Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Old West Rides Again



When my son was in kindergarten, he had to fill out an “expert” list so that he would never be short of something to write about when it came time for “writers' workshop.”  His six-year-old scrawl went like this: "I am an expert on The Magnificent Seven, bullfights, Stagecoach, John Wayne and snow leopards."

Obviously, there is no lack of testosterone in my house. 

The first time my three boys watched The Magnificent Seven, my youngest asked if he could watch it again even before the credits rolled through Charles Bronson, Yul Brynner, James Coburn, Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughan and Eli Wallach.

Days later he was still mesmerized by those heroes on horseback.  He wandered into the kitchen and asked, "Do you think if I wrote Chris, he'd write me back?" Confused at first, I finally figured out that he was talking about Yul Brynner's character, the leader of The Magnificent Seven -- or as the aficionados know, the leader of the Seven Samurai.  I explained that as real as Chris may be to him, Yul Brynner died in the 1980s, so no, he was no longer pen pal material.

In the years since, my son has added High Noon, True Grit, Once Upon A Time In The West, and one of The Duke's later pictures, The Cowboys, to his cinematic saddlebag of westerns. He has no patience for the more complicated pop-western Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid.  And we’re holding back on the Coen brothers' first contribution to the genre, No Country For Old Men.  At least for a few years.

Even though he has advanced to full third grade maturity, my son still returns to his first love.  Last week, he came home from school mid-morning with a fever and stomachache.  He got into his pirate pajamas and asked if he could have some crackers, lie on the couch and watch The Magnificent Seven.  Perhaps not what the doctor ordered, but it was just what a nine year old needed.

Westerns – as a genre – are built for nine-year-old boys.  And ninety-year-old boys. They are considered to be one of the few wholly original American art forms.  They tell simple but grand stories of the frontier, making order out of chaos, good versus evil, and that intangible yet definitive goal of justice.

The films are set in worlds with very clear order, the story lines are obvious and clean, and the characters fit traditional and predictable archetypes. They are tales of courage, determination and loyalty. The women can be damsels in distress or brothel betties, but all deserve protection. The good guy wears a white hat and the bad guy black.  

Yes, they can be that simple.  And at the same time, The Magnificent Seven and so many westerns, can be as complex as you would ever need them to be to teach a boy about being a man. They offer action, enduring dialogue, dramatic storytelling, character development, and morality. Mythic America meets Shakespeare.

Sure, the greatest injustice my son sees in his world is someone budging in line to go out for recess.  But Westerns have a rare ability to meet a viewer where he lives, and then to expand as he matures. Filling me in mid-movie one time, my son explained why the less-than-virtuous woman was being shunned by all but John Wayne, "See mom, the others don't know yet if they like girls, but Ringo does."

When my boys watch Westerns, it is a whole body experience. They stand. They sit. They jump up and down on the couch, cheering the hero during fight scenes or when the good guys take chase on horseback. Even down with a fever, my son sat right up when the seven horsemen had gathered and began their search for the bandit Calvera and his men.

"Oh, this is my favorite part," he said. "From here to the end of the movie." There was an hour and twenty-seven minutes remaining.

This year, the Academy of Motion Pictures is awarding The Magnificent Seven’s “bad guy” Eli Wallach with an Honorary Oscar to recognize “a lifetime’s worth of indelible screen characters.” Sure, Wallach has been in more than 90 movies – including one of The Godfather franchise, Mystic River and last year’s Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.  But he is best remembered and most loved for his Western roles.

"I'm going to write him a letter," said my nine-year-old, as soon as he heard the news of the award. Never mind that Wallach played the hard-hearted bandit stealing from farmers. My son still desperately wanted to have some personal connection to that world of heroes and fighting for justice.  Okay, maybe it has something to do with the guns and horses too.

Sure enough, just like a gunslinger’s promise that he’d be back, one week later a letter arrived in the mail for a 9-year-old boy from a 95-year-old Eli Wallach. 

“Respectfully yours, from an old Mexican bandit.” 

