Sunday, February 26, 2012

"Cleaning Up"

Note in "Westward the Women" how at the end both the men and women, quite realistically grubby in the middle of their respective labors, rush to clean up and do clean up. This gives the lie to current television or movie westerns which are bent on showing those days as relentlessly dirty. This was even the case with the otherwise fine Coen Brothers version of "True Grit," where Jeff Bridges's Rooster Cogburn throughout the film looks like the worst kind of street bum. Sorry, but no one, then or now, would hire him to go get a cup of coffee, much less track down a wanted man. No person in business, then or now, would present himself like that. Particularly not in a day when "Cleanliness is next to Godliness" was the norm.

There's a marked arrogance among today's intellectuals, in which any other period by definition is inferior to our own, populated by uncouth half-imbecilic Neanderthals. It's the essence of snobbery, elitism, superiority complex, call it what you want. They'll tell you how they can't stand Hollywood toga epics of the 1950's because the Roman nobles and their palaces are too clean! What do they think those villas looked like? Why would rich Romans not clean up? What were they doing with all their baths? Not using them?

The difference with the western is that most of the classic western movie directors, like William Wellman, were born in the 19th century, roughly still in the same time period depicted in their films. They saw those who inhabited the towns or rode the plains in their stories as people like them, like you and me-- because they were like you and me. Not the knuckle-dragging Other. It's why the original "True Grit" is more realistic than the remake. They didn't try too hard to be "authentic." They didn't have to. Today's hipsters especially are fixated on authenticity-- see their buying of vinyl and love of bluegrass-- but they try too hard. They have no idea what the genuine article looks like. It's why the only fiction allowed to be published by working class writers or about the working class is filled with moronic grotesques and caricatures. It's how the intelligentsia sees anybody who is not them.

Their attitude has killed the western, a genre which became popular because the figures depicted were colorful and romantic. They did on occasion know how to "clean up." An auteur who doesn't show the occasional beauty of the characters is doing the art form a disservice.

Sorry for the impromptu rant. "Westward the Women" is grittily realistic, but the characters do know how to "clean up."

(Added point: It's one of the few westerns of any era which shows how you point and fire a revolver if you actually expect to hit anything. The lady marksman in the flick is completely believable, looks and acts like someone who's been around weapons.)

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