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A CHANGE IN TRENDS A CONTENT ANALYSIS OF FIVE HOLLYWOOD WESTERN FILMS Jeffrey Spicer
FILMOGRAPHY v. Stagecoach, 1939 v. The Ox-Bow Incident, 1943 v. High Noon, 1952 v. The Searchers, 1956 v. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, 1962
WHY THESE WESTERNS? v These ones were ranked high on the IMDB popularity rankings for all-time Western films. v They are from the years 1939 to 1962 because that was around the time of a large growth in the popularity of the Western as a film. v The three John Ford ones were selected because John Ford helped make the Western a more popular and widespread genre, thus he is overrepresented, though not inappropriately so, in the sample. v The selections were also somewhat out of convenience, because there are only a few of the vast number of Westerns that came out during that era.
THE WESTERN v The definition of the Western can be quite simple “In essence of course, the western is both historically and geographically specific; it traces the settling of the American West (defined generally as the land West of the Mississippi) from the end of the Civil War until the early twentieth century. ” (Gehring, 1988, p. 26). v However, the contradictory elements within such a film are often complex and hard to define “East West, America versus Europe, garden versus desert, social order versus anarchy, individual versus community, town versus wilderness, cowboy versus Indian, schoolmarm versus dancehall girl, and on. The narrative trajectory of any western animates the governing civilizationsavagery opposition, generating a conflict—or more likely a whole series of conflicts—that are steadily intensified until a consummate, climactic confrontation becomes inevitable” (Gehring, 28, 1988).
THE WESTERN v. This study will use a selection of five Westerns to try and discern changes in the Hollywood Western format from 1939 to 1962. v. This transformation will be from pre-war Western to Revisionist Western, or even Psychological Western.
THE WESTERN SUBCATEGORIES v Pre-war: Optimistic, heroic protagonist. Positive view of White Anglo Saxon conquest of the west. Native Americans and Female characters are just plot devices in this category. Possible example Stagecoach v Psychological: Hero is often an anti-hero, not receiving any help from the townspeople. These films are darker than the classic ones and were brought on by post-war concerns and the prospect of the atomic bomb. Possibly High Noon, The Searchers v Revisionist: Cynical, anti-hero protagonist, skepticism toward ethics of western conquest, and more threedimensional treatment of Native American and Female characters. These films are more violent than earlier Westerns. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence
RATIONALE v Many studies have looked at Westerns from a critical-cultural perspective. v This study uses empirical methods to examine, through content analysis, which Westerns fall into which category of the Western genre. v This puts genre studies to the test, and would be useful in future genre classifications.
v H: Stagecoach will have themes consistent with a pre-war western, while the others will share features consistent with a Revisionist or Psychological Western. v RQ 1: Will characters in later westerns have greater tendencies toward rebelliousness and violence than their predecessors? v RQ 2: Will White conquest of the West be seen as less heroic by later Westerns? v The codebook contains a film analysis, and a character analysis as well.
