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John Ford’s The Searchers is a Western about party of white settlers pursuing a Comanche band that has slaughtered a homesteading family’s males and adults and kidnapped the family’s two daughters. The film presents a question that has puzzled me for years: How is it that a film so glaringly flawed can be so powerful, so great? And it is great. In 2008, the American Film Institute named it the best Western ever made. The same year, Cahiers du Cinéma ranked the film the tenth best film ever made. In 2012, a Sight & Sound survey of international film critics ranked it the seventh best film of all time. Its influence has been noticed in and/or acknowledged by directors as different from one another as David Lean, Sam Peckinpah, Martin Scorsese, Sergio Leone, George Lucas, Jean-Luc Godard, Steven Spielberg, Wim Wenders, and Paul Schrader. It has been an object of intense analysis by numerous scholars. (Anyone interested in reading in-depth work on the film would do well by starting with Edward Buscombe’s monograph in the excellent British Film Institute series of slim but comprehensive, well-researched, and annotated volumes on individual films.) More… “Flawed Greatness”

D.B. Jones is a retired Drexel professor of film and the author of three books on Canadian documentary film.

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When did the Western become a joke?

Did it happen in 1974, when Mel Brooks released Blazing Saddles, an irreverent spoof that found something to laugh at in every possible cliché of the genre? Or did we reach the tipping point in 1971, when the Marlboro Man, the cowboy emblem of cigarette addiction, was pulled off US airwaves, this once glamorous figure now despised as a contributor to countless lung cancer and emphysema cases? Or did it take place earlier, as the Western TV shows of the 1960s — Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Rawhide and the rest — grew more stale with each passing season?

Or was it John Wayne’s death (1979) that ended the golden age of cowboys? Or that campy moment when Roy Rogers put his stuffed horse Trigger on display as a tacky roadside museum exhibit (1967)? Or that cringe-inducing “Rhinestone Cowboy” song by Glen Campell (1975)? Or the publication of Dee Brown’s bestselling Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (1970), with its harsh critique of the mythos of Western settlement?
More… “True Grit”

Ted Gioia writes about music, literature and popular culture. He is the author of ten books, most recently How to Listen to Jazz

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