Vote for Your Top 20 US Westerns

(Bible Joe) #121

I love westerns very much. I have seen a few hundred so far, almost none of which I didn’t enjoy. So I’d say I’ve seen many great westerns and do love the genre. :wink:
As far as parameters go, I think it’s generally difficult determining what constitues a genre, and even more so what doesn’t. For me it’s probably something like this: if a film has enough elements of a genre in it, Iwould count it as belonging to that genre - even if the film has more elements of other genres beside the one I’m interested in. Generally I think genre itself is something that is constantly changing, not just through new films, but also through the discovery of old films and especially new “views” on older films, so to speak. So there are always many fluctuations, and new genres emerging, and while many prominent genres usually have quite a solid core, the edges of this conceptual model are not solid at all. Genre is very much a construct, something that keeps growing and changing and is hard to pin down in every case. One important thing imo, is also surely the fact that most films are located in several genres at the same time (or at least 2), and it is very very difficult to find a film that belongs only to one genre (I can’t think of one from the top of my head). Regarding westerns, I think it’s difficult to find one that isn’t at the same time an action film, or a drama, or a comedy, to list only the most prominent examples.
I hope this explains my position a bit. Also, when I compiled the Top 20 (which took a while), I didn’t try to think of typical westerns and then list the 20 that come to my mind, but I took a different approach, in that I went through all my favorite films from any country and any genre, than picked out the US films, and then picked out the films I would consider a western, and then reduce it to the 20 I love the most. The result was very surprising for me also! Some of the films on the final list I hadn’t regarded as westerns before, but simply because I hadn’t thought about it. The Chaplin film for example, was just a Chaplin film so far (Chaplin is also my absolute favorite director), of course a comedy, but I hadn’t given it any thought regarding genre before. But of course it is set in the wild west, during the gold rush, so it’s a typical western in this regard, and when I recalled some scenes from it, there were so many western elements in them.
Maybe most of us, when we think of a genre, we usually start with the most typical films, and then we think about films that are similar to the most typical films. But nowadays I think this approach is flawed, as it has one big problem: it solely focuses on the core elements, and disregards the fringes, meaning: Why not try it the other way, and see what minimum criteria a film has to fulfill in order to be part of a genre in one’s opinion? Is this a less valid approach? I don’t think so. Thus with going by the approach of “is this a western?” instead of “is this a typical western?” I was able to surprise myself, when I found out that some films I hadn’t thought of before as westerns I actually regarded as westerns, after I questioned them. I like this approach, because it also seems to broaden the core of a genre and makes you realize how genres come to exist in the first place and how alive this terminology actually is.

EDIT: And of course as we all know there are many different kinds of westerns, e.g. revenge films, Civil war films, films about Indians, about settlers, about father-son conflicts, about political themes, about the western myth itself, etc.pp.

(Stanton) #122

But some of your films are comedies at first. Keaton and Chaplin. There is a western setting, but these are still comedies.

Ohh, nad then, Keaton’s western comedy is Go West. I don’t remember any western elements in Our Hospitality.

Other films like Birth of a Nation, The Wind and The New world are also not westerns imo. Nor is The Beguiled, which at least is a border case, or a half-western.

(Phil H) #123

An interesting argument, Bible Joe and intelligently made but I find myself in total disagreement I’m afraid.

Genres do change, it is true, but they do so through slight twists to a recognised formula. With clearly understood iconography, characters and mis en scene. The body or core of the genre remains in place as the framework from which individual works can pull against. It is this core which makes it generic in the first place. Sharing one or two elements with a particular genre doesn’t necessarily categorise a film into that group. It just means it has trace elements. If every film with native Americans in it is a western then One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a western. In fact it is set on the Pacific coast so that would put it one up on The New World which is set on the Atlantic. I understand the ideal of a more open interpretation but, for me, the whole point of having genres is that give the viewer or reader something familiar and concrete to hold onto while the film maker or author takes them on a journey and, hopefully, plays around with the conventions a little; just enough to make it interesting and ask some questions.

In regards to films like The Gold Rush I have no problem. This is a film like many others with its feet in more than one camp and which uses generic expectations from both. It’s a comedy western in the same way that the Trinity films are or Blazing saddles. Perhaps more one than the other but I can see them qualifying as both.

In short, for me to accept a film as belonging to any particular genre I would expect it to exhibit most of that genre’s accepted tropes, not just some or one of them.

(Stanton) #124

The Gold Rush is much less a western than the Trinity film or Blazing Saddles, or all the other western comedies by comediens like Lewis/Martin, The Marx Bros, Bob Hope, Helge Schneider or whoever.

