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November 1996, Week 1


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"Brian P. Taves" <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Brian P. Taves
Thu, 31 Oct 1996 17:56:34 -0500
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> From:    Murray Pomerance <[log in to unmask]>
> Subject: Re: Innovations in Seven Samurai/Westerns
> Can a film or book be a Western if it's not set in the West?  Around
> On 10/29/96, Lang Thompson wrote:
> >******  This may be the most interesting point:  can a film (or book)
> >be a Western if it's not set in the West?  It sounds pretty trivial but
> >it goes right to the heart of what we mean by "Western."  Is Outland an
> >honorary Western because it's modelled after High Noon or because the
I found the previous postings on this topic to be most interesting and
insightful, and additional issues of a very practical nature come to
The questions posed in the above quotes go to the heart of genre studies.
On the one hand, all genres can be argued as reducible to a few basic
forms:  western, gangster, musical, etc.  And these will tend to be the
same ones discussed over and over again.
By contrast, I would argue this is a reductive reading, failing to discern
the rich panoply of genres--some admittedly more developed than others,
some simply more fully studied.  For instance, when writing on historical
adventure, I was trying to set out the parameters and underlying myths of
a genre that had been little studied (and was often referred to as simply
a sort of western offshoot).  I have been involved in a similar project
more recently here at the Library of Congress, establishing a
comprehensive taxonomy of moving image genres.
Yes, OUTLAND has been discussed as a sort of HIGH NOON, and STAR WARS as a
western (so too, I could argue it as a swashbuckler with as much
validity--but I won't). And we've had films like THE LOST PATROL remade as
a western, a war film, etc.  Does this mean all versions of LOST PATROL
are adventure?  No; I believe *the context and setting* are some of the
dominating factors determining genre.  Place the same plot structure in
the American west, and it takes on different implications entirely, and
the same for WWII.  Similarly, although science fiction may adopt plot
structures, iconography, conventions, or other elements from other genres,
it is unique by virtue of its context.  Placing old motifs in combination
with science fiction's concern with futuristic speculation and advanced
technology transforms whatever is borrowed into an entirely new context
unique to sf.
Yes, one can talk about western elements in whatever work that is not in
the western setting.  Similarly, we can discuss their relation to other
conventions of storytelling, going back to Homer's Iliad and Odyssey and
earlier.  However, we should not lose track of the overall differences
among the various genres and how they will treat various conventions
differently.  The place and importance of law in society is treated, for
instance, in many genres, not only westerns, but historical adventure, and
many types of crime films.  Each approaches the topic in its own unique
way.  Genre helps us recognize these differences and similarities.  And if
"the western" (or other particular genres) is treated as a great
overarching form, that can tend to absorb other types, we are in danger of
losing track of these very palpable and vital distinctions among different
Brian Taves
Motion Picture/Broadcasting/Recorded Sound Division
Library of Congress
Washington, D.C.  20540
202-707-2371 (fax)
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