Women of the Western

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 16, 2009 06:48pm | Post a Comment

Ever since the dawn of film theory, film critics have loved the Western; probably because its engagement with formula and its psychological subtext are so obvious, so close to the surface, that theorizing about westerns is a bit like kicking gravel and striking oil. The genre bears a similarity to tales of knights errant, who similarly were bound by codes of honor and used strength and wit to defeat malevolence, &c &c &c... Part of what makes the Western attractive for film theorists is the way it shifts and evolves too -- spiraling off subgenres like Curry Westerns, Northerns, Oesterns, Red Westerns ands Spaghetti Westerns -- and engages other genres like samurai films and noir. But whereas a little bit of research turns up several scholarly works addressing women's place in the Western, I haven't been able to find any that focus on female-centric Westerns, nor been able to uncover a clever or cutesy name for the subgenre. When I started this blog, I thought I'd come up with a tiny handful, but was quickly surprised at how many Westerns feature females in roles of central importance.

Real women of the west. washing clothes (left), famous madame Chicago Joe (center), bandit Belle Starr (right)

The Wild West was, to be sure, a male-dominated place. Of course, there were women too who, just like their male counterparts, were probably more likely to run a ranch or work in town than to find work as gunslingers, bandits and bounty hunters... although there were those too. The National Cowgirl Museum Hall of Fame has, since its founding, sought to better document the contributions of women in the west. Although women in Westerns generally seem to symbolize civilization/the east, making cowboys uneasy with their use of risque talk and their attempts to transport urban conventions to an untamed land, in real life, that role would've been impractical and probably abandoned pretty quickly. When there's work to be done, propriety and traditional societal constructions would just get in the way. In fact, in Wyoming, for example, women gained the right to vote in 1869, over 40 years before the ratification of the nineteenth amendment. The photographs of Evelyn Cameron depict no-nonsense women who have little in common with the dippy, ditzy cowgirls of Gil Elvgren's art or Hollywood cowgirls. Of course, I'm not suggesting that Hollywood is in the business of portraying reality, but it's interesting to look at the decisions they make when constructing mythology.

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Women's history documentaries

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 14, 2009 10:19am | Post a Comment


Elliott Smith's Strange Parallel

Posted by Miss Ess, March 13, 2009 06:10pm | Post a Comment
elliott smith

Elliott Smith
remains unquestionably one of my favorite songwriters of all time, though I don't listen to him much these days.
elliott smith strange parallel
Way back in 1998, when I did not live in a major city and was just barely in college, I somehow felt like I was the only person in the world listening to Elliott Smith. This was before Hot Topic, just before emo went mainstream, and before irony had so massively elliott smith robot handcrushed sincerity in an epic battle of wits. In these early-ish days of the internet, I managed to contact someone through a fansite and get my hands on a tape of a film about Elliott, Strange Parallel, made by the idiosyncratic Steve Hanft. I don't think I had ever seen footage of Elliott at the time.

When I put the tape in my VCR and the film unfolded before me, I remember laughing aloud all by myself at the sight of it: I was completely overwhelmed by the fact that there was Elliott, live and onscreen, wearing his Bocephus shirt and digging a hole in the woods, out of which came a guitar. In my isolation, I somehow felt like he and Steve had made this film just for me. It was stunning. At the same time, I also was tickled by the greater idea that someone had made this film, thinking that many other people would watch and enjoy it -- who were these people?! This film pointed the way toward the world beyond just myself, a world of people who maybe thought a least a little like me, especially when it came to music. I would eventually have to move to San Francisco to find them en masse.
elliott smith
Strange Parallel clearly shows Elliott's genius and highlights his sense of humor as well. I think it is one of my favorite things ever. In the 10 years since this film was made, information and odd, detached connections are so much more quickly at our fingertips, and Smith has gained noteriety for so many things, mostly and unfotunately outside his music, but perhaps this footage and the songs within it will be a revelation for you as well.

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26 women's history fictional films

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 10, 2009 11:06pm | Post a Comment
Aelita Queen of Mars  Diary of a Lost Girl





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I feel like bootin' up -- The Take Fo' story

Posted by Eric Brightwell, February 20, 2009 06:06pm | Post a Comment
Take Fo' Records

Take Fo' Records
is a little known (outside of New Orleans) music label that truly broke ground with its motley roster of artists and progressive attitude, yet it's never received adequate recognition for its pioneering role in music. Whereas New Orleans's other big labels: Big Boy, Cash Money, Mobo, Parkway Pumpin', Untouchable, Tombstone and No Limit all seemed to consciously project a hard-as-nails image with tales of slangin', bangin', head bussin' and wig splittin', Take Fo' welcomed gangstas but also ball busters, dancer-cum-rappers, party starters and probably the first openly gay rapper. Despite the possible negative associations that might come with being part of this hip hop Island of Misfit Toys, the rappers on Take Fo' seemed unbothered and showed up on each others' albums in a show of courageous support.

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