THE FORGOTTEN HISTORY OF THE WESTERN CINEMA
The western movies are film genre where the scene generally takes place in North America during the American conquest of the West in the last decades of the nineteenth century. This genre appears since the invention of the cinema in 1985 finding its inspiration from literature and painting arts of the American Wild West. This genre reached its first success in the mid-twentieth century during the golden age of Hollywood studios, before it had being reinvented by European filmmakers in the 1960s.
The term Western has since been attributed to other visual arts such as literature, painting, television, cartoon, and now refers to all artistic ...view middle of the document...
Before becoming a film genre, the Wild West was a topic of literature. From the novels of James Fenimore Cooper (The Last of the Mohicans, 1836) to the development of dime novels in the second half of the nineteenth century, the adventures in the Wild West had already been emerged as a source of entertainment for the public in the East. In the 1880s, the Wild West was the theme of many shows such as the famous Wild West Show by Buffalo Bill. By 1900, the theme is already so popular that it naturally became a source of inspiration for the pioneers of the film industry. In 1903, hollywood released the first Western movie “The Great Train Robbery”. It is a twenty minutes silent movie written, produced, and directed by Edwin S. Porter. This production was directly inspired by the true story of the Wild Bunch gang also know as the Doolin-Dalton gang during the 1890s (Clapham). The Western became officially a film genre in the 1920s.
Very quickly, the western got detached little bit from reality to gain more freedom and imagination. Hollywood now created a mythical representation of the cowboy. This simple cowherd has become a heroic and virtuous character with impeccable and irreprochable qualities (Clapham, p.13). The western has also built a legend around iconic figures such as Billy the Kid and Jesse James. It was inspired by events such as the Gunfight of OK Corral, which was staged in many films. At the end of the movie “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”, produced by John Ford in 1962, a phrase captures the essence of western: “When the legend sells better than the truth, print the legend”.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the conquest of the West is hardly complete, and still most of the first American films are shot on the East Coast before the studios moved to Hollywood in 1910.
As far as actors, the first Western start was Bronch Billy Anderson who, since 1908, developed the cowboy and outlaw character on the screen. William S. Hart and Tom Mix are the two stars of the silent western of the 1910s. Both characters were diametrically different. Hart was born in the West which he knew better than anyone and deeply attached to its values. He was also a talented actor and his westerns were full of seriousness and realism. On the other hand, Mix was a rodeo champion. He was an outstanding horseman and his films play on the dramatic side without dwelling on feelings. Hart preferred to wear traditional clothes, whereas Mix wore eccentric flamboyant costumes. Mix and Hart both had huge successful carreer, but Mix’s style seemed to found more successors (Clapham, p.16).
In the 1920s, the circus and rodeo scenes take an important place in the western cinema. Burlesque comedy also had a great influence on the western cinema by regularly incorporating humorous roles. During the decade, many stars facinate the audience; some of them are Harry Carey, Jack Hoxie, Hoot Gibson, Buck Jones, Jack Holt, Tim McCoy, Fred Thomson, Gary Cooper,...