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August 1994


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Derek Bouse <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 31 Aug 1994 17:25:13 -0500
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
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My complaint with TOMBSTONE was that its makers seemed to
embrace the 'more is more' philosophy.  They couldn't have
car chases and explosions, so they heaped on the costumes,
the make up, the set design.  There was TOO MUCH of everything,
including editing.
One need only look at RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY to see that a western
need not be cluttered with 19th century icons to be a western.
TOMBSTONE's characters, by contrast, were all overdressed
(especially Powers Boothe) in an attempt to re-create old
photographs -- or something.  It was, in a word, too busy.
One of my favorite tellings of the Earp legend is Sturges's
HOUR OF THE GUN (1967).  The script is a learned study of
frontier politics, jurisdictional disputes (local vs. feds),
finance, and empire building.  Robards made a great tubercular
Holiday, and James Garner was uncharacteristically steely as
a revenge obsessed Earp.   All this with no more than the
minimum necessary iconography, costume, and mise-en-scene.
What concerns me, with regard to the recrudescence of the Western
genre, is that filmmakers today seem to think it is a matter
of mise-en-scene, of creating the right 'look,'
and heaping on as much as possible.
It is also worth reminding that 19th century America
west of the Mississippi was not a war zone.
William Henry Jackson, the great expeditionary photographer,
reports never having had to use, or even carry a gun,
and NO ONE travelled the west more than he, or for longer.
The urban model (of violence in society) is the one that
filmmakers today know, so that is the one they apply to
making westerns; thus, there is too much of everything
to be credible any more -- especially gunfighting.
I say less is more.  See THE HIRED HAND (1971), WILL PENNY (1968),
or HEARTLAND (1980).
Derek Bouse