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By analysing Shane' (1953) in conjunction with its visual style and western themes, it will clearly show what aspects of western culture are apparent in the film. By looking at the visual style, this will show how the mise-en-scene informs the audience that Shane' is placed in the western genre.
Firstly I will analyse the western themes that are visible in Shane'. The whole narrative of Shane' is the struggle of the homesteaders against the ranchers. In the late 19th Century when Shane' is took place, homesteaders moved to the West to set up home. The homesteader's sought
agricultural development, they wanted to earn their own living on their own land. The homesteader's felt that by moving to the West would provide them wonder and promise. Loy states, (2001, p.45), Shane' shows the coming of wheat farmers who fenced in the open range to protect their crops.' Shane' portrays the on-going conflict between the homesteaders and the ranchers. The ranchers who occupy the tiny town and are led by greedy Mr Ryker feel the land taken by the homesteaders is their land. The ranchers increasingly terrorise the homesteaders in hope that they will disperse from their homes.
Shane' focuses on the Starret family, the father in the film, is defiant throughout, insisting the Rykers will not drive him out. The western themes evident in Shane' are obviously the typical western setting. There is the dusty border town inhabited by the Rykers. It is not your usual western town, compared to Tonto in Stagecoach'. The town in Shane' is in comparison desolate and not many buildings have been erected, whereas in Stagecoach' they have. The emptiness represents an eerie and unsafe location. Even though the town is so deserted it still has the main wooden buildings visual in most western films. There is the saloon, mostly occupied by Ryker and his men, The Grayston general store which is bordered off only by the saloon doors, the blacksmiths, where Tory is visiting (before he gets murdered by gun-slinging Wilson) and finally a hotel.
We are made aware from the opening that Shane is connected to the wilderness as he descends from the mountains. The mountains are another key western theme that occurs time and time again. The opening scene echoes the final scene, as Shane proceeds back up the mountain he descended from. This shows the individual' leaving the community' of the homesteaders that he has been welcomed into.
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Another key western theme shown in Shane' is the idea of boundaries and fencing off. In the American history of the westward expansion there was the invisible borderline constantly moving West. Kitses quotes, (1969. p.10), Is the West a garden of natural dignity and innocence offering refuge from the decadence of civilization.' This Henry Nash Smith idea of the garden and the desert is obvious in Shane' and this theory intertwines with the theme of boundaries and fencing off. The garden' in this western is where the homesteaders have settled. The garden' (a huge open space), symbolises the Garden of Eden. This vast land could also be perceived as the desert, because the open plains could be fearful where no inhabitant of the East had travelled before.
The boundaries apparent in Shane' are, an invisible boundary between the town and the homesteaders. When the homesteader's visit the town or the ranchers travel to the open plains, it is as if an enemy line has been crossed. Chaos erupts when a homesteader or a rancher is not where they are supposed to be. The swing doors in the saloon show a boundary between the general store and the bar. The saloon is distinguished as a masculine environment as women never enter. Bar fights are also a common occurrence signifying further that it is not a feminine space. The swing doors too show a division of masculinity. Another aspect of a boundary is the tree stump in Joe Starret's farm. Joe has been fighting to chop the stump down for two years, but it he is only successful when Shane helps him. This is mirrored in a later scene. Shane cannot cope fighting Rykers's men in bar and appreciates the assistance from Joe. They are now united as brothers. The fencing-off is evident when the Rykers trample down the fences and demolish the gardens. This shows the uncivilised behaviour of Ryker and his men. Such behaviour can be linked to Kitse's idea of the wilderness against civilisation, the homesteaders are desperate for freedom' but the ranchers are restricting them. A key vision of the breaking of the fences is when Joe and Shane fight in one of the final scenes. The brawl is accompanied by a cattle stampede, emitting a sense of madness and tension.
By looking at the mise-en-scene of Shane' it will show the features that place Shane' in the western genre category. In the opening scene (when Shane enters the Starret farm) the main prop he is using is the horse. The horse gives the impression of travelling, ( Shane is himself a traveller). Shane only wears two costumes in the film, the one he arrives and leaves in and the one he wears throughout the rest of the film. The first costume is a clear image of a western. He is wearing an animal skin outfit with fringes on it and a cream cowboy hat. The cream cowboy hat is a visual signifier to the audience as a light coloured cowboy hat is associated with good. This hat is contrasted and relevant later when we witness Wilson and his black cowboy hat. The two different coloured hats show the savagery' of Wilson compared with the humanity' of Shane. Shane is the main protagonist in the film. His relationship with the Starret family progresses the narrative. Shane has a resemblance to Ringo in Stagecoach. They both appear as loners but ultimately emerge as heroes. Shane is an inspiration to Little Jo Starret, as he is what Little Joe believes a cowboy should resemble.
Shane also has a gun-belt, chaps and spurs, which all make Shane a key character in the western films. As Shane becomes more influential in the Starret household his costume changes by wearing clothes more like the homesteaders. His sky blue shirt and navy blue trousers symbolise Shane's acceptance by the Starret family. Marion Starret is not a typical female. She is assertive and not just pushed into the background. Marion makes her opinions known. She does not want Little Joe to be associated with guns. Loy, (2001.p. 102) states, Little Joe is fascinated by Shane and asks him to demonstrate how to use a gun Mrs Starret asks Shane to quit she does not want Joey to learn about guns.' Marion is always impeccable in her dress and her hair is tidy, suggesting she is a good homemaker.
Facial expressions and body language are very important in the visual style of Shane'. The ranchers are very angry and unwelcoming. They show this by their reaction when Shane enters the saloon. They stare at him and are not happy with him being in their territory. The music is much more intense when we are in the company of the ranchers. Wilson especially has a very sly persona illuminating around him. His facial expressions when murdering Tory show he has no remorse. Wilson is a very slow-moving character and does not move around much. He hides his face under his black hat a lot of the time, consequently he is in shadow, and the shadow provides the impression of deceit and evilness.
A theme apparent twice in Shane' is the community bonding together. The first time is the celebration of Independence Day. This theory of independence coincides with the finale when the homesteaders finally have freedom. The second time is at Tory's funeral where they sing, Abide with me.' This scene is significant as it is when Joe changes the minds of the homesteaders and makes them stand their ground. The final scene when Shane has the shoot out in the saloon is a key theme of western films. This scene shows his appreciation to the Starret family, as he is fighting a battle meant for Joe. The progression of Shane riding to the saloon with Little Joe in hot pursuit carries on the narrative.
Weddle (1999. p.353) states, When Shane draws and fires at the gunslinger Wilson, it is with lighting speed and over in a second.' When Wilson falls into the table and it breaks, it is another visual signifier of the western film. With the help from Little Joe, Shane manages to save the independence of the homesteaders. Shane leaves the homesteaders in the final scene to the upset of Little Joe as he has given the homesteaders freedom and returns to nature. Shane has many visual style components within it that are linked to the western themes, making Shane a clear-cut western film. Kitses, (1969. p.10) quotes, The plains and the mountains of Western landscape can be an inspiring and civilizing environment.'
KITSES, J (1969) Horizons West, London, Thames and Hudson.
LOY, R, P (2001) Westerns and American Culture, London, McFarland and Company
WEDDLE, D (1999) The Western Film reconsideration, Chicago, University of Illinois Press.
Shane, Stevens (1953)
Stagecoach, Ford (1939)