Tuesday, June 27, 2017

8 Documentary Projects I Would Love to See

Documentary films tend to fly under the radar, finding few viewers outside of the rather small group of people who, like myself, make a point of watching documentary films. Many of us work, or have worked, in the field and want to support the continued efforts of documentarians as storytellers, activists, historians, and intellectuals. Some truly outstanding documentaries have been produced just in the past five years - my favorites include Stories We Tell, Blackfish, Amy, and Meet the Patels - and I am eagerly awaiting the opportunity to see new and upcoming films such as A Suitable Girl, Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan, and The Farthest. Hoping that the genre continues to flourish, here are eight subjects that I would love to see a documentary about:

Continued Disenfranchisement of Native Americans:
The systematic genocide, enslavement, forced migration, and segregation of Native Americans has resulted in their making up less than 1% of the current United States population. Their total marginalization from American cultural and civic life has been even more egregiously compounded by continued attempts to disenfranchise them and those attempts should be both documented and made better known.

Duels, the practice of two men attempting to bloody each other in order to restore their honor, are really very bizarre and I have yet to encounter any explanation, historical or otherwise, that helps me to understand how the practice flourished for centuries in Europe. What does this practice say about western ideas of masculinity?

Henry James's Sexuality:
Though most scholars at this point are agreed that Henry James was almost certainly gay and a virgin, his literary output was remarkably shrewd about sexuality. A project that combines an exploration of James's sexuality with literary analysis and a historical grounding in the history of queer sexuality in the nineteenth century would be especially welcome for Pride Month. 

Independent Bookstores:
The doomsday prediction that brick-and-mortar stores would disappear forever have proven false, but the people who found and operate bookstores have to be unusually resilient and passionately literary people. This is the stuff of which delightfully quirky documentaries are made. 

Irish Women Nationalists in Northern Ireland:
The fascinating history of women's efforts to resist British hegemony has yet to be told. A documentary that builds on the brilliant feminist ethnographic study, Shattering Silence, by the Basque anthropologist Begoña Aretxaga, would be a welcome addition to the fraught cultural discussions around gender, political agency, postcolonialism, and nationalism.

Joan of Arc:
The patron saint of France has been the subject of numerous narrative films, including what I believe to be the greatest of all time, Carl Theodor Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc, but I would love to see a documentary project on this country girl that rode into battle and died a martyr to her faith, and it must be added, her gender.

In the western world, sewing is all but a lost art, something that the craftier-minded of us might take up for a hobby, but that few rely on for a living. And yet, in many parts of the world and for many centuries, sewing is and was one of the few ways women could earn a living. Though feminist academics have begun the work of understanding the meaning of handiwork in women's lives, a documentary could make that story legible for those outside of the academy. 

Women Directors Under the Hollywood Studio System:
Though they were certainly a tiny minority, women did direct films under the Hollywood studio system and their lives and filmographies are a crucial, and often ignored, part of film history. From Dorothy Arzner to Ida Lupino, Frances Marion to Lois Weber, these women made careers in a man's world and they have not yet been celebrated enough.

Monday, June 26, 2017

14 Films for Fans of Simone Weil

Few writers resist a reader's love as Simone Weil does. She is both utterly unforgiving and almost supernaturally compassionate, thus it is a profoundly difficult task to read her works with any seriousness without succumbing to an obliterating sense of one's own unworthiness, guilt, and privilege. Even so, Weil's writing is undergoing something of a renaissance in academia and, despite her obscurity in life, she has come to be recognized as one of the key intellectuals of the twentieth century. Politically a very, very unorthodox communist who refused membership in the party, whose hierarchies she felt eviscerated the principles of the doctrine, and spiritually an adherent to mystical Franciscan Christianity who nevertheless never formally converted to the Church, Weil tends to beguile readers with one set of ideas only to chase them away with the next. Her uncompromising intellect, her unstinting habit of practicing what she preached, her asceticism, her humility, these qualities are not easy for anyone to swallow. Our egos are inevitably bruised when we read her work and we inevitably resist applying the stringent political and spiritual instruction that proves so difficult to argue against. Still, I am drawn to Weil and find a rather bleak spiritual solace in her work.

