Portrayals of the American West

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Portrayals of the West It usually begins with an empty, grimy street, a vast silence broken only by the creak of a gently swinging wooden saloon sign; a lone figure with a cowboy hat placed low over his eyes, hand positioned just over the handle of his gun, walks slowly into view. Another dark, frightening figure emerges from the shadows on the other end of the street. A classic Western confrontation scene is about to be played out – an act so common that it has often been spoofed, yet still remains a custom which seldom fails in grabbing hold of its audience. The birth of the Western film came almost exactly at the same time as the closure of the Frontier. Many people believed that the closing of the frontier meant that there would also be a closure on how the frontier effected the development of American identity. However, this was not the case. The West has been portrayed in many different ways throughout the history of film. Westerns showed many different aspects of The West, from train robberies, to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, to the many confrontations between cowboys and Indians, film helped share with Americans the many different aspects of the West. And although many of these depictions do not always show the audience the truth, all of them absolutely helped shape American culture in film. The story of the West is nearly as old as the film itself. In May of 1894, Thomas Edison began to record several different attractions on film, including acts from Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show. In addition to these shows, Edison also filmed two fictitious scenes, Cripple Creek Bar-Room and Poker at Dawson City. With these few dancing images, the film Western was born. In 1903, the Edison Company made a short silent fil... ... middle of paper ... ...ng Sioux and is then informally initiated into the tribe. The portrayal of the Indians in Westerns will more than likely never do Native American’s justice, because whether they are portrayed as nightmarish devils, or as victimized saints, they are represented more as a figment of the imagination of American white culture than an authentic native of the frontiers. Westerns are the major defining genre of the American film industry, a sentimental tribute to the early days of the expansive, untamed American frontier, the borderline between sophistication and simplicity. They are one of the oldest, longest lasting and most characteristically American genres in all of film. And although there is sometimes a lack of factuality in these films, there has never been a doubt that Westerns have been a main contributor to our identity as a nation within the world of film.
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