Wednesday, September 20, 2006

White horses and black hats


I've got a question whlle I'm still on the subject of Westerns.

Occasionally, I'll speak to people who aren't movie geeks. Well, frequently I do, but on a rare occasion I'll have this specific conversation. It seems most common with the sort who aren't really movie geeks, but are sort of the movie geek of their circle of non-geek friends. That sounds snobbish and other circumstances it would be, but I'm just painting a picture.

The subject of Westerns comes up and they'll express and vague distaste for them. I, being a Western geek, usually shoot off a list of great Westerns and ask if their distaste allows for the greatness of those movies, which generally it does for the ones on the list that they've seen.

Then they say, "I just don't like those old '50s movies with the white hat heroes and black hat villains and their mustache and all that."

I'll say, "Surely you don't mean movies like The Man From Laramie or No Name on the Bullet."

That, of course, leaves them staring blankly, so they stammer, "No, like the old John Wayne movies."

To which I respond, "Surely you don't mean movies like Red River or The Searchers."

This usually just leaves them with, "You know what I mean."

And the problem is, I don't.

Mind you, I've seen those old movies. I used to watch Matinee at the Bijou on PBS. I've spent hours and hours watching strange useless old movies. When I'm watching a documentary on the history of movies and someone who has done the same or grew up in the era or studied it makes a reference to those old movies, I know what they mean.

What I don't know is what regular guys who aren't movie geeks mean when they say it. Have they really seen them or have they just been convinced of them by the same documentaries and written the whole genre off? Have they been turned off by an older family member who dismissed Westerns to them in that manner and it stuck? Or is there something they've seen? If you turn on a movie station on a Saturday afternoon to find it playing a Western, you're vastly more likely to see a movie like one of the ones I described. That hasn't always been true, I know, but do they know?

Seriously, whenever I've sought out that kind of movie - and I have - it's always required an effort. I've very, very rarely stumbled across them.

Just something I was wondering.

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