The word “auteur” is bandied around an awful lot in film criticism to easily distinguish “good” filmmakers from the merely mediocre crowd. A director helms three successful mid-budget films on the bounce and suddenly they are the primary creative force behind a resurgence of exemplary original filmmaking. Throw in a few recurring visual and thematic motifs… et voila.
It’s funny that the word was first used by French film critics in the 1940’s to boldly differentiate the work coming out of their home country from the matteurs en scene churning stuff out of the Hollywood system. Yet it would go on to become most closely associated with classic American filmmakers such as Howard Hawks, John Ford and Sam Peckinpah; directors who would no doubt scoff at being labelled in such a way, but were also largely responsible for the Western genre as we have come to know it, and are now the go-to examples (along with Hitchcock, Fellini, Godard and the like).
What we call “Westerns” were originally known as “railroad”, “military” and “Indian” films prior to a 1912 issue of The Motion Picture World where the term was first coined. It seems as though the genre has been around forever, but its first death knell came post-1927’s The Virginian, as audiences were sick of the genre’s saturation. Sound familiar to modern audience’s complaints about superhero films?
Of course this didn’t last forever. A certain John Wayne-starring Stagecoach arrived in the late 30’s to reignite the popularity of outlaws and settling the Wild West. In one form or another, this popularity continued right the way through until the 60’s, where revisionist and spaghetti Westerns made Classic Westerns appear antiquated and corny. But by the 70’s, Westerns were almost through. Save for the odd Tombstone or Unforgiven here, or the occasional The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford or Young Guns there, the genre had seemingly given all that it had to give.
That’ll be the day! To tie in to the release of the Kit Harington, Dakota Fanning and Guy Pearce starring Brimstone, we have put together a list of five other modern Westerns to check out. Starting with…