From singing cowboys to “Spaghetti Westerns,” the history of the western film is intricately intertwined with American myths about history, individuality, gender, class, and power. This course examines this cinematic history in all its formal and historical complexity. Over the course of the semester, we will consider the western on a number of levels: genre, myth, stardom, authorship, and system, all while attending to the ways in which the Western reflects an engagement with contemporary historical circumstances. At one level, we will approach it as a genre that constructs American myths out of a historical past, in particular the period between the Civil War and World War I. At the same time, it is a vehicle for a particular kind of masculinized stardom: figures like William S. Hart, Tom Mix, John Wayne, Randolph Scott, and Clint Eastwood have built careers out of success in the western (and others like Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart have crafted careers via their forays into the Western). The question of film authorship will also be of importance to us as we think about the relationship among concepts of genre, star, and director: John Ford, Anthony Mann, Budd Boetticher, Howard Hawks, Sergio Leone, Sam Peckinpah, and Clint Eastwood have all left authorial fingerprints across the history of the genre. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we will explore the western’s close relationship with the history of Hollywood and the studio system: from silent films shot in New Jersey through Hollywood studio backlots, from low-budget serial adventures to prestigious mid-century epics, the history of the western is the history of film itself.
This course fulfills the genre requirement for the English major.
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