Tuesday, December 6, 2016

THE WEIRD WEST GENRE: Weird Western Film Part 10


   We started out to establish some history of Weird Western film. We ended up finding out there’s no such thing as a Weird Western. Or, there is, but it’s several different things. It’s vampire westerns in 1913, Gene Autry strangeness in the 30’s, Spaghetti Westerns thirty years after that. It’s High Plains Drifter in 1973.
   Is it Timerider in 1982? Westworld? Back to the Future III? You think I forgot those films? I didn’t. But they confuse the issue. Like Billy the Kid vs. Dracula or The Valley of Gwangi. I see those as mashups. I see someone takes the western and uses it as a platform to further their own story. Sure, dinosaurs in the Old West is neat. Time travel is neat. Dracula is a done thing, for me, but I’m sure folks find that plenty neat.
   I can tell you certain why Timerider or Back the Future III or Westworld ain’t Weird Westerns. And if you read the first nine parts of this series, you can, too. To sum it quick, those menaces are known things. Mathematical, presentable, solvable things. Taking place in the Old West, sure, (or, for Westworld, in a Western theme park) but that’s not weird.
   That’s cool, is what it is. Or neat. That’s like any effect you slam into a western, like werewolves or zombies and say you have a Weird Western. Without some real feeling for the Old West and its inherent weirdness, there can’t really be any weird. Not truly weird. Not that gives you an uneasy feeling. You won’t be unsettled. Real weirdness is unsettling. That’s why it’s weird.
   And the Weird West should do that. And no, it’s not offshoots like the Space Western. Like Star Wars or Outland, with Mr. Bond Connery. Or Firefly, folks seem to have a warm spot for. Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica. Those ain't weird. Those have western roots and are, in fact, simply Westerns in space. No problem with that. I like that. Western in space is just that. A western in a new frontier.
   So why do we get away with something like The Road Warrior set in some presumable future? Same thing, ain’t it? No. It’s on Earth, for one, which gives us some humanity. We need that, to propel our weirdness. The weirdness, after all, comes from the isolation and eeriness of the frontier. The land of our own frontier. Our unsettled feeling is from knowing it’s us, the audience, out there. Here or in the nuclear future, it’s us we’re seeing combat that menace.
   And that menace is us, or something we made, there in the Post Apocalypse. Same as the Old West. We wanted to build a future with one, tear it down with another. Why we do it and how we do it is the key. What we do once it’s done is what gives us the menace.
   Is it people trading lives for progress, like a railroad? We have our Western. Is it the railroad disturbing some piece of history and bringing up evil? That’s our weird. And if it’s a frontier sitting on the bones of a whole country after WWIII and the people themselves are evil, fighting for the Stone Age and Computer Age at the same time? Well, you can’t tell me that’s not weird.
   The world of a Weird Western, whenever it is, can’t be trusted. You should always be waiting for it to turn on you. That’s why the mashups don’t work. Once the weird effect, the element of vampires or time travel is solved, the world goes back to start. To normal and it’s fine again.
   The world itself should always keep you guessing. The weird world, moreso. And the world of the Weird West, you should never get a moment’s peace. Odd folks on their own agendas, unsettling you with a glance or a tap of the gun heel. The whole place should look strange, just a nudge left or right would put it back where it’s supposed to be, but the option’s long past. If you ever had it.
   Cowboys versus Zombies or Ghosts or UFOs, see, none of that matters without that sense of the truly weird. A sense that everything could fly apart any second. That the whole world knows something you don’t. Mashups don’t have it. They’re problems to be solved, not weirdness to be reconciled.
   That’s the thing about the Weird Western. It was already weird before you showed up. Only thing it needs is for you to pop in for a few hours and watch it happen.
   And for Christ’s sake, to put some meaning back into the phrase:
   “Holy shit, that was fuckin' weird!

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