Our Spring Film Studies term is now booking, open to everyone who loves film and wants to look at it a little more closely. The new term, A Wagon to Washington: American Society and Political Westerns, takes place over eight weeks, with alternative film screenings and discussion sessions. You can book for the whole term or come to see individual films.
Here's Craig Mann from Sheffield Hallam University, who will be leading the course:
"The Western is one of America’s oldest and most
consistently popular cinematic genres. The word brings to mind images of wild
open country, dusty thoroughfares and smoky saloons populated by gun-toting
lawmen, nefarious bandits and powerful cattle barons. The frontier was a place
of romance, violence and moral absolutes in which daring bank robberies, brutal
bar fights, devastating cattle stampedes and fatal showdowns occurred on a
daily basis. The bad guys were always brought to justice; the devilishly charming
cowboy always got the girl; the good guys always won.
"Or, at least, that’s what the classic movies would
have you believe. The ‘Old West’ is, of course, a political construction: an
exaggerated vision of American history that has slowly passed into myth over a
matter of decades. The cinematic genre was born shortly after the death of the
frontier. In the years following, the romanticised Old West was immortalised on
the big screen and cemented in the American imagination as a concept that
provides a foundation for the underlying values of the ‘American Dream’:
individualism, self-sufficiency and an unshakable moral code.
"It’s no surprise, then, that the Western has
become a landscape for political debate; an apt metaphor through which to
discuss, examine and criticise life in the United States. This course will
examine four key periods in American history and explore how the Western has
been used as a political tool by filmmakers as a platform for propaganda,
protest and critique. Our first topic will be a cycle of 1950s Westerns which
concentrate on divided communities – including High Noon (1952), Silver Lode
(1954), The Tin Star (1957) and Rio Bravo(1959) – and their relevance to the
Cold War, the Second Red Scare and the anti-communist politics of U.S. Senator
"We will then move on to the turbulent 1960s and
1970s, tackling the ‘revisionist’ Western and its relationship to the birth of
counterculture, the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal. Here, we will
consider how films such as The Wild Bunch
(1969), Little Big Man (1970), Soldier Blue (1970) and Bad Company (1972) question the
bloodless violence, simplistic morality and outmoded colonial attitudes of most
"Then we will consider the infamous Heaven’s Gate (1980): the box-office
bomb that supposedly killed the Western. But while Heaven’s Gate might have been a commercial failure, it is one of
the most vehemently socialist Westerns ever made; an anti-capitalist parable
that explores the oppression of impoverished immigrants by wealthy and powerful
land barons in 1890s Wyoming.
We will consider the place of Heaven’s
Gate as a Western released in November 1980, just two weeks after the end
of a bitter presidential campaign that saw Republican Ronald Reagan defeat
Democrat Jimmy Carter.
"Finally, we will investigate the current
resurgence of the Western and the relationship between contemporary portrayals
of the Old West and the post-9/11 zeitgeist, interrogating films such as Open
(2003), The Alamo (2004) and the
hugely controversial September Dawn (2007).
By investigating these four turbulent periods in American history, it will
become clear that the Western is a cathartic genre that has allowed for the
fictionalisation of political conflicts; America uses the Western to stage
showdowns with itself."
Tickets for the whole term can be booked at the Box Office. You can download a registration form here. Priced at £65 / £50 concessions for the full term.
Tickets are also available for the films individually.