Here below is a list of films that are as brilliant and exacting in their examination of politics, spirituality, especially Christianity, and the human capacities for violence and compassion as Weil's writings. Weil has not been the subject of a biopic (and, lord, she would hate that idea), though there is a documentary, An Encounter with Simone Weil, that, without putting too fine a point on it, is embarrassingly bad, a first-person 'spiritual' exploration of Weil's work by a filmmaker who is entirely close-minded to Weil's religious thought and mostly uses her writing as a means of grappling with her own liberal guilt, though somehow she is never motivated to actually undertake any kind of activism or spiritual practice. At one point, she hires an actress (a spectacularly bad one) to impersonate Weil so that she, the filmmaker, can ask her if she should feel bad about her privilege. This film is not worthy of Weil, intellectually, politically, spiritually, or in any other way. Here are fourteen that are:

The Ascent (1977)
The brilliant Soviet director Larisa Shepitko's last film before her death in a car accident at age 41, The Ascent is a devastating and bleak drama about the agonies of two soldiers, one an idealist and the other a pragmatist, lost in the snow and captured by enemy Germans during World War II. A meditation on violence and the will to survive, this crushing film offers a sort of a sort of nihilistically positive point of view: martyrdom is a torment, but death in righteousness doesn't damage the spirit as cruelly survival without.

Earth (1930)
Soviet director Alexander Dovzhenko's masterwork cannot be easily dismissed as propaganda, in part because it is too aware of the pain suffered by individuals, even if they believe in collective goals. Earth is about the conflicts that arise between peasants and kulaks over collectivization and the revolution in agriculture promised both by Soviet politics and new technology like the tractor, but Dovzhenko's lens remains attentive to subjects often sidelined in such films: the beauties of nature, the contentious moral compromises between political and spiritual ideals, and romantic love.

The Flowers of St. Francis (1950)
Weil experienced spiritual revelations of a mystical nature at Assisi and favored Saint Francis throughout her life as a spiritual model and guide, moved by his embrace of poverty, his rebellion against institutionalized Christian practice, and his openness to God and all God's creatures. This film, Roberto Rossellini's best and his most persuasive argument for Christian ethics, offers a series of parable-like tableaux about Francis and his followers. The joy of this film is to be found in its unexpected and loving sense of humor, at times verging on slapstick - human beings can be as ridiculous in this film as they can be worthy of succor.

The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964)
Pasolini's rather vexing film draws on Matthew's gospel and the canonical writings of Marxism to depict Jesus as a political radical and possibly homosexual, without undermining the miracles, mysticism, and preoccupation with religious dogma of the Biblical text. Controversial from its inception, Pasolini later felt that the film was too religious and not Marxist enough. I cannot honestly say I like this movie, but it is one of the most intellectually brilliant films ever made to contend with Christianity and communism in equal measure.

The House Is Black (1963)
This devastating short film directed by Iranian poet and filmmaker Forough Farrokhzad combines footage of the inhabitants of a leper colony with Farrokhzad's own gorgeous poetry and passages from the Bible and the Koran. Never exploitative, The House Is Black is a potent and insistent reminder that the least of human beings is still a human being.

Diary of a Country Priest (1951)
"God is not a torturer." So says the priest in this evocative spiritual tincture of a film, bracing, clarifying, and ethereally moving. Director Robert Bresson is probably, other than Dreyer, Weil's closest cinematic cousin and this, of all his films, delves most deeply into what it means to be a Christian, an ethical human being, and a person afflicted by illness.These same concerns animated Weil's work both as an intellectual and as an activist.

The Little Matchgirl (2006)
Unquestionably the only Disney film that could bring Weil to mind, this animated short based on the Andersen fairy tale moves the setting from Denmark to Russia, just before the Revolution. With a color palette of deep violets, cloudy blues, and soft wintry whites, the film's aesthetic style is in stark contrast to most Disney animation, with a storybook quality that holds pockets of darkness just out of the frame. The filmmakers have claimed the choice of setting wasn't political, but there is a tacit and questioning approval of the aims of revolutionary Russia, whether they wanted it to be there or not.

A Man Escaped (1956)
My favorite of Robert Bresson's films, A Man Escaped mesmerizes despite its austere aesthetic, its paucity of dialogue or back story, and its simple plot. A stark and quiet protest against oppression, the film is about Fontaine, a Resistance fighter imprisoned by the Nazis during the French Occupation, who plans his escape from prison. Bresson expresses a complex anti-fascist politics that, without dramatics or overt emotionalism, accepts with clear eyes the cost of those politics. Had Weil lived to see it, I can imagine this would have been a favorite film.

