You have to think a strong contingent of western fans are still out there that wouldn’t mind seeing the serious western return to the big screen. And with Clint Eastwood still very active, no doubt his fans wouldn’t mind him closing out his acting career going full circle in a new one. While Eastwood may think “Unforgiven” was the true swan song of epic movie westerns (and his own involvement with the genre), some hints have been around of serious westerns making a comeback.
If any westerns do come back, they’ll be of “The Wild Bunch” variety where violence takes center stage. The chance of a John Ford style character-driven western ever making it back to the big screen is slim to none. Nevertheless, don’t be surprised if a few of the same themes will be revisited, with some original tales along the way.
Just in the last few years, some new westerns have been rumored about and even began filming. Most of them seem to be exploring intense violence, which the spaghetti westerns of the 1960s helped build. Part of that comes in the film “Jane Got a Gun”, a film that completed filming last year and produced (and starring) Natalie Portman. Once it releases in 2015, it could be the return of the serious western exploring violence again. While the above-mentioned film had a lot of production problems, it may set off a new wave of these films that’s amended with a projected remake of “The Magnificent Seven”, starring Denzel Washington.
Are we on the cusp of a serious western renaissance in the movies, or is it going to be more about productions that seemed good in the abstract and ultimately get stalled?
Serious Westerns vs. Comedic Westerns
I wrote recently about whether the comedic western was in for a new ride in theaters after Seth MacFarlane’s “A Million Ways to Die in the West” seemed poised for success. After the film flopped a million ways over, it looks like the comedic western genre is likely never going to find a proper reboot. That isn’t surprising since Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles” set such a high mark over the last 40 years, nothing can ever really match it.
The serious western, in comparison, still has a lot of room to explore considering the analogies of the old west stretches into vast territory. If the genre stays intent on exploring violence, it could also take on a subject we still don’t understand at its root core. A western may give us that “past as direct conduit to the present” scenario where the mentality of what makes someone violent in the past is still the same today.
It’s possible the serious western could be very bloody if you go by some other rumored projects. Park Chan-wook, for instance, was rumored to be up for directing a violent western called “Brigands of Rattleborge” a couple of years ago. The script of this was apparently on Hollywood’s black list and brings back the western revenge tale as we saw in the Sergio Leone era of the spaghetti western.
But what about a “Magnificent Seven” remake? The original version of the film was far from being the most violent western ever made, yet also brought forward the genre of numerous characters banding together toward one cause.
The Wild Bunch Western
“The Magnificent Seven” was so influential at the time it was made that it seemed to copy itself with numerous sequels afterward that were far from successful. It basically gave birth to the genre where a group of men were brought together to take care of business, usually with violence involved. “The Wild Bunch” took this to the extreme nine years after “Magnificent Seven” released. And all of it stems from the Japanese who, in “Seven Samurai”, brought the idea of multiple characters banding together to fight for the common good (or bad).
With other movie genres reviving this concept and finding success in recent years, is this going to be the real selling point of the revived movie western? The least a “Magnificent Seven” remake could do is to get away from the all-guy group and provide some gender diversity in the mix. Even if women in westerns are always given the same stereotypes, history doesn’t know for sure if they didn’t join in on possible western crusades.
Having Denzel Washington in a starring role will already make it diverse, if likely a more intense revenge tale. More so, we have to hope for some iconic western elements for a new generation, including the music and cinematography that legends like John Ford brought to the western. The serious western may finally be looked at by a new generation of filmmakers not as an anachronism and instead a vast canvas to explore subjects mirroring society today.