FILM by Shane “It’s A Hell Of A Thing” Hnetka
My favourite picture-show-shooter, Mr. Quentin Tarantino, has done gone and made himself another western, The Hateful Eight. Now, I enjoy westerns. I was raised on ’em; even named after one. So I reckon maybe it couldn’t hurt to take a look-see at some of the better ones out thar.
The Golden Age of Horse Operas
Westerns have been around since the dawn of film — one of the earliest is Edwin S. Porter’s 1903 classic, The Great Train Robbery. They’ve also been the big screen’s most popular genre, particularly from the 1930s to the ’60s. And while they’ve faded from their glory days of box-office dominance, there’s still life in the old horse opera, as The Hateful Eight and Alejandro Iñárritu’s The Revenant make clear.
Maybe this is because there’s so much you can do in a western. While they’re virtually always about white guys with guns on the 19th century American frontier, there’s a lot of variety in the approach — from drama, crime, comedy and romance to indie and exploitation movies, and even science fiction and horror. Westerns can be artful and quirky, like Jim Jarmusch’s masterpiece Dead Man, or dark and unsentimental like Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven.
There’s a lot of play in westerns.
“Plumb Mad-Dog Mean”
I was raised on spaghetti westerns, particularly Sergio Leone’s Clint Eastwood movies. A Fistful of Dollars (a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo), For a Few Dollars More and, of course, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly were standard viewing for young Shane, along with Duck, You Sucker and the brilliant Once Upon a Time in the West. Give me a good movie about bounty hunters at each other’s throats over money and I’m happy.
We occasionally watched the traditional John Wayne and John Ford films, but they weren’t as good as the hard-edged late ’60s and ’70s westerns my dad favoured — like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Django, The Outlaw Josey Wales and the brilliant The Wild Bunch.
What did all these westerns teach me? Don’t trust anyone. And if you’re going to shoot, shoot — don’t talk.
Shane Hnetka is a professional film and comic book nerd.