Western (genre)

Justus D. Barnes in Western apparel, as "Bronco Billy Anderson", from the silent film The Great Train Robbery (1903), the first Western film

The Western is a genre of various arts which tell stories set primarily in the latter half of the 19th century in the American Old West, often centering on the life of a nomadic cowboy or gunfighter[1] armed with a revolver and a rifle who rides a horse. Cowboys and gunslingers typically wear Stetson hats, neckerchief bandannas, vests, spurs, cowboy boots and buckskins (alternatively dusters). Recurring characters include the aforementioned cowboys, Native Americans, bandits, lawmen, bounty hunters, outlaws, gamblers, soldiers (especially mounted cavalry, such as buffalo soldiers), and settlers (farmers, ranchers, and townsfolk). The ambience is usually punctuated with a Western music score, including American and Mexican folk music such as country, Native American music, New Mexico music, and rancheras.

Westerns often stress the harshness of the wilderness and frequently set the action in an arid, desolate landscape of deserts and mountains. Often, the vast landscape plays an important role, presenting a "...mythic vision of the plains and deserts of the American West".[2] Specific settings include ranches, small frontier towns, saloons, railways and isolated military forts of the Wild West.

Common plots include:

  • The construction of a railroad or a telegraph line on the wild frontier.
  • Ranchers protecting their family ranch from rustlers or large landowners or who build a ranch empire.
  • Revenge stories, which hinge on the chase and pursuit by someone who has been wronged.
  • Stories about cavalry fighting Native Americans.
  • Outlaw gang plots.
  • Stories about a lawman or bounty hunter tracking down his quarry.

Many Westerns use a stock plot of depicting a crime, then showing the pursuit of the wrongdoer, ending in revenge and retribution, which is often dispensed through a shootout or quick-draw duel.[3][4][5]

The Western was the most popular Hollywood genre from the early 20th century to the 1960s.[6]Western films first became well-attended in the 1930s. John Ford's landmark Western adventure Stagecoach became one of the biggest hits in 1939 and it made John Wayne a mainstream screen star. Westerns were very popular throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Many of the most acclaimed Westerns were released during this time, including High Noon (1952), Shane (1953), The Searchers (1956), and The Wild Bunch (1969). Classic Westerns such as these have been the inspiration for various films about Western-type characters in contemporary settings, such as Junior Bonner (1972), set in the 1970s, and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005), set in the 21st century.

Themes

The Lone Ranger; a famous heroic lawman who was with a cavalry of six Texas Rangers, until they were all killed but him. He preferred to remain anonymous, so he resigned and built a sixth grave that supposedly held his body. He fights on as a lawman, wearing a mask, for, "Outlaws live in a world of fear. Fear of the mysterious."

The Western genre sometimes portrays the conquest of the wilderness and the subordination of nature in the name of civilization or the confiscation of the territorial rights of the original, Native American, inhabitants of the frontier.[1] The Western depicts a society organized around codes of honor and personal, direct or private justice–"frontier justice"–dispensed by gunfights. These honor codes are often played out through depictions of feuds or individuals seeking personal revenge or retribution against someone who has wronged them (e.g., True Grit has revenge and retribution as its main themes). This Western depiction of personal justice contrasts sharply with justice systems organized around rationalistic, abstract law that exist in cities, in which social order is maintained predominately through relatively impersonal institutions such as courtrooms. The popular perception of the Western is a story that centers on the life of a semi-nomadic wanderer, usually a cowboy or a gunfighter.[1] A showdown or duel at high noon featuring two or more gunfighters is a stereotypical scene in the popular conception of Westerns.

In some ways, such protagonists may be considered the literary descendants of the knight errant which stood at the center of earlier extensive genres such as the Arthurian Romances.[1] Like the cowboy or gunfighter of the Western, the knight errant of the earlier European tales and poetry was wandering from place to place on his horse, fighting villains of various kinds and bound to no fixed social structures but only to his own innate code of honor. And like knights errant, the heroes of Westerns frequently rescue damsels in distress. Similarly, the wandering protagonists of Westerns share many characteristics with the ronin in modern Japanese culture.

The Western typically takes these elements and uses them to tell simple morality tales, although some notable examples (e.g. the later Westerns of John Ford or Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven, about an old hired killer) are more morally ambiguous. Westerns often stress the harshness and isolation of the wilderness and frequently set the action in an arid, desolate landscape. Western films generally have specific settings such as isolated ranches, Native American villages, or small frontier towns with a saloon. Oftentimes, these settings appear deserted and without much structure. Apart from the wilderness, it is usually the saloon that emphasizes that this is the Wild West: it is the place to go for music (raucous piano playing), women (often prostitutes), gambling (draw poker or five card stud), drinking (beer or whiskey), brawling and shooting. In some Westerns, where civilization has arrived, the town has a church, a general store, a bank and a school; in others, where frontier rules still hold sway, it is, as Sergio Leone said, "where life has no value".

Other Languages
беларуская: Вестэрн
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Вэстэрн
български: Уестърн
Чӑвашла: Вестерн
čeština: Western
Ελληνικά: Γουέστερν
euskara: Western
فارسی: وسترن
Gàidhlig: Siar-sgeul
Bahasa Indonesia: Barat (genre)
íslenska: Vestri
italiano: Western
latviešu: Vesterns
lietuvių: Vesternas
magyar: Westernfilm
македонски: Вестерн
Nederlands: Western (genre)
日本語: 西部劇
norsk nynorsk: Western
português: Western (gênero)
română: Western
русский: Вестерн
Scots: Western
Simple English: Western (genre)
slovenčina: Western
српски / srpski: Вестерн
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Western
suomi: Western
svenska: Västern
українська: Вестерн
Tiếng Việt: Phim Viễn Tây