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Chapter Objectives
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The American Film Genre Par Excellence
After reading this section, you should be able to:
  • name some of the first Westerns, and discuss the number of Westerns made in relation to the total number of films made between 1926 and 1967.
  • discuss several instances of the mythic quality of the American West in contemporary American culture.
Frontiers: History and Cinema
After reading this section, you should be able to:
  • summarize the content of Frederick Jackson Turner's paper, "The Significance of the Frontier in American History," and consider the ways in which the Western replaced the West in American popular culture.
  • discuss the relationship between the West and fiction, with attention to mythic or fictional versions of the West in popular culture (Edison's early fiction films, Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show, et cetera).
  • discuss the crossover in themes and actors between wild West shows and early cinema.
The Literary West
After reading this section, you should be able to:
  • discuss the sales figures and cultural effects of Erasmus Beadle's Western-themed dime novels.
  • examine the characters of Natty Bumppo and Daniel Boone as establishing a type for Western heroes, with attention to these characters' relationships to civilization, wilderness, and the frontier.
  • discuss the Western hero's paradoxical affiliation with both civilization and wilderness.
  • discuss the way in which both the Western hero and the villains against whom he fights are often identified with the same causes or spaces.
  • list sets of contrasting principles grouped under the opposing terms "Wilderness" and "Civilization," according to Jim Kitses' structural analysis of the Western, and consider the relationship of these opposing sets to American culture.
Adaptation: When East Meets West
After reading this section, you should be able to:
  • discuss the ways in which eastern characters adapt to the West, with attention to both superficial adaptations and transformations of character.
  • examine the gendering of the terms "East" and "West," and discuss transformations both of women and feminized male characters (children, businessmen, et cetera) from the East under the influence of the West, including both the effects of the frontier and the activities of teacher figures.
  • discuss the way in which women in the Western are both acted upon (westernized) by the space of the frontier and act to civilize and "easternize" the frontier space.
  • explain the ways in which this simultaneous movement towards East and West in female characters often allows them to serve as representatives for the frontier space itself.
On Native Ground: Landscape and Conflict
After reading this section, you should be able to:
  • describe the ways in which movement into frontier spaces, and the means for this movement (stagecoaches, locomotives, et cetera) exemplify the concerns and generic themes of the Western.
  • discuss the image of the locomotive in Westerns as a figure for the American cultural myth of a pastoral wilderness "fallen" and transformed by civilization and technology.
  • examine the stages of the Western's evolution in terms of their central conflict, and contrast the conflict between nature and culture to the conflict between two cultures in the Western.
  • discuss the history of both Native American characters and Native American actors in the Western.
  • discuss nostalgia for the frontier and nostalgic characters in Westerns of the 1960s and 1970s.
Contemporary Visions, Enduring Myths
After reading this section, you should be able to:
  • describe the dynamic exchange between Westerns, which allegorize current military and political engagements, and war films, which appropriate the themes and symbols of the Western.
  • analyze The Three Amigos, City Slickers, and Dances With Wolves as Westerns, with attention to the ways in which they place the West as a site of authenticity (a "paradise lost"), and imagine technology and modernity (the technology of film, industrial urbanism, et cetera) to be inauthentic and alienating.
  • analyze Unforgiven and Dead Man as Westerns, with attention to the ways in which they modify or disavow entirely the genre's theme of the authenticity of the West.
  • relate the popularity of the Western to historical events in American culture, with attention to the relationship between the Western and America's anxiety with technology.
  • discuss the relationship between Westerns and populist expansionist ideology, with attention to the ambivalence of Western conceptions of utilities such as railroads or telegraphs as metaphors for either populist unity or the tyranny of big business.
Space: The Final Frontier
After reading this section, you should be able to:
  • explain the way in which the science-fiction film replaced the Western in the 1960s and 1970s as the most powerful genre for articulating a national identity.
  • discuss the relationship between the Western and the science-fiction film, with attention to both the categories of technology and the frontier and the science-fiction film's appropriation of Western plots and iconography

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