The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

An ongoing survey of the Criterion Forum membership to create lists of the best films of each decade and genre.
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domino harvey
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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#851 Post by domino harvey » Sat Feb 04, 2017 3:28 pm

swo17 wrote:Malick made a western?
the New World

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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#852 Post by DarkImbecile » Sat Feb 04, 2017 3:36 pm

You could make arguments for Badlands and Days of Heaven, also.

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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#853 Post by domino harvey » Sat Feb 04, 2017 3:52 pm

Rayon Vert wrote:Ray, Fuller
I should probably revisit Forty Guns. I left five spots at the bottom of my list for new discoveries that don't seem to be forthcoming, so perhaps I should turn backwards to films I remember liking but not quite enough to list. I think Johnny Guitar is wildly overrated, but it's still a good and worthy film regardless of inflated rep. Ray's other westerns are a hard pass for me, though-- his Jesse James entry is his worst film!

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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#854 Post by Revelator » Sat Feb 04, 2017 4:04 pm

Hathaway has joined the parthenon? Why wasn't Sarris's ghost informed? Not that I object to the director of several excellent films being given his due, but if we're making a general rule, why use "auteur" when "good director" would just do just as well, since films in any genre usually have little chance of being good without a good director? True, a mediocre director might make a good film if he has an excellent script, cast, and cinematographer to work with, but the stars rarely align that way. It's more often that a good director (not necessarily great) is needed to pull together a production in order to make a good film.

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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#855 Post by domino harvey » Sat Feb 04, 2017 4:12 pm

You're right on Hathaway (though I am less enamored than either you or Rayon Vert), and in retrospect from my own list Henry King should really not be considered an auteur either but similarly a solid studio workhorse

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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#856 Post by Rayon Vert » Sat Feb 04, 2017 4:14 pm

domino harvey wrote:
Rayon Vert wrote:Ray, Fuller
I should probably revisit Forty Guns. I left five spots at the bottom of my list for new discoveries that don't seem to be forthcoming, so perhaps I should turn backwards to films I remember liking but not quite enough to list. I think Johnny Guitar is wildly overrated, but it's still a good and worthy film regardless of inflated rep. Ray's other westerns are a hard pass for me, though-- his Jesse James entry is his worst film!
Ha! Re: Ray's James. I like it, though I recognize it's not a great work. Wagner and Hunter produce no great acting, that’s for sure, but they’re competent and the flashbacks to the background of these antiheroes in the making add to an unassuming, lightly compelling western. The James brothers, especially Jesse, are a bit less existential heroes, western rebels without a cause, and there are themes here that recur in the rest of Ray’s work, such as youthful criminals and outsiders. The auteurist touch is light but it’s there if you seek it out.

Like you, I'm not head over heels in love with Johnny Guitar, though I recognize it's a strong work and, yes, Ray's best western. Run for Cover is the one I find forgettable. I prefer Fuller's war films and noirs to his westerns, but I definitely make an exception with the superior Forty Guns.

I'm not doing any rewatches for this project except the ones I'm covering for the All-Time list, but I'll definitely cobble up a list using my best guesses.

Here's a few that I didn't expect to like as much as I did.

Man without a Star (1955). Kirk Douglas is fantastic and makes this one a hell of a western. It wouldn’t be the same without him, but there are some subtle moral themes going on that also makes it stand out.

Rawhide (1951). The narration and musical flourishes set a very conventional Hollywood western tone but that immediately changes as the story starts. It’s a simple story of a stagecoach stop held ransom by a gang of thuggish thieves but it’s fairly realistic and extremely effective. It’s directed with confidence so that it’s both suspenseful and dramatic. The stellar actors and their performances are obviously what lift this material to the quality it attains, a nonheroic Tyrone Power as the stagecoach stop employee left standing, the gorgeous Susan Hayward as the feisty trapped visitor and Hugh Marlowe as the head of the baddies who’s not as vicious as some of his fellow thugs, most notably the vile Jack Elam who's very good also. Definitely underrated.

BTW, the John Sturges westerns I've seen I'd rate from mediocre-to-poor (Gunfight at the OK Corral, Last Train from Gun Hill) to vile (The Magnificent Seven). Seven is the western as the self-knowing, light-toned grinning Hollywood popcorn movie extravaganza but all of the supposed pizzazz just takes any drama or suspense away. Add to that that it’s just cliché-ridden from beginning to end, the script and dialogue are dull-witted, the characters of the “seven” are hardly developed and in between the short outburst of action it’s actually slow and plodding for the most part.

