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Thursday, May 03, 2007

I Wanna Be A Cowboy's Sweetheart

Until recently, Tuesdays were my favorite day for television. Primetime Tuesday nights are pretty much packed with three of the greatest shows on television right now: House, my perennial favorite Law & Order: SVU, and the sort-of new but totally endearing kid on the block, David Mamet's The Unit. Unfortunately for Tuesday, Wednesdays have a much bigger draw, and that is namely Hustle on AMC and a whole twenty-four hours of old Westerns on the Plex channel. Westerns, I say!

The secret's out, I am a yankee girl who loves Westerns with all her heart. Some folks like slasher films, some like romantic comedies, but hot-damn, Westerns are the greatest and most under-appreciated genre of films ever made. Tonight had me glued to Jesse James vs. the Daltons, The Fighting Frontiersman, and The Golden Stallion (starring the one and only Roy Rogers and featuring a totally awesome square-dancing scene!). There is just something about classic Westerns, even these pulp-ish ones, they showcase a piece of American history when so much was still undiscovered and boundless--perhaps an innocence and a joy that we have lost since the 1950s. Cowboys roaming the range, always on the move, holding on to an ephemeral sense of home and belonging in the midst of ever-encroaching modernization. Maybe it's the loss of the American hometown spirit, the slow death of the American farming and ranching industry, who knows? Still, I find it fascinating that these 1940s and 1950s Westerns reinterpreted the frontier lifestyle (and you know I love the New Look-ish prairie costumes), the adventure of ranch life and gold prospecting, all with a glorious zest for color and movement. Take a look at the first part of the original Wild West depiction, The Great Train Robbery--the cross-cutting! The parallel action! The awesome!

I have to say, I am sorely disappointed in the fact that today's movie industry has all but abandoned the Western genre. (Brokeback Mountain does not count. A case could be made for Dances With Wolves and The Missing, which is essentially a remake of the below-mentioned The Searchers) The last great Western, as far as I'm concerned, was John Sayles' Lone Star, easily one of the greatest films ever made, and even so it's a mystery-crime drama-romance-flashback-Western. Don't get me started about my deep love for that film. I guess the Wild West is just in my blood: my maternal grandmother once met Wyatt Earp, or so she claimed, and my father was named after Gary Cooper. Seriously.

If you are suspicious about the greatness of Western films, start out slow, with a couple of Clint Eastwood (who, coincidentally, lives but a short drive away from me) spaghetti Westerns, then move to John Wayne-John Ford collaborations like the classic, if somewhat excrutiatingly long and politically incorrect The Searchers, or another one of the landmarks of the genre, Stagecoach. If you're like me and embarrassingly into the kitschy, schlocky 1950s Technicolor Westerns, check out The Guns of Fort Petticoat or Johnny Guitar (Joan Crawford is GLORIOUS.) Yippee-ky-yay-yo, yippee-kay-y-yay, go out and watch a Western today!

(With apologies and much respect to Patsy Montana for today's entry title.)

Image from peggylee.com.

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