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Hollywood’s Westerns

(2012-12-17 12:36:22)
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Hollywood’s <wbr>Westerns

论文:《好莱坞西部片:美国文化与历史记忆》

Hollywood’s Western Film: American Culture and Historical Memory

Hong Xie (谢宏)

Abstract

This research report considers Western Film genre is a significant movie genre in Hollywood industry, it records historical events of America and responds to the needs and taste of audience; this kind of movie also reflects or impacts American culture deeply. This research report explains the relationship between Hollywood’s Western Film and American culture and historical memory, and gives research evidence to support the results.

Introduction

The title for my research report is Hollywood’s Western Film: American Culture and Historical Memory. Nowadays, Hollywood’s Western film is a significant movie genre of the American film industry and popular in the world. Westerns always reflected American historical memory and influence American culture. So it is important to find out the relationship between Westerns and American historical memory and American culture. This research report focus on nine main sections which are research question, definition of key terms, background, Hollywood and Westerns, characteristics and movie stars, Western film and historical memory of America, Western film and American culture. This research report will explain what it mentioning above and giving findings and conclusion, recommendation for further investigation.

Research question

What is the relationship and influence between Hollywood’s Western film and American culture and historical memory.

Definition of key terms

‘Hollywood’s Westerns’ are a significant genre of the American film industry.

 

‘Historical memory’ refers to the memory of happened events, it is also what is recorded or created about those pasts both then and nowCrane, 1997, p. 1372).

Background

According to Starr (1985, pp. 1-27), there was a period of significant American history connected with the Western. There was a civil war between the Northern and Southern states of America in 1861-1865. At the time, lots of people rushed to the west to open farms, and many events took place in that period. The events affected American culture deeply in the following time. So there were many potential possibilities for Hollywood to make movies about it.

Hollywood and Western

According to Simmon (2007, p. 3), Hollywood began to shoot Western film to review the Western historical memory and American culture, to match the peoples’ dreaming about chasing freedom life style, desire for adventure, releasing unsatisfied feelings in real life. Especially during the Great Depression and the Second World War, this Western genre exactly responded to the needs of people wanting to ‘escape’ from Depression and war time, so it was popular in America (Stanfield, 1996, p. 22).

 

As Varner (2008, p. xxv) described, the first Western movie ‘The Great Train Robbery’ was made in 1903. It shocked the audiences because of the new movie production technique and the big picture. Afterwards, Hollywood produced many of this kind of movie and then formed gradually to a movie genre, called Western Film. Some of them became classic movies, for example, The Covered Wagon (1923). Western film became a very important and popular movie genre of Hollywood.

 Characteristics and Movie Stars

Maltby (1996, p.38) has described this movie genre characteristics, cowboys acted as heroes in the stories. They challenge dangers to became heros, rode horses across plain or mountains, took care of cattle, saved women and children from dangers, killed the ‘bad guys’. They broke the law, protected or killed the Indians. The cowboys always showed their heroic actions.

 

It is easy for audience to became excited while watching because of violence and action in Western movies (Varner, 2008, p. xxv). This kind of movie genre match the dreams of people wanting to become a hero, adventure in some place, and be admired by others. Therefore, this kind of movie become more and more popular in America and throughout the world.

 

There are some famous movie stars performed roles in the Western genre, such as John Wayne, whose works include Red River (1948), The Searchers (1956); Clint Eastwood, whose works include Unforgiven (1992). These actors created many hero images in Westerns genre.

 Western Film and Historical Memory of America  

      Immigrant movement event

As Maltby (1996, p. 38) described, Western film connected historical memory of American. There were thousands and thousands of people who went to the West in the nineteen century, tried to find gold, open farms, or plant grain. It was a big picture of American history. On the other hand, no one can ignore the Indian history in America because they are the indigenous people who had lived there for a long time. People always fight for land and women, cattle and treasure. Sometimes, the settler also protected or killed the Indian. So there were many stories to tell in Western movie.

     Effects of immigrant

According to research by Starr (1985, p. 1), this period of time is significant in the historical memory of America because it formed the framework of modern America. This period time is also a significant history of the America. Years later, the Western became more and more developed. Westerns became the base of agriculture.  Immigrant movement affected the characters of American and benefited the development of America.

     Recording of historical memory

According to Starr (1985) and Franklin (1952), because of the reasons above, the American people wanted to remember the glory of history of America. Movies were  one way to record or reflect the period time of history. Another reason is Western movies also showed missing wish for the outdoor life style which is sadly lost through capitalism and industrializations. This responded to the peoples’ needs at the time.

 

Varner (2008, p. xxv) described the first Western movie called ‘The Great Train Robbery’. ‘Gangster’ rode horses and chased the train, jumped on top of the train, stole treasures. The audience could watch the gangsters challenged the modern technical power by original methods. The train appearing in the movie could remind American memory about Pacific Railway that it was helpful for American economy. So watching the movie could wake audience’s memory about the modern civilization into the Western.

 

In Western movie, the women always represented a weak role, rescued by a man, the cowboy hero. There was a new changing in the 1950s, because of new consumer style of maleness, female became breadwinner. According to Pumphrey (1996, p. 57 ), the reason was that male went to the army and fought in the front of The Second World War, women became the labor force postwar. These facts were also represented in Western genre. For instance, in movie Yellow Sky (1948), Gregory Peck was forced to get cleaning by the woman Anne Baxter, who shows her power not just with gun.

 

No one can ignore Indian when people talk about America because they are the indigenous people. Many Indian people were killed by settlers during the immigrant movement time. Settlers raped and drove Indian away from their land. Western movie also show this historical memory about it. Walker (1996, p. 1 ) has written an article to discuss the movie called Dances with Wolves (1990) strongly connected with Indian history. The movie set in Indian side to tell the story and reflecting and reviewing the period historical time.

