Weekly Film Recap #19 (Acid Westerns)

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One of the most prominent genres of the Classical Hollywood Era was the Western. The Western was known for it’s beautiful landscapes and heroic characters that created a mythos for masculinity. However, in the late 60s a new sub-genre of the Western was born: the Acid Western.

The Acid Western played on a lot of the conventions of the traditional Western by placing the stories and characters in the American Frontier, however the Acid Western used these stories, not to portray this mythos of the American hero, but to analyze the counter-culture from an origin point, such as the Wild West. On top of that, a lot of Acid Westerns defy the genre by focusing on only one or a few people, creating a sense of isolation that’s only further exemplified through the western landscape. This isolation allows these films to play with more hallucinatory aspects of the Western journey.

The Shooting was the first Acid Western, but El Topo popularized it. While this main rush of Acid Westerns came in the 60s and 70s, you’ll see as we go through that its influence has stretched all the way up to the present!

Enjoy and let us know in the comments which of these you liked the most or are most interested in checking out!

THE SHOOTING     (dir. Monte Hellman)   This film was a project directed by Monte Hellman that was unanimously produced by the great Roger Corman. Hellman and Corman worked on quite a few pictures together, but to me, none of them compare to his 1966 Acid Western  The Shooting .   The Shooting  stars Warren Oates as Willet Gashade, an ex-bounty hunter who, along with his dopey friend Coley, meet a mysterious woman (Millie Perkins) who enters into their camp without any warning. She needs their help crossing the desert and she pays them handsomely, however she refuses to tell them why she’s going where she’s going. Along the way, the group encounters Billy, played by a young Jack Nicholson, who’s been tailing them the whole time. Turns out that he and the mysterious woman have something in cahoots, but Willet can’t figure out for the life of him what it is.   The Shooting  is now looked back on as one of the first Acid Westerns of all time. As opposed to the traditional Western where the world was portrayed through the lens of the western frontier,  The Shooting  strips all the home-comfort of the Western genre and uses the barren atmosphere to create a haunting sense of existential anxiety and paranoia-induced dread. Death is always just over their shoulder and with the introduction of Nicholson’s character, death is quite literally over their shoulder.    5/5     WATCH: The Criterion Channel

THE SHOOTING

(dir. Monte Hellman)

This film was a project directed by Monte Hellman that was unanimously produced by the great Roger Corman. Hellman and Corman worked on quite a few pictures together, but to me, none of them compare to his 1966 Acid Western The Shooting.

The Shooting stars Warren Oates as Willet Gashade, an ex-bounty hunter who, along with his dopey friend Coley, meet a mysterious woman (Millie Perkins) who enters into their camp without any warning. She needs their help crossing the desert and she pays them handsomely, however she refuses to tell them why she’s going where she’s going. Along the way, the group encounters Billy, played by a young Jack Nicholson, who’s been tailing them the whole time. Turns out that he and the mysterious woman have something in cahoots, but Willet can’t figure out for the life of him what it is.

The Shooting is now looked back on as one of the first Acid Westerns of all time. As opposed to the traditional Western where the world was portrayed through the lens of the western frontier, The Shooting strips all the home-comfort of the Western genre and uses the barren atmosphere to create a haunting sense of existential anxiety and paranoia-induced dread. Death is always just over their shoulder and with the introduction of Nicholson’s character, death is quite literally over their shoulder.

5/5

WATCH: The Criterion Channel

EL TOPO     (dir. Alejandro Jodorowsky)   Jodorowsky’s famous midnight circuit film  El Topo  left everyone in the 1970s speechless with his surreal and mystical imagery. John Lennon praised this film immensely, so much so that he went on to help finance Jodorowsky’s next film.   El Topo  opens up with the eponymous character played by Jodorowsky himself. He rides up o na horse with his young son and tells him to bury a toy and a photo of his mother in the sand for he is a man now. The two go on a journey until Topo meets an enslaved woman and leaves his son with some monks as he and this new woman travel together. She convinces Topo to take out four gunmen, but the guilt of doing so almost kills him.  I wish I could do a better job of explaining the film, but no kind of explanation would serve this film any favors. This is a tough film to watch because it is so dense with eastern mysticism and symbols of eastern religion that if you’re not completely well-versed in those areas, the whole film is nothing more than a visual showcase of ‘weirdism.’ This films run on the midnight circuit gained it widespread acclaim and brought notoriety to the Acid Western genre.    4/5     WATCH: iTunes, 123Movies (FREE)

EL TOPO

(dir. Alejandro Jodorowsky)

Jodorowsky’s famous midnight circuit film El Topo left everyone in the 1970s speechless with his surreal and mystical imagery. John Lennon praised this film immensely, so much so that he went on to help finance Jodorowsky’s next film.

