Revisionist Western

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.



As is the case with film noir, many filmmakers responsible for early revisionist Westerns were unaware they were part of a larger trend in filmmaking and, as such, did not necessarily consider their films "revisionist".

1953's Shane is such a film, with its handsome filmmaking and conservative values, but its ambiguous ending questions the viability of the traditional Western hero.[citation needed]

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 decision, Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson, and 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 identified as acid Westerns, that radically turn the usual trappings of the Western genre inside out to critique 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]

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 history. 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

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. In this sense, the Spaghetti Westerns brought a stark refreshing realism to the Western genre, which had long since become boring and unbelievable, not the least for the pressed shirts and khaki trousers (which no one in the Old West wore, anyway). And it was for this reason, and the greater interest generated by the universally ambivalent heroes of the spaghetti Westerns, that this genre revived American public interest in the Western.

Red Western

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 reflexive satire on the Western film itself. It was also highly unusual in being one of the few examples in Soviet film of a) post-modernism, and b) a major film directed by a woman.

List of Revisionist Western films










See also

  • Portrayal of Native Americans in film
  • History of cinema


  1. ^ Rosenbaum, Jonathan (1996-06). "A gun up your ass: an interview with Jim Jarmusch". Cineaste vol. 22, no. 2. 

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