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The West in Early Cinema: After the…
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The West in Early Cinema: After the Beginning (Amsterdam University Press…

by Nanna Verhoeff

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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 905356831X, Paperback)

The Western film is inextricably tied to American culture: untamed landscapes, fiercely independent characters, and an unwavering distinction between good and evil. Yet Westerns began in the early twentieth century as far more fluid works of comedy, adventure, and historical explorations of the frontier landscape. Nanna Verhoeff examines here the earliest films made in the Western genre and proposes the thought-provoking argument that these little-studied films demand new ways of considering Westerns and the history of cinema. 

Verhoeff analyzes the earliest American and European Westerns—made between 1894 and 1915—and finds them to be an international repository for anxieties about modernity and identity, not the instructional morality tales we assume them to be. She draws on an array of archival materials—photography, paintings, Wild West shows, popular ethnographic studies, and pulp literature—to locate these early Westerns more precisely in their original social and cultural contexts. These early films—which coincided with the “closing” of the West and rises in rates of immigration, railroad travel, and urbanization—drove the transformation of film, Verhoeff argues, from just another new technology into the dominant cultural vehicle for dealing with issues of national and personal nostalgia, as well as uncertainty in the face of modernity. From these fragmentary early films Verhoeff extracts a rich historical analysis that radically reorients our view of the first two decades of cinema history in America and provocatively connects the evolution of Westerns to our transition today into a new media culture. 

The West in Early Cinema challenges established history and criticism of the Western film and will be an invaluable resource for the film scholar and John Wayne fan alike.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:28 -0400)

Verhoeff investigates the emergence of the western genre, made in the first two decades of cinema (1895-1915). By analyzing many unknown and forgotten films from international archives she traces the relationships between films about the American West, their surrounding films, and other popular media such as photography, painting, (pulp) literature, Wild West Shows and popular ethnography. Through this exploration of archival material she raises new questions of historiography and provides a model for historical analysis. These first traces of the Western film reveal a preoccupation with presence and actuality that informs us about the way in which film, as new medium, took shape within the context of its contemporary visual culture.… (more)

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