The Western has long been the genre of film that falls by the wayside when something shiny and new comes along: in the 1950’s that was the musical, in the 1970’s it was birth of the blockbuster and new Hollywood; with its shiny new themes and director style the wide vistas and lone riders disappeared for a while. However a lot of the genres of film that we love today have a lot in common with the western. In fact without them we might not have the revenge films that we love today, the bloody violence that we love of a Tarantino film.
The Western is one of cinemas oldest genres, as long as there has been film in Hollywood’s camera there has been westerns. the first key one that comes it mind is High Noon with Gary Cooper. The film is the first key westerns of its type. It also provides us with the first real movie star of the talkies in Gary Cooper. Although he was the first major cowboy, John Wayne made the genre. He was the first cowboy, the way he walked, the way he talked, even the way he held his gun was like a cowboy. He couldn’t really do anything else. As time passed others stepped into this role, Clint Eastwood became the man with no name, an every man cowboy who could stop the sheriff with one look. The genre has always had it’s stars and this continues to this day with Christian Bale having two under his belt in the 10 years (3:10 to Yuma & Hostiles). It continues to be a bucket list for actors, they grow up wanting to be Cowboys to fights Indians and be an outlaw. Although they aren’t as popular as they used to be in terms of box office they continue to stick around and draw great talent.
As Hollywood has moved on with different themes and movements taking place in film making, the western has continued. In the 1970’s when new Hollywood took over the genre came with it. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid thrilled audience with the human side of the outlaw. It went to space with Star Wars with an epic battle of good vs evil. It became a point of satire with Blazing Saddles, it changed again and gave an ageing actor a shot at his acting glory days again with Unforgiven. It became an instant classic with No Country for Old Men, when the Cohen’s turned it noir. The genre has deep enough roots that films always stick to them, but its adaptable and filmmakers are able to twist them and reinvent it. The western can be anything that it wants to be, allowing those writing and directing to have as much fun as they like, or even to make something controversial. Look at Django Unchained, a violent racially relevant western that has its roots in the Wild Bunch and the Magnificent Seven. Westerns are and will continue to be as relevant as it was 70 years ago as it’s able to change itself and adapt to the filmmakers demands and the demands of those in the cinemas world wide.
The modern revenge film has a strong root in the western; a wronged man on the hunt for vengeance, a team of men out to hunt down a killer and an outlaw. Without the likes of the Searchers or Shane we wouldn’t have the man of few words anti hero with a chequered past on the hunt for those that have wronged them. Take the basics of John Wick, a man who is out for blood after his dog is killed and his car is stolen. The hunt that he goes on it similar to the sheriff out chasing down outlaw that killed his family. Without the gritty nature of the western we wouldn’t have of lot of the films that we all love.
The western still has a place in cinema in the 21st century. If you ask me a lot of filmmakers would list a western on there lists of what you should watch. It continues to stick around, to paraphrase The Arctic Monkeys it is cyclical; it goes away for a bit and it comes back again, it might not be as potent as it once was but it’s a draw. There are still stories to be told in the genre and great films are there in the great plains and mountains of the old west.