Medea (1969)
One of Weil's best essays, "The Iliad or the Poem of Force," is a rigorous work of scholarship that examines force, a complex term that encompasses violence across many definitions, in Homer's epic. Most films set in the ancient world fall prey to narrative methods that obscure the strangeness of these age-old myths and legends; not so in the case of Pasolini's adaptation of the Medea legend starring Maria Callas in her sole, non-operatic film role. A rare film that treats the violence of the ancient world with the aloof fatalism of the Greek texts.

Modern Times (1936)
The first twenty minutes of this film, before it descends into a more conventional Little Tramp melodrama, offer perhaps the most satirically brilliant treatment of the agony of the assembly-line worker ever put on film. Hysterical (in both sense of the term), frenetic, and mechanically inventive, these scenes of Charlie Chaplin's crazed proletarian are an indictment of factory work under capitalism only slightly less convictive than Weil's account of her time at the Renault factory, "Factory Work."

Ordet (1955)
Dreyer's extraordinary film could almost count as a new Christian testament. Johannes has lost his mind after studying Kierkegaard and believes himself to be Jesus Christ. He meanders through his community, pleading with his family, neighbors, and minister to return to the faith. Rare is the film that can depict a miracle that, in its mystery and strangeness, convinces precisely because it is free of either magic or rational explanation.

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
Simone Weil is probably the only modern figure that can rightfully be compared to Joan of Arc, two politically engaged, spiritually devout Frenchwomen who rebelled against the Church without losing their faith. I believe that Dreyer's masterpiece is the greatest film of all time, leaving all others far behind, and that Falconetti's performance as Saint Joan is the greatest ever captured by a camera. I recommend that this film be viewed with Richard Einhorn's oratorio, "Voices of Light." 

The Red and the White (1967)
Hungarian filmmaker Miklós Jancsó's anti-war film is set during the Russian Civil War and depicts the savagery and barbaric senselessness of warfare. The film is without protagonists and the camera roves like a startled and curious beast across fields and forests, witnessing one act after another of violence that begets violence that begets violence. By eschewing traditional narrative and character development conventions, Jancsó succeeds in a critique that simply cannot be interpreted in favor of war, unlike most other pacifist war films, for heroism simply ceases to exist.

The Sorrow and the Pity (1969)
Marcel Ophuls, one of the finest documentarians of film history, spent his career tirelessly interrogating the atrocities of World War II. This extraordinary film excavates the complex and secretive history of the French people under German Occupation and the Vichy government. Ophuls dares to point a finger at the holes in the self-serving mythos of a rebellious and resisting French citizenry, demonstrating with both righteousness and a refusal to generalize, that the horrors visited on French Jews could not have succeeded without collusion, whether tacit or active. I recommend that the viewer read Weil's "What is a Jew?" in conjunction with this film.

Friday, June 16, 2017

10 Novels for Fans of Fellini's Films

There's no denying that Federico Fellini was among the true maestri of Italian cinema. Plenty of filmmakers have aspired to emulate Fellini's style - one thinks of Bob Fosse's All That Jazz, with its teasing autobiography, a deliberately tacky sense of pizazz, and surreal musical numbers, Terry Gilliam's Brazil, with its flamboyant dreams that ooze a distinctly queer-inflected straight sexuality and its bamboozled, confused male protagonist, Wes Andersen's The Grand Budapest Hotel, with its layer-caked strata of eccentric and hat-wearing hotel denizens and its hapless hero gazing with puppy-dog-eyed adoration at a man who wears perfume, not to mention Pedro Almodóvar's entire filmography - but Fellini remains irreducibly Fellini.

Pressed to offer an opinion, I would say that I love Fellini's films, but that wouldn't be strictly true. Unlike the films of Visconti, say, or Lina Wertmüller, I don't consistently love Fellini's films. I adored La strada, Amarcord, and Nights of Cabiria, but loathed Satyricon and Juliet of the Spirits, while The White Sheik actually bored me and I could literally shred apart Roma into two equally sized films, one I hated and one I loved, the bits and pieces all jumbled together as is. His two most celebrated films, 8 1/2 and La dolce vita, left me with a heap of disparate reactions that I can't manage to amalgamate into a coherent critical opinion. Fellini was enamored of shooting scenes of people eating that are so disgusting that after watching them I gag at the thought of food for days. Yet, in the end, Fellini offers so much that I love, from a fashion parade of priests in neon-lighted vestments to a mascara-stained tear rolling down Giulietta Masina's face, a mad uncle camping out in a tree shouting "Voglio una donna!" (I want a woman!) to Anita Ekberg swooning over a white kitten, the Nino Rota scores, the tinsel, Marcello Mastroianni in sunglasses, and the endlessly glorious hats.

