Film Genre – Westerns

This workshop was delivered by Dr Claire Henry as part of Massey University’s support of the Wellington Media Studies secondary school programme. Previously they have hosted workshops on documentary storytellingjournalism in the smartphone era and teaching script writing. The session was to discuss:

  • 240px-great_train_robbery_still

    Source: wikipedia

    The value and shortcomings of a genre lens (from perspective of both producers and audiences)

  • Genre theory and the western – theorists and theories applied to texts
  • The future of the western – speculation and possibilities

One of the interesting areas of discussion was in questioning genre as an approach to text. The value includes providing a framework for critical analysis and interpretation – a lens by which to read a film. It can also be useful to see trends and navigate the relationship that genres and their ideologies have with societal concerns. Equally genre hybridity is a challenge to this approach and the lack of clear delineation. This fluidity is challenged by what Jill Nelmes considers genre to be: “a conceptual prism allow[ing] critics to simultaneously address activities or industry, audience and culture” (189).

In her discussion of Westerns, Henry suggested that trends of the genres exist with specific characteristics:

  • Classic westerns – Ford and Hawks, thinking about the racism in the films: do they advocate tolerance and difference? Or a metaphor as a challenge to civil rights?
  • Spaghetti westerns – Leone, revitalisation of genre through parody, difference between the intentions and the way the audience reads the film?
  • Revisionist westerns – Costner and Eastwood, western imagery with darker modern themes bringing the moral order of the western into question.
  • Feminist westerns – a subgenre? Role of women in westerns? Films of Kelly Reichardt.

Other discussion considered the role of the western ideology in films that sit outside the genre. Brokeback Mountain for instance as an inquiry into masculinity. The 80s, when the western was absent, had a wave of films when the ideology of vengeance was being explored. Modern trend of taking the Midwest out of the genre and examining the themes in other contexts, i.e. Australia (The Proposition) and Indonesia (Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts). Does the trend towards hybrid film genres mean that the pure Western is dead? Baroque approaches (Tarantino) and remakes might be the way forward.

Very grateful to Claire Henry for this opportunity to sit back and see the students taught by someone else. She generated a lot of valuable thinking!

Image source: Wonder Costumes

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