Academic journal article CineAction

Man(n) of the West(ern)

Academic journal article CineAction

Man(n) of the West(ern)

Article excerpt

The critic ... is indeed concerned with evaluation, but to figure him as measuring with a norm which he brings up to the object and applies from the outside is to misrepresent the process. The Critic's aim is, first, to realize as sensitively and completely as possible this or that which claims his attention; and a certain valuing is implicit in the realizing. As he matures in experience of the new thing he asks, explicitly and implicitly: "Where does this come? How does it stand in relation to ...? How relatively important does it seem?"

--F.R. Leavis, The Common Pursuit

Preliminary

Man of the West is among the greatest Cinemascope movies of the 50s; others would include Bonjour Tristesse, The Tarnished Angels, Bigger Than Life and Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys! None of these is currently available on video, laserdisc or DVD in its correct format; the last two are not available at all. The copy from which I worked for this article is therefore missing approximately one third of Anthony Mann's magnificent film. I suppose I should be thankful that it appears to be an older video, made at the time when the video companies' solution to the problems of wide screen films was simply to lop off the sides: at least I can feel that I am seeing the middle two-thirds of the images Mann so meticulously and eloquently constructed, without the dubious benefits of 'pan & scan', the more technologically 'advanced' solution that substituted a worse barbarity for the earlier one, forcing the interested viewer to try to distinguish between the director's own camera movements and edits and those so thoughtfully added by generally insensitive video technicians. However, many complex shots in which different actions are taking place in different areas of the screen are ruined by this (the climactic showdown in Lassoo suffers especially), and many of the simpler shots are now misframed so that we see only half of characters' heads or bodies, depriving the film of the poised elegance that partly offsets or 'places' the multiple brutalities of the narrative. It is my opinion that such barbaric practices should be forbidden by law: consider the outcry there would be if the equivalent were perpetrated on a Rembrandt portrait or the score of a Beethoven symphony. It is a problem to which such committed and enlightened film restorers as Scorsese and Coppola might well devote their attention.

Man of the West and Genre

Around the cusp of the decade there appeared three films that must surely be included in any responsible list of the 'ten greatest' westerns: Man of the West (1958), Rio Bravo (1959) and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). Hawks's film can (in this context) be left to one side: it has all the trappings of a western but none of its essentials, as becomes clear if one juxtaposes it with its author's earlier Only Angels Have Wings and To Have and Have Not, either of which would be mistaken for a western but both of which share in detail Rio Bravo's thematic and narrative nucleus. Effectively, the other two, though sometimes categorized as 'revisionist', mark the end of the classical western, summing up and laying to rest its central concern with the taming of the wilderness in the interests of the growth of civilization. After The Man Who shot Liberty Valance, American civilization could no longer be celebrated or even, as in Ford's film, ambivalently and bleakly affirmed. The truly revisionist westerns are McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Heaven's Gate, both of which, in their very different ways, represent unambiguous denunciations of the 'progress' of American capitalism, refusing by reversing the terms of the classical western--a development already anticipated (though necessarily, for McCarey, in comic mode) in the wish-fulfillment fantasy of America's un-founding at the climax of Rally 'Round the Flag Boys!

L'Auteur est Mort--Vive I'Auteur!'

It was, I believe, Roland Barthes who, long ago (as it now feels), first proclaimed the 'Death of the Author'. …

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