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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 still common, but with 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
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. Films made during the early 1970s are particularly noted for their hyper-realistic photography and production design. 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 tells 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.
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.
The Spaghetti Western became the nickname, originally disparagingly, for this broad subgenre, 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.
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.
List of Revisionist Western films
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- The Magnificent Seven (1960)
- Sergeant Rutledge (1960)
- One-Eyed Jacks (1961)
- The Misfits (1961)
- The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
- Lonely Are the Brave (1962)
- Ride the High Country (1962)
- Hud (1963)
- Ride in the Whirlwind (1965)
- The Professionals (1966)
- Hombre (1967)
- The Shooting (1967)
- The Great Silence (1968)
- Will Penny (1968)
- Hang 'Em High (1968)
- The Wild Bunch (1969)
- Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
- Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here (1969)
- True Grit (1969)
- Soldier Blue (1970)
- Little Big Man (1970)
- El Topo (The Mole) (1970)
- McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)
- The Hired Hand (1971)
- Man in the Wilderness (1971)
- Bad Company (1972)
- Ulzana's Raid (1972)
- Chato's Land (1972)
- Joe Kidd (1972)
- Dirty Little Billy (1972)
- The Culpepper Cattle Co. (1972)
- The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (1972)
- The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972)
- Buck and the Preacher (1972)
- Jeremiah Johnson (1972)
- High Plains Drifter (1973)
- Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973)
- The Master Gunfighter (1975)
- The Shootist (1976)
- The Missouri Breaks (1976)
- Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson (1976)
- The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)
- Butch and Sundance: The Early Days (1979)
- Tears of the Black Tiger (2000)
- The Missing (2003)
- Open Range (2003)
- Ned Kelly (2003)
- Blueberry (2004)
- The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005)
- The Proposition (2005)
- Down in the Valley (2006)
- Appaloosa (2005)
- Broken Trail (2006)
- Seraphim Falls (2007)
- 3:10 to Yuma (2007)
- The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
- There Will Be Blood (2007)
- Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (2007)
- September Dawn (2007)
- Rosenbaum, Jonathan (Spring 1996). "A Gun Up Your Ass: An Interview with Jim Jarmusch". Cineaste. Vol. 22 no. 2. Retrieved 2014-09-01.
- Brophy, Philip (1987). "Rewritten Westerns: Rewired Westerns". Stuffing. No. 1 (Melbourne). Retrieved 2014-09-01.