Pages: 472 + 24 illustrations
Released (France): May 4, 2017
Interview with authors Claude Aziza and Jean-Marie Tixier for their "Dictionnaire du western "
By Cédric Lépine
December 25, 2017
This interview is published on the occasion of the release of the "Western Dictionary" by Vendémiaire. The authors, Claude Aziza and Jean-Claude Tixier, have kindly lent themselves to this question-answer game.
Cédric Lépine: How did you select the films that make up the entries in your dictionary?
Claude Aziza: I chose to talk about movies that I liked, without any other criteria. These films, sometimes I’ve seen many times, are all related to periods of my life. I do not care about the so-called westerns and some, like The Train whistles three times, etc., bother me considerably.
Jean-Marie Tixier: Out of the 5000 to 6000 westerns, it was necessary to make choices. Choices we made based on many (more or less) common criteria. For my part :
First criterion: the report to the film. I avoided writing about movies that I did not like and that I did not want to defend. 3 exceptions: True Grit (emblematic of the contemporary void) in the first edition and North West Mounted Police (I wrote the entry on The Métis and a very legitimate and attentive reader reproached me - rightly - for having omitted this film, I corrected this voluntary omission, in doing so, I'm not sure I made him happy) and The Revenant (Oscar for best film, international buzz, etc.) in the second. The Revenant allowed me, moreover, to write an entry on Hugh Glass, the trapper who lived this incredible adventure and on The Wild Convoy.
The second: the ability to develop an original point of view (not always unfortunately!). 2 examples. Success for Liberty Valance, in the first edition, I found an angle of attack: a short, fun and meaningful sequence of both the film and the art of Ford. In the second: following the programming of the film in the device Lycéens & Cinema, I was led to give lessons to teachers enrolled in the device. I saw the film several times in the cinema and it appeared to me an obvious question (but skilfully masked by the master) that I had let pass: but who really killed Liberty Valance? Hence my last entry.
Failure for The Searchers. On this must-see film (the biggest American film for Peter Bogdanovich), there is an impressive literature: Leutrat dedicated a magnificent little opus to the exhibition (A Navajo Tapestry) and Glenn Frankel, an American academic, published The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend in 2014 (at the time of writing the 1st edition) and more than 400 pages. I could not find an angle of attack and I gave up. On the other hand, I use the film, many times, in synthetic entries.
Moreover, it seemed interesting to write entries on films that, without being westerns, refer to the genre. The general purpose of the film is to produce new content (oh so difficult task!).
On the genre, I defend the non-evolution ...
The must-have westerns: John Ford, John Ford and John Ford to take over Orson Welles. But also Anthony Mann, Delmer Daves, Hawks, Raoul Walsh, Boetticher and many others.
C. L.: Outside the United States and Italy, what other countries have tried to adapt the western to their national cinema?
C. A.: I really like the sauerkraut western (the Winnetou series), minus the W paellas. As for the western steak fries, I hate it. I recently saw a western salamis not bad at all.
C. L.: Is the western predominantly masculine? What place for women, in front of and behind the camera, in the history of the western?
C. A.: The western, except recently, is a masculine gender. But the woman is of paramount importance (it is Mann who says that without a woman there is no good western). The woman is the heroine of many Western masterpieces. Recently she left pastry, tapestry and piano to film some excellent westerns (Jane got a gun for example).
J-M. T.: Behind the camera: null. Only one known exception: Kelly Reichardt and Meet's Cutoff (2010). On the contrary, it is central: "Where man is born, the West dies". The proverb says it well, the (white) woman incarnates the East and puts an end to the freedom of the (white) man. In short, the western is an imaginary of men not to say macho whose wife is excluded. Hence the lack of appetite of women for the genre.
C. L.: What are the filmmakers and / or films that have "revolutionized" the western?
J-M. T.: I do not believe in a "revolution" in the western. On the contrary, my thesis (in the first sense: doctoral thesis of political science) supports on the contrary the existence of a permanence of representations. See my intro.
C. A.: I do not believe in the pseudo "on western" like Shane, which I adore but which does not seem to me to have revolutionized the genre. The thesis westerns bother me tremendously.
C. L.: What interests you in the western?
J-M. T.: The western is the heart of the national novel and without him no possible understanding of the US.
C. A.: What interests me in the western, my pleasure, my pleasure, my pleasure.
C. L.: What relation to nostalgia maintains the western?
J-M. T.: Central, constitutive: it is nostalgia for a world where man would have been master of his destiny.
C. A.: And, of course, nostalgia. What? It's a good question...
C. L.: What is the role of westerns in promoting firearms to the public, a constitutional and identically American element?
J-M. T.: Central. When proponents of the port of arms refer to the Wild West, it is always the representations of mythology and never historical studies. The figure of Tom Doniphon (John Wayne in Liberty Valance) is cited as an example by the defenders of the port of arms ... See the entry Port of arms.
C. A.: Firearms? I really like Charlton Heston.
C. L.: Why did Italy become in the years 1960-70 a perfect home for the western as no other country has been able to?
J-M. T.: The end of the studio system and therefore the place of the series B have opened a market for counterfeiting ...
C. A.: Italy turned to the western in 1964 because the peplum vein was exhausted. But westerns stupidly named spaghetti (pizzas would have been better suited) are in fact baroque operas, far more politically connoted than Americans. See the three Sergio, especially Sollima.
C. L.: In relation to cinema, what place does the western occupy in the other arts, such as painting, literature and comics?
J-M. T.: First! Prior to the advent of cinema, other forms of expression (painting, literature, photography, circus, sculpture, etc.) built and spread the myths of the conquest of the West throughout the nineteenth century. They provided the cinema with narrative diagrams, situations (from the attack of the diligence to the hazing of the tender feet ...), frames and iconic representations (see the influence of the painters Russell or Remington on Ford).
Today, if the western is rare on the screens, it is still fertile in literature (see the work of Gallmeister edition) or painting.
C. A.: The western occupies a huge place in comics today, in literature since Cooper, in painting especially in the nineteenth century.