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Carmichael | Introduction The American West(s) in Film, Television, and History Introduction Deborah Carmichael Mark Twain, learning that he had been declared dead or dying in the London newspapers of 1896, has been quoted as saying , "The report of my death has been greatly exaggerated" {Columbia ). The same can be said of critical eulogies in memory of the Western genre in film and television. As was confirmed by the hundreds of scholars attending the 2002 conference "American West(s) in Film, Television, and History" (the second national biennial conference sponsored by the Film and History League), interest in film and television representations oftheAmerican West robustly continues into the twenty-first century. The essays included here illustrate the thoughtful and thought-provoking presentations shared at that successful conference and lay to rest the paeans for Western movies as in 1974 when Pauline Kael wrote, "A few more Westerns may still struggle in, but the Western is dead" (Coyne 165). Like the announcement of Mark Twain's death, her pronouncement was premature. As Patricia Nelson Limerick reluctantly acknowledged, "the image of the frontier is . . . universally recognized and laden with positive associations ... the concept works as a kind of cultural glue" echoing John Cawelti's assessment that "a popular form like the Western comes into existence, not because it embodies a single basic psychological dynamic but because it fulfills more different social and psychological functions for its particular culture than other possible kinds of story (Limerick 92, Cawelti 17). TheWestern film genre, as these essays demonstrate, remains relevant in American cultural studies. Although New West Historians rightly underscore the importance ofrevisiting and rethinking how the frontierbecame situated in the national psyche, enthroning a short historical period as the expression of "American-ness" while excluding consideration of the consequences of Manifest Destiny on groups outside the Anglo-American community, the fact remains that the Western narrative from dime novel to made-for-TV movie, still resonates as an embodiment of national identity. "Americans agreed to link their identity to their past; they elevated collective memory into national self-conception. Turner's myth-making was a key part of that transformation" (Popper 92). While Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show dazzled audiences outside the gates of the Columbian Exposition in 1893, Frederick Jackson Turner spoke before the American Historical Association, establishing a "Frontier Thesis" that continues to affect national and international perceptions of the United States today. "The result is that to the frontier the American intellect owes its striking characteristics " (Turner 76). Those characteristics of the rugged nationbuilding frontiersman or cowboy hero continue to be celebrated in both film and television. However, as the essays featured here demonstrate, the act of repeating mythic tales reforms them as representations ofboth ahistoric past and the cultural, social, and political eras in which they are retold. In this issue of Film & History, the cinematic reconstructions of the saga of the American West have been organized as a journey through the history ofboth film and nation, moving from the 1930s to the 1990s, a tall order, but one that these authors do well. Sadly, with the hundreds ofWestern films that have flickered on theatre screens since The Great Train Robbery in 1903, no journal or volume can comprehensively treat the many Hollywood classics, personal favorites, or yet-to-be appreciated movies featuring the American West. Each of the authors included here provides new perspectives on films both critically recognized or deserving of a closer look. The next issue of Film & History (33.2) will explore the Western genre primarily focusing upon specific critical perspectives rather than a chronological transformation addressing production within a specific era. Turning first to the 1930s, the decade which saw the first epicWestern "A" films, Jennifer Smythrevisits Cimarron, based on the 1930 Edna Ferber novel and 1931 big budget RKO "gamble" which has been hailed as a triumphant studio system Western genre film that has not received the careful analysis it deserves. Smyth's explication of Cimarron connects this movie to the title frame tradition of silent film and demonstrates how director Wesley Ruggles used that convention to offer a revisionist view of Western settlement, specifically in Okalahoma after the 1889 land run...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9922
Print ISSN
0360-3695
Pages
pp. 6-8
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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