Thursday, August 1, 2013

Five Film Favorites: Westerns

by F.T. Rea

Jack Burns and Whisky pass through a junkyard in
"Lonely Are the Brave," which was adapted from the
Edward Abbey novel, "Brave Cowboy."

We’ve all seen lots of bad Western movies. Typically, they feature fist-fighting drunk cowboys and their inevitable handgun duels, all poured into hackneyed plots. Yet, a good Western, with well drawn characters moving about in a lean story, is hard to beat.

Regardless of the overall quality of the movie, the stark landscape of most Westerns is the prefect backdrop for tall tales of men, and sometimes women, driven to extremes.

Listed below are my five favorite Westerns, presented in alphabetical order:
  • “High Noon” (1952): B&W. 85 Minutes. Directed by Fred Zinnemann; Cast: Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Thomas Mitchell, Lloyd Bridges. Note: The contrasts are vivid. Shadow or light? Happiness or duty? Community or self interest? Honor or whatever is the opposite? Life or death?
  • “Lonely Are the Brave” (1962): B&W. 107 minutes. Directed by David Miller; Cast: Kirk Douglas, Gena Rowlands, Walter Matthau, George Kennedy. Note: To help his friend, a free-spirited cowboy flings himself recklessly at the hobbling effects of modernity … then tries desperately to escape.
  • “Stagecoach” (1939): B&W. 96 minutes. Directed by John Ford; Cast: John Wayne, Claire Trevor, Andy Devine, John Carridine. Note: With this saga that throws disparate travelers together, to face peril, Ford made a star of Wayne. And, Ford created a template for all such movies to follow.
  • “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (1948): B&W. 126 minutes. Directed by John Huston; Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt. Note: Three down-on-their-luck drifters, almost strangers, throw in together to prospect for gold in Mexico. Problems ensue and personalities clash.
  • “Unforgiven” (1992): Color. 131 Minutes. Directed by Clint Eastwood; Cast: Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Richard Harris. Note: A grizzled pair of former gunfighters/murderers team up to try to collect a $1,000 reward by killing two cowboys who deliberately disfigured a prostitute. Naturally, the corrupt sheriff must throw his weight around.

The films on the list above all have plots that can be boiled down to one word. “High Noon” is about honor. “Lonely Are the Brave” is about freedom. “Stagecoach” is about survival. “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” is about greed. “Unforgiven” is about revenge. Decisions by the characters drive the action.

“Lonely Are the Brave” is probably the least known movie on that list. If you aren’t familiar with it, do yourself a favor and see it soon. It’s sort of a beat treatment to the cowboy-verses-modernity angle. It was produced to be a Hollywood answer to the French New Wave films that were becoming popular in America in the early-1960s.

My peers grew up watching Western feature films in movie houses and weekly Western series on television. And, whether we knew it or not, some portion of the baby boomer generation’s collective sense of right and wrong was being shaped by all those heroes and villains wearing cowboy hats and boots.

Speaking of fashion, when I was six or seven years old there was a spell in which any shirts with a collar that I wore had to resemble the trademark checkered cowboy shirt Roy Rogers wore on his weekly TV show.

The five films on my list represent my favorites today. Another day’s list of favorite Westerns might be different. Moreover, this list doesn’t represent my ideas about important or great movies. Just favorites. In the weeks and months to come, more Five Film Favorites columns will be posted on this blogzine. Other writers will be featured.

Submissions and comments are welcomed.

Launch Post: It's Alive!

This iconic image from Ingmar Bergman's 
"The Seventh Seal" (1957) illustrates one way 
backlighting can look.

Yesterday the Bijou Backlight was a project-in-the-planning. Today it's a blogzine about film in all of its forms. Beyond its focus on movies this new publishing venture exists to help develop and promote one particular movie theater, the Bijou, which is still a project-in-the-planning-stage.

The Bijou -- a little cinema with a single auditorium -- will be the heart of the nonprofit Bijou Film Center, which will be established in the burgeoning Arts District of Downtown Richmond, Virginia.

The name "Bijou" (French for jewel) has long been associated with motion pictures. Richmond's first theater to have presented movies as a regular part of its fare was operated by a former baseball player, Jake Wells, who called the first of his many theaters the Bijou. 

In future posts plenty will be said -- the plans, the progress -- about the movie theater, which will have 100 to 150 seats plus a small café adjoined to it (to be called the Sidebar). However, this initial post is about launching the Bijou Backlight.

This blogzine's publisher is James Parrish, who is also the founder of the Bijou Film Center. The editor of the blogzine (an online magazine in a blog format) is F.T. Rea. Here is some background on the two of them:
  • JAMES T. PARRISH, JR. has accumulated 23 years of experience in fundraising, communications and alumni/donor relations for higher education and the nonprofit sector. He currently serves as the director of foundation relations for the Virginia Commonwealth University. Parrish, who is called James, is an alumnus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Formerly a standup comic, he founded Richmond Flicker -- a showcase for Super 8 and 16mm films. He co-founded of the James River Film Society. He is an artist/filmmaker who is married, has two children (an 8-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter) and loves Eastern NC barbecue. Email:
  • F.T. REA was the manager of the Biograph Theatre, a Richmond repertory cinema, from 1971-1983. He edited and published SLANT, a small magazine about popular culture and politics, from 1985-1994. As a freelancer, his cartoons, photographs, features, columns and essays have appeared under various mastheads since 1972. He has produced and hosted live programs on radio and television. Rea, who goes by Terry, has made a few films, too. He has one daughter and two grandchildren (a girl 16 and a boy 14). He is a member of the Fan District Softball League's Hall of Fame and is a co-founder of the Greater Richmond Frizbee-Golf Association. Email:
Please note that submissions are welcomed. Queries are encouraged. (Submissions that display at least a wee sense of humor may have a better chance of being published.) As it stands now the format calls for submissions to fit into one of five categories: 

Feature: This category is for essays and feature length articles. Generally, they should be somewhere between 500 and 1000 words. If they are much longer than 1000 words they may need to be broken up and published separately on different days. Subject matter is not limited.

Short Subject: These posts will be anywhere from one sentence long to 500 words. They could be anything from a photo with a funny caption, to an introduction of a YouTube film clip, to a joke, to marking the anniversary of a film-centric event in history, etc.

Interview: The word count in this category might vary a lot. Submissions should not exceed 2000 words.

Movie Review: Same word count as features. 

Five Favorites: This series of weekly columns, written by various contributors, will basically be lists of favorite films, favorite directors, favorite scenes, or any other possible category to do with movies ... with some copy supporting the premise and the selections. They should usually run between 400 and 800 words.

It is hoped that one day the Bijou Backlight will be able to pay writers something. At least something! For now that‘s just one more thing on the growing list of coming soons.

Editor's notes, publisher's notes and a (running account) diary about the progress being made toward building the aforementioned cinema will also be posted from time to time. Comments by readers responding to something published here may be posted occasionally, as well.

Another famous backlit scene; this one is from 
Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange" (1971).

It's show time for the Bijou Backlight. Please cue the projectionist to dim the house lights and strike the lamp ... break a leg.