Film Studies THE WESTERN AND THE ANTIHERO
What is Genre? • A category of artistic composition, as in music, film, or literature, characterized by similarities in form, style, or subject matter – New Oxford American Dictionary • Organized categories of texts • Exist in academic, popular and industry discourse • Put into categories by: • Subject matter • Conventions • Themes • Narrative
Functions of Genres • Leads the audience to interpret texts in particular ways • Lets viewers know what to expect • Gives creators ideas about how to put pieces together • Industry strategy of appealing to specific audiences
Examples of genre • Science Fiction • Horror • War • Epics/Historical • Action/Adventure • Drama • Comedy • Crime/Gangster • Musicals • Sub genres: • Biopics • Detective/Mystery • Disaster • Fantasy • Film Noir • Melodramas • Sports • Supernatural • Thriller/Suspense
The Western Genre • Western Genre Conventions • Historical Basis • Plot Elements/Themes • Iconography
Historical basis • The Western is an American genre, which interprets and represents its history to itself • Set approximately between 1860 – 1910 • Period of American western expansion • Popular characters based on actual individuals: Wyatt Earp, Jesse James, Wild Bill Hickok
The Western’s Plot elements/themes • Central Theme: The Binary of Civilization and Savagery/Lawlessness • East vs. West • Culture vs. Nature • Community vs. Individual • Settlers vs. “Indians” • Train vs. Horse • Westerns as American mythology • Foundational myth – the forging of a nation
Western plot elements/themes • Patterns of action • The nomadic Westerner comes to a town, purges it of its savage elements, and leaves • A group of gunmen are hired to defend villagers from bandits • Revenge Plots • Narrative Tropes • The climactic gunfight • Indian attacks • The cavalry rescue
The traditional Western Hero • In between position: mediates between civilization and the lawless frontier • Marginalized figure outside of the community • Commonly motivated by revenge and/or sense of justice • Adheres to a code Stagecoach
Western Iconography: mise-en-scene • Geography • An actual place: the American West • The landscape: deserts, mountains, rivers, Monument Valley • Symbolic: wilderness as a site of savagery • The frontier: the border of civilization and lawlessness
Genre cycles • Genres are neither static nor fixed; they undergo change over time with each new film either adding to the tradition or modifying it. • Western a popular genre of B movie fare since 1903 • Classical Phase: • Stagecoach (John Ford, 1939) • Elevates the Western to A status • Solidifies conventional tropes
Genre cycles • Post-war Phase • High Noon (Frank Zinnemann, 1952) • Plot takes place in “real time” • Denies the usual generic pleasures • Kane as an individual with a code • Film editing/framing emphasizes the isolation of the hero
Genre Cycles • Widescreen Westerns • The Searchers (John Ford, 1956) • Emphasizes the widescreen landscape • More complex protagonist • The salient techniques of style: cinematography
Genre cycles • The Revisionist Western • The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969)
Genre cycles • ‘Spaghetti’ Westerns • A Fistful of Dollars (Sergio Leone, 1964) • For A Few Dollars More (Leone, 1965) • The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Leone, 1966)
Genre Mixing • Yojimbo(Akira Kurosawa, 1961) • Jidaigekigenre • Influenced by the films of John Ford • Loosely based on Dashiell Hammet’sRed Harvest (1929) • Basis for A Fistful of Dollars & Last Man Standing (Walter Hill, 1996)
Genre mixing: Science Fiction & the Western • Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977) • Influenced by the films of John Ford and Akira Kurosawa: The Searchers & The Hidden Fortress • Westworld(Michael Crichton, 1973) • Outland (Peter Hyams, 1981) • Based on High Noon • Star Trek (1966-1969) • “Wagon train to the stars” • Firefly (Whedon, 2002)
The Classical Hero • Traditionally, a literary hero is a character who possesses a strong moral fiber; they always seem to do the virtuous thing. • A hero has strong convictions, is dynamic, and has a certain magnetism that draws the reader to him or her.
The Hero • A hero (or “quester” in the archetypal sense) typically undertakes a literal or figurative journey or task. • A hero does not necessarily complete their quest on their own, but they are the central focus of the story. • The reader cares whether the hero succeeds or not.
The Evolution of the Hero The Tragic Hero • Over time, the “classical” hero evolved. • A tragic hero is typically associated with Greek and Shakespearean drama. • The tragic hero typically has a dark side (or tragicflaw). • The tragic hero allowed audiences to view the “hero” in a more relatable, human way.
The Antihero • The spice of a story, the element that makes it more than simple heroes and villains, lies within the character of the Antihero. • The Antihero is someone with some of the qualities of a villain, up to and including brutality, cynicism, and ruthlessness, but with the soul or motivations of a more conventional Hero.
The Antihero • Many of the protagonists of Western and Eastern classical and mythological stories fit into the broad antihero mold, especially those who are shown as having turbulent, violent backgrounds and conflicting motivations. • In some cases, the Antihero has been used as a mirror for social commentary and political critique.
The Antihero • In later times, authors have been bolder in their use of flawed heroes and even villains as key characters, perhaps as the threat of retribution has lessened somewhat. • Holden Caulfield, the anti-poster-boy of Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, flirts with criminal behavior and is both self-absorbed and depressed. Yet his frank portrait of adolescence resonates with many people, despite the lack of any last-minute salvation or even a final resolution of his many conflicts.
It’s a Fine Line… • Over time, there has been a growing tendency to give villains more complex, even sympathetic, motivations. • The line between an antihero and a villain has always been hazy and open to discussion, but the distinction has decreased over time.