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Tuesday, 02 November 2010


Nice piece!

BTW, Walter Hill co-wrote "Alien" along with Dan O'Bannon, but it was directed by Ridley Scott.

I'd also like to plug "The Outlaw Josey Wales" as the last great (non-revisionist) western!

I am pretty sure it was Ridley Scott who directed Alien. Walter was one of the producers.

"BTW, Walter Hill co-wrote "Alien" along with Dan O'Bannon, but it was directed by Ridley Scott."

Fixed, thanks.


In our book, here in Dickerson, MD., "Silverado" is the best western every made. Netflix it and set aside nearly 3 hours for a great film with a great cast including Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn, Danny Glover, Kevin Costner, Brian Dennehy, Linda Hunt, John Cleese.. and a great soundtrack, made in 1985 by the Kasdan brothers. Oh heck just click this link

I promise you will enjoy it.

Maybe Westerns aren't what you'll like, but if you want to explore, maybe start with some of the classics: High Noon, The Magnificent Seven, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, which will then allow you to get into the enumerable number of remakes and takes on Wyatt Earp and that fight.... There are many more, like all the John Wayne westerns (start with The Shootist; end there, too). Of more recent vintage, Silverado is fun, and I think Unforgiven is one of the best ever. These are all Hollywood depictions, though, and all, except maybe Unforgiven, is pretty white hat/black hat. But then, that's the Western.

"Once Upon A Time in the West" a 'clear artistic failure'? That thar's fightin' talk, that is!

Well, perhaps I wouldn't go quite that far but it does call for more elaboration. OK, one man's work of cinematic genius might well be another man's 'artistic failure' but even so.... Some things just cannot go unchallenged!


Nice story... thanks.

If you're thinking of Sergio Leone Westerns, you might as well just forget it, spare yourself and skip them to watch some Kurosawa samurai movies (Yojimbo, Sanjuro, and Seven Samourai).

If you don't mind older Westerns, just go ahead and watch a few John Ford ones. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and The Searchers being two favorites.

It's an interesting genre... dead as a doornail right now, but interesting.

This is very useful, Mike. You've just saved me a pointless viewing experience. In fact you could perform a great service by viewing and trashing all those movies we don't need to see. A sacrifice for you, sure, but think of the public good!

There are so many good westerns: The Magnificent Seven, The Man who Shot Liberty Valence, High Noon, The Searchers and on and on, how did you manage to pick those two movies?
If I had to pick one Western it would likely be The Unforgiven.

For a great western I highly recommend "Lonesome Dove" the lovingly made version of Larry McMurtry's Pulitzer prize winning novel with an all star cast and the best performance's ever recorded of Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones as Augustus and Call. It was originally aired as a "mini-series" on TV in the 80's but has been released on DVD. I think it is the best thing I have ever seen on TV, and is still my favorite western of all time.

"Once Upon a Time in the West", "Artistic Failure". I presume you intend to antagonise and/or jest.

"Symbolism" would seem, to me, to be the point of all "Westerns".

If the visuals don't inspire then perhaps you should listen to the soundtrack (on vinyl). Pure genius.

One of the better movies involving Apaches is "Ulzana's Raid," made in 1972 with Burt Lancaster. Unfortunately, it's often shown on TV in versions that have been "edited." Even chopped somewhat, I recommend it.

Four great historical images here, but the studio fire one is exceptional. Engulfed.

Spent a week in Sedona, Arizona this past July. While there, drove to the town of Jerome where I bought a T-Shirt with Geronimo & Braves image but with the sub heading:

"The Original Homeland Security"

If you've never been to Jerome, gotta check it out. And do stop by the Jerome Palace and try their Haunted Burger.

History just doesn't make for good movies. It's too complicated, too random, too psychological and often too undramatic for movies. The whole structure of the "Old West" myths, as shown in movies, is based on a relative handful of incidents and battles, much of which happened in what we'd now call the Plains states -- Dodge City, Kansas, Deadwood, South Dakota, and Missouri (Jesse James gang) though the movies transfer it to Monument Valley (Utah) or Simi Valley, which is a branch of the San Fernando Valley, a few miles north of LA.

LA, by the way, is where Wyatt Earp died in 1929. The cowboy actors William S. Hart and Tom Mix were pallbearers at his funeral.

