Evolution of the Western

Though not really surprised, I found the critics’ reaction to the Dollars trilogy pretty interesting. I’m not sure what the critics expected to see; if they went into a film that was shot in Italy with an Italian director but still expected to see a typical American film then I have trouble understanding how they got so far in the film critic business. Of course it was going to be different but to dislike it because it’s a foreign take on an American genre seems a little closed minded. It somehow annoyed me when McClain stated that “for Americans Leone’s films represented the true beginning of the Italian invasion of their privileged cultural form,” (Page 52). It made me feel the critics really needed to get over themselves. If the films were bad I would understand the “hate” but these films ended up being some of the most popular westerns films to this date. Hell, I don’t even watch westerns but I know all about “the man with no name” and his cigar and poncho. It seems to me Leone only helped the western.

Another (perhaps more understandable) complaint that was commonly made was to do with the amount of violence in the film. It seems that back then westerns weren’t so violent which is a weird thought considering that nowadays we would usually think of westerns to be violent films. McClain discussed the idea of violence increasing in western films throughout that period and described A fistful of Dollars to be “the film that helped inspire [other violent western films].”

It was also interesting to see how the film was marketed. I enjoyed very much how McClain exposed the “Bondian” aspects of the film especially the marketing techniques. He mentions how the marketing focused on the “flashy violence, cosmopolitan flair, and of course, a fashion-plate hero defined by a hyper-masculine personal style” (Page 55) which was pretty much the same technique used for the bond film. I caught myself chuckling when I read about the James Bond Handbook with all of its information on “the super-sleuth’s preferences – i.e., his women, his liquor, his arsenal, his clothes, and so on” and how the same technique was applied to the A Fistful of Dollars with a program  that described how “this short cigar belongs to a man with no name … this poncho belongs to a man with no name… this long gun belongs to a man with no name” (McClain, Page 55). Nowadays too we have books containing lots of interesting facts and background information about popular films (I remember I had a little Starwars one growing up) but it does seem strange to me that these books were made with such focus on glorifying the main character as opposed to just giving general background information. I remember my Starwars book had information about all the ships and the weapons and the planets as well as the characters and I guess it almost seems childish in in modern times to so openly glorify the protagonist. It seemed to work though as McClain later mentions that “the few positive reviews of Leone’s films generally compared them favorably to Bond” (Page 55).

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t have much (if any) experience with western films, especially the “classic” films which Leone’s films challenged. Reading McClain’s text made me want to check them out for no real reason besides the fact that I want to see the transition between the pre-Leone films and the more modern view of the western. I couldn’t quite get my head around what problems the critics had with the films and really the only way to understand would be to watch it from their perspective: watch a couple of pre-Leone classics and only then move on to the Dollar series.

Discussion questions:
1) Does the Idea of a western film being made in Italy (or any country outside of North America) change the way you see the film? Do you still see it as a “Western?”
2) Can you think of any other examples where something similar has happened? Any films stereotypical of a certain culture or genre that have been produced in a different county/culture?

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7 Responses to Evolution of the Western

  1. whlam2013 says:

    I guess the idea behind a Western movie filmed by an Italian producer in Italy is very much like ordering orange chicken form an American steak house. It is rare that it will happen. But just as a great chef with substantial skill and a recipe can produce near perfect dishes not of his background, Leone’s take on the Dollars Trilogy is a very good example of Western movies.
    Besides, if I were to watch these movies without prior knowledge of where it was filmed and who produced it. Clint Eastwood himself would convince me that it is a legitimate western movie. Given my background, which is heavily related to technology and globalization, the where and who about Western movies don’t concerns me as much as weather or not they contain the elements in typical Western movie.

  2. Grace Gu says:

    I guess the critics expected to see all the Western movies similar to “American” ones, as Mcclain put “American critics… viewed the Western as, in final analysis, irremovably and fundamentally American”(P57). They expected the European Westerns to be exactly like the American West. This also leads to the critique about the realism of Dollars films. What’s interesting is that some critics felt the movies were very authentic while some felt the opposite way. Personally I have no idea how the “real” western should be look like, but I guess there might not be an exact definition or there shouldn’t be such a difference between the critics. Actually I don’t really understand why an Italian director would like to shoot a Western movie in Italy. It would be really difficult to mimic the real Western American in another far away country, but the big success of Dollars movies in the markets probably showed that Leone did an awesome job.
    In fact I don’t really like the movies that involve too much violence, but I can understand why they are so popular. The marketing techniques helped to promote the movies to the audiences, and I guess the generations in that time era were fascinated by the idea of “Western Hero” in a similar way that people nowadays are obsessed with Batman, Iron Man and Spider Man. I guess the violence in the movies make people excited when watching them and that’s probably why those movies are so popular that they even becomes an identity for a certain generation.

