Now there's Deadwood. Book by David Milch, direction by Walter Hill. No, the western ain't dead yet.
The western has always provided a mythical space in which America can examine its dark, dark heart. Mythical enough for feathers not to be unduly ruffled at the political implications.
I'm trying to decode Deadwood. I'm thinking that the stone-eyed brothel-keeper played by (wonderful, wonderful Britisher) Ian McShane has to be Dick Cheyney. So does that make Wild Bill Hickcok and Calamity Jane the Kerrys?
Hill made a film about Bill and Jane once before. It wasn't very good. Now he's back for another try because he loves them so much. I love them too. I'm not sure about Keith Carradine's Bill- he could be too chiselled for the role- but Robin Swigert's Calamity is a delight. She's ugly, she's drunk, she's filthy and smelly and she strides out of bars saying "I don't drink in places where I'm the only one with balls." But also she cares. There's a woman's heart beating under all that encrusted muck.
Was the old west really this hellish? Did they really call one another cunts and cocksuckers? I dunno. I supect that the "realism" of Deadwood is as ahistorical as Roy Rogers and Trigger. The first director to give us a really filthy-dirty-disgusting Wild West was Sam Peckinpah- and his heretical version has since become the established orthodoxy.
When I was a little kid there was Hopalong Cassidy. Then things got a little more sophisticated and there was Eastwood playing a cow-punching Jimmy Dean in Rawhide. Later I caught up with the classics- meaning mainly John Ford. Then came Leone and Peckinpah and Eastwood again. The 80s produced the odd but adorable Silverado. I've loved them all. And now I really, really want Deadwood to succeed.