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June 1994


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
David Desser <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 6 Jun 1994 08:24:32 -0500
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
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>>     It was disappointing because I had hoped I would enjoy it more, a
>> simple matter of expectations vs. reality.  More to the point, the
>> filmmakers seem to have done everything they could to remove the elements
>> of "the Western" from the film or by using "standard" Western elements in
>> either arbitrary ways or with a degree of self-consciousness and archness
>> as to make the motif meaningless.
>>     Not to make an "academic" issue out of all this (a temptation that as
>> the editor of _Cinema Journal_ I find hard to resist!) but the best
>> Westerns say something about American history and culture through the
>> mythical-historical period of the taming of the frontier.  What does
>> _Maverick_ have to offer>
>  A look at Maverick will
>> reveal more in common with _The Sting_ than say, virtually any Western of
>> the classic era (1946-1975).
>> David Desser, Cinema Studies
>It's very interesting that you mention _The Sting_ in relation to
>_Maverick because, if I'm not mistaken, Paul Newman was first picked to
>play Garner's role as Sheriff Cooper. But more to the point, it's
>true _Maverick_
>has little in common with the traditional Western save for one:  "Maverick,"
>the television series; and I think, at least in part, that's what Donner
>was attempting to recapture--the playful nature of the series. And that's
>the key to  fully appreciating the film.
>But even more importantly, your criticism of _Maverick_ rings hollow
>because saying _Maverick_ is not a traditional Western like _Stagecoach_
>,for instance,  is like saying _Finnegan's Wake_ is not a traditional
>novel like _Pride and Prejudice_. In other words, since when are there
>hard and fast rules about how a Western should play or what it should
>show or what we should "learn" from it? Further, what kind of media would
>exist if  prescriptive rules were steadfastly kept in place? I suspect
>any genre sooner or later would fall flat, become stale, which is
>precisely what happened to the traditional Western form.
>But back to the playfulness of _Maverick_. The film, the form itself, is
>clearly a poker game replete with bluffs, tricks, cheating, gameplaying,
>etc. These are enmeshed in the very nature of its presentation. It is,
>in the postmodern sense, a pastische of genres, both dramatic and
>comedic, both self-reflexive and plot-driven. This pastische succeeds in
>distancing the viewer from  the text--a typical postmodern move--and
>perhaps this, more specifically, is what makes you feel uncomfortable. We
>are continually reminded by the intermingling of forms, by the breaking of
>frames, by the undercutting of genres, that this is a film--a work of art;
>not a great one, mind you, but the art of filmmaking is still apparent
>Consider, for example,  the early scene where Brett is accousted by the
>young "gunfighter." Play it as Eastwood might, and I think you have
>essentially  your definition of a Western. But Donner places the
>revisionist Eastwood character within a comedic framework--breaking the
>revisionist frame, as it were, and creating instead a pastiche: Eastwood
>meets Jerry Lewis; and yet an element of drama is retained: We know at
>the outset that in spite of Brett's playfulness and "gutlessness," he is
>still a figure to be reckoned with, respected,  feared in basically the
>same Eastwoodian manner.
>Another example is the momentary encounter/recognition  that Brett has with
>the bank robber. This  contemporary, self-referential overlay is a key
>sign that the film will play out like a poker match--continually
>bluffing the viewer, playing games that distance you from the
>traditional Western genre and at the same time drawing you into its
>A final example is the poker game itself. Certainly the "First Annual
>Riverboat Poker Championship" has little to do with the traditional
>West and more to do with our contemporary association with Las
>Vegas-style gambling. Another overlay, but further, a tremendous
>opportunity, for those of us who remember, to see and recall *not* the
>traditional West, but the TV Western of our youth and childhood.
>This is where the film's self-referential form becomes most apparent--that
>is, we are viewing something far more than a storyline being played out,
>but an entire generation, the history of an essentially forgotten medium,
>recovered  again for one brief shining moment: Your traditional Western,
>but framed in a wildly different, contemporary form.
Patrick--That's quite a mouthful!  However, self-referentialy, reflexivity,
pastiche--this is not a sign of playful "postmodernism" (the catch-all
phrase of artists and critics who refuse to set standards or make
judgements) but the sign of intellectual frivolity and weakness.  The
filmmakers could be lazy, easy, joking...fine, but why seem to participate
in a form of great value?  In other words, why pretend it is a Western,
when it is not?  Like YOUNG GUNS II which advertizes itself (TV ads.) by
its rock 'n roll soundtrack.
   You make a very nice point, indeed, about the film's structure being
like a poker game--a point well taken!  Similarly, the idea of the film
recapturing a generation's youth is probably also well taken, though I'm
not sure nostalgia is a legitimate function of "art."
   I utterly reject your comparison between "Pride and Prejudice" and
"Finnegan's Wake."  I'll state it simply:  Will _Maverick_ live alongside
of _Stagecoach_ or _The Searchers_ or _The Wild Bunch_ or _Once Upon a Time
in the West_ or will it fade into oblivion before the year is out?
David Desser,UIUC Cinema Studies
2109 FLB/707 S. Mathews, Urbana, IL  61801