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Significance of Genre.docx

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Film Studies
Film Studies 1020E
Gregg Redner

01/12/09 The Western: • In his famous treatise, The Significance of the Frontier in American History (1894), American historian Frederick Jackson Turner claimed that the western frontier was the essential influence on the shaping of the distinctive American national character • French critic Andre Bazin described the Western as Western Narrative: • The typical western narrative, set on the precarious border between civilization and lawlessness, is perfectly suited from dramatizing what John G. Cawelti calls the ‘epic moment’ of American history (1985) • The genres binary opposition of wilderness and civilization has allowed for a richness of interpretation about the nature of American society • The term binary opposition is drawn from structuralism criticism to describe tow conflicting aspects of a culture as expressed in cultural myths and texts • The western commonly deals with the tension between individualism and social responsibility • The Western hero is a tragic figure who often operates by his own moral code which transcends the more pragmatic values of the townsfolk, whom he must protect The Western as Elaborately Developed Genre: • The Western is one of the most elaborately developed of genres • Indeed the genre’s iconography exceeds the cinema, frequently appearing within other forms of popular culture such as advertising, comic books, and popular music • Iconography refers to the familiar symbols in a work of art that have cultural meaning beyond the context of the individual movie, painting or performance • The western’s classical representation for distinguishing between heroes and villains as ‘white hats vs. Black hats’ has become a commonplace of daily discourse • While the musical has not determining visual iconography and may be set anywhere, in any historical period, the Western is by definition set temporally within the period of the Wild West (appprox. 1863 – 1890) and geographically on the American frontier (the Mississippi river to the Pacific Coast of California) • Movies that violate these conventions of setting in time or place are among the few exceptions • The setting in Westerns is important symbolically as well as literally, for the landscape functions as an objective correlative of the spiritual state of individual characters, or of society more generally, as in John Ford’s use of Monument Valley The Roots of the Western: • The Western’s roots can be traced back to the very gbeginning of American literature,m in thern umerous captivity narratives written during Colonial period (1620 – 1776) • May of the genre’s elements were established in the five popular Leatherstocking Tales (1823-1841) of James Fenimore Cooper, the famous of which is The Last of the Mohicans (1826) itself the subject of four tfilms adaptiona • Moster writers trace the novles of Cooper thorug hthe popular dime novel ofth19th cnetyr and then into cinema The Roots of the Western: • 1920 the success of Owen Wister’s novel The Virgininani popularized the heroic representation of the Westenr hero that became the standard in the movies • One year after the publication of this novel Edwin S. Porter’s The Great Train Roberry”
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