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Is the Western genre a goner?

July 7th, 2010 1 comment

So, what’s up with Westerns? Doesn’t ANYBODY make them anymore?

Blame Michael Cimino, I say. He wrote and directed “Heaven’s Gate,” the notorious film that sank United Artists (sort of) and prompted “Final Cut,” Steven Bach’s fascinating tell-all tale book of the filmic excesses, corporate eccentricities and inglorious exits of the company’s leadership during and after the ill-fated Western that redefined cinema (sort of).

Of course, there have been bigger and worse genre flops since then – anybody remember “Waterworld” or “Treasure Planet” (sort of?). And the Western genre has been in decline for a long time now, especially since what had started out as cheap-as-dirt escapist fare grew expensive, complicated… and tired. By the time “Dances with Wolves” won 7 Academy Awards in 1990, including Best Picture and Best Director for star Kevin Costner, the Western had become an expensive museum-piece, and most Western genre fare was relegated to television, where it was cheaper (“Lonesome Dove,”) or had been turned into revisionist feature fare, like the lionizing  “Geronimo”, or even weirder, the bizarre pairing of pals Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando in “The Missouri Breaks,” which, despite a Thomas McGuane screenplay, is a strangely confusing tale.

Here’s the good news: the Western genre is NOT a goner. Repeat – not a goner…

Here’s the bad news: as YOU know it, the Western genre may indeed be a goner – with a few exceptions… Like “True Grit,” the Coen Brothers’ upcoming re-take on the 1969 classic, or Jon Favreau’s next project, “Cowboys & Aliens,” as well as the recent “Appaloosa” from director/star Ed Harris. There are undoubtedly other ‘classic’ projects in development – high profile or not – that fall into the ‘Western’ genre, but we are unaware of any that have been publicized recently.

Instead, Western genre films have been transposed to other genres. To cite an example, sci-fi adventure film “Outland” is simply ‘”High Noon” set in space,’ (sort of), where a marshal waits for the next inbound shuttle to bring trouble – and the story’s dramatic resolution. “No Country for Old Men,” while set in the west, is more of an existentialist crime drama, featuring a villain worthy of Hannibal Lecter status (sort of). In other words, every Western can be something else, like a sci-fi adventure, a drama or fantasy; just remember to include the fantastic, the unexpected or the romance. It’s crucial to turn a ‘goner genre’ into a best Western, even if its frontier firepower ends up as death rays (sort of).