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Myth of the Western

Myth of the Western

Matthew Carter
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Myth of the Western
    Book Description:

    What is the nature of the relationship between the Hollywood Western and American frontier mythology? How have Western films helped develop cultural and historical perceptions, attitudes and beliefs towards the frontier? Is there still a place for the genre in light of revisionist histories of the American West? Myth of the Western re-invigorates the debate surrounding the relationship between the Western and frontier mythology, arguing for the importance of the genre’s socio-cultural, historical and political dimensions. Taking a number of critical-theoretical and philosophical approaches, Matthew Carter applies them to prominent forms of frontier historiography. He also considers the historiographic element of the Western by exploring the different ways in which the genre has responded to the issues raised by the frontier. 'Carter skilfully argues that the genre has – and continues to reveal – the complexities and contradictions at the heart of US society. With its clear analyses of and intellectual challenges to the film scholarship that has developed around the Western over a 65-year period, this book adds new depth to our understanding of specific film texts and of the genre as a whole – a welcome resource for students and scholars in both Film Studies and American Studies.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-8559-2
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
    (pp. vi-viii)
    (pp. 1-26)

    As a consequence of decades of revisionist histories of the American West, the traditional frontier themes of the ‘domestication of the wilderness’ and ‘Manifest Destiny’ have been largely discredited. Many analyses of the politics of westward expansion have interpreted the process of ‘nation-building’ as nothing short of imperialism motivated by economic forces; imperialism that often resulted in wars of extermination against America’s indigenous populations. The established history of the American West was addressed in the light of the narratives that became available as hitherto ‘silent’ groups – women, African Americans, Native Americans and other racial groupings – insisted that their presence ‘on...


      (pp. 29-76)

      George Stevens’Shane(1953) is a fairly tight adaptation of the 1949 novel by Jack Schaeffer, and has become celebrated as an archetypal Western, astheclassical Western, in fact, an overtly mythic distillation of the historical migration of Anglo-American pioneers into the Wyoming Basin.Shaneis set in the dying days of the West, mere months before the Superintendent of the US Census for 1890 would declare the frontier no more. It was, of course, this event that prompted Turner’s compelling need to mark the ‘significance’ of the ‘closing of a great historic movement [in] American history’.¹ It is...

      (pp. 77-113)

      During the climactic chase sequence in John Ford’sStagecoach(1939) there occurs a moment which is crucial in the film’s status as a Western. It speaks of the genre’s relationship to frontier mythology and of the myth’s significance in shaping the cultural attitudes of both the nineteenth-century and midtwentieth-century United States. With ambushing Apaches closing in on the stagecoach and with its beleaguered occupants running low on ammunition, Southern ‘gentleman’, Hatfield (John Carradine), is seen pointing his pistol at Lucy Mallory (Louise Platt), a white woman and recent mother who is praying for rescue. Before Hatfield can shoot his last...

      (pp. 114-160)

      In a review published shortly after the release of Clint Eastwood’sUnforgiven(1992), Harvey R. Greenberg offers the following summary:

      Unforgiven’sapocalyptic conclusion constitutes an insanely logical outcome – and send-up – of the bellicose John Wayne machismo so frequently celebrated by the genre . . .Unforgivenunderscores how fragile a reed is civilisation, with no hero on a white horse or in a cop car to redeem the threat of humanity’s supreme undefendedness. The indomitable thrust to push back the frontier, tame the wilderness, ‘build houses’, seems pitiable or risible against this recognition . . . appears galactically...


      (pp. 163-193)

      Patricia Nelson Limerick has argued that, for much of the twentieth century, Anglo-America has been ‘fixed on the definition of the frontier drawn from the imaginative reconstruction of the story of the United States and its westward expansion’.¹ A prominent scholar of the New Western History, Limerick has sought to deconstruct the ‘interpretive straightjacket’ of Turner’s Frontier Thesis and redefine the concept of the frontier.² Interestingly, she points out that, despite the ‘spectre’ of the Frontier Thesis, ‘North America has, in fact, had two strong traditions in the use of the term’.³ On the one hand, is the ‘idea of...

      (pp. 194-218)

      This chapter continues my concerns with recent cinematic treatments of the borderlands by focusing on Joel and Ethan Coen’sNo Country for Old Men(2007). The film is adapted from Pulitzer Prize winning author Cormac McCarthy’s 2005 novel of the same title.¹ The book engages with McCarthy’s long-standing metaphysical concerns, presenting a meditation on mortality as a terrifying contest between an ageing West Texas sheriff and an implacable killer. The Coen’s No Country successfully adapts such concerns to the cinema and has achieved a good deal of both critical and commercial acclaim, garnering, among numerous other prizes, four 2008 Academy...

      (pp. 219-227)

      Throughout this study I have attempted to describe through recourse to a small but significant number of Westerns some of the contexts within which the genre has engaged with the myth of the West. Clearly this study is not definitive, but it was never intended to be. Its intention has always been to scrutinise existing film scholarship on the Western and to highlight the complexities of some of the genre’s most celebrated examples – even the most ostensibly triumphalist – and observe the complex of ways in which such films have interacted with contemporary culture, politics and historical perspectives. I have taken...

    (pp. 228-241)
  8. INDEX
    (pp. 242-248)