No Country for Old Tropes: On Genre Subversion in the Western

Play Video

Say you’ve never heard of a film. You might ask, “What kind of movie is it?” In other words, “What’s the genre?” The genre of a film tends to tell us what we should expect. A comedy movie will make us laugh, a horror movie will scare us, and so on and so forth. But what happens when a filmmaker decides to intentionally go against the norms of a genre? In this debut episode of Genre Subversion, we look at how filmmakers flip the long-established expectations of the Western genre.

But what exactly defines a Western? A traditional Western is often set in the late 19th century and features a cowboy, sheriff, or some other gun-wielding hero. Taking place in the American West, the hero usually defends the frontier from an emerging danger. But perhaps more significantly, classic Westerns were supposed to embody American ideals. Films known as Revisionist Westerns began to emerge in the 1960s.

These films used the genre to critique the American ideals that were so heavily supported in older, more traditional Westerns. Revisionist Westerns remain very popular today, and always undertake a rather scathing examination of America’s past. This video focuses on how three Revisionist Westerns subvert the genre and leverage our expectations to create a lasting impact.

Learn about other subversions of the Western with our video The Weird and Wild Western. Plus, check out our videos on “Unforgiven” and the sounds of Clint Eastwood, and find out how many genres are in “Kill Bill.”

Keyframe is always looking for contributors.

"Writer? Video Essayist? Movie Fan Extraordinaire?

Fandor is streaming on Amazon Prime

Love to discover new films? Browse our exceptional library of hand-picked cinema on the Fandor Amazon Prime Channel.