There are some movies that are "good movies," set in the Old West but with damn little serious history in them -- my personal favorite is Jeremiah Johnson, with Robert Redford, which, however, omits the fact that the "real" Jeremiah Johnson character was called "Liver-Eating" Johnson, because he ate the raw livers of the Indians he killed in their feud featured in the movie...

I also like "Little Big Man," "The Outlaw Josey Wales," "Dancing With Wolves," "Tombstone," and a couple more. Of the general genre, I also like "Last of the Mohicans" with Daniel Day-Lewis and Russell Means, but that was set in Upstate New York during the Seven Years War.

Nice interesting story Mike but your comments about historical inaccuracy could fairly be applied to much Hollywood does - "Never let the facts get in the way of a good story" seems to be the motto.

"Braveheart", "Titanic", a recent highly forgettable film about the poor oppressed Irish under British rule (the name escapes me) and another utter travesty about the capture of the Enigma machine from a German U-Boat all seem typical. Great films and entertainment all, I'm sure, but historically accurate? Not a chance......

IMO the best western recently isn't set in the American west, it's an *Australian* western directed by John Hillcoat (who also directed the recent apocalyptic movie, "The Road"). Hillcoat directed one a few years ago called "The Proposition". It's also written by Nick Cave from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. A good songwriter and a good screenwriter too. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7V-CW_SUos

And I saw a study once that concluded that the less people actually know about history, the more they think historical movies are factual. It's curious to read reviews of historical films, because some reviews discuss the movie, and others respond and react to the depicted events as if they were accurate.


Mike, stick to your guns! "Once Upon a Time in the West" is tedious beyond belief. For my money, "For a Fistful of Dollars" and "The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly" are all anyone really needs to know about Leone.

Fistful is the edgy, energetic, low budget "first album". GBU is the intellectual, big budget, triple LP "concept album". "For A Few Dollars More" is okay, but seems like a retread of the Fistful.

If we’re trying to really be historically accurate, the famous gunfight didn’t actually happen at the OK corral. It was in the street outback which is Highway 80 and where the police cars are parked in the last photograph.

You can’t very well stop traffic and charge tourists money to stand in the middle of a highway, so promoters have set up cut-outs of the characters inside the famous corral and charge admission.

The OK Corral faces Allan Street where all of the tourist shops are while Fly’s rebuilt studio faces Fremont Street or Highway 80. Chances are that Fly would have seen the fight through his window.

I rather liked "Once Upon a Time" myself, but you might prefer Henry Fonda in "My Darling Clementine", or Sergio Leone's "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly".

Other picks... 'The Searchers"; "High Noon"; "The Wild Bunch"; "Way Out West"; "Blazing Saddles"; "Destry Rides Again'; "Unforgiven"; "Last of the Mohicans".

TV series... I agree that Lonesome Dove was a fine adaptation of an excellent book, and I thoroughly enjoyed the recent Deadwood (though YMMseriouslyV if you object to strong language).

"'Once Upon a Time in the West' is tedious beyond belief."

To me it's just stylization, and of a type that hasn't aged well. There's no real character development; the characters are all just types, like cardboard cut-outs--sort of the opposite of Noir films, where even minor characters tend to be given some depth and characterization. The plot is clumsy and plodding, moving from effect to effect. The movie doesn't "earn" its big scenes. And it bothers me that the story isn't even logical. All the standard tropes, trotted out one after another...I mean, is anybody at any point in any doubt that there's going to be a mano-a-mano showdown at the end? Or, once the showdown comes, is there any doubt whatsoever who is going to prevail?

If I were smarter and had a better memory I'd do an article about artists who make "big budget" attempts of various sorts but, by trying to emphasize and enhance everything, and make it bigger and better and more lavish, paradoxically make it work less well. OUATITW would be one example, but I can think of examples from music, architecture...lots of different arts, not just movies.


"you might as well just forget it, spare yourself and skip them to watch some Kurosawa samurai movies (Yojimbo, Sanjuro, and Seven Samourai)."

I've seen all of Kurosawa, I think.

Curiously, what I was talking about earlier, about people believing historical movies more the less they know about real history, might well be operating with me when I watch Kurosawa films. I know absolutely nothing about feudal Japan and the actual samurai warrior caste, so it's much easier for me to suspend disbelief while watching a Kurosawa film and take the history in them at face value. In fact that might even be one of their strong points, or artistic advantages, for Westerners....

