“Bone Tomahawk,” “The Hateful Eight,” “By Way of Helena,” “Slow West.”
Whenever a new Western film gallops into American theaters, it reminds us of the hardy independence and rugged self-reliance that defines our forebears.
The sterling reviews earned by each of the above pictures this year are a testament to Americans’ fond memories of the Wild, Wild West and their unique affinity for the Western genre. There’s just something about the determination of hardened outlaws and the tried-and-true grit of cattle-wranglers that spurs our collective consciousness.
Here are three of my favorite Westerns. Set down your saddlebags, take a long swig of bitter coffee and hold on to your hat.
“The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”
“The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” is, undoubtedly, one of the great representatives of the genre. The “Best Western,” if you will. When film buffs discuss their favorite Westerns, Sergio Leone’s 1966 tour de force is bound to rear its head sooner or later.
Three men, Tuco, or “The Ugly,” Angel Eyes, or “The Bad” and Blondie, or “The Good,” encounter each other amid a maelstrom of violence, greed, deception and, above all, now-iconic Western tropes. Set aside an evening, pull on your chaps and enjoy this classic with a plate of salt pork and a jar of moonshine.
“El Topo,” Spanish for “The Mole,” isn’t your granddad’s Western. Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 1970 cult classic turns the Western genre on its head, dresses it up in drag, feeds it a tab or two of LSD, dyes its hair blue, tosses it into a clutch of burning rattlesnakes and then pulls it out again only to leave it for dead on a park bench in the middle of Greenwich Village.
It was a favorite of John Lennon and Yoko Ono – interpret that as you will.
It follows an enigmatic gunman, known only as “The Mole,” as he takes on several legendary outlaws in a quest for a kind of mystical enlightenment.
There’s action, romance, insurrectionary dwarves, freakish displays of religious symbolism, bees, a tasteful amount of nudity and a lot of fake blood. A friend of mine, whom I consider an elite authority on pretentious nonsense, praised it as, “Just a little too obscure for me, Christian.” Check it out for yourself because I still don’t quite understand it.
“There Will Be Blood”
The legendary Daniel Day Lewis portrays an insatiable oilman in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2007 blockbuster, “There Will be Blood.” Inspired by Upton Sinclair’s novel “Oil!,” “There Will Be Blood” takes a long, hard look at the oil boom that erupted in California toward the end of the 19th century.
Daniel Plainview, Lewis’ character, abandons silver mining and begins a prescient search for oil in southern California. In time, he establishes himself as a ruthless businessman, coming into conflict with a small-town minister as he accumulates wealth.
Like any good Western, “There Will Be Blood” is replete with senseless violence, panoramas of the barren Western landscape and portraits of fierce independence that would make today’s “country boys” hightail it to Delaware or New Hampshire.