The Western Genre: From Lordsburg to Big Whiskey Short Cuts Series 7 (review)
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 33, Number 1, 2003
- pp. 77-78
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Book Reviews | Regular Feature It is all very intimidating. For those ofus who don't really know our Day (Doris) from our Descartes (René), the most satisfying essays are those that use philosophical contexts to reveal some specific quality in a particular film. There is some remarkable work in this category, such as Jane Stadler's "Losing the Plot: Narrative Form andEthical Identity inLostHighway". (All the titles here seem to be designed to turn the bowels to jelly.) This essay is a fascinating analysis of how David Lynch's baffling film, where identities and roles are as fragmented as a shattered windscreen, meditates on the crucial relationship between the nature ofthe moral selfandthe shaping and connectingpower of story. Stadler makes the point that "ethical virtue is comprehensible only as part of a narrative pattern;" break that down, as Lynch deliberately does, and you discover that "in undermining the narrative unity of identity, lack of narrative coherence within a life story potentially undermines the intelligibility ofvirtue and responsibility." In other words, human beings are embodied stories ; they narrate themselves. Comparable insights are offered in Christopher Fahy's outstanding essay on the epistemological significance ofAffliction. He sees Nick Nolte's quest to solve a possibly imaginary murder as a complex journey towards self-knowledge where the ability to construct a story, to create a coherent world, is an attempt to transcend the pain and violence ofthe past. Both these essays are excellent and profound pieces of criticism. Other writers also offer good Brand One insights into Suspicion, Rashomon and Naked Lunch. Brand Two, by contrast, is much harder for a general reader to get to grips with. For example, Richard Gull's Wittgensteinian re-reading of The Crying Game is a long, linguistic somersault, like those Will Self reviews in the New Statesman where he just will not stop being polysyllabic and irritating. Nor is it possible for any layperson to say anything intelligent about the "Ideas R Us" brand, except that the essays leave a hazy memory of paragraphs beginning with "While I generally agree. . ." This store, then, is packedto the rafters, although some extra departments could still have been added. For instance, there are no articles on comedy, and this is a pity, because when we exercise our chuckle muscles on a film like Bringing Up Baby, we are often responding at a visceral level to some ofthe seemingly esoteric problems examined here. Also, Stoehr could do with setting up an antiques section. His introduction may acknowledge the question of silent film, but a study ofThe Wedding March, say, or The Cabinet ofDoctor Caligari could have tackled the issue of whetherfilm's philosophical engagements are consistent overtime, or whether they change along with the medium's developing language and the shifting perceptions of its audience. As it stands, this collection gives the questionable impression that its issues are as timeless and immutable as a statue. Nit-picking aside, however, this is an excellent, stimulating book. You leave the emporium having been reminded that films can be grown-up things (just in case a viewing oíMinority Report had left you in doubt) and that the best work can excite and satisfy the hunger to be more serious. This means that every nook and cranny is worth exploring, even the more abstruse corners. David Lancaster Institute of Communications Studies. University of Leeds, United Kingdom. email@example.com John Saunders. The Western Genre: From Lordsburg to Big Whiskey Short Cuts Series 7. London: Wallflower, 2001. 131 pages; $16.95. Complex Films John Saunders' 77ie Western Genre: From Lordsburg to Big Whiskey is, Uke some of the films it discusses, an alternately fascinating and frustrating work. Offering a short (only 131 pages) but extensive consideration of one of Hollywood's most popular, but now most faded, genres, the author argues that the Western is much more than a formulathat aUows its practitioners to project, to struggle with, and to resolve anxieties about individualism, social decay, and the perils of the frontier. Rather, for Saunders, the genre comprises many complex films that reflect America's difficult transition from a rural to an urban society, as issues ofviolence, race, and social disenfranchisement...