It might also be why people tend to be most moved and affected by movies they saw when they were teenagers and young adults. Their lack of knowledge and experience of the real world helps make the movies real and vivid for us at that age. I have long adored "Little Big Man," for instance, but I would probably be skeptical and keep myself aloof from it if I encountered it for the first time at the age I am now.

Just a thot.


The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is one on my favorites, but interestingly enough is all about "Never let the facts get in the way of a good story". Also, it's the film that made me realize that John Wayne was actually a pretty good actor.

Westerns are best appreciated as a genre full of symbols that the filmmakers don't need to explain so they get get on with their story.

It's sort of like sticking a Pomegranate into an allegorical still life painting and knowing that it's shorthand for the kidnapping and rape of Persephone by Pluto and the resulting seasons. ( or the first temple , or the flesh of Christ. Allegory can be confusing )

I've always had a soft spot for Jimmy Stewart Westerns:
"The Naked Spur", "The Man From Laramie","The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance", "Where The River Bends", another favourite is "True Grit". All of them I would claim are morally ambiguous, not black/white hat.
Add to the mix two other (lesser?) films: Charlton Heston in "Will Penny" and Steve McQueen in "Tom Horn".

And any/all Ford/Wayne western.

I still think "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" is one of the best films ever made. Just too long to watch that often.

I'm partial to the Leone/Eastwood series myself, but they are highly stylized and abstract anti-westerns. If you're looking for realistic detail, try "Deadwood", the HBO series. Somehow manages to convey even the odors (mostly unwashed bodies, urine mixed with tobacco and horse manure, at least so it seemed to me).

Silverado is great fun, but in a Hollywood fantasy way.

By the way, I used to merely like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly when I saw it on TV. Finally seeing it in full (very) wide screen, I was blown away by the fantastic cinematography, plus, recently restored scenes (originally cut for American release) make the story and characters more comprehensible.

Mike - I find that watching or hearing about historically inaccurate movies makes me learn more history, since I inevitably end up looking up the events depicted to find out the real story. (Especially when I see a tag of "Inspired by a true story" which seems kind of pointless.) Of course, since this usually starts, and sometimes ends, with Wikipedia, I'm not entirely sure I end up with better accuracy.

My favorite reach is the movie "The Strangers" which promotes itself as "inspired" by actual events. It's about 3 masked murderers who taunt and torture a couple in a remote house before killing them.

The "actual event" the writer was "inspired" by, in his own words :

"As a kid, I lived in a house on a street in the middle of nowhere. One night, while our parents were out, somebody knocked on the front door and my little sister answered it. At the door were some people asking for somebody who didn't live there. We later found out that these people were knocking on doors on the area and, if no one was home, breaking into the houses."

+1 for The Proposition. One of the best western-themed movies in recent years.
I find it hard to believe that anyone with an artistic eye could not enjoy Once Upon A Time In The West. Exceptional acting and brilliant cinematography.
Perhaps you haven't seen the director's cut Mike?

Shane is great if you haven't seen it in a while. BTW i like reading the film's notes and comments on imdb.com on the iPhone or laptop when watching any classic...

"Open Range", the older "Big Country" are not bad. If you want the flick the generated the popular image of the "American West," then you should watch "Stage Coach" and "My Darling Clementine." The use of Monument Valley for the on location shooting in both movies defined an geographical archetype for the "West" that influenced later westerns, Warner brothers cartoons (think the Road Runner and Coyote), and container-loads worth of Americana kitsch.

If you can get a friend who speaks Navaho, apparently you get an enhanced viewer's experience. Why? Ford needed "Indians" so he hired the local Navahos to portray whatever nation that was being represented in the film. Depending on the movie, some of the locals had speaking parts, and the non-Navaho viewer assumes their dialogue is related to the narrative. As it turns out, the Navaho extras were cracking jokes, chit-chatting, and just having fun. (Some one should produce versions with subtitles reflecting the actually words--it would probably add a funny, ,surreal dimension some of the otherwise dull B-grade movies filmed in the Valley).

And, for those trivia buffs, part of Clint Eastwood's "The Eiger Sanction" was filmed there as well.

"I presume you intend to antagonise and/or jest."

Don't worry, I'm just speaking for myself. I don't presume to tell other people what to like. My taste is not mainstream, for sure.


"I find that watching or hearing about historically inaccurate movies makes me learn more history, since I inevitably end up looking up the events depicted to find out the real story."

Me too, more often than not.


