Believe it or not, Hollywood can do without superhero movies, giant sharks, sword-and-sandals epics and The Rock – the western will outlast them all…
Sky Cinema Westerns, available in Sky Cinema on demand and on Sky Cinema Select/HD (CH 442/412) from 22-30 September
The western is a genre that has gone hand in hand with American film-making throughout its history, one that is practically synonymous with Hollywood. And a look at the collection of legendary westerns new and old on Sky Cinema this month proves that while the genre may be less prominent now than in its heyday, the levels of quality are even higher.
So what makes the western such a perennial favourite? Maybe the most important thing is how flexible it is. All you need are some horses, some guns and a wide-open environment – underdeveloped and under-policed.
Traditionally, the films had pretty obvious good guys and bad guys – look at The Magnificent Seven (pictured above) or Howard Hawks’ classic El Dorado – but as time went on, the lines became blurrier. The bandits are the heroes in Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, and the anti-heroes of The Wild Bunch.
The western is famous for its white, male, macho heroes – Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Clint Eastwood – but like other genres it’s become more diverse in recent times, which is a truer reflection of reality. The Old West was full of intrepid people of colour (one of the era’s most successful bounty hunters, Bass Reeves, was black), and women as well as men. Similarly, we’ve had great westerns with black leads (Django Unchained) and even a teenage girl as ornery as any gunslinger (True Grit, with Hailee Steinfeld – pictured above).
Of course, there’s one basic reason for the genre’s survival. The western is the original and most powerful American mythology; it’s their King Arthur and Greek gods and Norse legend all rolled in together. The idea that a scattered handful of humans managed to tame the wild, open country of the West and build prosperous lives there is the original American dream, and it makes the western a subject of perennial fascination.
But stories of man versus nature, black hats versus white hats (or Stetsons, to be precise) and chaos versus civilisation are still inspiring far beyond the borders of the USA. And after all, who doesn’t want to be a cowboy or girl?
Find The Magnificent Seven, El Dorado, Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, The Wild Bunch, Django Unchained, True Grit and more in the Sky Cinema Westerns collection, available in Sky Cinema on demand and showing on Sky Cinema Select/HD (CH 442/412) from 22-30 September
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