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This article is about the film genre. For the political terminology, see Anti-Westernism and Anti-Western sentiment.

The Revisionist Western, Modern Western or Anti-Western traces to the mid 1960s and early 1970s as a sub-genre of the Western movie.

Some post-WWII Western films began to question the ideals and style of the traditional Western. Elements include a darker, more cynical tone, with focus on the lawlessness of the time period, favoring realism over romanticism. Anti-heroes are common, as are stronger roles for women and more-sympathetic portrayal of Native Americans and Mexicans. Regarding power and authority, these depictions favor critical views of big business, the American government, masculine figures (including the military and their policies), and a turn to greater historical authenticity.

Hollywood revisionist Westerns[edit]

Most Westerns from the 1960s to the present have revisionist themes. Many were made by emerging major filmmakers who saw the Western as an opportunity to expand their criticism of American society and values into a new genre. The 1952 Supreme Court holding in Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson, and later, the end of the Production Code in 1968 broadened what Westerns could portray and made the revisionist Western a more viable genre. Films in this category include Sam Peckinpah's Ride the High Country (1962) and The Wild Bunch (1969), Elliot Silverstein's Cat Ballou (1965), Arthur Penn's Little Big Man (1970) and Robert Altman's McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971).

Since the late 1960s, independent filmmakers have produced revisionist and hallucinogenic films, later retroactively identified as the separate but related subgenre of "Acid Westerns", that radically turn the usual trappings of the Western genre inside out to critique both capitalism and the counterculture. Monte Hellman's The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind (1966), Alejandro Jodorowsky's El Topo (1970), Robert Downey Sr.'s Greaser's Palace (1972), Alex Cox's Walker (1987), and Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man (1995) fall into this category.[1] Films made during the early 1970s are particularly noted for their hyper-realistic photography and production design.[2] Notable examples, using sepia tinting and muddy rustic settings are Little Big Man (1970), McCabe and Mrs Miller (1971) and The Culpepper Cattle Co. (1972).

Other films, such as those directed by Clint Eastwood, were made by professionals familiar with the Western as a criticism and expansion against and beyond the genre. Eastwood's film The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) made use of strong supporting roles for women and Native Americans. The films The Long Riders (1980) and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) are revisionist films dealing with the James gang. Jeffrey Wright's portrayal of "Black Confederate" Daniel Holt riding with the Missouri Bushwhackers in Ride with the Devil rewrites the stories of the Missouri-Kansas Border War and Lawrence Massacre. Unforgiven (1992), which Eastwood directed from an original screenplay by David Webb Peoples, dramatically criticized the typical Western use of violence to promote false ideals of manhood and to subjugate women and minorities.

Spaghetti Westerns[edit]

Main article: Spaghetti Western

Foreign markets, which had imported the Western since their silent film inception, began creating their own Westerns early on. However, a unique brand of Western emerged in Europe in the 1960s as an offshoot of the Revisionist Western.[citation needed]

The Spaghetti Western became the nickname, originally disparagingly, for this broad sub-genre, so named because of their common Italian background, directing, producing and financing (with occasional Spanish involvement). Originally they had in common the Italian language, low budgets, and a recognizable highly fluid, violent, minimalist cinematography that helped eschew (some said "de-mythologize") many of the conventions of earlier Westerns. They were often made in Spain, especially Andalusia, the dry ruggedness of which resembled the American Southwest's. Director Sergio Leone played a seminal role in this movement, striving for greater realism in both characters and costuming. A subtle theme of the conflict between Anglo and Hispanic cultures plays through all these movies. Leone conceived of the Old West as a dirty place filled with morally ambivalent figures, and this aspect of the spaghetti Western came to be one of its universal attributes (as seen in a wide variety of these films, beginning with one of the first popular spaghetti Westerns, Gunfight at Red Sands (1964), and visible elsewhere in those starring John Philip Law (Death Rides a Horse) or Franco Nero, and in the Trinity series.

Red Western[edit]

Main article: Ostern

The Ostern, or red Western, was the Soviet Bloc's reply to the Western, and arose in the same period as the revisionist Western. While many red Westerns concentrated on aspects of Soviet/Eastern-European history, some others like the Czech Lemonade Joe (1964) and the East German The Sons of the Great Mother Bear (1966) tried to demythologise the Western in different ways: Lemonade Joe by sending up the more ridiculous aspects of marketing, and The Sons of the Great Mother Bear by showing how American natives were exploited repeatedly, told from the native American rather than white settler viewpoint.

A Man from the Boulevard des Capucines (1987) was a sensitive satire on the Western film itself. It was also highly unusual in being one of the few examples in Soviet film of post-modernism, and of a major film directed by a woman.

List of Revisionist Western films[edit]










See also[edit]


  1. ^ Rosenbaum, Jonathan (Spring 1996). "A Gun Up Your Ass: An Interview with Jim Jarmusch". Cineaste 22 (2). Retrieved 2014-09-01. 
  2. ^ Brophy, Philip (1987). "Rewritten Westerns: Rewired Westerns". Stuffing (Melbourne) (1). Retrieved 2014-09-01. 

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Sun, 21 Dec 2014 05:52:30 -0800

Clint Eastwood deservedly won Oscars for his gritty revisionist western Unforgiven, which also starred Gene Hackman and Morgan Freeman. 5 5 out of 5 stars. Clint Eastwood starred as gunslinger William Munny in the 1992 Oscar-winning film Unforgiven ...
Seattle Weekly
Tue, 25 Nov 2014 17:07:30 -0800

Tommy Lee Jones, as actor and director, clearly cares a lot about the Western. Is there an audience that cares with him? The once-dominant genre has declined so steeply since the 1970s that each new one is an event, and Jones has become one of the few ...
Albany Times Union (blog)
Sun, 21 Dec 2014 14:30:00 -0800

A big, sprawling, messy revisionist Western with anti-establishment leanings and trenchant social commentary, plus Dustin Hoffman aging to 122 years old under amazing and groundbreaking makeup? I'm all in. But when was the last time you ever heard ...

Willamette Week

Sacramento News & Review
Thu, 04 Dec 2014 00:03:18 -0800

When we think of the “revisionist Western” genre, the implication is usually one of Peckinpah-esque ultraviolence or Dead Man artiness. Tommy Lee Jones' unexpectedly devastating The Homesman, while hardly lacking for flashes of brutal violence or ...

CBS News

CBS News
Wed, 17 Dec 2014 00:01:27 -0800

Playing hooky from school for the day, Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) leads a joyful performance of "Twist and Shout" in the streets of Chicago in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" – one of the latest additions to the Library of Congress' National Film ...

Film Pulse

Film Pulse
Mon, 15 Dec 2014 10:52:16 -0800

Described as “a feminist western with bite” (Indiewire) and “a beautifully breathless revisionist western” midway between Cold Mountain and Straw Dogs (Little White Lies),The Keeping Room is unflinching filmmaking anchored in the “bold and fearless” ...

Boston Herald

Boston Herald
Thu, 18 Dec 2014 09:26:15 -0800

“The Professionals” — The Blu-ray edition of this violent 1966 revisionist Western from writer-director Richard Brooks is hard to find, but available (I got mine for $15.19 from Movies Unlimited). The film co-stars Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Robert ...

Women's Wear Daily

Women's Wear Daily
Mon, 08 Dec 2014 21:19:33 -0800

Williams, who was born in Clarksville, Texas, also set his work in disparate times and places: Butcher's Crossing (1960) is a revisionist western about a high-minded Harvard lad who seeks hard experience on the frontier; Stoner (1965) follows an ...

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