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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#857 Post by domino harvey » Sat Feb 04, 2017 4:18 pm

I'm no Sturges fan but he is wholly redeemed by Backlash, which is in my top ten yet again. It's basically a western version of North by Northwest in terms of freewheeling forward momentum and breezy star power

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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#858 Post by Rayon Vert » Sat Feb 04, 2017 4:21 pm

domino harvey wrote:I'm no Sturges fan but he is wholly redeemed by Backlash, which is in my top ten yet again. It's basically a western version of North by Northwest in terms of freewheeling forward momentum and breezy star power
I haven't seen it so I'll try to check it out at some point.

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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#859 Post by knives » Sun Feb 05, 2017 12:40 am

Wincer's defintely an auteur and there's an argument to be made for Warren and Barber as well.

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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#860 Post by domino harvey » Sun Feb 05, 2017 1:24 am

knives wrote:Wincer's defintely an auteur
I just looked at his filmography and, uh, [citation needed]

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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#861 Post by knives » Sun Feb 05, 2017 1:30 am

Why? He is widely acknowledged as a major figure of ozploitation who formed and developed a voice of unique cartoon violence. Your stance seems the more unusual one.

Edit: I'm dumb and got Wincer mixed up with Trenchard-Smith.

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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#862 Post by Rayon Vert » Sun Feb 05, 2017 2:18 am

Revelator wrote:Hathaway has joined the parthenon? Why wasn't Sarris's ghost informed? Not that I object to the director of several excellent films being given his due, but if we're making a general rule, why use "auteur" when "good director" would just do just as well, since films in any genre usually have little chance of being good without a good director? True, a mediocre director might make a good film if he has an excellent script, cast, and cinematographer to work with, but the stars rarely align that way. It's more often that a good director (not necessarily great) is needed to pull together a production in order to make a good film.
Good points, but re: Sarris: I'm not sure he wouldn't have characterized Hathaway as an auteur, albeit an inferior one to Ford or Hawks. I've understood him defining the term as a director having a recognizable voice (style, themes, etc.), and not as someone having produced better films. He puts Hathaway in the "Lightly Likeable" rank, along with other filmmakers like Curtiz, Berkeley, Daves and others that generally have some distinguishing directorial traits.

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The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#863 Post by FrauBlucher » Sun Feb 05, 2017 10:55 am

Revelator wrote:Hathaway has joined the parthenon? Why wasn't Sarris's ghost informed? Not that I object to the director of several excellent films being given his due, but if we're making a general rule, why use "auteur" when "good director" would just do just as well, since films in any genre usually have little chance of being good without a good director? True, a mediocre director might make a good film if he has an excellent script, cast, and cinematographer to work with, but the stars rarely align that way. It's more often that a good director (not necessarily great) is needed to pull together a production in order to make a good film.
Sorry for using a Noir and not a Western for the following example but this always sticks out in my mind. The Blue Dahlia under a very mediocre George Marshall is a good to very good film. If an auteur like Hawks, Walsh or Dmytryk made this it could go down as one of the all time noirs. All the elements were there. Marshall just couldn't add the right spices to bring this to greatness. Can anyone think of a similar film in the Western genre that would jump to the top of the list if directed by an Auteur?

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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#864 Post by Rayon Vert » Sun Feb 05, 2017 2:27 pm

FrauBlucher wrote: Can anyone think of a similar film in the Western genre that would jump to the top of the list if directed by an Auteur?
I'll attempt at answering your question by first stating that maybe there are auteurs and Auteurs. Hathaway and Wellman, for example, would fall into the former category. In that case, I would think Wellman's The Ox-Bow Incident would possibly jump to the top of the list if made by an Auteur like Ford. I don't value this film as highly as a lot of people. It starts off well with Henry Fonda playing an edgy character but it soon becomes apparent we’re into a pretty bleak though simple morality tale about mob justice that, though well-intentioned, is very heavy-handed. It’s also pretty stagey, and the subplot about the girlfriend is introduced only to be left hanging. Apparently I shared Sarris' appreciation of the movie, who thought it now looked "grotesque... with its painted backdrops treated like the natural vistas in a Ford Western." He said that even though Hollywood directors use fake sets, Wellman's technique can be criticized for emphasizing the fakery. I think both the problematic look of this film and the heavy-handedness in the treatment of the themes would have reduced or eliminated by someone like Ford. (Even though I think I remember - I could be wrong - that Ford said he admired this film.)

