I just recently discovered Simon’s Western blog.
He’s doing some nice work over there.
The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra / Raine
Westerns on the Blog
A blog dedicated to western movies
September 17, 2019
Along with Clint Eastwood’s Pale Rider, Lawrence Kasdan’s Silverado was supposed to breathe new life into the western genre in the mid-eighties. It failed to do so. Reviews were positive, the film was even nominated for two (minor) Academy Awards, but moviegoers where underwhelmed. It did a lot better when released on videocasette and was one of those movies that drew Hollywood’s attention to the new market.
The film’s story is classic western stuff: A cowboy named Emmett saves a man called Paden, who was left behind in the desert by bandits who had stolen all his possessions, including his horse and (worst of all) his hat. Emmett and Paden head for the town of Silverado, were Emmett was born. En route they pick up Emmett’s younger brother Jake, a womanizer and gunslinger, who invariably gets into trouble by courting the ladies and shooting their lovers (in self-defense, of course). They are joined by a fourth man, Mal, a former slave turned farmer, who is looking for the murderers of his father. The town of Silverado is dominated by the McKendriks clan, long-time enemies of Emmett’s and Jake’s family. The sheriff is one of Paden’s old ‘pals’, a guy with a very dubious background, and Mal also thinks the men he’s looking for are hiding out in the town of Silverado …
Silverado is a lot of fun to watch. The mosaic script with four leads and multiple storylines may cause some confusion, but there’s plenty of action and in spite of a running time of more than two hours the movie is over before you know it. But if a movie aspires to revive a moribund genre, it must shed a new light on traditional genre elements, and this is exactly what Silverado fails to do. Like I have stated before, movies reflect as much the time in which they were made as the time in which they are set. If Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch was the prototypical American western of the late sixties, Silverado is the prototypical American western of the mid-eighties. It was not only made in the 80s, it breathes the 80s. No surprise if you know director Lawrence Kasdan contributed to the scripts of Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Empire strikes back. He called his own movie his ‘Western Raiders of the Lost Ark’.
The Sixties were a period of change and turmoil, and the best westerns from the late Sixties, early Seventies, were preoccupied with themes such as the closing of the frontier and the transition to a new era (The Wild Bunch, Monte Walsh), the outlaw as a folk hero (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid) or the plight of the red man (Soldier Blue, Little Big Man, Ulzana’s Raid). The excessive violence in some of these movies was often interpreted as a reaction to the Vietnam war. It’s significant that several movies from the period featured juvenile character who were exposed to dangerous situations (The Culpepper Cattle Company, Bad Company).
Those movies weren’t all masterpieces, but they were thought-provoking, and dared to be dirty and violent. The American society was re-inventing itself, and so was that American genre par excellence, the western. The eighties were a decade characterized by a new national (nationalist) awareness. It also was a typical ‘bourgeois’ decade, hostile to true art. Don’t get this wrong: Art has no specific political color, it can be either left-wing or right-wing, but it is by definition challenging, thought-provoking. Like Roland Barthes stipulated in his classic study Mythologies, bourgeois society has two ways of dealing with art that challenges its nature: it either denies it, or tries to convert it. Silverado is very much a conversion, bourgeois style, of what the western had been in the previous decades. Instead of challenging and thought-provoking, Silverado is reassuring; it’s crammed with action, but it’s never dirty or nasty, it’s all clean fun for the entire family. People who usually do not love westerns, tend to love it more that fans of the genre. The four leads are fine (especially Costner, who still was some kind of ‘coming man’ in those days), but their motivations and actions are purely rhetorical. No wonder some of the supporting actors steal the show: Jeff Goldblume is well-cast as a perfidious card player and Brian Dennehy is a true delight as the corrupt sheriff of Silverado. There are also a nice cameo appearances by Linda Hunt and especially John Cleese as a sheriff who’s definitely not from these parts.
(1985 – Dir: Lawrence Kasdan – Cast: Kevin Kline (Paden), Scott Glenn (Emmett), Kevin Costner (Jake), Danny Glover (Mal), John Cleese, Jeff Goldblume, Rosanna Arquette, Brian Dennehy, Linda Hunt)
Nicely done Simon. This is a Favorite of mine. I’ve got to get it up there soon. Every time it’s on TV I can’t help but watch it. You’re right about hopes of reviving the popularity of Westerns. That may never happen. BUT I still say that most Directors and Actors want to do a Western some day. And they will. So Westerns are not dead. The main problem (IMO) is that some folks seem to think they have to re-invent the Western. Why? We still have a ton of great stories, yarns and great Western literature to draw from. All Movie worthy. Yet some are getting it right: ‘Unforgiven’, ‘True Grit’ ‘The Revenant’ … Westerns are still coming and always will.
Ride on my friend.