We asked the team that worked on The Western: An Epic in Art and Film to share their favorite Westerns. Read below to see the films they love and tell us your favorite Western on social media using the hashtag #SummerintheWest.
Thomas Smith, co-curator of the exhibition and Director of the DAM's Petrie Institute of Western American Art, has gotten to know the Western genre inside and out. “The greatest Western ever made is John Ford’s The Searchers (1956). It is such a beautiful film, and the complexity of the characters changed the way American filmmakers made movies.”
Heather Haldeman, associate registrar, made sure that artworks loaned for the exhibition arrived intact and were properly installed. Her favorite western is Django Unchained (2012): “My adopted son is African American and because the movie deals with race relations prior to the Civil War, it felt very personal.”
Meg Erickson, curatorial assistant for the Petrie Institute of Western American Art, spent a lot of time working with clips of Western films used in the exhibition. Her favorite Western is Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), one of Leone’s so-called “spaghetti Westerns.” “Everything about this film perfectly exemplifies Leone’s style. He uses dramatic lighting and Ennio Morricone’s music to enhance individual characters–such as that of the Harmonica, who has his own haunting harmonica melody–and to deepen the narrative and visual drama.”
Comedy & Satire
Stefania Van Dyke, interpretive specialist at the DAM, says her favorite western is Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles (1974) starring Gene Wilder and Cleavon Little. “It’s hilarious, and I can’t imagine that such a daring comedy could be made today.”
Julianne Maron, publications and programs manager for the Petrie Institute of Western American Art, recommends The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) starring John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart. “I liked the movie’s progressive ideas about women and public education because it promoted the idea that education is good for self-improvement and thus for local government and community. Better-informed people make better choices.”
Project assistant Emily Attwool also loves The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. “It’s beautiful, and it breaks down the idea of the western myth and the western hero. It reveals that people, and the stories they tell, aren’t always what they seem, and that things are rarely, if ever, truly ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ but more often a complicated mix of both.”
Speaking of John Wayne…
I grew up watching westerns, especially those featuring John Wayne. I especially remember John Wayne’s later movies when he often played a curmudgeonly old man who was rough around the edges but rooted in the integrity of the Old West. My sister and I particularly liked The Cowboys (1972), in which John Wayne takes a passel of boys on a long cattle drive. When we were out moving our family’s cattle, we would imagine ourselves on a similar journey.