Acid Western Films

In December 2019, Marwa, who is a pupil at the Wissembourg High School had an English Exam.  Here is her preparation text for the oral exam.

First of all, I will explain what western means, then I will explain in detail the concept of acid western. And finally, where the term acid western comes from.

Western is a fiction genre which tells stories set primarily in the latter half of the 19th century in the American Old West, often centring on the life of a nomadic cowboy or gunfighter armed with a revolver and a rifle riding a horse.

Acid Western is a subgenre of the Western film that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s that combines the metaphorical ambitions of critically acclaimed Westerns, with the excesses of the Spaghetti Westerns and the outlook of the 1960s counterculture.

The term “Acid Western” was coined by the film critic Pauline Kael in a review of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s film, El Topo, published in the November 1971 issue of The New Yorker. I will show you some pictures of the film El Topo. The trailer is very strange, if you like weird movies go and watch it but right now, we won’t see it. Jonathan Rosenbaum expanded upon the idea in his June 1996 review of Jim Jarmusch’s film Dead Man, a subsequent interview with Jarmusch for Cineaste, and later in the book Dead Man from BFI Modern Classics

In the book, Rosenbaum illuminates several aspects of this revisionist Western: from Neil Young’s haunting score to the role of tobacco, to Johnny Depp’s performance, to the film’s place in the acid-Western genre. Argues that the film inherits an artistic and political sensibility derived from the 1960s counterculture which has sought to critique and replace capitalism with alternative models of exchange. In the traditional Western, the journey west is seen as a road to liberation and improvement, but in the Acid Western, it is the opposite, a journey towards death; society becomes nightmarish. Rosenbaum used the term “Acid Western” to describe a “cherished counterculture dream” from the 1960s and 1970s “associated with people like Monte Hellman, Dennis Hopper, Jim McBride, and Rudy Wurlitzer, as well as movies like Greaser’s Palace; Alex Cox tapped into something similar in the 1980s with Walker.”

The Ox-Bow Incident (1943) and Yellow Sky (1948) feature characters that are forced to step out of society and take a stand against it. Yellow Sky in particular set up many elements that the director Monte Hellman picked up two decades later. Monte Hellman’s cult film The Shooting (1966) could be considered the first Acid Western.

The film’s stars Will Hutchins, Warren Oates and a young Jack Nicholson, and was anonymously financed by Roger Corman. The Shooting subverts the usual priorities of the Western to capture a sense of dread and uncertainty that characterised the counterculture of the late 1960s. Hellman quickly followed up with Ride in the Whirlwind (1966). It was an extremely ambitious big-budget Western about early American trappers and Indians, for which a virtually invented language of “trapper talk” was devised. The film was aborted one day before production. Wurlitzer’s unproduced 1970s screenplay Zebulon inspired Jarmusch’s Dead Man. Wurlitzer later transformed his script into the novel The Drop Edge of Yonder.

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