Programmed by Michael Metzger
"The Freudians have been in full cry across the prairie." --Richard Whitehall, Film Quarterly, 1966
André Bazin identified the essence of the Western genre as "unalloyed myth," rooted in "the ethics of the epic and even of tragedy." We might say the same of Freudian psychoanalysis, which modeled its theories of the mind after myths of antiquity. Those theories took hold in the American popular imagination--and in popular cinema--after World War II, fueled by wartime trauma, Cold War anxiety and the taboo-smashing revelations of the Kinsey Report.
Freudian and Western myths collide in this series, which sees the genre wrestling with repression, trauma, parent-child dynamics, and gender anxiety. For critic Richard Whitehall, these films mark a shift in the persona of the western hero, whose "struggle has become, not as it used to be, against exterior forces of lawlessness, but more and more against some deficiency or blemish in himself." Male sexuality is a major theme: Andrew Sarris found that in Freudian westerns, "the competitive violence of males [spills] over into the male-female confrontations, sometimes with the phallic obliqueness of an unsheathed six-shooter." But films like The Furies and Johnny Guitar also challenge a conventionally male-dominated genre with bracing images of female empowerment.
Including some of American cinema's greatest filmmakers and actors, this series surveys the Freudian western from the noir-inflected oaters of the late 1940s through the heyday of Method acting in the 1950s and into the revisionist present.
(Nicholas Ray, 1954) · Through impeccable design and keenly matched performances, Nick Ray balances modernist formalism with fervid violence in Johnny Guitar, one of the most subversive American films of the 1950s. The incendiary drama grows out of the conflicting desires of two businesswomen, the calculating, sexually confident Vienna (Joan Crawford) and her ragingly repressed rival Emma (Mercedes McCambridge); caught in the crossfire is Johnny (Sterling Hayden), a gunfighter seeking to rekindle an old flame.
runtime: 110m format: DCP
(Raoul Walsh, 1947) · From Niven Busch--novelist, screenwriter and architect of the Freudian Western--comes a noir-tinged study of repressed memories and familial rancor. Working with lenser James Wong Howe, director Raoul Walsh uses deep focus and chiaroscuro to follow the tragic fate of Robert Mitchum's Jeb Rand, whose life is shaped by a blood feud he only vaguely comprehends. Teresa Wright appears as the adoptive sister who comes to love and then to hate him; their couples therapy takes place at gunpoint. 35mm preservation print courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Preservation funding provided by The Film Foundation and the AFI/NEA Film Preservation Grants Program
runtime: 101m format: Archival 35mm
(King Vidor, 1947) · David O. Selznick's monumental symphony of sexual violence stars Jennifer Jones as a young Mestiza sent to live with distant family on a Texas cattle ranch; Joseph Cotten and Gregory Peck play brothers vying for her heart, the one a model of decency, the other a swaggering avatar of wickedness. The film's extravagances--it was the costliest ever made in its time-sublimate sordidness into grandeur, but its blazing images also cast a harsh light on America's lust for racial and sexual domination.
runtime: 129m format: Archival 35mm
(Andrew Dominik, 2007) · "Can't figure it out: do you want to be like me or do you want to be me?" That's the Oedipally-loaded question Brad Pitt's Jesse James asks Casey Affleck's Bob Ford in this late Freudian Western. Boasting gorgeous camerawork by Roger Deakins, a mournful score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, and a pair of career-best lead performances, Andrew Dominik's expansive outlaw melodrama interrogates the roots of American celebrity culture within larger mythical frameworks of masculinity and betrayal.
runtime: 160m format: 35mm
(Fritz Lang, 1952) · The brutal fatalism of Lang's American period is in full bloom in this baroque Western, which Robin Wood called "a Brechtian parable about patriarchal capitalist culture." Arthur Kennedy stars as a man driven by vengeance to discover the secret of "Chuck-a-Luck," a thieves' den run by an ex-showgirl (Marlene Dietrich), where he hopes to find his wife's killer. Behind its astonishing Technicolor imagery, Rancho Notorious traces the Western's dual drives towards Eros and Thanatos, love and death.
runtime: 89m format: 35mm
(André de Toth, 1947) · Connie (Veronica Lake) is the headstrong daughter of a rancher clawing to get out from her father's shadow; Dave (Joel McCrea), the "ramrod" of her new ranch, is a widower clawing his way out of a bottle. When a land war breaks out between Connie and her father's partner, Dave's allegiances are tested. Emasculation is a central theme, but this perfectly cast, finely tuned tale also presents complex shades of moral compromise in a struggle not between good and evil but between desire and the law. 35mm preservation print courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Preservation funding provided by The Film Foundation and the AFI/NEA Film Preservation Grants Program
runtime: 94m format: Archival 35mm
(Robert Aldrich, 1961) · A charming outlaw (Kirk Douglas) agrees to work a cattle drive with his old flame (Dorothy Malone), her daughter, her alcoholic husband (Joseph Cotten), and his pursuer (Rock Hudson), who aims to hang him for murder once they cross the U.S.-Mexico border. But The Last Sunset is ultimately about crossing different kinds of lines: as the journey exposes each character's emotional baggage, the psychosexual stakes of The Last Sunset take on horrifying dimensions.
runtime: 112m format: 35mm
(Arthur Penn, 1958) · For his first feature, director Arthur Penn turned a Gore Vidal teleplay about Billy the Kid into this cockeyed vehicle for a young Paul Newman. Critic George Bluestone wrote in 1960: "The thin veneer of myth and psychoanalysis that has nosed around these westerns in the past few years, turning pistols into phalluses, brushes rather deeply here. Paul Newman as Billy the Kid is at once a victim, a hero, a hipster of the beat generation, a repressed or actual homosexual, and a suffering Christ."
runtime: 102m format: 35mm
(Marlon Brando, 1961) · Marlon Brando's sole directorial effort has the flavor of a great romantic ballad. On its face, it's a poetic tale of revenge, following Brando's sullen bandit Rio as he tracks down the partner (Karl Malden) who left him to die. Plans take a turn when Rio falls for his foe's stepdaughter (Pina Pellicer, haunting in her first role). But it's also an actor's self-aware meditation on lies and confessions, with a masterful lead performance that, like the once-neglected film itself, ripens over time.
runtime: 141m format: 35mm
(Anthony Mann, 1950) · Barbara Stanwyck plays Cordelia to Walter Huston's King Lear in Anthony Mann's beautifully sculpted saga of filial conflict. The title refers to the ranch promised to Stanwyck by her aging cowboy father, but also to the burning hate he instills in her when he mortgages her future and ruthlessly hangs her childhood friend. Exquisite dialogue and stark cinematography bolster the story's Shakespearean sweep, giving Huston and Stanwyck a grand stage for some of their most dynamic performances. Print courtesy of the Academy Film Archive
runtime: 109m format: Archival 16mm