Thursday, April 20, 2017

THE WEIRD WEST GENRE: Weird Western Film Part 8

   From the silent era to the golden age to the blood-soaked decade of the spaghetti western, our genre has washed up on the shores of the 1980’s. It’s pulled a few films along with for weirdness’ sake, but there’s no rhyme or reason to account for them. They’re weird westerns for the simple sake they’re not completely western, same as the other way around. They’re not westerns for the sake of being so damned weird.
   The 80’s themselves made no strides for the cause. Not intentionally. Their westerns were boring. Pale Rider, Young Guns, Silverado. A few others. Big, glossy pictures, more from the golden age than anywhere else. Safe pictures. Bland pictures. The western wasn’t just dead, it’d been embalmed and put on display as some boiled-down template for the genre. “Oh, westerns? Sure, we remember those, here you go.”
   Big stars, bright costumes, happy endings and some action in between. The best of all worlds. But actual Westerns? Well, they were set in the Old West, but no, they never captured the gritty circumstance of say, the Acid or Spaghetti. That’s too much toward one end of the spectrum. All gloss and smiles? Well, no, can’t have Gary Cooper or Errol Flynn charging through, either. That’s too far the other end. It was the 80’s, after all.
   The 80’s saw through everything. Not cynical-like, but selfish. The 80’s weren’t the 40’s ‘Sell me a line of bullshit.’ Or the 50’s ‘Please, sell me a line of bullshit’ or the 60’s ‘I know you’re trying to bullshit me, don’t bother.’, or the 70’s, ‘I can bullshit myself, thank you.’ No. The 80’s were, ‘You have some bullshit, I’m in the market for bullshit. Let’s talk.’
   The 80’s were about compromise. Ironic then, that the western was as bankrupt as it could get, yet out of it, we get a new batch of weird westerns. Maybe because of what came before. The Acid, the Spaghetti, the Revision, even that golden age. We had turned the genre inside out, yet couldn’t let it go. It was baked into the American Story. And if we were done telling ones from the Old West, we’d tell them from somewhere else.
   See, we can’t let science fiction go, either. It’s our hope, our vision, a genre as ingrained as the Western. The Western was about how we got here. Science Fiction was where we were going. Star Wars, for example. It ain’t science fiction, but it is a fantasy and that serves us. And it’s somewhat of a western. It got the 80’s interested in sci-fi again in a new and bold way. Add to that the Cold War and you have the makings for redefining both the western and its weird cousin.
   As a result, we got a whole weird genre that’s part science fiction, part western, and all 80’s. And it ended up giving us a bunch of weird westerns we never saw coming. (Though to be fair, no one saw Comin’ At Ya! comin’, either) This new genre made us think about what the weird western was (well, makes us think now. Then, we had no idea what we were doing) But weird westerns they were.
   After all, we only got two criteria for one.
   First: Old West setting. Oh, these new films weren’t set in the Old West, but they’re close. It’s a broken, lawless frontier, to be sure. Two, they have menace born out of that land. These have that. And strange and terrible villains and people in need of a hero. All that. Lots of menace. One look at the first film that started our new, weird western-type genre, and you can’t deny the way its menace boils right up out of the ground.
   It’s a manmade menace, true, but it’s a different sort than, say, the Acid or Spaghetti. While those came closest through their lens of insanity for our weird westerns, ultimately, their kind of menace is a known thing. It’s a man going insane. The Old West backs him into a corner and mad, strange things happen. Sometimes the world itself is strange and begets his strangeness, fair enough. Matalo, Django Kill, Get Mean, these are weird westerns. High Plains Drifter is the clearest, most obvious example. El Topo is its muddled, bizarre reflection.
   But boil that down, like 80’s Hollywood did to the western itself. Do we want the Old West, or something like it? We only need a lawless frontier, old or not. A weird menace? Well, let the eerie atmosphere of the land take care of that. Hell, what about both?
   What about the land and its men going insane? An entire country, losing their mind! As a result, creating a new world and our new frontier. Call it the New West, to be won by brave souls willing to battle fearsome creatures never before seen. To wrestle a world out of the ash and mayhem and call it claimed.
   Hell, for a film like that you’d need, well, a warrior I suppose.
   Maybe on some kind of road…

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