A lone cowboy rides into town… confronts the bad guys in a mad melee of shooting… and then rides off into the sunset. The western movie formula is simple, with minimal characterization, plot twists, and surprises.
So why have westerns held such fascination for moviegoers for so long, and why did we choose to salute the western during this first film festival in Three Rivers?
It’s not that they give us a glimpse of the true Old West. A depiction of real frontier life would be pretty dull, with long stretches of hunger and boredom.
The reason lies in the iconic figure of the Cowboy himself, not so different from the knight in European fiction or the ronin in Japanese culture. An imperfect warrior with a code of honor, the Cowboy never settles, just roams a lawless landscape where life has little value, dispensing instant justice and then moving on.
This is a character that has deep roots in all cultures and embodies notions of individualism. And because of his iconic appeal to an international audience, the Cowboy became representative of America itself.
So what’s the (pun intended) draw for a 21st century audience? For one, westerns portray a simpler world of good and bad, absent things like bureaucracy and traffic jams and cell phone glitches. We’re drawn to an era when people told time by the sun and bathed once a year in water troughs.
For another, the conflicts dramatized in westerns reflect the deeper issues that trouble any era: how to administer justice, how to allocate resources, how to diminish violence. We’re emotionally invested in these stories because at their heart they are the struggles we worry about, too. We’ll explore this at the film festival when Bill Haxton talks about High Noon and western author/screenwriter Courtney Joyner talks about westerns pre- and post-1960. Director Arlene Bogna will talk about making westerns today.
Why did we choose westerns for the film festival? Mostly, we loved the idea of getting together to have fun outdoors and explore the connections between past and present, between cinema and reality, in our own little western town.
We hope you’ll put on your hat and spurs and come on out to take a ride in a covered wagon, marvel at the hair-raising feats of the amazing Riata Ranch Cowboy Girls, and stay for the cinematic exploits of Gary Cooper and John Wayne. See you at the movies!