WESTERNS, ARTISTIC VALUE

   For most of the history of cinema, Westerns have been considered the lowest of low culture. For many older critics, even the few great films of John Fordfall far below the mark of what one might consider high art. These critics dismiss Westerns by pointing to the excessive use of cliches, to the reliance on plot formulas, to the emphasis on action and plot over character as typical features of Westerns.In the last several decades, however, cultural critics, literary critics, and even film critics have begun to study cinema Westerns seriously. There have been plenty of bad Western films made through the years; one has only to mention The Terror of Tiny Town (1938), a film with an all midget cast, to make that point. But there have been many Westerns that, except for the fact that they are Westerns, qualify as significant art, making significant observations on the human condition.
   Two areas where the Western genre contributes uniquely to significant art are in the ways it treats violence and the ways it treats humanity’s relation to the land. No other film genre can isolate individual violence, one human against another human, in the way Westerns can. Combat films can treat mass violence. Gangster films, while violent, are more concerned with other issues. But, in one sense, Westerns are all about violence. Not many Western films mentioned in this dictionary are without gunfire at some point. Also, Westerns relate to the land, to landscape, in ways no other film genre does. The land becomes integral to the narrative. Character is determined, whether for good or bad, by the actual land in which one exists within the film.
   See also CLASSIC WESTERN' FORMULAS.

Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema. . 2012.

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