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What are the codes and conventions of the Western?

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What are the codes and conventions of the Western? In this essay I shall examine the various codes and conventions which are present in the Western film. I shall examine three films. These are The Searchers, a film which includes as its hero John Wayne playing the part of Ethan, A Fistfull of Dollars, in which Clint Eastwood plays the part of the hero with no name, and Stagecoach, in which John Wayne is also present, acting the part of The Ringo Kidd. I shall examine the first sections of all three films, as to perform a detailed analysis of all of the three films is a task beyond the scope of this essay. Beforehand, however, I shall describe some common aspects of cinematography. . . A high camera angle is used to make the audience appreciate the significance of a character in the Western. This camera angle is used to make the person look ordinary or common, inferior to another character, or small in relation to another character in the script. A low camera angle is used to stress the importance of the dominant character. The person's status within the film is very easily measured by how large they appear to be to the viewer at one particular time. If the camera follows one character in a film for example, this could provide a link between scenes in the mind(s) of the viewer. If the camera stays in a static position, and the person walks away for example, this could signify the end of a scene. Deep focus and wide angle shots of the desert are often used in the opening credits of the Western film, as they ensure that the viewer appreciates the full glory and magnitude of the desert enviroment. The set around the actors in a Western can be used to communicate different ideas to the viewer. A person in a bar will give the audience very different mental picture to the same person in a desert, just as ...read more.


Ethan kills Futtermann as self-defence - he was brought up to kill, and was threatened, and so reacted to the threat. A rational, civilised man would have explored other options before killing the man, but Ethan sees the only option laid before him as death. The other option open to a rational man would be to hold Fulemann captive, and take him to the Sheriff, but instead Ethan took a risk, by shooting him in the back. The theme in a Western I have named Anarchy Vs. Law and Order is very similar to Desert Vs. Civilisation, as the Desert can symbolise Anarchy, and Law and Order can be symbolised by Civilisation. In a Western, the Lone Hero will always work independently of Law and Order. Ultimately, the Lone Hero will do things which will contribute towards the common good, but in order to achieve this he will us unorthodox methods - i.e. he will work against the law in order to ultimately work with them. Most Westerns contain similar rituals - examples of which are the brawls within the saloon, and the gunfights. These tell the audience who the enemies of the hero are, and are a very useful cinemagraphical tool. The brawl itself achieves what could have been achieved using words, but it achieves it instead in a very exciting and absorbing way. The brawl between Marty and Charlie is an example of this (In The Searchers). In the film "A Fistful of Dollars", the lone hero is corrupt. This is similar to the status of the lone hero in many of the so called "Spaghetti Westerns". (The Spaghetti Westerns were filmed in Italy, using Italian actors in all but the leading role, and dubbed with American voices). The Spaghetti Westerns totally changed the face of the Western, as they became more and more violent - and the lone hero became a much more vicious character. ...read more.


She is pregnant, and needs the help of a fellow woman, but when Dallas offers her some help, she refuses - presumably just on principle, and not because she thinks Dallas is particularly unsuited to the job. When the coach stops and Lady Mallory goes into labour, she has no choice over who helps her deliver her baby. Dallas and The drunken doctor is called in to help. He is made to drink black coffee to make himself sick, and then is shocked with cold water, to try to sober him up enough to deliver the baby. When the baby has been delivered, the doctor immediately starts to drink again. The bottle is in the centre of the frame, showing its importance in the mind of the doctor. Dallas and Henry have a conversation that is heavy with mis-en-scene - with the coral in the background, and both of them on the road in the darkness. The next morning, the coach occupants find that the Mexicans have run away with the coach's horses. The Banker believes that his bag and stolen money have been taken, and gets very angry with the man who looked after his bag for him. Dallas has slept up all night with Lady Mallory, and this is a stark contrast to the doctor, who has spent the night in a drunken stupor. The doctor comes in the morning with several days of beard growth on his face. There is a sharp contrast between the two people. I can conclude from this essay that in all three films which I have discussed seem to follow the codes and conventions which I stated in the main body of this essay. Revenge, Law and Order, Desert Vs. Civilisation, Anarchy Vs. Law and Order, Freedom Vs. Responsibility. These are all present in each of the Western films which I have discussed. The main themes in each of the films are as follows - Revenge in The Searchers, Anarchy Vs. Law and Order in A Fistfull of Dollars, and Law and Order (at least to some extent) in Stagecoach. ...read more.

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Here's what a teacher thought of this essay

The conclusion is OK, if a little cursory - it fits within the rather limited parametres defined by the essay's title question. The written English is a bit clunky, but the list of themes is fairly accurate and comprehensive.

It would be better if the conclusion also contained some closing reflection on why all Westerns contain these themes, and how it fits into the culture where those films are made and consumed.

I award 2 stars, 1 for research and 1 for chutzpah.

I've marked the essay on its own terms, as though it were an undergraduate essay, because I do applaud the research that's been done to amass so much detailed information on these films, and also because there is a lot of work here that is clearly your own thought, and which I found interesting.

However, viewed as a university level essay, the structure is appalling and the level of analysis is very superficial. This isn't really a logically coherent discourse that explores deeply the codes and conventions of westerns, and then makes some statement about what the genre as a whole means; it's more just a list of loosely connected observations about westerns, with no particular insight into what this tells us about Westerns as a whole. Moreover, there is no recognition that westerns have changed over the 40 year time period between when the first one was made (Stagecoach, 1939) and the last (Fistful, 1964), so there's no insight into why this might be the case. What has changed in the world, that made the western evolve until it was almost a pastiche of itself, and then finally all but disappear? There is much one can learn from analysing the lifecycle of a genre!

I sincerely hope that you will apply your intelligence to attending university and squiring there the rudiments of the narrative genre known as "the essay" - it is a powerful form of communication that too few people master, and when it is done well it can literally change the way that people think and feel forever.

Marked by teacher Govinda Dickman 10/09/2013

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