Items in the film analysis measure cast composition, use of terms and concepts (Manifest Destiny), use of technology, violence and ethnicity, example from codebook of violence questions: Heroic Non-Heroic 19. How many times is a gun drawn with intent to harm or threaten? 20. How many times it used in harming another character? 21. How many times is an alternative weapon (other than a gun, but capable of destruction) drawn with intent to harm or threaten? 22. How many times is it used in harming another character? Character to character violence: Indicate how often Native American characters are shown being aggressed upon by the Caucasian characters. 23 A. How many Native Americans are killed? 23 B. How many Native Americans are injured? Heroic Non-Heroic
METHODOLOGY: FILM ANALYSIS v structural oppositions: example from codebook. This will be coded as No (0) or Yes (1) 29. Check all that apply: Frontier law vs. man’s law Community vs. individual Civilization vs. wilderness
METHODOLOGY: CHARACTER ANALYSIS v. Items will measure gender, ethnicity, age, and occupation. v. This will be followed by psychological measures…
Character Traits (measured at the introduction of the character, then at the end): Gentle-Free from harshness, sternness, or violence. Passive. Rough-Characterized by harshness, violence, or force. Coarse or rugged in character. 110. Very rough 00 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 Very gentle Strong-displaying the ability to continue functioning in a healthy way despite setbacks. Resistant to giving up. Weak-greatly impaired and upset by the events that take place. Changeable to the extent of conforming to values that they otherwise would not hold. Susceptible to temptation or fear. 111. Very weak 00 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 Very strong Kind-Of a sympathetic nature. Disposed to being helpful and concerned toward others. Good-hearted, friendly. 112. Not at all kind 00 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 Very kind
Psychoticism Traits (also measured at the beginning of the film, then at the end): Aggressive-Tendency toward or practicing aggression, defined as, a forceful action or procedure (as an unprovoked attack) especially when intended to dominate or master. Hostile, injurious, or destructive behavior or outlook especially when caused by frustration. Aggression can be physical or verbal. 113. Aggressive 00 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 Passive and without intent to harm Cold- Marked by a lack of sympathy, interest or sensitivity 114. Cold 00 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 Warm personality
CHARACTER ANALYSIS Negative Life Events (indicate all that apply to the character; 0 = does not apply. 1 = applies): 128 A. Death 128 B. Death of a spouse 128 C. Death of a child 128 D. Death of another loved one 128 E. Wrongly imprisoned 128 F. Imprisoned with justification 128 G. Being thrown off his/her homeland by federal government (Relocation of Native Americans) 128 H. Other 128 I. No negative life events noted
v. Half an hour will be selected from the exact midpoints of each of the five films v. Two characters will be chosen from each film, for the purposes of using the character analysis portion of the codebook.
v. I will have all three coders (Matt, Mike, and I) code the first three films, and I will run some PRAM reliability tests. v. The last two, I will code by myself and look for means on the variables in all five films.
LIMITATIONS v This study examines the postwar period, when many Westerns were evolving their style toward a more revisionist paradigm, however… v The coding is accomplished in a far different environment with different viewers than saw the Westerns originally, making it difficult to say exactly what the films would mean to someone of that era. v Perhaps another study could look at larger social trends during the mid -twentieth century and to see how they shaped Hollywood filmmaking, or vise versa.
THE SEARCHERS v In the following clip, John Wayne’s character has been searching for his niece Debbie, who was kidnapped by Comanche. v This clip shows the dread of the “Indian. ” v John Wayne has decided to kill Debbie because she has lived with the Comanche for so long, and has become “one of them. ” v “It seems that when Debbie moves she is in an "Indian mode, " but when she is still, she is in a ‘white woman mode. ’ When Debbie runs, Ethan pursues her; when she stops he can see her as his niece” (Movshovitz, 71).
CLIP FROM THE SEARCHERS
REFERENCES Gehring, W. D. (1988). Handbook of American film genres. Connecticut: Greenwood Press. Graham, D. (1980). The women of “High Noon”: A revisionist view. Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature, 34, 243 -251. Grant, B. K. (2003). Film genre reader three. Austin: University of Texas Press. Hilger, M. (1986). The American Indian in film. Metuchen, N. J. , and London: The Scarecrow Press, Inc. Jeffres, L. W. , Bracken, C. C. , Atkin, D. , & Neuendorf, K. (2010). Moving from theorizing to application: Predicting audience enjoyment of tv formats. American Journal of Media Psychology, 3, 156 -179. Jeffres, L. , Neuendorf, K. , Giles, D. (1990, November). Film genre: Matching audience expectations with critical assessments. Paper presented at the annual conference of the Midwest Association for Public Opinion Research (MAPOR), Chicago, Ill. Kollin, S. (2001). Genre and the geographies of violence: Cormac Mc. Carthy and the contemporary western. Contemporary Literature, 42, 557 -588. Maynard, R. A. (1974). The American west on film: Myth and reality. New Jersey: Hayden Book Company.
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