I can remember sitting with my father-in-law in his living room a few days before he died. He was energetic that day, with the cancer giving him some moments of fun instead of sapping his energy.
We watched westerns all day long. His favorite movie was The Searchers from John Ford, so it was the first item on the menu. We took turns picking films after that. When I’d choose something more modern like Unforgiven, he’d pull out a copy of Shane to silently cheer for Jack Palance’s villain.
Superhero movies are what we get all of the time today. Marvel has cashed in on a slowly building trend for over 20 years, leaving us with bland tales, predictable outcomes, and tons of CGI.
I’ll go back to the westerns any day of the week, and here’s why.
1. It is a reflection of what life is like right now.
Although Shane doesn’t fit into this equation, most Westerns operate in shades of gray. They force you to question your morality while encouraging you to walk a mile in those cowboy boots. We face tough choices in our world right now. The lessons learned on the big screen are more helpful than harmful.
2. You can get through several in a day.
The older Westerns are the perfect length for someone used to binge-watching shows like The Walking Dead. Many of the films from the 1950s were under 80 minutes, demonstrating what it means to create suspense and character development without generating boredom.
3. We can learn lessons from history.
The stereotypes of minorities and tribal culture in the older westerns are cringe-worthy today. You can’t even publish some of the character names because they are so offensive. When you see these films, you gaze at a window into history where it is possible to see how much we’ve grown. For me, the epitome of these cinematic traits is found in the movie The Tall T.
4. The landscapes are stunning.
Westerns are the only film genre that celebrates the stark wilderness of the U.S. West for what it really is: a chance to create a new life. People moved away from the cities to start farms, ranches, and communities based on their desires. A few gold and silver rushes helped to expand some population centers. When you watch almost any film, the background is gorgeous.
I’m not saying all Marvel movies are terrible. I like the Guardians of the Galaxy films and adored Black Panther. When I think of the best cinema of all time, nothing comes close to a western.