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A Goth’s Look at Westerns – For Charlie

by on 2015/05/28

Since January of this year, I’ve been sending my stepfather, Charlie, our favourite westerns every couple of weeks or so.

I shopped on and quietly sent them to my mother’s home in Northern Alberta. The DVDs started dribbling in from various sellers around Canada – each one a mysterious little parcel wrapped in bashed-up bubble wrap, with strange return addresses written in dripping Sharpie ink.

After a bunch of these movies arrived, mother called me one day on my cell, frantically concerned that she and her husband were signed up to an oddly specific Columbia House service or were being targeted by a cowboy-loving stalker.

I guess I’ve been called worse names.

My stepfather loves westerns. Hell, he lived westerns. He collected rifles, travels out to his hunting lodge in the fall, can gut and quarter a deer with amazing speed and facility, and rode on horseback to tend to his cattle.

He is one of a handful of people on the planet who can wear a cowboy hat with absolutely no irony whatsoever. No one would ever (ever) laugh at him wearing cowboy boots and ten-gallon hat. And not just because he’s 6′ 4″ with calloused hands the size of dinner plates.

My stepfather watching westerns was a big part of my life when I was a sullen, twitchy adolescent. Now that I’m a sullen, twitchy adult, I appreciate that early exposure to westerns a whole heap of a lot.

This list is for you, Charlie. Have a very happy birthday. The movies will keep on a-coming.

Tombstone (1993)Tombstone (1993)

* * * * *

Tombstone restores my faith in the western’s potential to remain relevant, effective, and entertaining, long after its supposed Golden Age has passed. Whoever really wrote and directed it, it’s an admirable achievement.

Open Range (2003)Open Range (2003)

* * * *

More a careful experience than adrenalizing action, it’s insubstantial but charming, endearing, poignant, and even touching in its way. I doubt many people see such films for their series of little “moments” but Open Range’s add up to a worthwhile whole.

Joe Kidd (1972)Joe Kidd (1972)

* * *

Watching this Elmore Leonard-scripted story about a character by the name of Joe Kidd reminded me a lot of my stepfather’s stories. Enigmatic, deadly, drunken, slightly silly, Joe Kidd is played by a young but ever crusty Clint Eastwood (Dirty Harry). Elmore Leonard’s quirky dialogue and meandering, equally quirky action put me in mind of a tall tale told at a bar.

magnificent_sevenMagnificent Seven (1960)

* * * *

There’s a nice emotional underpinning and honesty in this film, ebbing and flowing under a nicely constructed plot. I do love it when a plan comes together. And this plan does, after a fashion.

Westerns are best when they teach us a little bit about human nature. This one does in a distractingly entertaining way, fuelled by turbo-powered egos.

true_grit_2010True Grit (2010)

* * * * 

One of the purest joys of doing this site can be found in the times I get to watch a movie that Miss_Tree, my favourite teenager, and I both love. True Grit, the 2010 Coen brothers remake of the 1969 John Wayne western, was a movie I had been dying to see for ages. Funny, harsh, suspenseful, entertaining and uncompromising, True Grit reminds me why I love westerns. Perhaps this film will be Miss_Tree’s gateway western.

Appaloosa (2008)Appaloosa (2008)

* * *

Appaloosa is a shot of bourbon straight from the bottle, in a world of pink blender drinks with rice-paper umbrellas and fruit sculpted into birds of paradise (now in 3-D). I will watch this film again the next time I need a good, honest western.

3:10 to Yuma

3:10 to Yuma (2007)

* * * *

In truth, I was concerned about 3:10 to Yuma. I’d seen it before, in its theatrical debut, and was exceedingly impressed . . . enough so to seek out the original effort, which promptly disappointed me. I needn’t have been concerned. This western is one apparently wrought by a fan of other great westerns. Fortunately, it avoids the pitfalls of unevenness, and knows when to break convention to best effect.

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