  3. wuyue2004101 says:

    I agree with you that although the critics are mostly against the over-violence elements in Leone’s western movies, Leone helped the western of its evolution. I remembered the fist and only western movie I saw, the Desperado, was full of scenes of gunfights and other types of violence. Desperado was released in 1995, and is regarded as a modern western. As far as I see, this one exceeds the dollars trilogy in violent level. Upon me, violence is a symbol of western genre. And this symbol, as the reading pointed out, is stapled by Leone’s trilogy.
    I think the critics and common audience view movies in difference aspects. Like what the reading says, “although the success of this approach at the box office cannot be doubted, it certainly seems to have encouraged critics to view the film as being intentionally superficial and glibly super-violent and as such may have proved the film’s critical undoing”. To critic’s view, such western movies are “violent without reason.” I think for common audience, such movies serve as sensory stimulations, and the image of masculine fashion by performance of violence is really appealing. However, the critics are searching the “multiplicity”, constructed by “multiple users of various sorts including producers, distributers, exhibitors, cultural agencies and various spectator groups. ” They do their critics based on various layers and more relied on cultural context. That might explain they are not so fond of consuming purpose centered western movies.

  4. Eunsol Shim says:

    I thought that it would be the stereotype western movie. In most western movies, the directors should select the characteristics of the western, because it is not a documentary. Therefore I think that most of the movies show particular features of the western. This movie picked more particular features of ‘the stereotype of the western’. Therefore, it would be more exaggerated and violent then other western movies of the U.S.
    There are many examples of stereotypical movie. The very representative example is orientalism. Orientalism has a long history and it classified to two types, positive one and negative one. Both of them are stereotypical view of western culture. Negative orientalism usually describes eastern people primitively. For example, eastern people ate the snake and monkey cruelly in the movie ‘Indiana Jones 2’. Even the orientalism illustrate the eastern world positively, it is very uncomfortable to actual eastern people. ‘Memoirs Of A Geisha’ pops into my head. It would be inevitable to have orientalism view, because the original book was written by the American. The movie makes the orientalism view outstanding. Although I am not a Japanese, it was awkward for me that Chinese actresses act as a Japanese Geisha speaking English. Also, movie shows some typical fantasies on Asian girls. I like the fusion movies, but I do not like the movies that just draw unilateral western view on eastern world.

  5. zepeda3000 says:

    Addressing your first question, I see no difference in the movie being shot in the US or outside the US. Specifically with Spaghetti Westerns, it wouldn’t be a Spaghetti Western if it wasnt shot outside the US. Moreover, it still carries themes, ideas and notions about the West regardless of where it is show. For example. The Treasure of The Sierra Madre was largely shot in Mexico but it remains of the Western movie classic and themes such as mans relationship with nature are still present in the film despite being show in Mexico.

  6. Brittany says:

    To respond to your first question, yes I do think that where the film is produced and who is producing will influence how they will interpret meaning. Just like we discussed earlier in the class, the intended meaning of something can conflict with what people expect because we all have different interpretations of everything. By being outside of the US, Leone has an outside perspective of American symbols such as the cowboy. Instead of making the cowboy the hero in the film which is common in American westerns, Leone makes the cowboy as a gun-for-hire which upsets American expectations. However, I do see the film as a western because it does follow the same elements and styles. The only thing that is different is the content that critiques America.
    To go along with Eunsol’s point, I do find it disturbing and just plain stupid to use an actor or actress to play the role of a certain nationality even though they are another nationality. In the upcoming movie The Lone Ranger, Johnny Depp is going to play the role of Tonto even though he is not Native American! I don’t where I am going with this, but I do agree with Eunsol.

  7. wscarlett says:

    To answer your first question I don’t feel that it really affects how I would view that movie. I feel that I would only feel it would be acceptable to consider it western if it was in a movie. But the true western territory is in North America. If someone were to argue that the western territory was outside of North America then I would argue but they may have made this film in Italy to make it more cost efficient. Also maybe the territory they found in Italy resembled what the director wanted. For me I try to watch movies and just enjoy them rather than criticize them.
    As for the second question I feel that Hollywood is the best example. They produce so many movies but only very few of them have plots that take place in Hollywood. I visited Universal Studios a few years ago and took a tour that shows you some settings that they have built and used for different movies. In the movie “Big Fat Liar” they show you can run down a street that looks like your in western movie then turn a corner and then you could be in a New York City setting. They have created multiple false but real looking settings that they have used to make many movies. Many movies do not take place where they look like they are.

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