The classical Western, the town-taming Western, the epic Western (e.g., John Ford), the cavalry Western, the ‘B’ Western (emerged roughly in the 1930s; less sophisticated and more formulaic in contrast to the serious and more realistic ‘adult’ Western), the revenge Western (e.g., Anthony Mann’s Winchester ’73), the outlaw Western (e.g., the Jesse James cycle), the professional Western (e.g., The Gunfighter, Shane, The Professionals, Spaghetti Westerns, etc.), the psychological Western (e.g., Raoul Walsh’s Pursued), the noir Western (e.g., Raoul Walsh’s Pursued and Anthony Man’s The Furies), the Indian Western, the Mexico Western, the Black Western (Mario Van Peebles’ Posse), the woman Western (Maggie Greenwald’s The Ballad of Little Jo), the Post-Western (John E. Cawelti’s term), and the nouveaux (or post-modern) Western (Chris Holmlund’s term), etc.
1) The Indian Western (from the 1950s)
Films: Broken Arrow (Delmer Daves, 1950), Devil’s Doorway (Anthony Mann, 1950), Apache (Robert Aldrich, 1954), The Searchers (John Ford, 1956), White Feather (Jesse Hibbs, 1956), Geronimo (Arnold Laven, 1962), A Distant Trumpet (Raoul Walsh, 1964), Cheyenne Autumn (John Ford, 1964), Tell Them Wille Boy Is Here (Abraham Polonsky, 1969), Soldier Blue (Ralph Nelson, 1970), Little Big Man (Arthur Penn, 1970), Ulzana’s Raid (Robert Aldrich, 1972), Dances with Wolves (Kevin Costner, 1990), The Last of the Mohicans (Michael Mann, 1992), Geronimo: An American Legend (Walter Hill, 1993), Black Robe (Bruce Beresford, 1993)
General Views: 1) The Indian Westerns from the 1950s and the early 1960s are allegories motivated by the struggles over civil rights movements in the late 40s, the 50s and the early 60s; 2) the Indians were treated as a ‘stand-in’ for the racism issue in general, above all African-Americans in particular (John H. Lenihan, Richard Slotkin, Thomas Cripps, Brian Henderson, Richard Maltby) (Steve Neale, 8-9).
Steve Neale, “Vanishing Americans: Racial and Ethnic Issues in the Interpretation and Contexts of Post-war ‘Pro-Indian’ Westerns” in Edward Buscombe and Roberta E. Pearson, ed. Back in the Saddle Again: New Essays on the Western (London: BFI Publishing, 1998), 8-28.
Edward Buscombe, “Photographing the Indian” in Edward Buscombe and Roberta E. Pearson, ed. Back in the Saddle Again: New Essays on the Western (London: BFI Publishing, 1998), 29-45.
2) The Mexico Western
Que Viva Mexico (Sergei Eisenstein, 1931-2; unfinished), Viva Villa (Jack Conway and Howard Hawks, 1934), Zapata the Unconquerable (Edgcumb, 1941), Viva Zapata (Elia Kazan, 1952), Vera Cruz (Robert Aldrich, 1954), The Treasure of Pancho Villa (George Sherman, 1955), Brandido (Richard Fleischer, 1956), Villa! (James B. Clark, 1958), The Magnificent Seven (John Sturges, 1960), The Professionals (Richard Brooks, 1960), A Bullet for the General (Damiano Damiani, 1966), The Big Gundown (Sergio Sollima, 1966), Antonio das Mortes (Glauber Rocha, 1967), Face to Face (Sergio Sollima, 1967), The Undefeated (Andrew McLaglen, 1968), A Professional Gun (Sergio Corbucci, 1968), The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969), Villa Rides (Buzz Kulik, 1969), Queimada (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1969), Two Mules from Sister Sara (Don Siegel, 1970), Wind from the East (Jean-Luc Gordard, 1970), Compañeros (Sergio Corbucci, 1970), Duck, You Sucker (Sergio Leone, 1971), Trinity Sees Red (Trinità Voit Rouge; Mario Camus, 1972).
