I knew it! When I asked in the last CineSavant Column about an old Mad Magazine article lampooning the use of background screens to fake out people in ‘futuristic’ picture-phone communications, I got a bunch of responses, from reliable correspondents Edward Sullivan, Tom Giegel, ‘B’, and Christopher Rywalt. Several sent me a partial copy of the specific Mad cartoon article, from August, 1957, and a place called ‘crywalt.com’ has both Page One and Page 2 in readable quality. “This time I remembered it fairly well,” Glenn said, patting himself on the back. “The memory isn’t entirely gone.”
And I also forgot to mention last time, that the original steer to the BBC video backdrops page came from the eagle-eyed Charlie Largent.
I also have a Book Review to present today. It’s a compilation of essays edited by our CineSavant reviewer Lee Broughton, entitled Reframing Cult Westerns: From The Magnificent Seven to The Hateful Eight. The book is indeed a collection of academic-oriented essays, a category of writing traditionally aimed at other academics, or at least for writers and teachers looking to see what new thoughts are circulating in a given field. This might have been just another exercise in genre studies, if the subject weren’t so interesting, and the writing so varied. I only read one chapter that I thought on the dry side; the others address interesting aspects of the Western movie.
Happily, Reframing Cult Westerns doesn’t re-plow tilled ground. Genre writing long ago advanced beyond the revelation that the movie western was in decline. Lee Broughton’s introduction neatly outlines the book’s aim to look at what westerns have become in the decades beyond the days of big screen glory and television domination. Although many of the essays reference classic westerns, only the first segment of the book has articles focusing on older fare. Paul Kerr examines the production climate for 1960’s The Magnificent Seven and Peter J. Hanley finds out to what degree Leone’s The Good, The Bad and The Ugly relates to actual U.S./Civil War history.
Genre investigations take a social and revisionist turn with examinations of exceptional western fare. Matt Melia asks to what degree Alejandro Jodorowsky honors or trashes western tradition in El Topo; Hamish Ford gives Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s stylized western Whity a going-over. If that movie is not familiar, reading about the westerns of the obscure Dean Reed will be an even bigger surprise. Sonja Simonyi introduces us to the work of the highly unusual Reed, an American singer and political activist who found himself celebrated as an ‘international communist rock star.’ Tossed out of Argentina, Reed acted in several Italian westerns before taking up residence in East Germany, where he starred in a number of features, including two westerns. It’s a fascinating story of an American who became a genuine Soviet superstar.
The essays introduce new viewpoints while examining ‘new era’ westerns that stand out from the crowd. Craig Ian Mann finds political messages in Heaven’s Gate, The Long Riders and Tom Horn. Cynthia J. Miller writes a mini-treatise on McCabe & Mrs. Miller that doesn’t center on the cult of Robert Altman, or the celebrity hookup of Warren Beatty and Julie Christie. Chelsea Wessels sorts out the genre mutations that occur in Australia’s The Proposition. Jenny Barrett opens up a discussion for what might be called World Film westerns: Danish director Kristian Levring’s The Salvation, Argentina’s Lisandro Alonso’s Jauja and the New Zealand-filmed Slow West by the Scotsman John Maclean.
Lee Broughton’s contribution is a search for the Supernatural in westerns. He finds it in Curse of the Undead and films with a relation to the U.S. Civil War. Herschel Gordon Lewis’s Two Thousand Maniacs! carries out a Confederate curse during the Centennial Celebrations, while an Italian Django western is revealed to align to that country’s cultural/political memory of the final years of World War II.
The book finishes with discussions of movies too recent to be relegated to academic categorization. Jack Weatherston aligns the big hit The Revenant with a renewed awareness of climate, while Thomas Moodie examines the depth of racial politics in Quentin Tarantino’s controversial The Hateful Eight.
Reframing Cult Westerns is a sturdy hardbound volume. Only a few illustrations are included in this serious reader, an exceptional look at what has become of the contemporary western.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson