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The Avant Garde Western--is there Really such a Genre?


Mac_the_Nice
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For the first time ever tonight, thanks to NetFlix "Instant Play," we got to see Charlton Heston, Joan Hackett and Donald Pleasence (let alone Slim Pickens, Ben Johnson & Bruce Dern) in Will Penny. Honest to goodness, we're sitting here stunned, just sort of asking one another, "What did we just see?"

 

It's way too far past my bedtime right now to get into it, but I had to strike while the iron is hot, to fire off this post lest by tomorrow after a night of wild dreams, I shall have, by then let the impressions of this fabulously unique motion picture slip away. It's quite interesting to see how Roger Ebert saw fit to come to terms with Will Penny, in his attempt to categorize it, along with Shane and Hud . . .

 

http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/will-penny-1968

 

Maybe tomorrow I'll dedicate a thread to this in the Film & Filmmakers forum, where presumably it is more fittingly posted?

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For the first time ever tonight, thanks to NetFlix "Instant Play," we got to see Charlton Heston, Joan Hackett and Donald Pleasence (let alone Slim Pickens, Ben Johnson & Bruce Dern) in Will Penny. Honest to goodness, we're sitting here stunned, just sort of asking one another, "What did we just see?"

 

It's way too far past my bedtime right now to get into it, but I had to strike while the iron is hot, to fire off this post lest by tomorrow after a night of wild dreams, I shall have, by then let the impressions of this fabulously unique motion picture slip away. It's quite interesting to see how Roger Ebert saw fit to come to terms with Will Penny, in his attempt to categorize it, along with Shane and Hud . . .

 

http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/will-penny-1968

 

Maybe tomorrow I'll dedicate a thread to this in the Film & Filmmakers forum, where presumably it is more fittingly posted?

Excellent movie.  I agree with you and Ebert on it's distinctiveness and high value.

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I don't know if this qualifies but in the introduction to The Gunfighter today, Ben mentioned that this was considered a fresh take on the prevalent romantic legend of the "fast gun".  There was no romance here, just a man regretting his choices, with little chance to start again, and trying to starve off a death he knew was coming.  At the end he tells the smart-alec kid who's shot him the kind of life he can now expect and it's not pretty.  In Gunfight at the OK Corral and The Magnificent Seven experienced and world-weary such men try to talk  young wanna-bes out of the life-with mixed results-so this might have been true.

 

Another one in the Will Penny vein is Monte Walsh.  Whether you watch the Lee Marvin or Tom Selleck version  you see the West at the end of it's pioneer days and those men who can't/won't adjust to the changing one.  Again, there's nothing glamorous about any of it.   

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And even though the following isn't set in the "Old" West but in the modern West, I'm thinking "Lonely Are The Brave" would probably also fit nicely into this category, as it too is somewhat of an existential story of a cowpoke resistant to "modernizing" his mindset.

 

(...the ending of it being especially symbolic of this)

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And even though the following isn't set in the "Old" West but in the modern West, I'm thinking "Lonely Are The Brave" would probably also fit nicely into this category, as it too is somewhat of an existential story of a cowpoke resistant to "modernizing" his mindset.

 

(...the ending of it being especially symbolic of this)

don't some folks call these 'revisionist Westerns'  ?

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don't some folks call these 'revisionist Westerns'  ?

 

I wouldn't necessarily call this film an example of that, mr6. Personally, I would think a far better example of the "revisionist Western" would be something such as director Arthur Penn's  "Little Big Man".

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I wouldn't necessarily call this film an example of that, mr6. Personally, I would think a far better example of the "revisionist Western" would be something such as director Arthur Penn's  "Little Big Man".

Aaaahh, so it's maybe a new or diferent way of looking at history then?

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Aaaahh, so it's maybe a new or diferent way of looking at history then?

 

Yeah, that's what I would think anyway. I could always be wrong of course, but my reasoning here would be that because the Western genre was and usually is in a manner of speaking an attempt to recreate the "history" or "legend" of the Old West, any later attempt at presenting a version which might run counter to the generally accepted version of the period, might rightly be considered "revisionist"...though Mac_the_Originator of this thread might disagree with me here, of course.

 

(...btw, if you ever find yourself in the position of playing a 19th Century newspaper editor, remember to always print "the legend" if ever in doubt...saw that in one particular Western once!) ;)

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You might want to check out two Monte Hellman westerns - THE SHOOTING and RIDE IN THE WHIRLWIND. Especially the former, I'm a little sketchy on the latter as I've not seen it since 1969.

 

Peter Fonda's THE HIRED HAND should qualify also.

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Zachariah, the 1971 George Englund surreal rock western fits this description very well.  It stars Joe Walsh and the James Gang, Country Joe and the Fish and Don Johnson.

I recall being disappointed by the film though.  So it may not be worth the Herculian effort to find this film.

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There's so many good, thought provoking posts come in here since I last looked, it's hard to know where to get started with replies. 

Dargo could not have chosen a better candidate than Little Big Man to fit one of the slots for "avant-garde Western". I've read the novel twice. Even as a novel it was a "movie" before it was ever a movie. Nothing else Thomas Berger writes even distantly approaches the kind of panoramic vision that arises out of mere words on a page in that novel. I remember so well having come to a part in the action where one of those Western vistas unfolds from his description, when I just had to sit back in my chair with an awe-struck sigh, to say, "Wow!"