The attitude toward Mexicans underwent a significant change after WWII, which was partly because of the emergence of the Cold War order (the need to deal with the transition of the U.S. position in the world from a pragmatistic onlooker to a superpower) and partly tied to the developments of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and the 1960s.
In the case of the professional Mexico Westerns (since the 1950s) the professional Western set in the US-Mexican border or Mexico, the professional gunfighter heroes cater to an American self-conception, that is, American professionals overseas risking everything for the cause of freedom. This self-conception had important ideological world to do in the throes of the Cold War (Noël Carroll, 60-1). For instance, Vera Cruz (1954), The Magnificent Seven (1960), The Professionals (1960), The Wild Bunch (1969).
Richard Slotkin, Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentiety-Century America (New York: Da Capo Press, 1992), 405-440.
Noël Carroll, “The Professional Western: South of the Border” in Edward Buscombe and Roberta E. Pearson, ed. Back in the Saddle Again: New Essays on the Western (London: BFI Publishing, 1998), 46-62.
Christopher Frayling, “Spaghettis and Politics,” in Spaghetti Westerns: Cowboys and Europeans from Karl May to Sergio Leone, Revised Ed. (New York: I.B. Tauris, 2006), 217-244.
—, Sergio Leone: Something To Do with Death (London: Faber and Faber, 2000), 305-347.
The International Western
1) The European Western
Eurowestern Database (SWDB)
1-1) Early European Westerns (the early twentieth century)
See, Christopher Frayling, Spaghetti Westerns: Cowboys and Europeans from Karl May to Sergio Leone, Revised Ed. (New York: I.B. Tauris, 2006), 29-33.
There had been a tradition of European Westerns in both literature (Gustave Aimard, Blaise Cendrars, Karl May, Emilio Salgari) and cinema. Notable here among others are Blaise Cendrars’ L’Or (1925), a French Western novel based on the Sutter story, and its film adaptations across the trans-Atlantic world: Sergei Eisenstein’s aborted project to film the novel for Paramount during his stay in Hollywood (1930), Luis Trenker’s Der Kaiser von Kalifornien (The Emperor of California, a German adaptation in 1936) and James Cruze’s Sutter’s Gold (1936). Still cinema “had yet to acquire distinctively European characteristics. It was not until the early 1960s that these defining characteristics were to be fully developed (as an Italian or German genre of Western evolved)–eventually having a significant impact on the Hollywood Westerns which these European Westerns had set out, directly or indirectly, to criticize” (33; see also 105).
1-2) The German Western in the 1960s
Christopher Frayling, “Karl May and Nobel Savage,” in Spaghetti Westerns: Cowboys and Europeans from Karl May to Sergio Leone, Revised Ed. (New York: I.B. Tauris, 2006), 103-117.
Tassilo Schneider, “Finding a New Heimat in the Wild West: Karl May and the German Western of the 1960s” in Edward Buscombe and Roberta E. Pearson, ed. Back in the Saddle Again: New Essays on the Western (London: BFI Publishing, 1998), 141-159.
Howard Hughes, Once Upon a Time in the Italian West: The Filmgoers’ Guide to Spaghetti Westerns (London: I.B. Tauris, 2004), xiii-xvi.
Karl May Westerns in Germany of the 1960s (e.g., The Winnetou series and Der Schatz im Silbersee/Treasure in Silver Lake ) – Commercially successful; shot in Northern Yugoslavia (Schneider 148; Hughes xiii-xvi).
Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, Karl May, 1974 (film-biopic).
