15 November 2015

How The West Was Really Won

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The traditional 'Western' genre is almost a propaganda movement for everything that's great about America and why it's often considered 'the land of opportunity'. This is of course assuming that what you really want from your land is the opportunity to commit mass genocide and then glorify it on film. In these older movies we'd see pure-hearted heroes wiping out the savages from the local area without ever questioning the fact that referring to the enemy as a 'native' might suggest they have some entitlement to fucking live there. It's kind of like being in an alternate world in which the Nazi's won the war and invented a genre of film in which lone Aryan soldiers would save the world from money hungry demons called The Jews.


Over time, the Western has altered its perspective to accommodate for the more contemporary and radical view that America's brief history is actually about as heroic as using orphans to smoother a fire at a high-class brothel. We now live in the time of the revisionist Western in which old-school heroics have been replaced by modern day cynicism. Generally darker in tone, they now tend to criticise the Government, the military, feature stronger roles for female characters, and ensure that any native is shown with a frumpy frown to prove they're the victim. So.. I guess all is finally right with the world. A genre that was once used to glamorise an atrocity is now used to criticise the country responsible for it, and what's left of the slaughtered native Americans are more than free to do whatever the hell they want. Just so long as it's within the strict boundaries of either working in a casino or standing silently in the corner of a mental asylum.

Slow West is one of the latest films to be released in this once glorious genre and not only is it a great example of a revisionist Western but it may be one of the best films of the year so far. It's often considered that the greatest of movies reflect back at you the baggage that you bring to them and this is completely true here. The film critic and Dodge Brothers bassist Mark Kermode seemed particularly impressed with the film's relationship to music which is an observation that I can't disagree with. Like all of the best Westerns, this film has an amazing soundtrack that's often diegetic and used to either spur on the plot or some degree of discussion and character development. The score is quirky, catchy, and melancholic, and so I won't deny that I enjoyed it. Although when it comes to Western scores, I personally lean more towards the ones that sounds like someones stuck a trumpet up a whale's arse-hole and then tricked it into farting.

To explain my own love of this film, I usually wake up in the morning with a sense of pure misery as the harrowing realisation that I've survived the night begins to sink in. The other day however I actually woke up cheerful causing me to ponder exactly why... As I drove to work my brain was ticking away trying to work out what I had to look forward to that may have inspired this unexpected optimism.. and do you know what? I couldn't think of a single fucking thing. The more I tried to explain my initial happiness, the grimmer my mood sank as I began to realise that it was actually going to be nothing more than just another shitty day on planet Earth. I liked the music in Slow West, but unlike Kermode, the thing that I think I'd rave the most about is the way that the film deals with the chaos of existence, the pointlessness of life, and the randomness of death. Even in its more radicalised incarnation, this is a genre that is often guilty of mythologising itself with rogue antiheroes and glorified murderers. I'm sure that when most people think of someone like Wild Bill Hickok, they imagine that he died during a Mexican stand off in which two grizzled gunslingers stared each other out before discovering which of them had the fastest draw. The reality is that he was playing cards one day when some twat snuck in and randomly shot him in the back of the fucking head.

Slow West shows this brilliantly with people dying the most pointless deaths and for the most pointless reasons. They don't fall to the floor in slow motion as blood impressively sprays out of them with the force and gush of Tub-girl's anus. Instead some prick just fires a small ball of metal into their skull, they to fall to the ground like a sack of shit, and that's it. Dead. Everything they'd ever worked towards or for is all rendered pointless with the simple squeeze of a trigger. In fact, there's one stand-out scene in particular in which a store is held up by two thieves which ends in both bloodshed and a genuinely heartbreaking tragedy. I won't ruin what happens but as trips to the shops go, it's almost as bad as running to the petrol station when you've forgotten your partners birthday and even more devastating than the look on their face when they unwrap their brand new can of car window de-icer and minty-fresh breath-freshener.

