Changing landscapes and soundscapes: the guitar in 1960s film Westerns
AuthorRotin, Julian Salvatore
AffiliationMelbourne Conservatorium of Music
Document TypeHonours thesis
Access StatusOnly available to University of Melbourne staff and students, login required
© 2019 Julian Salvatore Rotin
The Western film genre has long served as a staple of Hollywood filmmaking and has thus been characterised, at least in its early forms, as a uniquely American film genre. The Western is immediately recognisable from its visual iconography: the cowboy, horses, Colt and Smith and Wesson revolvers, train robberies, outlaws, Indians, Mexicans, shoot-outs, gold shipments, brothels, and bars. Equally important to its characterisation is the music that accompanies these visuals, both in diegesis and underscore. From the nineteenth century onwards, the guitar has been connected with notions of the ‘frontiersman’ and ‘cowboy’ and has thus developed a close association with the Western in films from the twentieth century. During the 1960s the Western genre underwent its most dramatic transformation. In response to growing sentiments in popular culture that the Western was reinforcing a false narrative of American frontier history the genre begins to shift in semantic and syntactic content. As such this thesis focuses specifically on the representations of the guitar in the Western during this period. Beginning with psychological Westerns that emerge from Hollywood in the late 1950s, the guitar is inextricably connected with notions of American and Hispano-American identities. Moving into the 1960s we begin to see a distinct revisionism in Hollywood and international filmmaking and the guitar adopts a more nuanced position. The films of Sergio Leone, with music composed by Ennio Morricone, present a ‘modernised’ and popular usage of the electric guitar, as well as presenting contemporary evocations of acoustic Spanish classical guitar repertoire. Finally, the films of Sam Peckinpah utilise the guitar in a definitely revisionist framework. The guitar is shown to be a folkloric marker for Mexican identity as well as a medium for the contemporary and popular song-based score.
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