Friday, September 07, 2007

Thanks, A.O. Scott

"The best of the old westerns were dense with psychosexual implication and political subtext. Often dismissed, then and now, as naïve celebrations of dubious ideals, they were in many ways more sophisticated than their self-consciously critical (or “revisionist”) heirs."


I love Clint Eastwood's Westerns and Jarmusch's Dead Man, but the fact of the matter is that they have added to--not "outdone"--the autocritical, artistically complex Western tradition already established by the likes of Anthony Mann, Andre De Toth, and John Ford among others ... including, definitely, Delmer Daves' original 3:10 to Yuma. Haven't seen the remake, will do so if I can find time and a spare $11. But this is one of my biggest pet peeves, the thoughtless, history-blind acclaim of "neo" or "revisionist" Hollywood genre films that are often more aesthetically and thematically retrograde than the films that the commentary end of the culture industry tells us they're updating.


Anonymous said...

I'm inclined to agree with Scott/you. As much as I do love the revisionist entries, they are not thematically richer than their pre-dessors as some suggest. Having just seen the remake of 3:10 to Yuma (which is actually very good), I found far more in common thematically with John Ford's films than more recent revisionists. There is a place for both of them, just as spaghettis are important in their own way. Too often these days people dismiss older films for being thematically thinner than today's counterparts, when in many ways they tend to be subtler in their approach (something many people won't dare believe). I'm happy either way because I enjoy films from both worlds, I only wish a few more people would take note that subtext is not something new to film.

ZC said...

Yeah, we agree. (BTW, I almost saw the new 3:10 the other day but opted out of a later showing when the one we planned on was sold out.) Classical Hollywood obviously is full of 'wrong turns,' and has plenty elements that strike us as naive, and this is of course why audiences so often snicker at old films for no good reason (I won't even dignify the response with the label "camp"--camp has a respectable tradition and history). The resultant attitude is to buy the advertisements for the New Revisionism at their face (market) value: a 1990s Western is obviously "better" than some goofy genre film* because it doesn't reproduce the corny/sexist/racist ideologies of those old oater-behomeths--if it replicates them at all it's only in self-conscious homage. Hm. I'm not convinced.

* The other problem is that genre is so often attached only to the works of film artists with atypical power in Hollywood. Anybody hoping to learn something about 'the rules of Westerns,' for instance, will learn very little from studying and finding 'formulas' or characteristics only in the works of Ford, Hawks, Leone, and Eastwood. One has to see the films of Lesley Selander, Lew Landers, Alfonso Balcázar. (It's a Franco Morettian kind of gesture, necessary if we want to understand our cinema genres better.)