Gangstas

30 03 2008

In addition to Westerns, we will also be looking at gangster movies in class.  The concept of a gangster is one I understand rather more than that of a cowboy, perhaps because they still exist, and consequently have a habit of sneaking into movies set in the 20th and 21st centuries that aren’t actually gangster films.  That said, I can’t say I’m familiar with gangster movies, so this is still going to be an educational experience for me.

Apologies for not having posted of late; I’ve been rather bogged-down with schoolwork.  I’ll let you know what I make of GoodFellas ASAP.

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Unforgiven

12 03 2008

The other day I saw my second Western.  The first Western I saw was The Searchers, but it was immediately clear that  Unforgiven was a different creature entirely.

 Unforgiven is a revisionist Western, which aims to portray the American West in a more realistic light than old Westerns.  Dark and gritty, it paints a very bleak picture of life in the late 19th century.  The film’s protagonist is William Munny (Clint Eastwood), “a man of notoriously vicious and intemperate disposition” who has given up alcohol and violence under the influence of his late wife.  He is persuaded out of ‘retirement’ by a man calling himself the Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett), who tells him of a prostitute whose face was cut up by two cowboys, and of how she is offering a $1000 dollar reward to anyone who can assassinate them.  Together with Will’s old friend Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman), they set out on this quest.

So far, this sounds not too dissimilar to The Searchers, given that both are Westerns and both feature revenge as a prominent theme.  However, the similarity pretty much ends there.  Unforgiven is much more violent and much darker, and lacks an obvious moral hero.  Instead, it systematically deconstructs each aspect of the myth of the Old West as immortalised in older Westerns and dime novels: the lone hero, the gunfight, the cowboy, the sheriff.  In fact, a dime novel author appears in the film, and is portrayed in a not-terribly-flattering light.  The portrayal of women is certainly an improvement on older films, with some very strong female characters.

One aspect of this film that I found somewhat problematic was the abscence of a truly likeable major character.  Just about everybody in the film is corrupt, or cruel, or vindictive.  The plot is also depressing and tragic.

Unforgiven is an exciting and action-packed film, but a very grim and serious one.  The level of violence is perhaps rather off-putting, although to the film’s credit, the impact of this violence is portrayed realistically and taken seriously, another element of the film’s revision of the Western formula.  The characters themselves are also very convincing, believably portrayed by some extremely talented actors.

All that said, the film was not really to my taste, but it was definitely a high quality film and definitely worth seeing.

Current listening: Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill, “Port na bPucai / Kilnamona Barndance / Ship In Full Sail / Jer The Rigger / The Old Blackthorn / Exile of Erin / Humours Of Tulla / Fitzgerald’s Hornpipe / Rakish Paddy / Finbarr Dwyer’s Reel No. 1 / P Joe’s Precurious Pachelbel Special”.





The Searchers

13 02 2008

Yesterday, I finally got around to watching The Searchers.  It’s a classic Western that frequently ranks highly in “best film ever” charts.

The Searchers contains many of the elements you expect from a classic Western.  OK, so there’s no showdown, but you can’t have everything rip off High Noon, or all films would start to look rather similar.  Everything else is present and correct (or politically incorrect, as the case may be, but it is a ’50s classic, and it’s set in the 1860s) – lone hero, post-civil war backdrop, “Indians”, guns, horses, desert, a revenge motive, you name it.

The plot is a familiar one (spoilers for early parts of the film follow).  A group of Comanche raid a farmhouse, killing the occupants, burning the building to the ground, and kidnapping a young girl, Debbie.  Debbie’s uncle Ethan (John Wayne) and her adoptive brother Martin (Jeffrey Hunter) join forces to rescue her and revenge themselves upon their family’s murderers.

What is interesting about this film is the way in which it handles race issues.  Ethan, on face the hero, is initially somewhat hostile towards Martin because Martin is one eighth native American, and is shown to hold the Comanche in contempt, doing all he can to diminish their number.  Martin, by contrast, is a much more traditional hero in terms of morals.  He is determined to rescue his sister from the Comanche known as “Scar”, and concerned that Ethan’s hatred of all things native American will cause him to put Debbie’s life in danger.

OK, so the Comanche are still vilified, but it’s not clear that Ethan is in the right either, although he does get a moment of redemption, and remains a sympathetic character.  In this way, he’s something of a deconstruction of the classic Western hero.

Visually, the film has aged well, although the fight scenes may look a bit silly to viewers raised on Star Wars lightsaber-duelling, The Matrix and Jackie Chan movies.  There is some hilariously hammy acting from Ken Curtis as Charlie McCorry, but whether intentionally or not, the result is funny enough to avoid getting on one’s nerves (much).

For me, the film’s key strengths lay in its portrayal of families, and in the epic scale of the adventure.  This is a film which will provoke emotions.*  You really do get drawn in by the drama, which is what makes it such a good film.  If you haven’t seen it before, I would definitely recommend checking it out.

I already think I understand the popularity of Westerns.  Sooner or later, I’ll be watching revisionist Western Unforgiven (fingers crossed, anyway), and I’ll be able to write a comparison and see what elements are universal to both films.  Of course, that’ll be after half-term.

