The American West(s) in Film, Television, and History: Introduction
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 33, Number 2, 2003
- pp. 9-11
- Additional Information
Deborah Carmichael | Special In-Depth Section The American West(s) in FiIm7 Television, and History Introduction Deborah Carmichael This second issue of the 2003 volume of Film & History (33.2) builds upon the discussions ofmany themes begun in 33.1, underscoring the rich opportunities for scholars who revisit the AmericanWest(s) as expressed in film and television productions, especially as interpretations of national history. The range (no pun intended) of films explored in this issue includes films from the silent era up to recent offerings from the TurnerNetworkTelevision . Some ofthese articles explore the possibilities ofrevising traditional visions of the frontier while working within a genre structure embedded in American film culture; others consider the impossibility of such a project without revisions of expected formulas . Perhaps, as Kimberly Sultze suggests, only the most independent directors possess the temerity to revise a narrative form so closely connected to American identity since 1893 when Frederick Jackson Turner announced his revolutionary "frontier thesis." Later, in this issue, British contributor Barry Langford argues that "New West" films generally fail in their revisionist project. Winona Howe spotlights the overlooked portrayal of strong, committed women influencing history in the male-dominated territory oftheWest. David Pierson outlines ways that filmmakers authenticate their work for audiences—who demand adherence to a formulaic genre; in contrast Hugh Manon speaks to the difficulties of producing any films of fixed genres. Matthew Turner addresses the differing opinions on the meaning of genre parody—does a satirical approach suggest that the form has reached exhaustion or does a comedie retelling reinvigorate that form through a combination oflaughter and nostalgia? Gender , genre, and general concerns about the viability of Western film in a 21st century alive with revisionist history all receive attention in this second issue of Film & History devoted to the American West(s) in film, television, and history. Each article offers lively and thought-provoking perspectives on anAll-American film genre—films that are both cultural and historical artifacts , and entertaining reminders of who we think we are. In the first selection, Winona Howe looks beyond the stereotypical critical reading (or lack of critical attention) to the role of women who are relegated to second-class status in Western movies. In her close reading of The Professionals (1966), a film crowded with Hollywood strongmen (BurtLancaster, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan, Woody Strode, Jack Palance, and Ralph Bellamy), Howe sidesteps the obvious to take a closer look at the three Hispanic women who influence these soldiers offortune, women who display a stronger commitment to the Mexican revolution than to personal safety or domestic (feminine) space. These women move beyond passive objects to reveal an active participation in the political struggles of this film. Usually only two prominent female characters come to mind in The Professionals; however, Howe suggests that a third—although absent—woman affects the ethical decisions of these professionals hunting for a presumably kidnapped wife. She identifies the moral center of Rico Fardan (Lee Marvin) as his devotion to his wife, martyred for her support of the revolution. Scholar Howe's work offers not only a new perspective on The Professionals, but also a new lens for reexamination of films that, on the surface, appear to be no more than male, action-driven stories. The roles of both women and men, young and old, negotiating Patricia Nelson Limerick's La Frontera figure prominently in the second essay by Kimberly Sultze in her study of Lone Star, directed by John Sayles in 1996. Sultze carefully considers the numerous cinematic choices this independent director makes to accentuate the difficult task of defining personal history and identity, and the regional or ethnic boundaries of history in an American frontier town. This border community marks the multicultural intersections of Anglos, Hispanics, African Americans, and Native Americans. She demonstrates that Lone Star is a portrait of an American West, that if not completely embracing diverse groups, does at least acknowledge a history that is not exclusively anAnglo narrative. Sultze studies the choices Sayles makes in Lone Star as both visually and thematically disorienting strategies to force a reconsideration of an accepted history, as characters resist a past incompatible with the identities they have constructed for themselves. Her...