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Posts Tagged ‘westerns’

Best Western

February 26, 2014 | by

Happy Birthday, Buffalo Bill.

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Postcard, Courier Lithography Company, ”Buffalo Bill” Cody, 1900, National Portrait Gallery, via Google Art Project

Buffalo Bill's Special Service; or, The Death Dance of the Apaches. 1906
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Ned Buntline. Buffalo Bill's Best Shot. 1897
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Buffalo Bill's Last Scalp (Ornum and Company's Indian Novels, No. 6). 1872

“Buffalo Bill's Last Scalp”, Ornum and Company’s Indian Novels, 1872

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No one did more to shape our concept of the American West than William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody, the hunter, would-be cowboy, and showman whose traveling revue, “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World,” helped create the dime-novel image of frontier life that persists to this day. Cowboys, injuns, tipis, headdresses, firewater, peace pipes, weathered wide-brimmed hats, fearless feats of derring-do, stagecoach heists, impossibly accurate gunplay, bucolic campfires, tremulous harmonicas, bareback rides across windswept prairies, vast herds of grazing bison, virile stallions, lawless lands, hootin’, hollerin’, spectoratin’—the whole whooping metaverse came straight out of Bill’s fringed leather pockets. Today, his story exists in a kind of liminal space between history, mythos, and stagecraft; no one really knows what’s true and what isn’t. But however he lived, the dude gave us the Western, and he reminds of simpler times. He staked his massive celebrity on the speed with which he could dispatch a herd of buffalo—think about that.

These illustrations pay fitting tribute to the Buffalo Bill zeitgeist: its bumptious individualism, its rugged sense of adventure, and, yes, its racial insensitivity. Except where noted, they come from the first of his two autobiographies, 1879’s The Life and Adventures of Buffalo Bill, and from Buffalo Bill Stories, “a weekly publication devoted to border history” from the early twentieth century. As bigoted as some of these images are, though, it’s worth noting that Bill hired many Native Americans to tour in his troupe—“show Indians,” as they were pejoratively known—and he shared in their horror as the West he knew was tamed, subdivided, denatured, and “civilized.” Quoth Wikipedia: “He called [Indians] ‘the former foe, present friend, the American,’ and once said, ‘Every Indian outbreak that I have ever known has resulted from broken promises and broken treaties by the government.’”

 

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Christopher Sorrentino on ‘Death Wish’

November 17, 2010 | by

Charles Bronson plays Paul Kersey in Death Wish (1974).

Christopher Sorrentino’s Death Wish is a monograph on the controversial and eponymous 1974 action movie. It stars Charles Bronson as Paul Kersey, an architect turned vigilante after his wife is murdered and his daughter is brutally assaulted in their New York City apartment. The book is the second installment in Soft Skull’s Deep Focus series, which invites contemporary writers to examine important popular films. I recently interviewed Sorrentino about his new book via e-mail.

In the 1970s, Hollywood produced a number of superficially political, urban action films. I’m thinking of Dirty Harry, which you discuss at some length in the book, and, of course, blaxploitation cinema. What made you decide to revisit Death Wish in particular?

Sean Howe approached me with the idea of writing about a movie that hadn’t been done to death, and we batted around a list of titles and genres ranging from eighties romantic comedies to zombie movies. The most prominent one we talked about was The French Connection. I really don’t like that movie, but it did get us talking about New York on film in the seventies. Among other reasons, Death Wish appealed to me because I’ve always been fascinated by Charles Bronson—since I was a kid. I didn’t have especially high expectations for the film itself, although Death Wish ended up surprising me a lot.

When did you first see the film?

Oh, probably when I was a teenager.

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