FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

America’s Most Noble Creation

by DAVID MACARAY

Yes, they were racist and sexist; yes, they were corny and formulaic and historically inaccurate (if not downright fantastic), and yes, the rules protecting animals from being treated cruelly weren’t in place yet. But nonetheless, there was a time when the “Western” (the “cowboy movie”) was not only Hollywood’s bread-and-butter staple, it was the idiom by which the rest of the world recognized and got to know us.

Despite what we may have been told, America didn’t invent the automobile, airplane, bicycle, or electric light bulb. While we modified and improved them, we didn’t invent them. But we did invent the Western movie. And, in a sense, the Western movie invented us. It’s no exaggeration to say that what the average American knows about branding irons, mining towns, cattle rustling, and frontier saloons, they learned from Western movies and TV shows.

When I lived in India (Malerkotla, Punjab), the town’s only cinema couldn’t afford to show any first-run American movies, so it showed older movies, movies which it could afford and which were guaranteed to attract a good-sized, appreciative audience. Which is to say, it showed Audie Murphy “Westerns.”

Because this was literally the only show in town, and because I’d always been a fan of the Western genre, I wound up seeing Apache Rifles, Hell Bent for Leather, and Gunfight at Commanche Creek several times each. Before India, I had never been much of an Audie Murphy fan. I was more of a Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood aficionado.

This will sound petty, but there was something about Murphy’s face I didn’t care for. To me, despite him being a real-life Medal of Honor-winning World War II combat hero, he didn’t seem like a “serious” person. He looked too whiny to be dangerous. But an Indian gentleman (my neighbor) once told me the reason he liked the boyish, square-jawed Audie Murphy was because “he looked so much like an American.”

Why do we no longer have a steady supply of Western movies? Why did we stop making them? The last two really good Westerns were, Unforgiven (with Eastwood, Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackman) and Silverado (Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn, Kevin Costner), both of which were excellent films, as good as any of the so-called “classic” Westerns.

Could the reason be logistical? Given all the necessary horses and cattle, and the unpredictability of animals, did Westerns become too unwieldy or complicated to make? Or did Hollywood simply decide the average movie-goer wasn’t interested in seeing a movie set in the Old West? Vampires and zombies were in, cowboys were out. Or was it harder to get young actors today to agree to learn how to ride a horse or, at the very least, look comfortable atop one?

An actor I know, the very talented David Clennon (Syriana, The Right Stuff, et al), once played the part of William Henry Harrison (before Harrison became president), in a movie called, Tecumseh: The Last Warrior. In a couple of his scenes he had to dress up in an elaborate military uniform, including wearing a sword, and ride a very large horse.

Because he looked surprisingly good up there, comfortable and steady, I asked if he’d ever ridden a horse before. He said he hadn’t. As was customary, the studio hired an experienced wrangler to show him exactly what to do. The rest was easy. Also, these Hollywood nags aren’t exactly wild beasts. They’re movie horses. Show biz horses. The last thing one of them is going to do is bite or kick an actor, and risk losing his union card.

I heard it said that the “crime movie” has replaced the Western as Hollywood’s go-to genre. Crime movies—caper movies, heist movies, terrorist movies—are where the action is now. I’ve heard it said that, other than as a cinematic/cultural reference point, the Western movie will one day be completely forgotten. Western movies will eventually be as dead as the cattle rustlers they used to depict. And that will be a sad day.

David Macaray, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor,” 2nd edition), was a former union rep.  He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net  

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is “Nightshift: 270 Factory Stories.” He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

May 05, 2016
David L. Glotzer
Welcome to Fortified Europe: the Militarization of Europe’s Borders
Adam Szetela
Beyoncé’s “Formation” and the Boutique Activism of the Left
Bruce Lerro
Lost at Sea: Left Liberals Have No Party
Paul Cochrane
Hot Air in the Saudi Desert: a Kingdom in Descent?
Brian Terrell
My Visit to a Las Vegas Jail
Judith Deutsch
The Military’s “Securitization” of Climate Change
Phyllis Bennis
Kunduz Bombing: Proof the Pentagon Should Not Be Allowed to Investigate Itself for War Crimes
Chad Nelson
When Compassion is Terrorism: Animal Rights in a Post-911 World
Dan Arel
Making Sanders’ Dream a Reality Through Political Activism
Kent Paterson
Ten Years Later: Reflections on the Legacies of Immigrant Spring
Serge Halimi
Why Firefighters are Against Free Trade
Andrew Stewart
Green Bernie or Green Party Machine?
Binoy Kampmark
Yuri Gagarin in Space: the Politics of Cosmic Discovery
Hayes Rowan
This Naming of Things
May 04, 2016
Kshama Sawant
It’s Not About Bernie: Why We Can’t Let Our Revolution Die in Philadelphia
Conn Hallinan
Baiting the Bear: Russia and NATO
Joshua Frank
Hanford’s Leaky Nuke Tanks and Sick Workers, A Never-Ending Saga
Paul Craig Roberts
TIPP: Advancing American Imperialism
Ted Rall
Hillary to Bernie Supporters: Don’t Vote for Me!
Eric Draitser
Hillary Clinton and Wall Street’s Neoliberal War on Latin America
Leslie Scott
The Story of Jill Stein: Putting People, Peace and the Planet Before Profits
Ann Garrison
Building the Greens Into a Mass Party: Interview with Bruce Dixon
Tom Clifford
Crying Rape: Trump’s China-Bashing
Lawrence Davidson
Getting Rid of Bad Examples: Andrew Jackson & Woodrow Wilson
Ellen Brown
Bank of North Dakota Soars Despite Oil Bust: A Blueprint for California?
Nelson Valdes
Is Fidel Castro Outside or Part of Mainstream Thinking? A Selection of Quotes
Jesse Jackson
Don’t Send Flint Down the Drain: Fix It!
Nathan Riley
Help Bernie Keep His Halo
Rivera Sun
Remembering Nonviolent History: Freedom Rides
Clancy Sigal
Rachel and the Isolationists: How Maddow Blew It
Laura Finley
Changing the Conversation About “The Woman Card”
CJ Hopkins
Coming this Summer … Revenge of the Bride of Sophie’s Choice
May 03, 2016
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Foreign Policy Resumé: What the Record Shows
Michèle Brand – Arun Gupta
What is the “Nuit Debout”?
Chuck Churchill
The Failures of Capitalism, Donald Trump and Right Wing Terror
Dave Marsh
Bernie and the Greens
John Wight
Zionism Should be on Trial, Not Ken Livingstone
Rev. John Dear
A Dweller in Peace: the Life and Times of Daniel Berrigan
Patrick Cockburn
Saudi Arabia’s Great Leap Forward: What Would Mao Think?
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Electoral Votes Matter: Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders vs Donald Trump
Chris Gilbert
Venezuela Today: This Must Be Progress
Pepe Escobar
The Calm Before the Coming Global Storm
Ruth Fowler
Intersecting with the Identity Police (Or Why I Stopped Writing Op-Eds)
Victor Lasa
The Battle Rages on in Spain: the Country Prepares for Repeat Elections in June
Jack Rasmus
Is the US Economy Heading for Recession?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail