There's nothing like a fine, melodramatic oater flickering on the big screen to make you feel young again. Makes you want to don chaps and spurs and a Roy Rogers chapeau and ride the range with laconic Gary Cooper and heroic John Wayne, don't it? Now, thanks to Denver Art Museum Film Series curator Tom Delapa, you can go home on the range again. In homage to the museum's Painters and the American West exhibit opening in October, he's strung together a stunning overview of how Hollywood romanticized -- and eventually de-romanticized -- the American West.
On first look, curating such a series seems like a no-brainer. "Westerns are just so cinematic," Delapa says. But it wasn't that easy to find the right stuff. "There are a lot of bad Westerns out there. Some classics are really not that good, or they're very conservative, with old-fashioned values." Delapa scrounged well -- the seven films he chose travel a long way back and forth across the prairie, from Cooper's breakout film, The Virginian, to Broken Arrow, a surprising Cold War-era classic offering the rare sympathetic view of Native Americans, to the modern mythical debunking of Sam Peckinpah's Ride the High Country and Martin Ritt's Hud.
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But enough cinematic snobbery. You know why you really love oaters so much, and so does Delapa: "There's the myth of the West -- that great, boundless frontier America had at its borders, where people could go rediscover themselves and nature within it. And there was the cowboy hero -- the mythical John Wayne or Gary Cooper person. They were like medieval knights wandering the frontier, being good to schoolmarms and wild animals. And then there's that whole idea of masculinity. You know, there are just some things a guy has to do."
Denver Art Museum Film Series: Picturing the American West
Acoma Center, 1080 Acoma Street
7 p.m. Tuesdays, September 19-October 31
$6-$7 weekly ($35-$40 series)
Same goes for film fans. Now, git.