DEAD MAN (1995)
- Johnny Depp, Billy Bob Thornton, Iggy Pop, Robert Mitchum, Alfred Molina, Gary Farmer, Jim Jarmusch (director)Dead Man is the essential Western of the postmodern era. Variously billed as an anti-Western or punk Western, it takes the Western moment shared by all Westerns and strips away as many characteristics of Westerns as possible in an attempt to create a new myth of the West more in line with other areas of popular culture such as comic books, music videos, and, to a degree, video gaming. Pitched in the middle is a cowboy star from the past, Robert Mitchum, whose career began in Hopalong Cassidy Westerns. Bill Blake (Depp), a displaced loner, descends into hell in the town of Machine, located at the end of the rail line. He is emasculated in the factory full of huge gears, wheels, and levers. He confronts and is humiliated by the cruel factory owner (Mitchum). Killing the factory owner’s son liberates Blake to set out upon a spiritual quest for salvation. He meets Nobody (Farmer), a Native American shaman figure, who informs him that in reality he is William Blake, the late 18th-century English visionary poet. They take peyote together. Blake then goes on his spiritual journey, finally leaving the nastiness and filth of John Ford’s West to be reunited with the spiritual realm. The black and white cinematography, the rock music by Neil Young, the rapid-cutting, music video–style of pacing take this Western far beyond anything previous and look forward to cinema Westerns of the 21st century.
Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema. Paul Varner. 2012.
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