And that’s how lessons of kindness, integrity, and reverence are passed on, from one hero to the next. And then, of course, he mounts his horse and rides off into the sunset.


11 comments:

  1. I live in a home where Sergio Leone, John Wayne, John Ford, Clint Eastwood, and Eli Wallach are practically members of the family, so I am particularly moved by your piece, and want to thank you for your wonderful insight. Describing my husband as a "fan" of westerns doesn't come close to describing his love and reverence for the genre. Now he's passing that appreciation on to our 9-year-old (and me for that matter!), and your post struck me in a way that it wouldn't have in my pre-Leone/Wayne/Ford years. Thank you once again for a great read!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Those have all been small Xue Wu Ding to absorb, is a blessing or a curse I do not know, he did not have time to think of these, he felt more and more big black chicken flavor peculiar, and feeling like you want to north face outlet online be explode in general.

    Before the discovery of a north face factory outlet mutation that Wicked and plants immediately after the mask is propped up the defense, Xue Wu seems to be that all-pervasive, they easily pass through the defense mask, entered the body, may Leng Shimo thing.

    Later, when the pubic region, north face factory outlet as suddenly shocked, I saw dozens of blue north face outlet online the north face outlet thread among small tripod circled the north face outlet Xue Wu and Xue Wu is also constantly inhaling them.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Oncle Seven semble vient de se north face femme pas cher réveiller à Dieu de les souvenirs, les expressions avec douleur indicible. pas cher soupira et sortit une north face pas cher cigarette et remis oncle dit Seven north face pas cher Je pensais que depuis le jour où la porte n'est plus rien à voir avec, qui pensait north face homme pas cher après toutes ces north face pas cher années, le jour, la porte de gens semblent réellement ici. Seven oncle, est de savoir comment il ya de nombreuses années, cette fois, ils viennent ici est de trouver la jeune fille ne savez pas que vous étiez ici. En outre, de north face pas cher nombreuses années se sont écoulées, ils ont peut-être vous mettre l'oublier. pas cher est de réconforter oncle Seven, qu'il ne soit pas trop nerveux. Mais de dire qu'ils doudoune north face pas cher se sont précipités à sa north face pas cher parole. Être parfois oublié est une bonne chose, mais parfois une tragédie.

    ReplyDelete
  4. nike shoes, Cheap Jordans,Cheap Jordan Shoes,Cheap Air Max,Cheap Free Run Shoes,nike shoes,nike outlet,nike factory,nike store,nike factory outlet,nike outlet store,cheap nike shoes,nike sneakers, toms outlet, toms outlet,tom shoes,toms shoes outlet,tom shoes,toms wedges,cheap toms,toms.com, air jordan, air jordan,jordan shoes,cheap jordans,air jordans,jordan retro,air jordan shoes,jordans,jordan 11,jordan xx9,jordan 6,new jordans,retro jordans,jordan retro 11,jordan 5,air jordan 11,jordans for sale,jordan 4,jordan 1,jordan future,jordan 3,jordan 12,michael jordan shoes,air jordan retro, cheap jordans, cheap jordans,cheap jordan shoes,cheap jordan,cheap jordans for sale,jordans for cheap,jordan shoes,jordans,air jordan,jordan retro,jordan 11,jordan xx9,jordan 6,new jordans,air jordans,retro jordans,jordan retro 11,jordan 5,air jordan 11,jordans for sale,jordan 4,jordan 1,jordan future,jordan 3,jordan 12,michael jordan shoes,air jordan shoes,air jordan retro, jordan retro, jordan retro,jordan shoes,air jordan,air jordans,retro jordans,air jordan retro,jordans,jordan 11,jordan xx9,jordan 6,new jordans,cheap jordans,jordan retro 11,jordan 5,air jordan 11,jordans for sale,jordan 4,jordan 1,jordan future,jordan 3,jordan 12,michael jordan shoes,air jordan shoes, air max 90, air max 90,nike air max 90,air max 95,air max 2014,air max 2013,air max 1,nike air max,air max,nike air max 2014,airmax,nike air max 2013, air max 95, air max 95,nike air max 95,air max 90,nike air max 90,air max 2013,nike air max,air max,air max 2014,nike air max 2014,airmax,nike air max 2013, nike free 5.0, nike free 5.0, nike free trainer 5.0,nike free run 5.0,free running 2,nike free run,nike free,free running,nike running shoes,nike free trainer,free runs,free run 5.0, omega watches, omega watches,omega watch,replica watches,rolex watches,replica omega watches,rolex,watches for men,watches for women,rolex watches for sale,rolex replica,rolex watch,cartier watches,rolex submariner,fake rolex,rolex replica watches,replica rolex, ralph lauren outlet, ralph lauren outlet,ralph lauren outlet online,polo ralph lauren outlet,polo ralph lauren outlet online,polo ralph lauren,ralph lauren,polo ralph,polo shirts,ralphlauren.com,polo outlet,ralph lauren polo, oakley sunglass, swarovski crystal