The Heimat Western & the Spaghetti Western
“The immediate stimulus, in 1963, and the reason why Italian and Spanish producers became interested in backing the Italian Western, was the unexpected financial success of Harald Reinl’s ‘Winnetou the Warrior’ films, made in West Germany and Yugoslavia…[And] it was Constantin [as for the German Western in the 1960s, the most successful German production company] that later agreed to co-produce A Fistful of Dollars with Ocean and Jolly Films, splitting the risk three ways…[, which was secured by the addition of a popular German actress, Marianne Koch, to the cast of the film as Marisol]” (Frayling, 103; see also 115, 117).
“The most casual glance at Der Schatz im Silbersee will reveal its stylistic influence on the ‘spaghetti Western.’ The film exhibits several characteristics that would reappear…in the Cinecittà productions of Leone and others, most recognizably…Martin Böttcher’s soundtracks to the May films [that] significantly anticipate the operatic, hypertrophic quality that marks the musical scores of the most well-known Italian Westerns [such as] Ennio Morricone’s scores for Leone…Despite the similarities, [however] the ironic or even parodic quality that [the] generic ‘self-consciousness’ (or self-reflexivity) takes on in many Italian Westerns is missing from the May adaptations. While the ‘spaghetti Western’ might be said to ‘deconstruct’ [demythologize] the genre, the German films may be said to reconstruct it…In fact, one of the striking paradoxes about the success of the German Westerns is that it occurs precisely at a time when the American Western appears to be running out of steam, presumably because its rigid, ideologically simplistic and ritualized formal and narrative conventions fail to speak to the cultural sensibilities of contemporary audiences…[When the Hollywood Western] move[s] toward cynicism, self-deprecation and parody, and Cinecittà achieves international success with the genre’s violent ‘demythologization,’ the German films commercially succeed with what appears to be the reincarnation of the most naïve, boyhood version of the ‘classical’ Western” (Schneider, 145-46).
The German Western of its own kind
“The May films’ overriding narrative preoccupation with the ‘tragedy’ of the Indians’ ‘fight for survavial’ obviously sets them significantly apart from the overt ideological concerns that have traditionally dominated the American Western. More significantly, however, the diegetic universe is not structured in terms of the dichotomies between ‘wilderness’ and ‘civilization,’ or ‘desert’ and ‘garden’ that have been employed to account for the ideological oppositions of the Hollywood Western…The German May adaptations…not only lack, despite occasional geographical references to American cities or states, that characteristic ‘sense of place’ which Edward Buscombe had identified as one of the most salient characteristics of the genre, their settings are also devoid of the cultural and ideological charge that the Hollywood Western arguably derives from visual oppositions [between wilderness and civilization]” (Schneider 148).
The landscape in the German western is presented only as ‘garden’ (Schneider 149). At the core of the May westerns is a Utopia of the adventure, exotic and exciting, yet simple and uncomplicated, a pre-pubescent boyhood fantasy complicated by money and sex (Schneider 151). They offer “a neatly organized narrative and social Utopia where everything is out in the open, plain to see and under control” (Schneider 155). In the postwar period, they provided the German public with more than a simple source of escapism: they offered a new home that was neat and clean, a home uncomplicated by personal and social positions and relations, a home unspoiled by sexual and economic threats, a home, above all, that had no past, but was all present comfort and future promise (Schneider 157).
The will to action
A general move from the ‘internalized’ (emotional) energy of the 50s Heimatfilm to narratives relying on ‘external’ (physical) action and movement…Incessant, goal-oriented movement is of prime importance, and what critics have called the ‘futuristic orientation of the narrative’ in May’s novels, in which narrative action unfolds in the form of an endless sequence of plan and realization, is equally central to the films (Schneider 154-55).
1-3) The French Western (or the Camembert Western)
Peter J. Bloom, “Beyond the Western Frontier: Reappropriations of the ‘Good Badman’ in France, the French Colonies, and Contemporary Algeria,” in Janet Walker, ed. Westerns: Films Through History (New York: Routledge, 2001), 197-216.
See also its earlier, shorter version: Peter J. Bloom, “The Cinema of Political Allegory,” SAIS Review, 20.1 (2000), 241-253. (Link)
Dynamite Jack (Jean Bastia, 1961), a spoof of the American Western that stars Fernandel, an immensely popular French Marseillaise comedian (198).
