Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Summer of the Westerns


For as long as I can remember, every summer has always had a theme. The summer after my freshman year in college was devoted to reading plays. I did almost all of Shakespeare's works, several works by August Wilson, Anton Chekov and several playwrights I don't remember anymore. That was the same summer I read Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun." The next summer I read short stories. I did several short stories by Flannery O'Connor. I needed the diversion these short stories created because that was the summer I took the dreaded Organic Chemistry.

That perhaps was the summer I learned to hate my life, momentarily. I dreaded the class and feared the lab even more. Just when I thought my life couldn't get any worse, my lab partner bailed out on me. I still remember her full name and middle initial and the look on her face when she told me she didn't want to work with me anymore. Imagine my angst. Nonetheless, in spite of the themes I chose, every summer ended with me hugging a copy of my favorite book, "Things Fall Apart." Did my life come undone in those labs or was it just my imagination? But suffice it to say I haven't passed a single summer yet without Chinua Achebe's classic.

I've long ditched reading in favor of movies. Not! I'm still an avid reader. But I love a good movie. So, this summer I've decided on a theme. I'll watch sixty western movies from now until the last day of the summer. I watched the first today, "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly." I saw that movie many years ago in grade school. Yes, I was watching rated R movies in grade school and I turned out right. However, I was a different breed and I don't endorse such movies for anyone under the age of twenty one.

Watching the movie now again as an older twenty-someone was a great experience. It was a combination of some things I really love. Clint Eastwood, the American West, the Civil War, fantastic directing and photography, and a great score. I didn't realize how sexy Clint Eastwood was as a young man. To an eight year old in the eighties, he was just an American cowboy. But now in the words of Perez Hilton, "completely gratuitious."

The movie falls into the genre of Western movies known as Spaghetti Westerns. Spaghetti Westerns are a sub-genre of Western movies that were chiefly directed by Italian directors usually with a Spanish partner and a Spanish technical crew. The movie was written primary by Italians and was released in Italy under the name, Il Buono, il Brutto, il Cattivo. The release of the movie in the United States was preceeded by the Italian release by a few days. Although the movie is violent, the violence portrayed adequately the desperation that was a hallmark of those times, when survival was utmost. Conquering the American West fits the clich├ęd "desperate times call for desperate measures." The movie is arguably one of the finest movies I have seen, especially for that time period.

For reasons I cannot explain, I am quite nostalgic about America before the twentieth century. I sometimes get lost in this fantasy that I forget how opressive this period was for minorities. From the Native Americans, to people of African descent, early European and Asian immigrants, and Mexican in the South, the early years of this country was oppression personified. For poor white Americans, the terrain was tasking. I've read stories of American families who suffered poverty, disease, and hardship as they tried to conquer this untamed land. Yet, this oppressive landscape is the backdrop to some the best stories. Writers and playwrights alike have capitalized on this fact and have woven stories that qualify both as historical fiction and fictional history. While I enjoyed "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly," I couldn't help but notice that African-Americans were conspicuously absent from the movie, especially the battles during the War.

The beauty of movies for me is in the analysis. I bring all my senses to a movie, and there's nothing as a good as a well-written and produced movie. Oh, the joy! So, I have fifty nine more westerns to watch before the last day of the summer. Next on my list, "The Outlaw Josey Wales." Then I'll be entertained by "3:10 to Yuma," "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," and then "Brokeback Mountain." If you have a suggestion for a great western, please leave me a comment and tell me why it's a good movie.

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