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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#865 Post by domino harvey » Sun Feb 05, 2017 2:34 pm

Not a fan of the Ox Bow Incident either, though perhaps it is best viewed as Fox's stab at the social problem pictures Warners were kings at in the decade prior. There's been a conscious effort lately to reclaim gifted jacks of all trades like Wellman and Walsh as auteurs, but I recall my Film Theory reader in college actually used Walsh as its primary exhibit on the shortcomings of the auteur theory

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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#866 Post by Satori » Sun Feb 05, 2017 3:16 pm

I think it all comes down to the version of the auteur theory (or "policy") we are using. Sarris, who was the fussiest of the auteur critics, had his three "levels": 1) they had to be technically proficient, 2) they had a "distinguishable personality," and 3) the "interior meaning" that came about through the tension between the filmmaker and the material (this is the part in the '62 essay where Sarris talks about the "soul" of the filmmaker). So for Sarris, Walsh and Wellman are definitely technically proficient, they might even have a distinguishable personality, but they wouldn't have the third level that someone like Ford would.

It was this third level that would decide who went into the "pantheon" and who was kept out, which I always found to be the most questionable part of Sarris's writing. He essentially used this part of his theory as a quasi-empirical way of justifying his own subjective taste.

Then there are people like Manny Farber, who celebrated directors like Walsh and Wellman precisely because they lacked that third level, which would be a sign of "elephant art" rather than the "termite art" he preferred.

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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#867 Post by knives » Sun Feb 05, 2017 4:04 pm

There's definitely an attempt to put directors out in terms of absolute values on this subject rather than the gradient levels that seem to actually exist especially now that it is basically impossible to have a pure journeyman. Certainly there are few on the scale were Curtiz was were you know for sure they were journeymen through and through regardless of talent. Still I don't it is terribly useful to dismiss as not an auteur, whatever other category you want to place them at, people like Walsh and Wellman just because their status as an author was not as blatant as the much talked about director-producers like Hitchcock and Preminger. Especially in the studio period it seems more useful to me to discuss things in terms of co-auteurs were Sarris' number three is developed not necessarily over the material, but over the personalities making the film. There's flashes of auteurism in these jack of all trades to me due to how they buck the conventional digression of their auteur producers. Freed's unit or Val Lewton seems like the best mini-example from the era where the producer s clearly an auteur with a flavour, but there comes out of it widely different films due to directors who deal with the problems of showing a script differently. So while unlike Ford I don't think Walsh had it in him to be the totality of a picture, he certainly made a huge show f each picture he was a part of. Even something as different from what is expected of him like The Strawberry Blonde still comes across like a Walsh picture even if it is also someone else's.

Basically I find Chabrol's various, often sarcastic, statements to hold more water than Sarris' or Truffaut's.

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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#868 Post by zedz » Mon Feb 06, 2017 5:07 pm

domino harvey wrote:Not a fan of the Ox Bow Incident either, though perhaps it is best viewed as Fox's stab at the social problem pictures Warners were kings at in the decade prior. There's been a conscious effort lately to reclaim gifted jacks of all trades like Wellman and Walsh as auteurs, but I recall my Film Theory reader in college actually used Walsh as its primary exhibit on the shortcomings of the auteur theory
If Walsh isn't considered an auteur, it's only because those doing the considering haven't paid enough attention to his work. His mise en scene has a consistent visual signature (specifically regarding the staging of action in depth, e.g. the direct interaction of foreground with extreme background) and he has his own recurrent themes and tropes just like Hawks or Hitchcock (e.g. a fascination with gadgetry).

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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#869 Post by knives » Wed Feb 15, 2017 2:24 pm

Blue--------Narizzano
This is something I haven't been able to say in a while: what an interesting western. Which is not to say it is a great film, it might not even be a good one to be honest, but it at least has a speck of interest which in a genre filled with filler is enough to satisfy at the moment. The basic logline is a generic hero torn between loyalties storyline that goes more or less as expected but a few stylistic flourishes and unexpected themes make this a pretty satisfying experience. The most interesting thing, as I suppose it should be, is Stamp's character who he plays as a silent Moses figure exiled by land, people. and sexuality. The interplay between those last two while homophobic is where all the real stakes are in the film. He's played as a bisexual who confronts his sexual preferences by applying his disgust with himself as something of a homosexual bandito while engaging in a heterosexual want only once he is able to return to America.

I should say this isn't just some suggested homoerotism either. The movie is pretty explicit about his disdain for sex with Mexican women, and only women, with him kissing men as a sort of death struggle (Stamp inevitably shoots the men he's laid his eyes on). That he is finally given a voice once tidied up with the Americans and heterosexuality is a bit like the final though totally expected punchline in this grand joke.