(Phil H) #125

I would agree Stanton in that it is not such an open parody of the western genre but I can also see that it does share a number of western trappings.

(Stanton) #126

Does it? I never viewed it as a western.

(Phil H) #127

Tenuous I admit but there is the far west setting, the prospectors, the outlaw, the lawmen

(Bible Joe) #128

Yes, I agree that some of them are border cases, but for me they fell on the right side of the border, so to speak. As I wrote, I think there is a grey area in every genre, but instead of leaving it grey and sticking to the safer bets, I asked myself the question “do I think it’s a western?”, and came to the conclusion that for me, yes, it is. Funnily, over on the Top 20 spaghetti westerns-thread I seem to be much stricter than other people though, when I mentioned that for me Taste of Violence, Trinity sees Red or Duck, you sucker are not westerns. :stuck_out_tongue: I can see for example why someone would consider Leone’s Duck you Sucker as a western, and I accept that view as a consensus among certain people, even though I don’t share it.
I don’t believe genres have a firm and unshakable core as I understood Phil H’s above description. One of my favorite examples for very different opinions of what constitues a genre and where the borders have to be drawn, is film noir, where conventional wisdom was for a long time, that it is an American genre of films from roughly between 1940 and 1955, while I have read more recent academic work, where films from the 20s and the new millenium are put on the same level, and not just as precursors or neo-noir. Or still some people that don’t think film noir is a genre at all. And that’s just the so-called “experts” who are widely disagreeing. Among general films fans there’s surely even more discrepancy.
So I’m not trying to make a case for some films being westerns here, just saying, that for me, for now (of course my opinion might change in the future, as it definitely has in the past), they are.

The films from my Top 20 I was really unsure about, and whch were for me the most difficult border cases are The New World, The Wind, and An American Tail.

Our Hospitality is set in the 1830s, but Keaton made more typical westerns with Go West and The General and as far as I recall also some western shorts. Too bad he’s rarely mentioned when it comes to directors who made some great westerns.

(Bible Joe) #129

I basically agree, but as I tried to describe in my above long post I’m trying to avoid an either/or approach when it comes to different genre elements. Yes, I’d say the Chaplin is a comedy (though not a comedy first and foremost - I think it’s maybe more of a dramatic film with comedic touches), and the Keaton is imo absolutely and in the total sense of the name as pure a comedy as one could get. But they’re not just comedies. I really think they are also westerns, the Chaplin maybe more obviously as the Keaton. I think a good comparison is Maverick, which is also very much a comedy, but is also an adventure film (imo), a gambling film, and of course (at least for me) definitely a western (and one where I don’t even have to think about naming it as a western, as it has all of the core elements). Or take Trinity is still my name.
For me a film might have many things in common with a Western another might be lacking many other things, and still the second might make my cut and the first not. It’s difficult, and as I said many people have many different criteria, and some things weigh more heavy than others (e.g. Walter Hill’s Last Man Standing may be a remake of Fistful of Dollars but while it has a lot of elements in common with the western genre, the fact that it is set in 1995 automatically disqualifies it for me. On the other hand, there are even science fiction films that I would regard as westerns, e.g. people imagining themselves to be in the west, or traveling to the west, or even being in space (one of the most bizarre examples of a western for me is BraveStarr: The Movie (1988)).

I guess I might have a marginal opinion regarding general definitions of the western genre, but I think it’s a valid one (meaning: based on an informed opinion). But of course everyone would say that of their opinions (or at least about the ones which they think they have sufficiently thought about). ;D

(Phil H) #130

“Our Hospitality is set in the 1830s, but Keaton made more typical westerns with Go West and The General and as far as I recall also some western shorts. Too bad he’s rarely mentioned when it comes to directors who made some great westerns.”

Well, maybe because not so many people consider his films westerns. :wink:
He is certainly well enough thought of as a maker of comedies.

(Bible Joe) #131

PS: I think one of the biggest “problems” when discussing films in general is this “either/or” approach that I see with many filmfans, where a film has to be put in a certain category and NOT in another (even if sometimes other traits are at least aknowledged). I think that happens in the most classic example when people want to decide whether a film is good OR bad. And many people have certain (personal) fixed criteria for judging a film. I am not one of those people, and I try to avoid that view on film in general, so that for me a film is often something AND something AND again something else. Of course in the end one has to draw a line somewhere most of the time (like the crucial question “well is it or isn’t it for you”) and while I sometimes have to leave a film in a “grey” area, I often am able to say for myself what it is. But I think that doesn’t exclude other things a film is at the same time.
Maybe a playful example could be: You think a certain film is not a western, I think a certain film is. The bigger picture would be there are two differing opinions at the same time which are completely contradictory. But who says one of us is right? Maybe we are both wrong?, etc. Surely all this also has a bit to do with how one sees life in general. :wink:

Whatever, I have written so much here, but what it comes down to is well, everyone obviously has a (slightly) different take on these things. ;D

(Bible Joe) #132

[quote=“Phil H, post:130, topic:3170”]“Our Hospitality is set in the 1830s, but Keaton made more typical westerns with Go West and The General and as far as I recall also some western shorts. Too bad he’s rarely mentioned when it comes to directors who made some great westerns.”

