landscapes of the Southwestern United States. Spaghetti Westerns were characterized by the presence of more action and violence than the Hollywood Westerns. Also, the protagonists usually acted out of more selfish motives (money or revenge being the most common) than in the classical westerns.
The films directed by Sergio Leone have a parodic dimension (the strange opening scene of Once Upon a Time in the West being a reversal of Fred Zinnemann's High Noon opening scene) which gave them a different tone than the Hollywood Westerns. Veteran American actors Charles Bronson, Lee Van Cleef and Clint Eastwood became famous by starring in Spaghetti Westerns, although the films also provided a showcase for other noted actors such as Jason Robards, James Coburn, Klaus Kinski and Henry Fonda. The Contemporary Western Even though a Contemporary Western has contemporary American settings, they utilize Old West themes and motifs (a rebellious anti-hero, open plains and desert landscapes, and gunfights). They still take place in the American West and reveal the progression of the Old West mentality into the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. This sub-genre often features Old West-type characters struggling with displacement in a "civilized" world that rejects their outdated brand of justice.Examples include;
- Hud starring Paul Newman (1963)
- Sam Peckinpah's The Getaway (1972)
- Robert Rodríguez's El Mariachi (1992)
- Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003)
- John Sayles's Lone Star (1996)
- Tommy Lee Jones's The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005)
- Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain (2005)
- Wim Wenders's Don't Come Knocking (2005)
- Hearts of the West starring Jeff Bridges (1975)
- John Sturges's Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
...and the Coen brothers Academy Award-winning No Country For Old Men (2007).
The Science Fiction Western The Weird Western The Horror Western The Horror Western is a developing sub genre with roots in films such as Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (1966), which depicts the legendary outlaw Billy the Kid fighting against the notorious vampire. The Ghoul Goes West was an unproduced Ed Wood film to star Bela Lugosi as Dracula in the Old West.
Recent examples include the 1999 film Ravenous, which deals with cannibalism at a remote US army outpost, and the 2008 film The Burrowers, about a band of trackers who are stalked by the titular creatures. This sub genre imitates, comments on, or trivializes the genres established traits, subjects, styles or other target by means of humorous or ironic imitation. Such titles include Blazing Saddles, The Hallelujah Trail, The Scalphunters, Rustlers' Rhapsody, and Maverick. The western Satire Genre A most recent example of a western film is "Django Unchained"- a 2012 American western film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. The film starred Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, and Samuel L. Jackson and was released on December 25, 2012 in North America. Most Recently...
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