Dynamite “Moh” (1996), an Algerian version of Dynamite Jack with satirical approaches to contemporary Algerian politics. (clips)
1-4) The Spaghetti Western
Christopher Frayling, Spaghetti Westerns: Cowboys and Europeans from Karl May to Sergio Leone (London: I.B. Tauris, 1981; revised 1998 and 2006).
Howard Hughes, Once Upon a Time in the Italian West: The Filmgoers’ Guide to Spaghetti Westerns (London: I.B. Tauris, 2004).
Edward Buscombe, ed. The BFI Companion to the Western (New York: Da Capo Press, 1988), 48-51.
In the 1960s when Hollywood saw a drastic decline of the Western production, the genre regained its momentum from an unexpected source, the international Western (above all the Spaghetti Western). Indebted to John Ford Westerns, Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai (1954) proved that the Western had become a truly international genre and it belonged to anybody. The popularity of The Magnificent Seven (1960), a remake of The Seven Samurai, also confirmed the point: only moderately successful in the U.S., it evoked a big sensation in Europe and signaled a surge of the Western in Europe not only in terms of consumption but also production-wise (Buscombe).
“The immediate stimulus, in 1963, and the reason why Italian and Spanish producers became interested in backing the Italian Western, was the unexpected financial success of Harald Reinl’s ‘Winnetou the Warrior’ films, made in West Germany and Yugoslavia…[And] it was Constantin [as for the German Western in the 1960s, the most successful German production company] that later agreed to co-produce A Fistful of Dollars with Ocean and Jolly Films, splitting the risk three ways…[, which was secured by the addition of a popular German actress, Marianne Koch, to the cast of the film as Marisol]” (Frayling, 103).
The love for the Western: the main inspiration of Leone and Kurosawa came from Hollywood Westerns, particularly George Stevens’ Shane which were very popular in both Italy and Japan (Frayling, 152).
Akira Kurosawa’s impacts on Sergio Leone
Modeled on the Japanese samurai film and guised in the American Western: A Fistful of Dollars (1964), starring Clint Eastwood, a minor television Western star, was based on Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961) (Frayling, 147-50).
Critical responses: the ‘cultural roots’ controversy
* Reproachful – “[S]ince the Westerns made at Cinecittà Studios, Rome, have no ‘cultural roots’ in American history or folklore, they were likely to be cheap, opportunistic imitations. The detachment with which directors such as Sergio Leone, Sergio Corbucci and Sergio Sollima characteristically treated the Westerns seemed to confirm this initial prejudice”; “In the European Western, this tradition is non-existent, so that all films produced in this genre are nothing more than cold-blooded attempts at sterile emulation” → The international Western is necessarily an imitation, a parody, a pastiche, a hallowed American Western, etc.
The critique of popular cinema needs such a counterpoint as Walter Benjamin’s dictum, “Crude thought is an expression of profound dialectical thinking” or Antonio Gramsci’s dictum, “All are a philosopher, but not all are a professional philosopher.”
* Defensive – “On the rare occasions that critics treated the first showings of Leone’s films seriously, they felt obliged to compare them…with the American originals: ‘Per un Pungo is not, let’s face it, Ford at his best. But it’s certainly preferable to Ford at his worst’…” → Sometimes, an imitation can be preferable to the originals.
For more recent and less stereotyped reactions to the international Westerns, see “The ‘Cultural Roots’ Controversy” in Christopher Frayling, Spaghetti Westerns: Cowboys and Europeans from Karl May to Sergio Leone, Revised Ed. (London: I.B. Tauris, 2006), 121-137.
New narrative and formal motifs
The roaming gunfighter: in the 1960s, the Western hero seemed finally to lose touch with his origins in the cowboy and, retaining only the traditional cowboy costume and extraordinary shooting skills, become a gunfighter pure and simple, a mercenary, a killer by profession.
