The New Western
THE NEW WESTERN
It is well known in scholarly circles that the American Western of the Hollywood studio era underwent a transformation in the 1960s. Trapped in the studio style of John Ford, Howard Hawks and Henry Hathaway, the Western reflected the grand patriotism in its heyday from the 1930s through the 1950s and proved ripe for revision in the turbulent 1960s. Directors like Sam Peckinpah, and George Roy Hill – and to an extent, John Schlesinger and Dennis Hopper -- retooled the genre and used the Western to directly comment on America's involvement in Vietnam and the culture clash taking place on American campuses in response to the conflict. In that instance, the Western appeared to serve as a cultural barometer where fresh commentary regarding American patriotism and ethical responsibility could play out.
Between the mid-1970s and turn of the new century, the Western slid from the collective conscience of the American movie-going public. A few directors would try their hand at returning the genre in its former glory, for example Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves (1990) and Clint Eastwood with Unforgiven (1992); however, for the most part, the genre was revisited merely for comedic purposes, in films such as Blazing Saddles (Brooks 1974) and the City Slicker films (1991; 1994). The genre seemed a part of the Hollywood past, re-freshened for a moment and rendered obsolete.
However, since the tragedy of 9/11, the Western has made a remarkable come-back, finding a real purpose blending its original, patriotic purpose with its redefinition as a critical commentary on America's place in the global community.
The NEW Western is a collection of critical essays that interrogate how this new breed of Western captures the dichotomy of our times.
Some of the issues raised in the collection will include:
• The mythology of the West and its ability to reflect American ideas and political agendas;
• Comparative readings of classic Hollywood Westerns with New Westerns, post- 9/11;
• The new place for women in the Western, evidenced in Open Range (Costner 2003), The Missing (Howard 2003), the Coen's True Grit (2010), Meek's Cutoff (2010);
• The remaking of classic films with contemporary spins, such as 3:10 to Yuma (Mangold 2007) and True Grit (Coen 2010);
• A renewed sense of sadistic violence in this new wave, such as in No Country for Old Men (Coen 2007), Django Unchained (Tarantino, 2012);
• The revisiting of the place of the outlaw, as in The Assassination of Jesse James (Dominik 2007);
• The space created for the homosexual and its impact on the myth of the West, as in Brokeback Mountain (Lee 2005) and 3:10 to Yuma (Mangold, 2007);
• The structure of the Western to cross generic boundaries and explore the ideology of the Western within a new framework, as in Avatar (Cameron, 2009) and Christopher Nolan's Batman Trilogy (2003 – 12) or Zero Dark Thirty Bigelow, 2012).
I am still seeking essays to complete this collection, scheduled to go to press in September 2013. Abstracts for 20 – 30 page chapters on one of these topics, or on any other related topic, can be sent electronically to:
Scott F. Stoddart, Dean of Liberal Arts
Fashion Institute of Technology