Published on February 19, 2008
How the West Was Won: How the West Was Won History, Spectacle and the American Mountains Sheldon Hall Epic Westerns: Epic Westerns Definition: “Epic Westerns are generally the most conscious of the genre’s basis in an actual, as opposed to mythic, past, although they are no more scrupulous than most in their fidelity to documented facts” (255). Historical Pageant: Historical Pageant Historical Pageants: “The function of such phenomena is not to interrogate history, but to offer a fanciful, consensual representation of the past as a spectacle for the entertainment (and patriotic edification) of the present” (255). Fredrick Jackson Turner: “Pageantry exists ‘for the purpose of satisfying our curioisity’” (255). Film’s Narrative: Film’s Narrative “An account of the fortunes, through several generations, of a single (White, Anglo-Saxon) fictional family chosen as representative of pioneer stock, taking in as many facets as possible both of nineteenth-century American history and of the Western genre” (256). “The intent of How the West Was Won was clearly not just to make a Western, but to produce a definitive Western, one that could embrace all or most of the genre’s historical time-frame and repertoire of narrative situations” (256). Film’s Directors & Cast: Film’s Directors & Cast Actors: John Wayne, James Stewart, Henry Fonda, Gregory Peck, Robert Preston, Eli Wallach Directors: Henry Hathaway (The Rivers, The Plains, The Outlaws) John Ford (Civil War) George Marshall (The Railroad) Film’s Genre: Film’s Genre “In a period when the genre was moving increasingly towards revisionist self-consciousness and the meaning and ideological function of the West and the Western were being examined critically by Ford (in another, more personal and intimate - though no less Turnerseque - context: that of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, 1962), Peckinpah and others, Webb and Hathaway/Ford/Marshall attempted to fix the Western purely in terms of its repertoire of external signs and conventions, its iconography, rather than through a dramatic analysis of its historical significance” (256). Production & Presentation: Production & Presentation “The name ‘Cinemara” is an anagram of “American”’ (Greg Kimble). First film to be shown in three-strip Cinerama (aspect ratio 2.76:1) The film “functions partly as a showcase for technology” (257). Use of extreme wide-angle lenses creates excessive depth to the image. “Characters looms into close-up or recedes into long-shot in a single step” (257). Production & Presentation II: Production & Presentation II Each of the five narrative episodes (with the partial exception of Ford’s), is built around a sequence of action or spectacle that is designed to focus attention on the format and its capacity to evoke empathetic sensation in the spectator: a raft coursing down a wild river, a wagon train chased by Indians, a buffalo stampede, a runaway train” (258). Critics: Critics Fairground sideshow, carnival, a circus or a pagaent Spectacle without substance Inversion of economy to excess, story to spectacle Apologists: Apologists Apologists Classical vs pre-classical cinema (cinema of attractions) Sergei Eisenstein: “montage of attractions” as a response to, and rejection of, the dominance of classicism Film scenarios as pretexts for tricks and theatrical/cinematic effects Cinema as a way of showing rather than of narrating The form of cinema itself is the chief attraction Experience of watching the film may be accompanied by extra-cinematic attractions (HTWWW accompanied by live orchestral overtures, drinks at intermission, lavish theatrical surroundings, souvenir brochures, etc.) Spielberg-Lucas-Coppola cinema of effects History as Spectacle: History as Spectacle “Webb’s screenplay does try, at least partly, to reproduce his conception of American history in terms of “social, rather than heroic-individualistic concerns” (259). “‘Winning of the West’ proceeded in a series of phases, each of which necessitated a partial return to primitivism, to year zero, with the prospect of renewed growth at each stage” (259). Episodes: Episodes “Each episode is founded on a pattern of westward travel and movement, and in each a mode of transport figures as defining motif: raft, canoe, riverboat, covered wagon, railway train, horse, buckboard. Each miniature narrative concludes with the protagonist(s) moving on, anticipating some new future” (259). Episodes II: Episodes II The River (Hathaway): Eve & Linus The Plains (Hathaway): Lilith & Cleve - Intermission - The Civil War (Ford): Zeb The Railroad (Marshall): Zeb & Jethro The Outlaws (Hathaway): Zeb Race & Ethnicity: Race & Ethnicity No black characters, not even in Civil War Very minor appearance of Chinese Very minor appearance of Mexicans Inconsistent treatment of Native Americans? First episode: First episode Briefly seen as friends and peaceful trading partners Second episode: Second episode Unmotivated hostiles attacking the wagon train Fourth episode: Fourth episode Victims of technological progress and corporate capitalist expansion in the form of the railroad Contextual Limitations: Contextual Limitations Blockbuster: Cost $14 million, the average budget of a Hollywood picture in 1961-62 is $2 million The desire not to offend White conservatives? Film’s heritage-industry conception of history: “all water under the bridge now” (260). “It is all regretted, but the railroad must be built. Nobody really questions that; nothing must stand in the way of progress whatever the cost” (260). Sexual politics: Sexual politics Lilith & Eve Eve tames the “mountain man” Linus Rawlings, only for him to leave “when the first bugle blew” Lilith marries Cleve, but remains childless. “Linus and Cleve are allowed to disappear into domesticity (literally once they have agreed to marry, they are dead to the narrative and cease to play a part in it)” (261). Lilith part of the railroad plot that Zeb dislikes Eve dies when Zeb leaves and Linus dies Zeb and “Americanness”: Zeb and “Americanness” Zeb’s horizons are left open: he crosses one at the end of each the film’s second-half episodes. “That’s what I like about this country - there’s always greener grass on the other side of the hill . . . May be I’ll just have to climb a higher hill to find it.” --- Rationale for the films ideological incoherence? Questions: Questions So what of the five sections? Elements of Mise-en-scene and Framing in the film?