Cynicism: no other obvious motivations (moral values) but self-interest (e.g., bounty hunter).
A fascination with violence: a tendency towards the baroque exuberance, the aestheticizing of violence (e.g., a celebratory depiction of the balletic beauty of a gunfight) → the Spaghetti Western took it to the level of extreme, excess, extravagant parabola (often by capturing a highly choreographed gunfighting sequence in slow motion).
Hybridization: many of the Spaghetti Westerns were set in Mexico, “partly because locations in Italy or elsewhere in Europe could be made to stand in for south of the border, partly because that way Latin characters could be privileged at the expense of Anglo-Saxons.”
The aesthetcization (stylization) of the Western ↔ The emergence of the professional fighter character (a gunfighter in profession or a swordsman without a master or a noble course): the Samurai film in Japan (particularly Kurosawa’s The Severn Samurai and Yojimbo), the Spaghetti Western in Italy, and the professional Western in Hollywood.
* Objections to the stylization or aestheticization of the Western: Warshow, Bazin, and Godard.
“[In Robert Warshow’s 1954 essay] The Gunfighter (1950) and High Noon (1952) are accused of distracting us from the central figure of the hero by their insistence on detailing (in what Warshow regards as a fairly humdrum way) the social fabric of the towns where the action happens. Warshow is also suspicious of what he sees as a tendency towards aestheticism in such films as Shane (1953). A similar voice is detected in the objection by André Bazin, writing just a year after Warshow in 1955. Bazin identifies something he calls the ‘sur-Western,’ which is ‘a Western that would be ashamed to be just itself, and looks for some additional interest to justify its existence–an aesthetic, sociological, moral, psychological, political or erotic interest, in short some quality extrinsic to the genre and which is supposed to enrich it.’ As an example he too gives Shane, which he feels is too self-consciously at work on the creation of a myth and which he sees as a possible indication of decadence.”
Edward Buscombe, ed. The BFI Companion to the Western (New York: Da Capo Press, 1988), 45.
“André Bazin and Robert Warshow, [the two earliest and most distinguished theorists of the Western,] both lamented the tendency they saw in 1950s films like Shane (1953) and High Noon (1952) to justify the genre either by bringing to bear content that lay outside traditional themes or an unnecessary aestheticizing. [Now, however, not a few would agree on the claim that all of Eastwood’s films are essentially Westerns, which is indicative of] how far the pendulum has not swung in the opposite direction.”
Jim Kitses, Horizons West (London: BFI Publishing, 2004 ), 3.
Gordard’s accusation of the Spaghetti Western as apolitical → Christopher Frayling, Spaghetti Westerns, Revised Ed. (New York: I.B. Tauris, 2006), 61-62, 228-30, 243.
On the formalism in Once Upon a Time in the West → Was Leone too conscious of making a Western for art? Did what started as cinema about cinema end up trying to take refuge in art, a highly self-indulgent cinema about cinema, a cinematic narcissism without an effective critical point, a classic excuse for impotence in the face of anything real? (Frayling 212)
2) Asian Westerns
“The Spaghetti Western has had more resonance with modern Asian directors than Classic Hollywood Westerns. Maybe it’s the more cynical political and social undertones, not to mention higher quota of violence, of the Spaghetti Westerns that resonated more than the black and white morality of Hollywood Westerns.”
Carol Borden’s “Asian Western Round Up”
Art & Popular Culture “Other Food Westerns”
2-1) The Japanese Western (the Miso or Sukiyaki Western)
List_of_Japanese_Westerns (1959-1995) (from Kinema Junpo, No. 1492, Oct. 2007); Tampopo (Juzo Itami, 1985 – a comedy film advertised as a noodle western).
* Akira Kurosawa’s love for the Hollywood Western, especially Shane → Christopher Fralying, Spaghetti Westerns (New York: I.B. Tauris, 2006), 152.
