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From 1920, the term western designates a type of film that has its setting in western North America and relates to events that took place during the pioneer era, between 1860 and 1890. The genre knew its most fertile period between 1950 and 1965 and has undisputed master American director John Ford. Then, the western undergoes a crisis, in spite of the parodic renewal which brings to it, in the following decade (1965-1975), the Italian western. In you can have a perfect collection.

The biggest westerns

  • The Prisoner of the Desert (John Ford, 1956) and Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954), tied.
  • The Man Who Killed Liberty Valance (John Ford, 1962).
  • Rio Bravo (FlowardFlawks, 1959).
  • Once upon a time in the West (Sergio Leone, 1969).

The universe of the western

The western tells the conquest of the West , the birth of a nation , but turns history into legend . It has an epic dimension : grandeur of the landscapes, exaltation of the courage and audacity of the pioneers, often simplistic opposition between good and bad.

In the period of expansion of the genre, the Indians are sometimes seen as good savages, sometimes as bloodthirsty and destructive beings, without the historical reality being taken into account. The interpreters are mostly white. It is very gradually that some western directors question the history of the conquest of the West and question it.

The landscape can be considered as an actor in the film: natural obstacles rocky defiles intensify the narrative. The places are chosen for what they suggest: thus John Ford made many films in the grandiose landscapes of “Monument Valley” because he needed an immutable and gigantic setting.

The key scenes

The Indians give the impression of melting into the arid, steep and rocky landscape (Rio, desert, canyon, sierra). Certain objects evoke their universe (tipis, tomahawk, peace pipe), which the world of pioneers opposes (tarpaulin wagons, ranches, villages whose main street is lined with wooden constructions, saloons).

The western has key scenes which the spectator awaits repetition and variation: charge of the Indians, attack on a ranch, transfer of cattle, pursuit on horseback, duel, attack on train or stagecoach, crossing a canyon, arrival or departure of a character who plays the role of a vigilante. The violent scenes of confrontations are contrasted with lyrical scenes (reunion, romantic idyll, birth of a friendship).

Cinematographic technique

The western makes frequent use of the wide shot and the large shot, which allows the characters to be situated in a setting that exceeds them. Often the camera pivots in order to discover a new element constituting a threat that the spectator discovers before the characters. The close-ups show strong tension. In the episodes that precede or express a confrontation, we use the field-reverse technique.

Technical benchmarks

The part of the space filmed by the lens is called the camera field. The counter field constitutes the opposite portion of the space. When several characters are present, one can alternate the points of view by successively filming the field, reverse shot.

An example of a western: The Prisoner of the Desert

Debbie and her older sister Lucy are kidnapped during the attack on their parents’ ranch by Comanche Indians. Their families are killed except for Martin, their adopted brother, and their uncle Eton, both of whom were absent at the time of the events. They will start looking for them with Brad, Lucy’s fiancé. After several years and many adventures, Martin and Eton arrive at the camp of the Indian chief Eclair, who retains Debbie prisoner.

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