A second nomination for "Lonesome Dove" My wife and I just watched it over four nights. Duvall is nothing short of astounding.

I think Altman's McCabe and Mrs. Miller needs some recognition here, too. I think it comes the closest to looking and feeling like the real west was of any movie I've seen. So dreary and de-romanticized. It probably didn't rain that much in the real west, though.

Oh you need a good western to fill the void?
ok it may not be a western in the true sense (is there a true sense?) early Johnny Depp movie "Dead Man" watch it or else!

"I think Altman's McCabe and Mrs. Miller needs some recognition here, too."

Finally! All day I've been wondering how long it would take for someone to mention the best western ever made!


I just watched and liked "The Professionals" with Burt Lancaster and Lee Marvin. Not life-changing or anything, but a good way to spend a night watching a guy movie.

The chance of this movie sucking will be close to zero...


I don't know...there are some songs that don't need to be covered.

Will keep an open mind, though.



This site contains hundreds of photos about
the building of the Central Pacific Railroad.
It is exhaustive and contains fascinating
articles about the cameras,methods,and
biographies of the photographers used by
the railroad.

Milius also directed Red Dawn,if we're talking about H. S. :)

Hill, I love Hill, but a good number of his good films is just a retelling of the same story: a group of people trying to pull out of the enemy territory. The Warriors, Southern Comfort, Long Riders, Streets of Fire... (Streets of Fire is the film I probably watched most times.)

I'll join in recommending The Unforgiven and Lonesome Dove. But nobody mentioned Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch. No clear distinction between white and black hats, which I really don't like in the traditional westerns. Plus, there's that scene of the walk towards the final showdown, which demonstrates an interesting photographic technique. :)

And of course, Deadwood. Really, really liked it even if it is not a "proper" western.

I've seen "Once upon a time in the West" two times on the big screen, and both times are amongst the best movie-going-experiences of my life. That and the recent re-release of the "Back to the future" :-D
As extreme as the differences between these movies are, my point is, that some movies have to be seen in a movie theatre. Full stop. I'll never bother to watch the Godfather at home on my crappy small screen.
Leone described "Once upon a time..." as an 'Opera of violence'. And that is how you have to see it. Dress up (if you like), go out, and sit in that movie theatre and take it in.
Making yourself a sandwich while you watch it isn't doing it justice. Watching it on a small screen makes it feel much longer too (since it takes your eyes only a fraction of the time to see everything on screen).

You're of course 'allowed' not to like it :) (allowed is probably the wrong word. Feels a bit condescending which is not intended)
Everybodys taste and expectations are different. But calling it an artistic failure, is (as other people before me already said) fighting talk ;)

I just came up with this analogy (which hopefully summarizes my previous rant in fewer words :)

"Watching movies at home vs. watching movies in a theatre" is a bit like "looking at a photograph on flickr (in 640x480) vs. going to a gallery and looking at a nice print of the same picture".

Anyways, I'll shut up now :)

"my point is, that some movies have to be seen in a movie theatre. Full stop."

I once wrote a cranky article for a hi-fi magazine called "In Defense of Theater-Theater." (As opposed to "home theater," that would be.) It was ignored. I'd see every movie on a jumbo screen if I could. Alas, we have no second-run theaters near where I live, and even the artier of current releases don't make it our way.


Coincidentally, I'm in the middle of reading "Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee". Definitely recommended for a different take from traditional Hollywood. Very convincing, too. I wasn't there (in the late 1860s), but I suspect it's closer to true history than anything else I have read or seen.

I agree, it's very similar with music.

I really wish, that movie studios and distributors would give movie classics another run every once in a while instead of only "playing contemporary stuff". Let's hope that with digital distribution this may happen more often.

BTW, I apologize if I sounded all too cranky myself. I'm in bed with a cold for the third day and probably am a bit cranky (and bored) :)


Mike, I've never bought a TV in my life. I always watched my parents TV, various roommates' TVs, then my longtime girlfriend's TVs, and now that I'm on my own I'm suddenly engrossed in the shopping experience of TVs and am amazed at the quality of the images I'm seeing. Anything produced in the last five years has instantly better image, brightness and sharpness than most of the theatres I've sat in and as a bonus, I can lay on my sofa, invite who I want, eat whatever I want, drink whatever I want, and stop or pause the movie whenever I want. While the theatre screens have grown larger and the spectacle bigger, the crowds have become worse and my tastes are more insular. I only really enjoy going out to the movies now at the film festival here in Vancouver. Mike, those new TVs! The LCDs, the plasmas, the LEDs, they're all good, thin and really cheap compared to the monsters I remember people buying in the 90s. Sure, there's something to be said about the experience of being in a crowd and sharing in their reaction. But there are some pictures being remastered and restored now that are now being seen in better quality than ever was projected on a screen.

