Revision and Regeneration in the American Western, 1969-1980
Nelson, Andrew Patrick
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
I wish to embargo my dissertation for the standard period of 18 months to enable papers, etc, to be published.
This is an analysis of the Western genre between 1969 and 1980, a period characterized by the release of a select number of “revisionist” Westerns like The Wild Bunch (1969), Little Big Man (1970) and McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971). Made by filmmakers associated with the Hollywood Renaissance, these Westerns are celebrated for openly critiquing the ethos of the mythic American West and appropriating the genre’s conventions for social commentary. This study argues that the veneration of this canon of films has resulted in a distorted and incomplete picture of the Western at the time, which has consequences for cultural histories that read Westerns as a reflection of American society. Drawing on an extensive viewing of Westerns released in and around the period in question, this project seeks to uncover the complexity and multiplicity of the Western of the time. It reconsiders the genre’s relationship with American history and politics, including the plight of the American Indian and America’s military involvement in Vietnam; examines the changing representations of frontier heroes Wyatt Earp and Jesse James; draws attention to a number of neglected or misinterpreted movies and trends, including the later Westerns of actor John Wayne; and dispels the idea that the disastrous Heaven’s Gate (1980) was responsible for “killing” the Western. These analyses reveal not only connections between canonical and lesser-known works, but also continuities between these and older Westerns – an ongoing, cyclical process of regeneration that transcends established divisions in the genre’s history. In doing so, the project works revise our understanding of the Western of this period, and to add to our knowledge of the genre as a whole.
PhD in English