Well, maybe because not so many people consider his films westerns. :wink:
He is certainly well enough thought of as a maker of comedies.[/quote]

Yes indeed. I often encounter strange looks, when I say Chaplin is for me the best director. And for some people it might be strange if someone says Bad Grandpa is a better film than Citizen Kane, simply because the one is a comedy, and the other is a dramatic film. Meaning comedy is often still not taken as “serious”. And of course it sounds a bit bizarre if someone says he prefers the films of Demofilo Fidani to the films of Leone (to return back on topic ;)), but I think those people are not crazy, but simply have a different opinion, to take a rather extreme example. Maybe it all comes down to this: I think there are no fixed rules as to what is and is not a certain film, if it is about taste or if it is about theory. And maybe we can all agree that the term genre itself at least is an invention a useful construct. Which means for me, that it can change. I don’t see films as something scientific were one could be able to find or determine some rules, that are “really” valid, or which will last forever.

(Stanton) #133

I don’t do this either.

The most important point for me is how much a film entertains me, how much a film fascinates me. These genre discussions are fun, but not important for the fun I have while watching films.

And calling a film a comedy isn’t an evaluation, it is only a statement. Of course can comedies be as good or great (or bad) as any other film, and a good comedy is not less valuable than a good drama film.

(Bible Joe) #134

So at least we totally agree in this regard. :smiley:

(Bad Lieutenant) #135

The western is the only genre that has a fixed setting. One could say that therefore the western is not even a genre. Not that I’m saying that, by the way. It has earned its place.

But, for example, most spaghetti westerns are just simple crime movies taking place in the Wild West.

Saying something is a comedy western, and therefore not really a western makes no sense. If it’s set in the Wild West in that particular era, it’s a western.
Same goes for action westerns, porn westerns, drama westerns etc.

(Stanton) #136

Well, yes, but comedies work different than all the the other dramatic genres. I think it is more difficult to compare the merits of comedies to the merits of most other genres.

And Porn is of course also very different from the rest.

Another sort of westerns which are not westerns in the first place are melodramatic westerns when the melodramatic parts are the center of the film. Gone with the Wind is not a western.

The definition what is a western and what not is on one hand a specific one, but in reality on the other hand a pretty loose one.

(Stanton) #137

We agree in more things than it seems for the moment.

(Bible Joe) #138


(Bible Joe) #139

After reading a bit more through all the posts in the thread, and seeing (again) my strange list in comparison to most of the other lists ( ;D), here’s some more typical US-western films that I love and also could make my Top 20 at another day and I would have ranked somewhere between 21. and 40.: High Noon, El Dorado, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Rio Grande, The Missouri Breaks, Little Big Man, The Great K & A Train Robbery, Open Range, Yellow Sky, Quantez, The Big Country, Broken Lance, Long Riders, Barquero, etc. We should be allowed to make a Top 50, then maybe the individual tatses would be better represented. :wink: And as it is leading by such a HUGE margin on the last “master-list” I have to admit something shameful: although I am a fan of Peckinpah, I don’t like The Wild Bunch… I promise to watch it again sometime, and maybe I’ll like it better then.

But what I wanted to ask? Will there be another update of the master-list anytime soon, John Welles?

And I had an idea while reading all the posts: How about a new thread, combining Italo- and US-Westerns (and maybe also other westerns) and voting for a combined Top 20 (or Top 30 or 50) ? I’m sure that would make for some very interesting “comparisons” and causing some controversy.

(Bible Joe) #140

I was lucky to catch it at a cinematheque showing (an excellent 16mm US-print), and was blown away by it. Here I found a short and quite poignant description of it in English:, and I also found a long text about Borzage’s early westerns (which look very interesting!) in French, but my french is not sufficient to understand most of it. Still, maybe you understand the language:

Btw. the film takes place mostly at the border between USA and Canada (somewhere in the 1880s, I believe), and one of the heros of the film is actually a mountie! :stuck_out_tongue:

EDIT: Just found out that 3 early Borzage westerns have actually been released on DVD: I was wondering why the screenshots in the French article looked so good… ;D