As mentioned earlier, which is common in revisionist Westerns, Slow West features an interesting and strong female as the love interest to the lead character, however all might not be what it seems. To quickly explain the story, some Scottish kid has travelled to America whilst claiming to be in search of the one woman that he wants to stuff his wanger up. There he's quickly picked up by a macho Cowboy who figures he can make some money by escorting the kid across the dangerous shit-pit in which he's searching. Meanwhile a team of bounty hunters is tracking them with everybodies true motives being about as honourable and clear as one of those fish that's decided to make a life by swimming up your cock. Anyway, the point is that these characters all fall into the certain tropes that you might expect within this genre, however the film justifies and subverts this with each of them pretending to be the cliché they appear as, as a way of protecting themselves from the chaotic arse-raping of being alive.

Is the romantic motivation really because the film believes in the power of love or is it actually because life is shit and the boy needs something to live for? Is the cowboy really as cold-hearted as he might seem or is that just easier than surrounding yourselves with loved ones in a world that can take them away? Slow West shows the terrible things that people are capable of but it also shows that most of them are motivated more by desperation or stupidity than anything else. In fact there's an extra on the DVD of Slow West in which the director answers questions in front of an audience whilst wearing both sandals and fucking socks. This is clearly a man who knows about the banality of evil and the misery of life. It also explains the thick vein of black humour that runs through the film in which violence and fear is contrasted by the shear absurd circumstances in which they take place. I mean socks and sandals.. for fucks-sake!

However, of course existentialism and the power of music are just mine and Kermode's initial takings from the film and by no means everything that it has to offer. The other priority of the movie is its apparent attempts at making a western that reminds people that after killing off as many of the innocent natives as they heroically could, America is a land that was populated by settlers. As such, we have a Scottish lead being chaperoned by an Irish man, with the two of them encountering people from all over Europe. As a result, Slow West is also kind of a buddy-styled road-movie with the two men bonding and learning from each other as they travel the country and encounter new people. That might sounds a little cliched I suppose, but as far as films about cowboys and male bonding go, I can honestly say that this at least took a different direction to Brokeback Mountain.

Beyond the lack of donkey punching or whatever the fuck was going on between Ledger and Gyllenhaal in that tent, Slow West is also as much of a fairytale as it is anything else; the film starts with a voice-over uttering the lines “Once Upon A Time”, it follows a wide-eyed hero fighting his way through a dangerous forest to rescue his princess, with the chaperon essentially playing the part of the woodcutter. If you look at the costume worn by the bounty hunter following them too, it's essentially the biggest fur coat I've ever seen in my life. I suppose this would either hint to him being the big bad wolf figure or the fact that he once slaughtered a six-foot fucking Furby and gouged out some arm holes. Despite the genre and location kind of coming hand in hand with this kind of movie, it was also decided that Slow West would film in New Zealand with the landscape adding a dreamlike atmosphere to the proceedings. Instead of the usual shit, dust, and mud that you might expect to see, this film shows off the lush greenery and colourful flowers that the country has to offer. As well as helping to locate proceedings in a more fairytale world, this also results in it being one of the most vibrant westerns that I've ever seen without the aid of a small bag of magic herbs.

Sooo to conclude, due to Slow West being so densely packed with meaning, subtext, and a little ambiguity, it will be so many things to so many people. It's also only eighty-ish minutes long too by the way, which is fucking great. Not only are there films that are twice as long and with only half as much to say but I can sometimes spend more time than that just trying to decide which film I want to watch. Although this might also because I seem to be terminally single and looking at a DVD collection is all a geeky bachelor has to do in the evenings when he's not crying and wanking. I suppose this might also explain why I loved the causal way in which the film treated death. On a long Friday night it's kind of nice to see how easy and whimsically that life can leave a human body and think “well I guess I have options”. Like I said, with the best films, people are able to see whatever they want to see and as far as Westerns... or to be specific, revisionist Westerns go, I can't recommend that you see this one strongly enough. Thanks for reading motherfuckers, and see you next time.

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