Westerns 101 Class Sunday Will Arm You for Westerns: The Golden Age

Draw, pardner! Once Upon A Time In The West is one of a few sharp shooters at Westerns: The Golden Age.
Draw, pardner! Once Upon A Time In The West is one of a few sharp shooters at Westerns: The Golden Age.
Paramount Pictures

The Sie FilmCenter is turning back the clock and slapping on some jangly spurs to bring you Westerns: The Golden Age, a long-in-the-works series that will celebrate that most dusty of genres, the Western. From August 13 to 16, Sie will present not only some of the staples you must see if you call yourself a fan, but some deeper cuts as well for the superfans.  From Leone to Peckinpah, Ford to Altman, it’s a cinematic wagon ride through the ages of gunslingers and little houses on the prairie. There’s even a special panel starring the art director and costume designer of Tarantino’s upcoming neo-Western, The Hateful Eight.

And before the films get rolling, there's a key educational component on Sunday, August 9: Westerns 101 with Metro State University film professor Vincent Piturro will introduce you to the basics. In advance of that talk, we asked Piturro a couple of questions about Westerns and asked for his top three picks of the series.

Westword: What was the first Western you ever saw that left an indelible impression on you?

Vincent Piturro: Stagecoach, absolutely. I was fascinated by the mix of characters and the juxtaposition of closed versus open spaces. The action was fantastic, but there are just as many small, touching moments as well.

Stagecoach
Stagecoach
20th Century Fox

What do you think that Westerns, as a genre, still have to teach us?

I think Westerns are very much about the time period in which they were made, and while Stagecoach is very much about pre-WWII America, it could just as easily be about pre-Iraq/Afghanistan America. And a film such as Dead Man gives us another take on the classic Western — the classic Western in reverse, so we might get to see something closer to the reality of America in the post-Civil War era, or the post-Vietnam era....The Western is very much tied to our national identity.

McCabe And Mrs. Miller
McCabe And Mrs. Miller
Warner Bros.

What do you plan on going over in your special one-day class?

I will discuss the basic tenets of the classic Western — such as regeneration through violence, conquering lands and dominating the inhabitants, imposing a patriarchal society, and the "idea" of a conservative ideal.

What three films are not to be missed in next week’s series?

Really, any of the films in this series are fantastic in their own right. High Noon, for example, gives us a great story that is really about McCarthyism and the lethargy of the '50s. But here are three greats:

3) Stagecoach
Screens 7 p.m. Thursday, August 13

"It is not only the classic of the classic Westerns, but it is also beautfiully shot—a product of the French Realist films of the ‘30s and a precursor to film noir," Piturro says. "It's a breakthrough American film. We don't have Citizen Kane unless we have Stagecoach first." 

2) My Darling Clementine
Screens 6:30 p.m. Friday, August 13

"The best Doc Holliday ever filmed (Victor Mature), and an allegory for post-WWII America: the shattered soldier who was forced into violence on the side of "good," he says.

1)The Wild Bunch
Screens 1 p.m. Sunday, August 16 

"it was one of the first post-Code, MPAA-rated films, and it takes off the gloves Westerns wore for sixty years. It gives us the bloody, brutal, and vicious side of the West that we hadn't seen before. Those gloves stayed off." 

Westerns 101 will be offered at 1 p.m. Sunday, August 9, at the Sie FilmCenter, 2510 East Colfax. Tickets are $25 and $20 for Film Society Members. Westerns: The Golden Age kicks off August 13 and runs through August 16, also at the Sie FilmCenter. Tickets for individual shows are $11, $8 for members. A full festival badge is available for $55, $45 for members; get tickets for all and more info at denverfilm.org.

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