El Topo opens up with the eponymous character played by Jodorowsky himself. He rides up o na horse with his young son and tells him to bury a toy and a photo of his mother in the sand for he is a man now. The two go on a journey until Topo meets an enslaved woman and leaves his son with some monks as he and this new woman travel together. She convinces Topo to take out four gunmen, but the guilt of doing so almost kills him.

I wish I could do a better job of explaining the film, but no kind of explanation would serve this film any favors. This is a tough film to watch because it is so dense with eastern mysticism and symbols of eastern religion that if you’re not completely well-versed in those areas, the whole film is nothing more than a visual showcase of ‘weirdism.’ This films run on the midnight circuit gained it widespread acclaim and brought notoriety to the Acid Western genre.

4/5

WATCH: iTunes, 123Movies (FREE)

THE HIRED HAND     (dir. Peter Fonda)   Peter Fonda came off the success of  Easy Rider  and made his directorial debut in 1971 with his spiritual Western  The Hired Hand .  Fonda stars as Harry, a loner who’s been away from home for over 7 years. Alongside him is his buddy Arch, played by Warren Oates, as the two of them make their way back to Harry’s home where he falls back into the responsibility of raising and supporting a family.   The Hired Hand  takes the vast and empty landscape of the West and, in conjunction with Fonda’s creative editing, makes a hallucinatory and lonely setting that creates a truly spiritual Western that stands apart from the surreal westerns that tend to define this sub-genre.    4/5     WATCH: Youtube (FREE)

THE HIRED HAND

(dir. Peter Fonda)

Peter Fonda came off the success of Easy Rider and made his directorial debut in 1971 with his spiritual Western The Hired Hand.

Fonda stars as Harry, a loner who’s been away from home for over 7 years. Alongside him is his buddy Arch, played by Warren Oates, as the two of them make their way back to Harry’s home where he falls back into the responsibility of raising and supporting a family.

The Hired Hand takes the vast and empty landscape of the West and, in conjunction with Fonda’s creative editing, makes a hallucinatory and lonely setting that creates a truly spiritual Western that stands apart from the surreal westerns that tend to define this sub-genre.

4/5

WATCH: Youtube (FREE)

GREASER’S PALACE     (dir. Robert Downey Sr.)   Written and Directed by Robert Downey Sr.,  Greaser’s Palace  takes the groundwork laid in  El Topo  to create a uniquely original and hilarious take on the Western.   Greaser’s Place  follows a man named Jesse who doubles as a more modern figure of Jesus Christ, only this one’s roaming through the West. In fact, he tells everyone hemmers that he’s on his way to Jerusalem to become an ‘actor/singer.’  The film’s structure is pretty loose and doesn’t spend too much in the way of creating a solid narrative, but it succeeds effortlessly in satirizing the concept of organized religion and presenting it in such a creative manner. This film also has a cool little role courtesy of the director’s not-yet famous son Robert Downey Jr!    3.5/5     WATCH: Putlocker (FREE)

GREASER’S PALACE

(dir. Robert Downey Sr.)

Written and Directed by Robert Downey Sr., Greaser’s Palace takes the groundwork laid in El Topo to create a uniquely original and hilarious take on the Western.

Greaser’s Place follows a man named Jesse who doubles as a more modern figure of Jesus Christ, only this one’s roaming through the West. In fact, he tells everyone hemmers that he’s on his way to Jerusalem to become an ‘actor/singer.’

The film’s structure is pretty loose and doesn’t spend too much in the way of creating a solid narrative, but it succeeds effortlessly in satirizing the concept of organized religion and presenting it in such a creative manner. This film also has a cool little role courtesy of the director’s not-yet famous son Robert Downey Jr!

3.5/5

WATCH: Putlocker (FREE)

PAT GARRETT and BILLY THE KID     (dir. Sam Peckinpah)    Pat Garrett  isn’t too much of an Acid Western per se, but it does have a lot of it’s influence deep down in it’s DNA. The film was written by one of the foremost writers of the subgenera, Rudolph Werlitzer and was intended to be directed by the creator of the Acid Western, Monte Hellman. Add the counter-culture icons in Kris Kristofferson and Bob Dylan to the cast and you got yourself the workings of a true Acid Western.  Directed by the violently legendary director Sam Peckinpah,  Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid  is a fictionalized take on Billy the Kid’s last days. James Coburn stars as Pat Garrett, the newly appointed sheriff who’s been assigned to take down his old friend Billy the Kid.  Peckinpah highlights the inner conflict Garrett feels as he’s faced with the troubling dilemma of having to kill the young, free version of himself that he sees in Billy. The killing of Billy the Kid represents the ending of Garrett’s drive for his youthful freedom.    5/5     WATCH: iTunes, Putlocker (FREE)

PAT GARRETT and BILLY THE KID

(dir. Sam Peckinpah)

Pat Garrett isn’t too much of an Acid Western per se, but it does have a lot of it’s influence deep down in it’s DNA. The film was written by one of the foremost writers of the subgenera, Rudolph Werlitzer and was intended to be directed by the creator of the Acid Western, Monte Hellman. Add the counter-culture icons in Kris Kristofferson and Bob Dylan to the cast and you got yourself the workings of a true Acid Western.

