The Western is a fiction genre seen in film, television, radio, literature, painting and other visual arts. Westerns are devoted to telling stories set primarily in the later half of the 19th century in what became the Western United States (known as the American Old West or Wild West), but also in Western Canada, Mexico (The Wild Bunch, Vera Cruz), Alaska (The Far Country, North to Alaska) and even Australia (Quigley Down Under, The Proposition). Some Westerns are set as early as the Battle of the Alamo in 1836 but most are set between the end of the American Civil War and the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890, though there are several "late Westerns" (e.g., The Wild Bunch and 100 Rifles) set as late as the Mexican Revolution in 1913. There are also a number of films about Western-type characters in contemporary settings where they don't fit in, such as Junior Bonner set in the 1970s, and Down in the Valley and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada in the 21st Century.
Westerns often portray how primitive and obsolete ways of life confronted modern technological or social changes. This may be depicted by showing conflict between natives and settlers or U.S. Cavalry or between sheep and cattle farmers, or by showing ranchers being threatened by the onset of the Industrial Revolution. American Westerns of the 1940s and 1950s emphasize the values of honor and sacrifice. Westerns from the 1960s and 1970s often have more pessimistic view, glorifying a rebellious anti-hero and highlighting the cynicism, brutality and inequality of the American West. Despite being tightly associated with a specific time and place in American history, these themes have allowed Westerns to be produced and enjoyed across the world.
The Western genre, particularly in films, often portrays the conquest of the wilderness and the subordination of nature in the name of civilization or the confiscation of the territorial rights of the original inhabitants of the frontier. The Western depicts a society organized around codes of honor and personal, direct or private justice , rather than any rationalistic, abstract law, in which persons have no social order larger than their immediate peers, family, or perhaps themselves alone. The popular perception of the Western is a story that centers on the life of a semi-nomadic wanderer, usually a cowboy or a gunfighter.
In some ways, such protagonists may be considered the literary descendants of the knight errant which stood at the center of an earlier extensive genre. Like the cowboy or gunfighter of the Western, the knight errant of the earlier European tales and poetry was wandering from place to place on his horse, fighting villains of various kinds and bound to no fixed social structures but only to his own innate code of honor. And like knights errant, the heroes of Westerns frequently rescue damsels in distress.
The Western typically takes these elements and uses them to tell simple morality tales, usually set against the spectacular scenery of the American West, although some notable examples (e.g. the later Westerns of John Ford or Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven) are more morally ambiguous. Westerns often stress the harshness of the wilderness and frequently set the action in a desert-like landscape. Specific settings include isolated forts, ranches and homesteads; the Native American village; or the small frontier town with its saloon, general store, livery stable and jailhouse. Apart from the wilderness, it is usually the saloon that emphasizes that this is the "Wild West": it is the place to go for music (raucous piano playing), girls (often prostitutes), gambling (draw poker or five card stud), drinking (beer or whiskey), brawling and shooting. In some Westerns, where "civilization" has arrived, the town has a church and a school; in others, where frontier rules still hold sway, it is, as Sergio Leone said, "where life has no value".
· 10 years ago