Old Westerns: A Surprisingly Versatile Genre


R E V I E W – G E N R E


Ayaz Hamid


A musty saloon in a stereotypical Midwest town; tumbleweeds roll by as poncho wearing cowboys with revolvers spit out corny lines at each other and the familiar tune of a banjo plays in the background this particular imagery is something that is shared by quite a lot of people at the mention of Old Western films. However, aside from the beloved idea of vigilantes with Texan hats shooting at each other on horseback over a glass of whiskey, there are more subtle aspects of the genre that have been implemented with great success in a variety of works. The genre’s surprising contributions are a great anecdote at a potentially promising future.  

Starting off with a very unorthodox yet excellent use of the genre’s most appealing aspects is Shinichiro Watanabe’s Cowboy Bebop, released way back in 1997. Its popularity soared when it came on American cable show company, Adult Swim, due to its masterful combination of different genres, attractive plotlines, dialogues, and appealing music.

I myself am not an avid fan of anime in general but after finishing Cowboy Bebop, it is no wonder that even people who do not watch anime at all would become hardcore fans for the series. Cowboy Bebop represents the best one can weave out of both sci-fi and wild west influences, creating something which harkens back to the timeless and classic moments of Clint Eastwood movies and combines them with the realm of science fiction the likes of which reminds one of the giants of the genre such as Blade Runner. There’s an immense amount of inspiration from old samurai films from Akira Kurosawa as well, but the dominant theme of the series still revolves around that of a space western. 

The series’ music consist of a variety of jazz and cowboy blues that is still iconic to this day and it effortlessly manages to utilise the strong aspects of the Western genre such as the personalisation of rivalries and fights to a great extent. All around, Cowboy Bebop has managed to extricate the subtle yet impactful qualities of westerns and apply them in a setting where it enriches the overall narrative and stylistic appeal of the show without being too conspicuous for the general audience.

The second series on the list is one which has more notoriety than Cowboy Bebop in recent times. The Mandalorian is a spin off series of the acclaimed Star Wars saga that has gained widespread praise for similar qualities mentioned in my synopsis of Cowboy Bebop above, although there are indeed many different elements of it that puts the series in its own league. The plot revolves around a bounty hunter who is hired by a client to kill a target only for him to find out that his would-be prize is indeed a child. He forgets the notion about killing the creature and goes so far as to rescue him and strive to return him to his people. 

The entire series, while containing multiple iconic aspects familiar to Star Wars, such as aliens, exotic planets and other aspects of space fantasy — feels like one huge tribute to old Western movies and Kurosawa films. Fights on speeder bikes have the same energy as the classic chases on horseback, and old saloons have taken in the form of cantinas where heightened tension breaks out in fights in a similar fashion reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s films. The series’ creator John Favreau himself has admitted that old westerns and samurai movies inspired him to bring those aspects to Star Wars and he has no doubt done an excellent job while at it.                                                                          

Both these series have heavily drawn inspiration from old cowboy and Wild West films, a genre which, to be candid, often gets downplayed and associated with children fantasising about life in the past. However, these two great examples displayed above show how the genre can be effectively handled to portray unique personalities and characters and produce an intricate plot that keeps the viewer on their toes and serve as a great medium for world building in shows and movies.

It is interesting to speculate how these western-themed content might shape the future of the film industry, for this is a genre that is surprisingly versatile and phenomenal when it comes to the art of storytelling and scenery, a quality that any director worth their money would note.

 


Ayaz is a self-proclaimed coffee connoisseur who also happens to dabble in songwriting from time to time. Hit him up at [email protected] if you can tolerate an annoying Bob Dylan fan-boy fawning over fancy words.

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