The western was once seen as a key genre for understanding both Hollywood and the culture of the United States more broadly, but studies of the genre are few and far between today (Corkin, 2004; Nelson, 2015; Wallin and Godfrey, 2019). Significantly, most work on the western does not actually focus on the whole generic corpus of the western as on a particular cohort of pictures from the 1950s and 1960s, a period that was seen at the time as a major departure from earlier eras (see Bazin, 1971; Cawelti, 1971 and 1976; Kitses, 1969; Maltby, 1995; Schatz, 1981; Wright, 1975). Many examples were distinguished specifically from the westerns of the past through the processes of promotion and publicity: these westerns were consciously seen as ‘upscaling’ the genre, and many were prestige films that were presented as serious, significant and even as ‘Class A productions’. If later critics would stress the mythic qualities of these films, promotion and publicity at the time often stressed their realism, psychological complexity and social commentary (often through an implied contrast with the westerns of earlier periods). Significantly, despite the often quoted ending to John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) – ‘When the legend becomes fact, print the legend’ – this film actually spends it time detailing the ‘facts’ at the expense of the ‘legend’ (see also for example Fort Apache, which has a similar structure).
Furthermore, despite the association with stars such as John Wayne, many of these films were made by liberal, and even leftist filmmakers (see, for example, Krutnik, Neale, Neve and Stanfield, 2007; Buhle and Wagner, 2015; and Boddy, 1998, who makes a similar point about the television western of the period). The post-war period was one in which those on the left, right and centre all framed themselves as anti-totalitarian guardians of liberty, while the western’s relation to manifest destiny could either be used to justify the worst examples of Cold War expansionism; covertly reinterpreted in terms of the anti-fascist popular front of the 1940s that called for America to act as a champion of liberation around the world; or overtly challenged through a rejection of ‘the blessing of civilisation’. In other words, while many accounts present the mid-1960s as a turning point in the western, which marks the transition from the classic to the revisionist picture, there are serious problems with and contradictions within this account. For example, although John Ford’s Cheyenne Autumn (1964) is often seen as a marker of this process, and as the director’s atonement for his handling of Native Americans in earlier pictures, Ford’s films had continually questioned the treatment of the Indians since, at the very least, Fort Apache (1948), and westerns of the 1950s commonly framed racism as social problem, as seen in Broken Arrow (1950); Seminole (1953); Broken Lance (1954); Apache (1954); and even The Searchers (1956).
In short, the supposedly ‘classic’ period of the western might not be quite as we remember it – it might not be the ‘classic’ period at all but, in fact, a prolonged revisionist period whose politics and presentation require re-evaluation. The proposed event will cover the period that roughly coincides with hegemony of New Deal liberalism, one that begins with the war against fascism and comes to an end with the election of Ronald Reagan and the era of neoliberalism. For convenience, we suggest a period from The Ox-Bow Incident (1942) until Heaven’s Gate (1980) which, of course, is also a period that dates from the war years, when Hollywood enjoyed a surge in cinema-going, the crisis of the studio system that followed the war and the end of the production code. We are looking for papers that revisit this period and offer new accounts of its production, its texts and its reception.
Topics may include, but are not limited to:
- Studios and the making of the post-war western
- Exporting the post-war western abroad
- Reinterpreting the post-war western abroad
- The marketing of the post-war western
- The critical reception of post-war westerns
- Authoritarianism in the post-war western
- The post-war western and conformity
- Dilemmas of individualism
- Modernity, technology and industrialisation
- The Western and the World: Manifest Destiny, American exceptionalism and narratives of empire in the Cold War era
- Called a Peacemaker but I didn’t know why: contradictions of peacekeeping in the period
- Law-making and Lawbreaking
- Narratives of conflict and reconciliation
- Regeneration through violence or the repudiation of violence
- Varying/evolving modes and depictions of violence
- Gender in the post-war western
- Generic distinctions – superwesterns, anti-westerns and epics of American history
- Not just John Wayne – stardom and stars in the post-war western
- The value(s) of land and the bounding/unbounding of cultural and literal landscapes
- Discourses of realism: psychology, social commentary and the ‘adult’ western,
- Conflicting masculinities in the post-war western
- Western heroes as mediators/the loss of their symbolic value
- Relations to other media, such as literature, visual arts, popular music, radio, television, theme-parks and video-games
Proposals should be sent to the organisers by 1 February, 2021.