    ReplyDelete
  5. oakley sunglasses,cheap oakley,cheap oakley sunglasses,oakley sunglasses cheap,oakley outlet,oakley sunglasses outlet,oakley vault,oakleys,oakley.com,sunglasses outlet,cheap sunglasses,oakley prescription glasses,fake oakleys,oakley glasses,oakley store,fake oakley,oakley sale,cheap oakleys,discount oakley sunglasses, ray ban sunglasses, Ray Ban Sunglasses,Ray Ban Outlet,Ray Ban Sale,Cheap Ray Bans,Cheap Ray Ban Sunglasses,ray ban sunglasses outlet,ray ban,rayban,ray bans,ray-ban,raybans,ray ban wayfarer,ray-ban sunglasses,raybans.com,rayban sunglasses,cheap ray ban, burberry, burberry,burberry outlet,burberry outlet online,burberry factory outlet,burberry sale,burberry handbags, chanel bags, chanel bags,chanel handbags,chanel sunglasses,chanel outlet,chanel purses,chanel handbags official site, coach outlet store, coach outlet,coach outlet store,coach outlet store online,coach outlet stores,coach factory outlet,coach factory,coach factory online,coach factory outlet online,coach outlet online, chaussures louboutin, louboutin,louboutin pas cher,christian louboutin,louboutin chaussures,louboutin soldes,chaussure louboutin,chaussures louboutin,chaussure louboutin pas cher,louboutin france, sac michael kors, michael kors,sac michael kors,michael kors sac,michael kors pas cher,sac michael kors pas cher,michael kors france, north face outlet, north face outlet,the north face,north face,the north face outlet,north face jackets,north face jackets clearance,northface, yoga pants, yoga pants,lululemon,lululemon outlet,lululemon athletica,lululemon addict,lulu lemon,lulu.com,lululemon.com, beats by dre, beats by dre,beats headphones,beats audio,beats by dr dre,beats by dre headphones,dr dre,dre beats,beats by dr,dr dre beats,dre headphones,beats by dr. dre,cheap beats, ferragamo, ferragamo,salvatore ferragamo,ferragamo shoes,ferragamo outlet,salvatore ferragamo outlet,ferragamo belts,ferragamo belt,ferragamo outlet, nike blazer, nike blazer,blazer nike,nike blazer pas cher,Chaussures Nike Blazer,Nike Blazer Femme, nike air force, swarovski

    ReplyDelete
  6. Polo Ralph Lauren Pas Cher tête poing battre pour. pas cher Polo Ralph Lauren Pas Cher fuite précipitée, Polo Ralph Lauren Pas Cher Muhammad Ralph Lauren Soldes ne me tue pas me rend fou vous mettez. Je voulais juste maudit, un plus grand que sa mais il a été jeté à terre une autre poing. Le vieil Polo Ralph Lauren Pas Cher Ralph Lauren Soldes homme l'excitation affectueusement, cria pas cher a été jeté hors du ring.

    ReplyDelete