the westerns


The Westerns – typical American fiction genre – tell stories set during the period from about 1860 (or the Gold Rush) to the end of the so-called Indian Wars at Wounded Knee in 1890. Some westerns incorporate the American Civil War. They are simple morality tales, usually set against the spectacular scenery of the American West: the wilderness and desert landscapes, isolated forts; the Native American village; or small frontier towns with their saloon. The development of technology – telegraph, printing press, and railroad – symbolises the imminent end of the frontier. The protagonists are usually semi-nomadic wanderers (vagabondi), cowboys or gunfighters (pistoleri). They are the literary descendants of the knight errant (cavaliere errante): they wander from place to place on their horses, fighting villains (cattivi) of various kinds (tipi) , frequently rescuing (salvando) suffering girls, without a social structure, but bond (legati) only to their own innate code of honour. In fact this genre depicts a society organized around codes of honour, rather than the law, in which persons have no social order larger than their immediate family, or perhaps themselves alone. The western film traces its roots (origini) back to 1903’s The Great Train Robbery, a silent film directed by Edwin S. Porter and starring Broncho Billy Anderson. In the United States, the western has had an extremely rich history that covers many genres (action, adventure, comedy, drama, horror, tragedy, parody, musical, science fiction, etc.). The golden age of the western film is epitomised by the work of two directors: John Ford (who often used John Wayne for lead roles) and Howard Hawks. During the 1960s and 1970s, a revival of the Western emerged in Italy with the “Spaghetti Westerns” or “Italo-Westerns”. Many of these films are low-budget affairs (a basso costo), shot in locations and are characterized by the presence of more action and violence than the Hollywood westerns. The best of the genre, notably the films directed by Sergio Leone, have a parodic dimension which gave them a different tone to the Hollywood westerns. Westerns from the United States were particularly favourite by Joseph Stalin and developed in Communist countries, as “Red Western” or “Ostern” films. They usually portrayed the American Indians sympathetically, as oppressed people fighting for their rights (frequently featured by Yugoslavians or Turkic people). After the early 1960s – and with the strong debates on the Vietnam War – many American film-makers began to question and change many traditional elements of westerns like the representation of Native Americans and the use of violence to prove oneself right (per provare di avere ragione). The most famous of this new way of looking at the past are Blue Soldier by Ralph Nelson and Little Big Man by Arthur Penn, both produced in 1970. Nowadays, the Westerns are films that have contemporary American settings but nevertheless (ciononostante) utilise Old West themes and motifs: a rebellious antihero, open plains and landscapes, climactic gunfights (scontri a fuoco) , etc.. Sometimes they are not set in the west of USA, but the themes and the moral lesson are equally present. Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, and George Lukas’s Star Wars are among the best examples .

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