"my point is, that some movies have to be seen in a movie theatre. Full stop."

OT, since I'm not really crazy about Westerns:

One movie that must be seen at a theater is 'The Shining'. The young boy going down the hallways with his "Big Wheel", the corners of the walls nearly leaping at you (the viewer knowing that around one of those corners something terrifying will appear) and, of course, the elevator doors opening and releasing a torrent of blood. A small screen can't hope to convey those scenes with even a quarter of the impact of the movie theater.

-Dave I.

I don't think the HS subjects were leftists, but the original American conservative patriots trying to keep their life from being taken over. As to my movie recommendations, I would add Winterhawk and for a turn of last century "western"..."The Ballad of Cable Hogue" with Jason Robards.

Every city needs a place like this one. Filmstreams is where I finally got to see Double Indemnity on the big screen.

Love the "Homeland security" poster. Yep, the ONLY people who have a real right to bitch about "all those damn immigrants."

"I don't think the HS subjects were leftists, but the original American conservative patriots trying to keep their life from being taken over."

I only meant that the H.S. picture is reversed, making Geronimo and his friends look like they're all left-handed. Lame joke, I guess.


Brokeback Mountain. As a love story and a western. The pickup trucks alone are to die for...

"I've seen all of Kurosawa, I think."

Great. Then you're doing fine, I think, and really don't have to worry about being a 'videophobe' ;) I've been watching Kurosawa again and again since I was about what, 11 or 12 (though I still haven't managed to watch The Bad Sleep Well). And it's funny–I surely knew more about Japanese samurai culture then than I do now! Regardless of anything, I return to those films, and some others too, and I get new things from them every time I watch them. For me, that's what makes them great films–that I can keep watching them over 20 years and they're still rewarding, in different ways as I know different things.

I think your point about movies encountered in youth is interesting. I wonder, though, if it's not also about our experience with movies themselves... When we're younger we don't know how, or how much, a film relies on its antecedents, and its novelty can be astounding, while with more experience it would more or less fade into the background of similar styles and tricks. With more experience each one stands out less: you can see how Hollywood just relies on tricks to add novelty to its films, rather than trying to make interesting films.

For me, watching movies is about movies, more than any relation to reality. I just don't think I would enjoy them very much if I expected too much resembling reality. That doesn't mean they can't say something about life, have an artistic statement, but they do it in relation to how movies make those kinds of statements, through character types, reference, etc.

Anyway, if you're looking for excellent movies to watch, irrespective of genre, I'd recommend 'Sullivan's Travels' as an older film, and 'Man on Wire' for a newer one (documentary). Maybe you've seen them both, I don't know, but regardless, I can't recommend those enough. And neither of them have anything to do with Westerns.

Love Kurosawa too.
Strangely my favorite one of his is High and Low which is not a period piece.
Love them all but that one is just special to me and I can't tell you why. Frankly I'd rather not know why. I just want to enjoy it and give my critical self a rest.
It's interesting how returning to films you saw when you were young can surprise you.
When I was 17 I saw The Seventh Seal and thought "nice but could have used a car chase..."
At 60 I watched it again and the line "I am death, I am unknowing" had me bumping into things for three days.
Also if you want to Netflix yourself an obscure masterpiece try Billy Wilders "Ace in the Hole".
The guy understood media circus long before the expression came into use. The photography is also superb.

Great photos taken capturing stories and people from the old west. We have pictures commemorating many events, but does anyone ask what ever happened to the camera?

I never thought about it until I ran across an antique camera dealer in Bisbee AZ who had the original camera used by C.S. Fly at his photography studio in Tombstone AZ. I couldn't pass up such a treasure and important piece of American history. C.S. Fly's camera - yes, the very one that was used to shoot Geronimo, the Clanton brothers laying in their caskets after the shootout at the OK Corral, and many others -is now proudly displayed in my home.

If that camera could only talk, the stories it could tell...

You should leave that to the Smithsonian in your will. Seriously.


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