Directed by the violently legendary director Sam Peckinpah, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid is a fictionalized take on Billy the Kid’s last days. James Coburn stars as Pat Garrett, the newly appointed sheriff who’s been assigned to take down his old friend Billy the Kid.

Peckinpah highlights the inner conflict Garrett feels as he’s faced with the troubling dilemma of having to kill the young, free version of himself that he sees in Billy. The killing of Billy the Kid represents the ending of Garrett’s drive for his youthful freedom.

5/5

WATCH: iTunes, Putlocker (FREE)

WALKER     (dir. Alex Cox)   Alex Cox gained prominence with his 1984 film  Repo Man  and essentially got blacklisted from Hollywood just three years later with this film,  Walker .  Ed Harris stars as the eponymous character  William Walker , an American filibuster who went down to Nicaragua and declared himself their president in order to gain control of the area. He’s sent out by Commodore Vanderbilt and while down there, Walker finds himself amidst a Peckinpah-esque state of violence where blood and gunshot wounds add to the presence of the Nicaraguan village.  Alex Cox uses this film as a satirical platform to analyze how absurdities from the 1800’s are still as prevalent today and he does that through anachronistic images, including helicopters, cars, and lighters that wouldn’t have been around during this time. The film is inventive in it’s effort and it was written by the writer of  Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid , Rudolph Werlitzer, who helped drastically shape the format of the Acid Western genre.    3/5     WATCH: Putlocker (FREE)

WALKER

(dir. Alex Cox)

Alex Cox gained prominence with his 1984 film Repo Man and essentially got blacklisted from Hollywood just three years later with this film, Walker.

Ed Harris stars as the eponymous character William Walker, an American filibuster who went down to Nicaragua and declared himself their president in order to gain control of the area. He’s sent out by Commodore Vanderbilt and while down there, Walker finds himself amidst a Peckinpah-esque state of violence where blood and gunshot wounds add to the presence of the Nicaraguan village.

Alex Cox uses this film as a satirical platform to analyze how absurdities from the 1800’s are still as prevalent today and he does that through anachronistic images, including helicopters, cars, and lighters that wouldn’t have been around during this time. The film is inventive in it’s effort and it was written by the writer of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Rudolph Werlitzer, who helped drastically shape the format of the Acid Western genre.

3/5

WATCH: Putlocker (FREE)

DEAD MAN     (dir. Jim Jarmusch)   Independent auteur Jim Jarmusch made an idiosyncratic mark with his take on the Western period piece. Inspired by an unpublished script by legendary Acid Western writer Rudolph Werlitzer,  Dead Man  is a chilling existential take on the Western frontier.  Johnny Depp stars as William Blake, an accountant from Cleveland who gets sent to the town of Machine where he’s been invited to work at the local metalworks factory. After getting turned down for the job, each bad thing gets worse and worse until he sleeps with an engaged woman and kills her fiancé. He’s now on the run as bounty hunters from all over the territory set out to find Blake and collect on his reward.  Jarmusch takes the staples of the Acid Western genre that can be seen in films like  The Shooting  and creatively activates the viewer’s attention by placing the character in a completely unique setting. Blake travels through the barren West, but the feel of the location is quite as robust and vast as they make it seem in Westerns like  the Searchers . Jarmusch keeps Blake rather contained within himself and immediate surroundings as he ventures through the Wild West. The continuous looming threat of death highlights the paranoid existential nature of the film and let’s the film shine as one of the darker and retrospective Acid Westerns to grace the silver screen.    5/5     WATCH: Criterion Channel

DEAD MAN

(dir. Jim Jarmusch)

Independent auteur Jim Jarmusch made an idiosyncratic mark with his take on the Western period piece. Inspired by an unpublished script by legendary Acid Western writer Rudolph Werlitzer, Dead Man is a chilling existential take on the Western frontier.

Johnny Depp stars as William Blake, an accountant from Cleveland who gets sent to the town of Machine where he’s been invited to work at the local metalworks factory. After getting turned down for the job, each bad thing gets worse and worse until he sleeps with an engaged woman and kills her fiancé. He’s now on the run as bounty hunters from all over the territory set out to find Blake and collect on his reward.

Jarmusch takes the staples of the Acid Western genre that can be seen in films like The Shooting and creatively activates the viewer’s attention by placing the character in a completely unique setting. Blake travels through the barren West, but the feel of the location is quite as robust and vast as they make it seem in Westerns like the Searchers. Jarmusch keeps Blake rather contained within himself and immediate surroundings as he ventures through the Wild West. The continuous looming threat of death highlights the paranoid existential nature of the film and let’s the film shine as one of the darker and retrospective Acid Westerns to grace the silver screen.

5/5

WATCH: Criterion Channel