Thursday, March 30, 2017

THE WEIRD WEST GENRE: Weird Western Film Part 6

In America, the ‘Golden Age’ of western film was over and time had come for a change. Filmmakers came up with a new approach in the Revisionist (more realistic) Western picture and others did a thing called the Acid (hallucinogenic) Western. Two related but different styles, that when added to Sergio Leone’s Spaghettis and a few things some others were getting up to, makes the final days of the western film genre one hell of a spectacle.
   Revisionist now, is just what it sounds like. Revising the western’s faults up to that point. That meant more accurate depictions of minorities and women, more realistic sets and costumes, more realistic consequences for things. The movement didn’t last long, only about ten years and there are only a big handful of good ones. It started around ’62 with Peckinpah’s Ride the High Country, up to McCabe and Mrs. Miller in 1971. You get a lot of humanity. Good and bad. Love and hate, honor and betrayal, all that. And the way they were shot, you could damn near smell how desolate it all was.
   Some say McCabe, in fact, has the most realistic depiction of a western ever on film. Certainly Revisionist. Personally, I think it’s an Acid, way it all turns out. Any rate, in a nutshell, Revisions were an attempt to make a kind of time machine. Show how things really were back then. Show who was who back then.
   Can’t have much to do with our quest for a weird western, of course. Revisionists sound like as much reality as a western film could handle. Well, those pictures were a commentary. A way to hold America up to a certain lens and show we hadn’t just walked in and moved some furniture and made it our own. We suffered and caused others to suffer. That takes it toll on a people so a film about those trials is bound to elicit them same feelings. And if you could go the realistic route for that, well, think what you might say if you went surrealistic instead.
   This is where we get the Acid Westerns. Basically Revisionist pictures (Acids and Revisions change places in critics’ minds), but their focus was on philosophy, more than place and time. They were a direct result of the counterculture movement of the 60’s and so played a lot with hallucinatory and dream-like themes. Bloody as hell, too, a lot like the Spaghetti pictures happening overseas. 
   Despite the name, no, it wasn’t all drugs and swirly skies or anything like that (though at times it was) but more than that, was a sense of this warped and damaged world. If the Revisionist Western was about showing folks what the real Old West looked like, then the Acid Western was about trying to show what the Old West meant.
   They started with a movie called The Shooting in 1966. It was about a woman and we don’t even get her name. She’s driven on a quest into the desert, but we don’t know why. She’s got two fools with her, Gashade and Coley, who think they know why they’re with her, but turns out they haven’t got a damn clue. Villain by the name of Spears starts following them, but he’s only the villain because he’s in black. Really just makes him the most honest villain.
   Abstract as that all sounds, it pretty much is. And it’s a weird damn western. It’s surreal and creepy and don’t leave a lot of room for questions to be answered. Like a lot of the themes in Revisionist pictures, it’s not about knowing everything’s tied up neatly at the end. Life ain’t like that.
   From there, came Ride in the Whirlwind in ’66 too, but Acids, weirdly, were really a 70’s thing, despite the 60’s pedigree. Bad Company, Ulzana’s Raid, Zachariah, Dirty Little Billy and Greaser’s Palace, to name a few. This last one about a man shows up in a town claiming he can raise the dead. Zachariah is about a gang of robbers (played by actual band of the time Country Joe and the Fish) who go around causing trouble and spouting non-violence and vegetarianism. Finding a weird western in this case ain’t hard at all. In fact, some might even be a little too weird.
   And if we put something like Czechoslovakia’s Lemonade Joe on top of those, it gets even weirder. Not to mention Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Mexican film El Topo, which makes Joe look like a damn car commercial…

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