Robert Altman's McCabe and Mrs. Miller: Reframing the American West

By Anderson, Kent | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), June 2008 | Go to article overview
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Robert Altman's McCabe and Mrs. Miller: Reframing the American West


Anderson, Kent, Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)


Robert Altman's McCabe and Mrs. Miller: Reframing the American West Robert T. Self. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2007.

Robert T. Self makes a case for McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971) as an underrated film in Robert Altman's canon; he also seeks to establish the film as a demystification of the Western. During the course of his argument, it becomes clear that he believes the former to be true largely because of the latter. Altman was famous for deconstructing established genres while critiquing dominant ideology and mainstream filmmaking. The Western has been a staple of Hollywood production for several decades, and its popularity is intricately tied up with the mythology of the United States. It would seem to have been red meat for Altman's table.

Self explores McCabe and Mrs. Miller through its associations with the Western and the New Western history. However, along the way, he makes claims that he cannot substantiate. The most startling of these observations is his assertion-repeated several times-that the Western slipped into dissolution and died somewhere before the turn of the millennium. He seems wholly unaware of the numerous high-profile Western films and TV shows that have appeared since 2000, including The Missing (2003), The Alamo (2004), Open Range (2003), Into the West, and Deadwood, just to name a few. Another bothersome claim is that Altman's film represents prostitution with what was then an unprecedented historical accuracy. It is convincing to argue that the film opened up a space, in 1971, for questioning the representations of prostitutes in the Western and in the history of the west, but Self goes further, indicating a profound interrogation of the genre and western history in the film.

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