Introducing BMD’s Alternative Western Month
If you were to ask ol’ Gramps to define a “Western”, he may look at you like you’re an idiot and tell you something along the lines of “Guy on a horse in the 1800s, probably looking to shoot someone.” Ol’ Gramps isn’t wrong. His definition is just too narrow. Go ahead and look at him like he’s the idiot and tell him so.
While a Western can be as typical as a guy on a horse looking to shoot someone, that’s hardly the only type of Western cinema has given us. The guy could be on a horse. He could also be on a spaceship like we see in Joss Whedon’s Firefly, or a cool muscle car as we see in Walter Hill’s The Driver. If you need to stay on the horse, there’s still plenty of room to zig and zag. It’s almost a standard now for our Western heroes to be morally dubious, and it’s not uncommon for their struggles to be far more existential than direct and physical. Look at films like Dead Man and McCabe & Mrs. Miller.
The point is, a Western can be defined by setting, but we can also identify them through both story tropes and tone, which makes it perhaps the most versatile genre out there. Almost anything can be a Western.
Take two of this month’s more high-profile major releases, The Revenant and The Hateful Eight. Is The Revenant a Western? It’s hard to say. There are horses, and it’s definitely about a guy who wants to shoot another guy, but the tone and filmmaking makes it seem like a different genre dressed in a Western’s clothes. On the other hand, The Hateful Eight takes many Western tropes, particularly tropes from Spaghetti Westerns and old Western television shows, and mutates them into something more snarled, mean, and singular than a lot of so-called typical Westerns.
This month, we’ll be celebrating Westerns that color outside the lines a bit, whether by using other genres to relocate Western sensibilities, or simply by being weird-ass versions of the typical Western format. There are far too many great examples to cover in just one month, but we are going to do our best regardless. So bring your hand-rolled cigarettes and six-shooters, and join us.