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Fowler’s Flix 01.30.19: The Wild West, Revisited

Kino Lorber
Don Johnson and John Rubinstein look for gunfighter glory in the rock and roll western Zachariah.
Fertile Ground Compost Service
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The traditional western that our grandfathers once knew is long gone and, when you think about it, that’s probably a good thing.

The jingoistic John Wayne cowboys have been replaced with troubled anti-heroes, time out of place anachronisms and a more respectful view towards Natives. Starting in the late 60s for the most part, the revisionist western changed not only how we saw the Wild West, but how it was artfully interpreted around the world.

Ahead of its time and out of its mind is the rock and roll western Zachariah (Kino Lorber) from 1971.

Billed as the first “electric western,” this hippie-flick is reminiscent of El Topo, but with more acid than philosophy as we follow the titular fresh-faced gunfighter Zachariah (John Rubinstein) and his pal Matthew (Don Johnson) roaming the west, looking to become the most feared gunfighters anyone has ever seen.

With live performances from Country Joe and the Fish, The James Gang, Doug Kershaw and the New York Rock Ensemble, the way the musical sequences are mixed into the story are handled with anachronistic deft by director George Englund. Sure, the flower-power story may make a few people wince, but it’s rare to see such a cinematic oddity given such a great and much needed shine and sheen.

A quiet, lonesome film from acclaimed director Arturo Ripstein from a screenplay by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Time to Die (Film Movement) tells the story of Juan Sayago (Jorge Martinez de Hoyos), a former fighter who has just finished an eighteen year stint in prison. A changed man, Juan returns to his hometown, ready to work, but the sons of the man he killed are there, foaming for rabid revenge.

A magnificent slow burn, Time to Die takes its time to unfurl its surrounding theme about how a man, who’s done so much bad in his past, even after changing, will still have demons that’ll chase forever him down. Filmed in 1966 and presented in glorious black and white, this was Ripstein’s mesmerizing debut, a subtle morality play that is one of the first revisionist westerns, mingling machismo with regret.

Based on the true story of a Paiute Native named Willie Boy and his run from the law in the deserts of California, Tell Them Willie Boy is Here (Kino-Lorber) is very much a watchably wrongheaded western that has its heart in the right place, for the most part. Never once eschewing his Brooklyn accent, Robert Blake is Willie Boy, who, even though his name is in the title, is overshadowed by star Robert Redford as the thoroughly grey-area Sheriff Cooper.

When Willie kills his bride Lola’s (brown-faced Katherine Ross) domineering father, a posse of men are itching to hang themselves an Indian, which also coincidentally coincides with the arrival of President Taft. As Cooper half-heartedly hunts for him, Willie occasionally stops to pontificate about the hatred of Natives by the white man, which is great and all, but by today’s standards can be justifiably problematic.

Still, it’s definitely worth a view, especially in light of so many of these Western atrocities brought to light.

The cumulation of the revisionist western probably reached an apex with Dances With Wolves (Shout! Factory), recently rereleased on Blu-ray with in a collector’s steel-book packaging. The story of a Civil War soldier (Kevin Costner) who, while stationed at a lonely outpost, befriends a tribe of Natives and apparently teaches them how to fight the white man. There’s also happens to be a kidnapped white love interest for him.

Dances With Wolves may be a beloved western today, but it’s also a very, I’ll use this word again, problematic one, very much defining the “white savior” trope for the masses. While not as singular about it—at least the Natives are given names and actual personalities—still, thirty years later, I wonder if Costner has learned enough about Natives if he would do things differently.

But I guess it can always be remade. That’s the great thing about revisionism.

Next week: World cinema from Cohen Media.

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About the Author

Louis Fowler

Güicho. Gadfly. Chicano. Choctaw. Cristero. Freelancer. Leftist. Activist. Vilified. PKD....

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