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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, and is from the native 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 (June 1996). "A gun up your ass: an interview with Jim Jarmusch". Cineaste vol. 22, no. 2. 
  2. ^ Hyper Realism in Westerns : http://www.philipbrophy.com/projects/rstff/RewrittenWesterns_C.html

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DVD Talk
Mon, 21 Jul 2014 13:26:15 -0700

Though the action doesn't quite match up to the progressive ideas, 1968's The Scalphunters makes for an interesting entry in the revisionist Western genre. Sydney Pollack directs Burt Lancaster and Ossie Davis as a cowboy and an escaped slave who clash ...

Deseret News

Deseret News
Fri, 18 Jul 2014 14:11:15 -0700

In this harsh, revisionist Western from the AMC cable channel, Confederate soldier Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount) is part of the Union Pacific Railroad's Westward expansion. Sadly, a family of Mormons is introduced in the second episode and proves to be ...

The Skinny

The Skinny
Thu, 17 Jul 2014 05:17:48 -0700

... betrayal such comparisons are apt. But for great stretches the film plays out as a revisionist Western, hitting similar beats to Kevin Costner's Dances with Wolves as Caesar finds his home under threat and bonds with the curious and compassionate ...

NOLA Defender

NOLA Defender
Sat, 12 Jul 2014 10:03:45 -0700

That film, a revisionist Western, shattered conventions and techniques established by the very men Bogdanovich lionized and imitated. Altman famously had characters talking over each other as the camera panned dark, smokey rooms in a grim, gold-rush ...
Free Malaysia Today
Tue, 01 Jul 2014 10:48:45 -0700

That's because Zapruder's next project is the creation of a fan film based on “Red Dead Redemption,” a revisionist Western from same studio group behind “GTA V,” seeking €12,500 via an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign in order to get the scheme ...

PGH City Paper

PGH City Paper
Wed, 25 Jun 2014 03:04:40 -0700

... it's simultaneously the kind of low-key, almost observational character study you'd expect (and ardently hope for) from the director of the sublime Old Joy, arthouse favorite Wendy and Lucy and provocative, bigger-budget revisionist Western Meek's ...


Tue, 24 Jun 2014 08:31:06 -0700

In 1995, his revisionist Western Dead Man starring a pre-superstar Johnny Depp, was about to be released by Miramax when Big Harv demanded cuts. Angry, Jarmusch refused. In response, Weinstein merely dumped the film in a few markets before letting it ...

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