Now time to go back to the filler
Blackthorn
This isn't any great thing let alone the 100 minutes of Shepard doing his shtick the the opening promises, but it's still pretty good running better than the Hill film for me (though less than the Lester just to highlight my insanity). We do get a lot of Shepard goofing off, though it is attached to a story that is as generic as you could think of with only the Bolivian setting providing something fresh. The big scene with Rea after the shootout is great though.

The Salvation
This starts off with an interesting premise, but quickly devolves into a dull shoot 'em up whose central conflict makes no sense except as a device to make a conflict. Mikkelsen is quite good doing a variation of his tired, sad man routine from the Susanne Bier films. It really elevates the film and probably is the sole reason that the beginning suggests a soulful examination of the harsh realities of immigration. Making it a variation of High Noon rather than a straight revenge picture prevents it from being too boring, but that's the best compliment available.

The Homesman
This is a pretty impressive film even if a lot of the editing choices are unsuccessful and Jones' whole character seems struck from a different and goofier film. This does a tough trick of believing in the essence of the west while showing how nasty that reality ultimately is. A huge part of what makes that work is the actors who all show an age and wear upon their bodies that achieves such a verisimilitude of pioneering that they practically mitigate Jones' weirder choices. Swank in particular is amazing in just the way needed to ensure an understanding of why someone would try to live through the harsh weather and loneliness along with what is needed to succeed at that.

Bone Tomahawk
This is a loooooooong movie. A good majority of its problems could be solved by tightening it up especially in its setup which really doesn't give any essential information nor character building. Beyond this pretty big flaw it's about as good as a horror western version of The Hills Have Eyes could be expected to be. A lot of the good will comes from the cast which should be a given to anyone who knows anything about American film across the last three decades. You even have Sid Haig managing as a modern day Royal Dano in the opening.

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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#870 Post by domino harvey » Fri Feb 17, 2017 10:48 pm

Reminder that ballots are due in about three weeks. Get your cows in a row and submit!

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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#871 Post by knives » Wed Feb 22, 2017 9:19 pm

Django, Kill...If You Live, Shoot!
This is pretty odd for a spaghetti. While the film in its dialogue and other narrative scenes is an engaging and fabulous film. The action though is mind numbing and totally disengaging. It just seems to be shot after shot after shot after shot etc of people firing guns without purpose or sense. Pretty much the only good action scene happens about a half hour in and it is more of a scene from a horror film than a true blue action sequence. The plot of the film, golden bullets, is pure cartoon silliness, but accepting that the messages on greed is engagingly presented. Questi makes up his lack of novelty (colonialism is evil is not exactly a new idea to the genre) by going as far as he seemingly can afford such as with a scene where people rip apart a man for the possibility of gold resting inside him. There is so much here reminiscent of Borowczyk's obsessions with a distinctly Flaubertian past and the act of watching as a capitalist evil.

Thomas Milian is particularly great as the lead showcasing again why he's one of the most underrated actors from the era. It's pretty easy to overplay or underplay this character with even the best films removing the sense of enigma with the lead's performance. Milian though seems utterly comfortable being nobody, almost invisible to the film he's in, yet he also does not sink into a shoddy stiff performance which is so common among the lesser films of the genre. There's a thinking human present. He just happens to not be involved with sharing those thoughts. Admittedly a lot of that is the script. This is probably the most involved stranger of any of these films making it impossible to imitate fully Eastwood. The closest comparison I can think of is Stamp in The Limey. I suspect this one will improve a lot on rewatch and certainly in memory.

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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#872 Post by swo17 » Wed Mar 01, 2017 5:25 pm

I see IMDb calls Jauja a western. Thoughts?

Also, just for fun, here's Peter Tscherkassky's take on Leone.

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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#873 Post by domino harvey » Wed Mar 01, 2017 5:35 pm

I'm not voting for it but I think it is one

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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#874 Post by domino harvey » Wed Mar 01, 2017 8:32 pm

Lists are due in a week! So far I've received one list, so, you know, submit sometime in the next week

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Re: The Western List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Proje

#875 Post by zedz » Wed Mar 01, 2017 8:46 pm

domino harvey wrote:I'm not voting for it but I think it is one
It's a riff on The Searchers, set in a 19th century frontier wilderness. There are Native Americans, and Viggo wears a hat and rides a horse, so I'd agree.

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