Western Film and American Culture

     Symbol of Cowboy

Loy (2001, p. 3) has described the influence of Western film on American culture. Western spirit is a significant part and resource of American culture. When people talk about American culture, they always talk about Western and cowboys. The cowboy becomes a symbol of American culture, the Western culture affected American characters and customs deeply till now.

     Customs and Westerns

According to Pumphrey (1996, p. 52), people had to face many problems and difficulties in Western time, such as evolution and cruelty, freedom and regulation, development and past ideals. Western heroes show maleness with wild living, they have associated femaleness with meek character. Now American people still keep these elements in their characters and love nature and outdoor living that was the characteristics of Western living style.

    Contemporary consumer culture and Westerns

In an article by Pumphrey (1996, p. 50), the relationship between Western movie and American culture was discussed. Western cowboys always showed their hat, jeans. For example, in High Plains Drifter (1973), Clint Eastwood showed his maleness and naked chest in the bath. Western movie always emphases an idea to male, charming is not your face but power. Most Westerns influence contemporary consumer culture (figure 1). An advertisement about Levi 501s in 1980s showed this relationship. The young man, blond, good looking, show his stomach muscle, enjoy himself in the bathroom with Levi 501s (figure 2). We compare two bath scenes and can get a result that there is relationship between Westerns culture and contemporary American culture. The advertisement idea followed the Western style and tradition.

   Hollywood’s <wbr>Westerns

Figure 1: High Plains Drifter (1973)     

Hollywood’s <wbr>Westerns
Figure 2: Levi’s 501 commercial (1986)

     Values and Westerns

As Loy (2001, p. 3) described, Western heroes always fought and defended their values with gun, encourage keeping balance in individualism and social order, freedom and law, it deeply influences contemporary American people habits and values. Nowadays, gun culture is popular in America. American people still believe gun can protect themselves. Furthermore, according to Stanfield (1996, p. 27), two most important things which Western hero tried hard to fight are self-reliant individualism and family unity; it is still the mainstream values..

    Music and Westerns

Research by Stanfield (1996, p. 22) found that Western film also affected American music. During 1939-1945, American people had to face the Great Depression and the Second World War. At the time, rural workers moved to city, they worked in American military factories in order to provide weapons to Europe. They brought the country music to city, but were not popular. After it benefit from B Western movies which linked the country music and Western, so country music finally came into a music genre, even a symbol of American music. Another evidence is that there are many cowboy and Western elements, the Gay Cowboy Movie, in American pop singer Madonna’s music MTV, especially connected to the Western film Brokeback Mountain (2004). This connection was discussed in an article by Joshua and Christopher (2007, p. 65).

Findings and conclusion

Through the research work, much material shows that Hollywood’s Western film is an important movie genre in America and the world, this kind of movie is connected with American historical memory and American culture. Westerns represented and responded to American needs in the real life. Westerns are also a significant part of American traditional culture. Westerns have recorded American historical memory, such as immigrant movement events, effects of immigrant, Indian history, new turns and changing. On the other hand, Westerns have affected American culture deeply, such as peoples’ values, habits, consumer culture, customs and music. Westerns are also a symbol of American culture. Over all, there is very important relationship between Hollywood’s Western films and American culture and historical memory of America.

Recommendation for further investigation

Hollywood always follow the time changing to produce suitable Western film to match audience taste and try hard to reflect and record the American historical event, try hard to influence and reflect American culture. I would like to investigate the relationship between Hollywood’s Western Film and Western films from other countries in the future.

 

References

Crane, S. A. (1997). Writing the Individual Back into Collective MemoryThe American historical Review Vol. 102. No.5. (Dec. 1997), pp. 1732—1385. United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.

Franklin, E. (1952). Westerns, First and Lasting. The Quarterly of Film Radio and Television. Vol.7. No. 2. ( Winter, 1952). California, USA: University of California Press.

Hollywood’s Westerns: http://www.filmsite.org/westernfilms.html

Joshua, C., & Christopher, N. (2007). Don't Ask, Don't Tell Me. Film Quarterly 60 (3), 62-67. Berkeley, USA: University of California Press.

Levi’s:http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=roBkw0RfY-Q#t=42s

Loy, R. P. (2001). Westerns and American culture 1930-1955. North Carolina, USA: Mcfarland & Company, Inc., Publishers.

Lenihan, J. H. (1980). Showdown: Confronting Modern America in Western Film. Illinois, USA: University of Illinois Press.

Maltby, R. (1996). A Better Sense of History: John Ford and the Indian. In C. Ian, & D. Pye ( Eds.), The Book of Westerns (pp.34-39). New York: Continuum.

Pumphrey, M. (1996). Why Do Cowboys Wear Hats In The Bath: Style Politics for the Old Man. In C. Ian, & D. Pye ( Eds.), The Book of Westerns (pp.50-62). New York: Continuum.

Starr, S. Z. (1985). The Union Cavalry in the Civil War: The War in the West, 1861-1865. Louisiana, USA: Louisiana State University Press.

Simmon, S. (2007). The Invention of the Western film: a culture history of the genre’s first half-century. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Stanfield, P. (1996). Country Music and the 1939 Western: From Hillbillies to Cowboys. In C. Ian, & D. Pye ( Eds.), The Book of Westerns (pp.22-33). New York: Continuum.

Varner, P. (2008). The A to Z of Westerns in Cinema. Maryland, USA: Scarecow press.

Walker, M. (1996). Dances with Wolves. In C. Ian, & D. Pye ( Eds.), The Book of Westerns (pp.284-293). New York: Continuum.

演讲练习视频连接:http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XNjE3NTYyMTgw.html

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