*If watched in the ideal environment, which is perhaps not a media studies class.

 Current listening: Deep Purple, “Super Trouper”.





A quick post

11 02 2008

OK, I want to write something, but I’ll have to be brief, since I want to go to bed early this evening.  I have now seen the second half of The Searchers, and read a synopsis of the first half.  However, I realise that this is not the best way to experience a film, so I’ll be sure to watch it in full before I attempt to give a detailed view of it.

The film struck me as being very much of its time – that is, 1950s America.  Given the race issues at the time, the film would probably have been groundbreaking in its treatment of those issues.  However, by modern standards it still seemed somewhat racist, which I can only suppose is a characteristic of many old Westerns.  What interested me, though, is the way that The Searchers was a revisionist Western of sorts; a twist on the Western form.  It just struck me as interesting that, even back in the ’50s, people were playing with the formula, perhaps attempting to create something truer to life than the traditional Western fantasy as portrayed in dime novels and Wild West shows.

I’m feeling absolutely rotten at the moment; headachey, sore throat, the works.  Man-flu?  Maybe, but it is blooming horrible, hence the early night.  I am, however, disproportionately excited that a new Gunnerkrigg Court chapter has begun – the first one since I started following the series.  I would like to commemorate the moment here.

Should I be embarrassed about liking a webcomic like GC?  Nah, because it’s excellent.  Seriously, I’m hooked.

Anyway, going to bed now.  Good night all.

Current listening: Neil Young, “Ordinary People”.





Blogging about the weather

6 02 2008

Well, I haven’t blogged in a while, so it probably seems like I’m just being lazy; sorry.  I was planning to have a “first impressions” article on The Searchers written by this time, complete with my notes on the Western conventions displayed by that film.  Unfortunately, due to various circumstances, I haven’t actually watched the film yet.  That’s right – I still haven’t watched a proper Western.

So, if I haven’t been watching Westerns, what have I been up to?  Well, I’ve been trying – and thus far failing – to complete my Music Technology recording 2, which has to be finished by Friday or I’ll be dropped from the course.  I’ve been preparing for an English essay involving a comparison of the way that a chosen theme is presented in two novels of my choice (I’m comparing the consequences of man as creator, as portrayed in Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein).  I have failed to see Cloverfield, which is a movie I was really interested in seeing (I’m hoping I’ll be able to see it soon), although I did get to see a very good school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  I’ve stormed dramatically from a classroom, seriously annoyed the daughter of a well-known British talk show host, and finally gotten hold of a copy of Radiohead’s Airbag/How Am I Driving?, which I’ve wanted for ages.

I’m writing all this from one of the school computers, because this morning the anti-virus checker spotted a virus on my home computer, and I’ve left it to deal with it.  The school computers are not without their drawbacks; I am, for instance, finding it difficult to read BBC news at the moment, because one of the most popular current stories contains the word “r*pe” in the title (that “*” should be an “a”, but I don’t want this page to get filtered too).  I don’t know what the idea is behind Impero filtering that word.  I mean, it’s a pretty negative expression, so the filter is more likely to be blocking serious news sites than dirty ones.  I did manage to read enough to know that repairs are underway on the damaged Internet cable, although they still can’t confirm the cause of the damage; Egypt are denying that it was a ship’s anchor, but then they probably would anyway.

It’s been raining a lot lately.  Monday it kept drizzling, but the sun was really bright.  I couldn’t see a rainbow anywhere though.  Yesterday was just near-constant downpour, though.

I’m blogging about the weather.  Perhaps I’d better draw this post to a close.  Don’t worry, this blog will be back to normal once I’ve got more organised, and then regular, relevant updates will resume.

Honest.

Current listening: Pendulum, “Girl in the Fire”.





Cowboys

28 01 2008

When you hear the word “cowboy”, what does it make you think of?

In Western films, so I am told, cowboys are often honorable heroes.  The image I normally associate with the word “cowboy” is very much that kind of cowboy – Stetson hat, revolver, cowboy boots, lariat, bandana, drinking whiskey, shooting to kill.  As you can probably tell, I have never met a real cowboy, so my perception of them is rather muddled and self-contradictory, as is my perception of sherriffs and outlaws and all the rest of ’em.

I do, however, have some idea what a historical cowboy was like, half-recalled from GCSE history lessons.  They were men who would ride with cattle and drive them across the West, often with little regard to rules such as jaywalking (which meant trespass, not crossing the street at a non-desinated crossing), much to the anger of landowners.  Part of their job was to protect their cattle from the Native Americans, who would sometimes take cows.  It was a tough life, and they were tough people.  I doubt very much whether they could have lived by a complex code of honour and revenge.

“Cowboy” also has connotations of carelessness, as found in phrases like, say, Three Little Cowboy Builders.  So yeah, not so capable.  So what is a cowboy?

I’ve never seen an actual Western.  The closest I’ve seen were probably “Gunmen of the Apocalypse”, an episode of Red Dwarf VI, which was a comedy (although well worth watching), and the spoof Western Blazing Saddles.  So, all in all, researching and watching Westerns is going to be very much a learning experience for me.