* Kurosawa’s influence on the Spaghetti Western → Christopher Fralying, Spaghetti Westerns (New York: I.B. Tauris, 2006), 147-150.
* Patrick Crogan, “Translating Kurosawa,” Senses of Cinema, 9.
2-2) The Curry Western
Mera Gaon Mera Desh (Raj Khosla, 1971; a bandit film), Khote Sikkey (Narendra Bedi, 1974; a successful B-grade take on the Western [Chopra 28]), Sholay (Ramesh Sippy, 1975), The Last Thakur (Bangladeshi, Sadik Ahmed, 2008), Quick Gun Murugun: Misadventures of an Indian Cowboy (Shashanka Ghosh, 2009)
* Sholay on Wikipedia (Link)
* Anupama Chopra, Sholay: The Making of a Classic (New Delhi: Penguin Books India, 2000).
* Wimal Dissanayake, Sholay, a Cultural Reading (New Delhi: South Asia Books, 1992).
2-3) The Korean Western (the Kimchi Western)
The Good, the Bad, the Weird (Korea, Kim Ji-woon, 2008)
* A short overview on the Korean Western (pennyway)
2-4) The Chinese Western (the Dim Sum Western)
Kung Fu (1972-75; an American TV series that starred David Carradine), The Stranger and the Gunfighter (a.k.a. Blood Money, Antonio Margheriti, 1974; produced by the Show Brothers in collaboration with Carlo Ponti, an Italian company), Shanghai Noon (Tom Dey, 2000), Shanghai Knights (David Dobkin, 2003), Exiled (Johnnie To, 2006), Let the Bullet Fly (China, Jiang Wen, 2010), Squattertown (Hong Kong, Marco Sparmberg, 2011, Link).
2-5) The Philippine Western: it is said that, from the 1960’s to the present day, no Asian nation produced more oaters than the Republic of the Philippines. Ferdinand Marcos loved Westerns and during his era at least 2 domestically produced cowboy films premiered every month (Link).
Tatlong Baraha (Philippines, Toto Natividad, 2006; a remake of the 1961 Tatlong Baraha).
* For Jess Lapid, a star of the Filipino Western, see here.
2-6) The Thai Western
Tears of the Black Tiger (Wisit Sasanatieng, 2000), Dynamite Warrior (Chalerm Wongpim, 2006)
2-7) The Turkish Western
Zagor: Kara Bela (1971) (a film adaptation of an Italian comic book about Zagor, a hero costumed in Batman, in the old American West; the book was written by Ferri and writer Sergio Bonelli in 1961 and became very popular across Turkey)
Zagor: Kara Korsanin Hazineleri (1971) (a sequel of Zagor: Kara Bela)
Yahsi Batti (The Ottoman Cowboys; Ömer Faruk Sorak, 2010)
3) Latin America
3-1) The Congaseiro Films (Brazil)
O Congaseiro (Brazil, Lima Barreto, 1953)** → perhaps the most influential film in the Congaco or Congaseiro (tribes of nomadic bandits) films of Brazil and spiritual cousins to the Narcotraficante films of Mexico in the 1980s, the ‘Daku’ or Dacoi films of India, Japan’s pre-1970s Yakuza films, Hong Kong’s Triad films, American Mafia films.
A Morte Comanda O Congaco (Carlos Coimbra, 1961)
Lampiao, King of the Badlands (Carlos Coimbra, 1964)
Black God, White Devil (Glauber Rocha, 1964) (a prominent director of the Cinema Novo movement in Brazil)*
Cangaceiros de Lampiao (Carlos Coimbra, 1967)
As Cangaceiras Eroticas (Roberto Mauro, 197?)
Al Ilha das Cangaceiras Virgens (Roberto Mauro, 197?)
Bruce Lee vs. Gay Power (Kung Fu contra as Bonecas; 1975) (a broad spoof of the Congaco film genre)
O Cangaceiro (Anibal Massaini Neto, 1997; a remake of 1953 O Cangaceiro)