I am very fond of the western movie. So much so that, as Mrs RPS will tell you, I’ll watch any old rubbish involving a bloke on a pony waving a gun in the air. Of course I like to dress up my interest in fanciful intellectual garb.
My favourite is to claim that the western tells us something about what was going on in society when it was made. I can just about make it work.
(Bear with me this post will be back on point soon.)
The early westerns reproduced the menus from the travelling wild west shows. Shoot outs. Indians attacking stage coaches. Cavalry charges. Trick shooting. All staples from the penny dreadfuls that mythologized the West as it was happening for the civilised folks back East.
The 1950s saw America’s preoccupations with the ‘red threat’ and the psychological damage caused by war, obsession and greed. The 1960s saw westerns portraying violence graphically and addressing race. The only good indian ceased to be a dead one. The cavalry behaved more like an imperial police force.
The 1970s and 1980s saw the genre reinvented again. Technicolor hues gave way to greys and browns. And, of course, the 1980s opened with Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate. A film so poisonously received that it would have killed off almost any genre that it represented. (This is not the place to defend that film but I believe it is a great piece of work.)
The last 30 years have seen the advent of the ‘rivisionist’ western in all its flowering majesty best represented by Unforgiven Clint Eastwood’s western masterpiece or perhaps by TV’s Deadwood. And now, of course, we have True Grit.
I don’t hold much truck with the notion of ‘revisionist’ westerns. All western movies right from the start have been revisionist in that they created an alternative version of history that suited the needs and purposes of the times in which they were made.
Given my interests in movies mirroring society and public service you will be unsurprised to learn that I am eagerly anticipating Andrew Davies’ adaptation of Winfred Holtby’s South Riding. If you don’t know the book give it a try. It’s the only faithful celebration of the role of local government in the life of a realistic community that I’ve come across.
I read it when I was much younger and in the throws of a deep crush on Vera Brittain/Cheryl Campbell. Holtby, a friend of Brittain’s, wrote about a fictional world of local politics based on her mother’s work as a councillor in East Yorkshire.
With Davies doing the screenwriting we could be in the unusual situation of seeing local government becoming sexy. Town clerks emerging from ponds their ardour temporarily quenched before they calculate the product of the two penny rate.
All of which got me wondering about what a revisionist movie about the world of public service would look like. Perhaps I could develop a pitch for the following:
- A Streetscene named desire – passions are roused during the planting of the flower beds on the roundabout by B&Q.
- For whom the ballot tolls – passions are roused in a recount by electoral services.
- True Grit 2 – passions are roused during a heavy snowfall.
- Pontoon – passions are roused during an afternoon of card games in the extra care housing community.
- The Bourne indemnity – passions are raised by a fresh batch of insurance claims for pot hole damage.
- The good, the bad and the ugly 2 – passions are roused in a ministerial visit.
In all seriousness it is curious that, given all human life is there, that councils do not have a richer seam of art to show for it all. But there again there is a rich lode of revisionism about public services that we are all getting to enjoy as the cuts roll forward.
It doesn’t feel like a technicolor world right now though …