Friday, October 28, 2016

Top 12 TV Westerns

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Larry McMurtry vs. Cormac McCarthy

"As codified by Texas literary giants like Walter Prescott Webb and T. R. Fehrenbach, our quasi-religious history has often resembled historical fiction—a triumphalist mythology that a generation of “revisionist” (i.e., factual) historians has largely failed to budge from our collective psyche. Instead, ironically, the task of debunking all those popular misconceptions has fallen to contemporary Western novelists. Historical revisionism, it seems, wears better in cowboy boots; over the past three decades, the nihilistic anti-heroism of McCarthy’s Blood Meridian (1985) has evolved into Meyer’s more complex but no less morally desolate frontier, where everyone is either a victim or a thief. While the new offerings by Wittliff, McMurtry, and Guinn are considerably less apocalyptic in tone than McCarthy’s and Meyer’s books, they similarly challenge old-school readers with timely meditations on racism, sexism, and even economic inequality. "

Five Sundowns episode of Bonanza

Watched two Bonanza episodes recently. I remember my old man watching reruns of Bonanza when I was a kid but I haven’t really watched the show as an adult. The two episodes we watched were “Hound Dog” and “Five Sundowns to Sunup”. Bonanza was a show that offered different types of episodes ranging from the comedic to the suspenseful and dramatic.  “Hound Dog” was the former and “Five Sundowns” was the latter.

“Hound Dogs” doesn’t really hold up well but “Five Sundowns”, directed by veteran director Gerd Oswald, holds up really well.

It opens with a man sitting on the roof of a building, holding a shotgun, keeping a watchful eye over the town. It’s clear something just happened and we’ll find out what in short time. The sheriff has been shot, Ben Cartright steps up to wear the badge. Before long the battle lines are drawn and both sides are heading for a reckoning.  There is a definite Rio Bravo influence. It is a great western story condensed to a shorter time frame. The plan that the bad guys hatch is simple and effective. The stakes are effectively raised. The only downside is that the resolution is a little forced for such a dark set up but that is due to this being a series rather then a film and as such a couple of potentially dark avenues aren’t really explored.

The episode is available to watch on Youtube. I suggest checking it out.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Genre and the geographies of violence: Cormac McCarthy and the contemporary western.

Really interesting paper from Susan Kollin


If we take seriously Robinson's observations about the self-subversion of traditional Westerns, the ways even classic Westerns contain elements that overturn their dominant themes, then the generic distinctions defining Western texts as traditional or revisionist ultimately fail us, as the concept of a purely faithful or fully critical text loses its explanatory power.(FN2) If classic Westerns contain moments of resistance and self-reflection, carrying with them their own critique, to what extent might anti-Westerns preserve moments of desire, moments of connection and identification with elements of the classic Western? Perhaps the genre might better be understood as a continuum, its critique operating along a spectrum. On the one end may be found the classic Western, which upholds--with varying degrees of success--the codes and conventions of the form, its Anglo male protagonist, and the national project, but which contains resistant elements that undermine its cultural logic and status as a discrete, coherent entity. On the other end may be found the anti-Western, itself an unstable and shifting form that engages in a critical dialogue with the genre but that is also shaped by a certain desire for and attraction to the classic features of the Western. By understanding the Western as a genre structured by competing and contradictory impulses, audiences may make better sense of McCarthy's--and by extension McMurtry's--shifting treatment of the form.

Western article from 1985

From the September 20, 1985 edition of  The Day. "Western Novels Ride High Again" by Edwin McDowell.


Some western writers contend that the western fell  into decline because of the rise of the "adult western," books with a western setting that are really about sex and violence. But its fall from popularity, in bookstores, at the box office and on television, more probably resulted from the black-white world that it projected, a world that struck many people as unrealistic and offensive.

7 Plots for Westerns (1960)

In an earlier post I posted about the four types of western stories. I was doing some digging and found this AP article in the May 19, 1960 edition of the Kentucky New Era titled "7 Plots for Westerns" by Cynthia Lowry.


Frank Gruber, writer of westerns and currently producer of "Shotgun Slade" once made a list of the seven basic plots for westerns.

They are:

The Marshall Story--exploits of the dedicated peace officer.

The Outlaw Story--adventures, sympathetically treated, of the badman (but the badman dies at the end.

The Ranch Story--the adventures of the working cattle-raisers.

The Revenge Story--the hero tracks down the villain or vise-versa.

The Cavalry-and-Indians story--variations of the Custer's Last Stand theme.

The Empire Story--sagas of the cattle barons.

The Union Pacific Story--bringing transportation or communications to the West.

Naturally, nothing new has been added during the last two years.

The Western flavor however, is so standardized that most of us can tell what kind of show it will be just from the title: "Bronco," "Gunsmoke," "Wanted Dead or Alive," "Overland Trail." This season there was "Hotel de Paree," which might have been anything so next year it will be called "Sundance," which is more like it.
Heath Lowrance on weird westerns

Interview with Red Seven author Robert Dean

New interview series over at Spinetingler with western authors.  First up, Red Seven author Robert Dead.

Note: Interview will appear here after Spinetingler.

Haints Stay and some thoughts on revisionist westerns

[I wrote a little something on revisionist western novels. I'm not an expert, only an aficionado, and I'm still thinking on the subject so this may be a little rough and evolving. But it was something I wanted to write.]

this piece originally appeared at Spinetingler on August 3, 2016

Haints Stay seems to occupy a space where the prime influence is Blood Meridian. I want to talk a little about that space.

When Cormac McCarthy wrote Blood Meridian he approached the western from an honest place, meaning he genuinely liked the genre and Blood Meridian came from a long gestation of consuming the genre. Blood Meridian is a very popular book and it’s influence cannot be overstated. This is, potentially, a problem because subsequent writers carry Blood Meridian as a primary influence without all of the ground work that influenced McCarthy’s writing of it. Kind of like a history book that cites only secondary influences.

"I want only to underscore the point I made earlier about the absence of a present in western literature and in the whole tradition we call western. It remains rooted in the historic, the rural, the heroic that does not take into account time and change. This means that it has no future, either. Nostalgia, however tempting, is not enough; disgust for the shoddy present is not enough; and forgetting the past entirely is a dehumanizing error…Millions of Westerners, old and new, have no sense of a personal and possessed past; no sense of any continuity between the real Western past, which has been mythologized almost out of recognizability, and a real Western present that seems as cut off and pointless as a ride on a merrygo- round that can’t be stopped.… If you are any part of an artist, and a lot of people are some part of one…then I think you don’t choose between the past and the present, you try to find the connections, you try to make the one serve the other." -- Wallace Stegner