Also amazing is the screenplay by Calder Willingham which contains some brilliantly hilarious stuff that I was able to find nowhere in the novel, like that scene where Crabb's sister is teaching him, as part of the art of being a quick-draw, how to go "all snake-eyed" and etc. Also new to the movie, except I just somehow missed it in the novel, is that sidesplittingly funny scene in the saloon, where sitting there, kicked back at the table with Wild Bill, Jack Crabb's boots keep falling off, because that's just the way it would have to be with the Little Big Man. 

Wonderful when a screenwriter can capture the spirit of another writer's style and craft like that, so that he is able to create in the spirit of it, just as though the original author had written it himself. 

Other candidates for the genre would be many an episode of TV's Gunsmoke, High Noon, the Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and of course, The Shootist, 3:10 to Yuma, let alone John Huston's, The Unforgiven. Last night, for the first time since I was a kid seeing it first run at a Saturday matinee, we saw Shane, loved most every moment of it, but must decide it is classic and downright iconically so, not 'avant-garde'.

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Zachariah, the 1971 George Englund surreal rock western fits this description very well.  It stars Joe Walsh and the James Gang, Country Joe and the Fish and Don Johnson.

I recall being disappointed by the film though.  So it may not be worth the Herculian effort to find this film.

 

I thought Johnson was outstanding in this. Coming just after his 'Stanley Sweetheart' movie debut, I would forever after be a fan. True, he was doing his best Brando back then, and that was probably a large influence on how much I enjoyed him on screen.

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I'd rather call them Neo Westerns with the tipping point the decade of the 70s. 

 

My two candidates El Topo & Keoma

 

From a review on IMDb

 

A sign post on the way to the Twilight Zone

26 January 2013

Films like great paintings, are there for us to view, experience, and interpret.  This go round, watching Keoma I think it finally all clicked. This is my interpretation.  A truly Mythic Western, an amalgamation of American Western Legend and Myth, Greco-Roman Mythology, and a touch of Catholic theology.

 

Darkness, we enter the Dreamscape from darkness, the roar of time floods your ears and you see a sliver of a crack in the continuum of the universe. Through it we see a horseman punctuated with now the sounds and sights other human artifacts, we cut to frantic hands combing through the debris of humanity. The rider is in a Dream/Ghost town or perhaps Limbus. The hands belong to a Witch/Medicine Woman/Fate and she clutches discarded treasures that she loads on her barrow. She spots the rider and hides.

As he passes she calls out a question "Why did you come back? Why did you come back?"

So begins Keoma.

 

The De Angelis brothers' weird soundtrack, especially the female voice now suggests an eerie Native American chant and whole film has a dreamworld atmosphere constantly enhanced by the incredible cinematography reinforcing the tone of this last of the great operatic Spaghetti Westerns.

 

A good companion piece to Jodorowsky's El Topo.

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I'd make a distinction between the revisionist western and the avant-garde western. The revisionist western insists on the unheroic nature of the settlers, praises the Indians,etc. Little Big Man is a perfect example, as several of you noted. Sometimes the sheriff is the bad guy and the outlaws are the good guys.

 

The avant-garde western de-emphasizes story of any kind. The director's vision, sometimes affected by the drugs he's taken, is the main thing. The Shooting is a perfect example, and I like it as little as some of the rest of you.

 

McCabe and Mrs. Miller has elements of both. The villains are businessmen, not outlaws. For a preacher's wife to become a **** is seen as unquestionably a good thing. These are some of the revisionist elements. The avant-garde aspects include the mannered cinematography, the Leonard Cohen songs which are nice but don't fit the period, the emphasis on Warren Beatty's narcissistic posing rather than on character development.

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I'd rather call them Neo Westerns with the tipping point the decade of the 70s. 

 

My two candidates El Topo & Keoma

 

From a review on IMDb

 

A sign post on the way to the Twilight Zone

26 January 2013

Films like great paintings, are there for us to view, experience, and interpret.  This go round, watching Keoma I think it finally all clicked. This is my interpretation.  A truly Mythic Western, an amalgamation of American Western Legend and Myth, Greco-Roman Mythology, and a touch of Catholic theology.

 

Darkness, we enter the Dreamscape from darkness, the roar of time floods your ears and you see a sliver of a crack in the continuum of the universe. Through it we see a horseman punctuated with now the sounds and sights other human artifacts, we cut to frantic hands combing through the debris of humanity. The rider is in a Dream/Ghost town or perhaps Limbus. The hands belong to a Witch/Medicine Woman/Fate and she clutches discarded treasures that she loads on her barrow. She spots the rider and hides.

As he passes she calls out a question "Why did you come back? Why did you come back?"

So begins Keoma.

 

The De Angelis brothers' weird soundtrack, especially the female voice now suggests an eerie Native American chant and whole film has a dreamworld atmosphere constantly enhanced by the incredible cinematography reinforcing the tone of this last of the great operatic Spaghetti Westerns.

 

A good companion piece to Jodorowsky's El Topo.

I knew someone else on the site had seen EL TOPO. I remember seeing midnight showings in NY around 1970 I think. Haven't seen it since and all I remember is his wearing black and the child ( probably would remember more of it if I had been straight) and (you know what scene in the end)

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