Here, then, are ten novels for the Fellini fan:

Collected Fictions - Jorge Luis Borges
The dizzying, mind-bending, intellectual games of Borges's fiction, which strays through infinite libraries and labyrinthine gardens, are not merely inventive, as stunning as their inventiveness may be. Borges's understanding of the book, as a talismanic object, a world unto itself, the essence of possibility, has much in common with Fellini's understanding of cinema, its open-endedness, circularity, and perverse traversing of the space between artificiality and realism. The dream, as subject, texture, and medium, saturates both men's work. Among my favorites of Borges's stories are "The Theme of the Traitor and the Hero," about a biographer's investigation of an Irish nationalist's Shakespearean murder, "Emma Zunz," Borges's only story with a female protagonist, a woman who plots a queasy revenge, and "Deutsches Requiem," written as the final confession of the commandant of a Nazi concentration camp.

The Master and Margarita - Mikhail Bulgakov
Bulgakov's wicked sense of political humor, twisted and yet ultimately quite evocative and devout Christianity, and self-reflexive explorations of what it means to be a man and a writer make him something of a more tortured and distinctly Russian Fellini of literature. Both were masters of playfulness deployed in the service of political and social critique, whether sly or brutal, and both obsessed over the grotesque. In The Master and Margarita, Professor Woland arrives in Moscow with his cronies, including a vodka-swilling, pistol-waving black cat and an angel of death, to put on a magic show and recruit a lovely young witch to host Satan's Grand Ball. The witch in question is Margarita, the grieving lover of a politically dissident novelist, the Master, whose novel about Pontius Pilate landed him in an insane asylum. This is a superlatively great book.

The Adventures of Pinocchio - Carlo Collodi 
Forget the Disney adaptation: The Adventures of Pinocchio is bizarre, creepy, riotously illogical, and nearly as terrifying as Struwwelpeter. In a sinuously plotted story that defies cause and effect and whose morality is both Manichean and constantly slipping sideways, Pinocchio isn't an innocent learning right and wrong; he's a nasty, stealing, selfish, unpleasant little brat who is not only the cause of his mother's death, but dies himself multiple times in gruesome ways, including being hanged. Despite the darkness and horror, Collodi's book has a robust, and distinctly Florentine, sense of humor. Add in its fascination with traveling performers, circuses, freaks, and overeating, and one must imagine this was one of Fellini's favorite books. 

One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel García Márquez
A surreal recreation of family history threads through both the writing of García Márquez and Fellini's films, most obviously in Amarcord. One Hundred Years of Solitude is very specifically local, even as it has become the most famous and critically well-regarded work of Colombian literature, its sprawling story of the Buendía family, founders of Macondo, an attempted jungle utopia, metamorphosing into a reflected national history. Fatalistic and dream-like, sparkling with gems of wit and astonishing beauty, this book enchants and mesmerizes, even as it embraces a rather pessimistic view of humanity's inherent flaws.

The Leopard - Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
This impressionistic and at times almost hallucinogenic novel recounts the unification of Italy, distilled through the morbid and resigned reflections of the aristocratic Prince of Salina, the aging, leonine patriarch of a decadent family, moldering away in a crumbling palace. The Prince, confronted with revolution and class upheaval, sees the monumental changes with which his nephew is so enamored, as he is of the gorgeous but bourgeois Angelica, with a gimlet-eye. The novel's world-weary conclusion that everything must change, so that everything can stay the same, is compounded by the hothouse effect of Lampedusa's descriptive powers; long after reading the book, one will be able to smell the rotting corpse of a soldier in a blooming garden. Luchino Visconti's epic film adaptation is brilliant, with its painterly compositions, but doesn't quite capture the moribund magic of the novel.

Doctor Faustus - Thomas Mann
Leaping into the interstices between reality and madness, labor and creativity, Mann adapts the legend of Faust in this deeply intellectual saga of a composer's quest for musical greatness. Adrian Leverkühn's simultaneous striving for a new music beyond any music yet composed and descent into corruption, madness, and cruelty is mirrored in the cultural and political history of Germany, the philosophical decadence of Nietzsche's Superman and bewitchment with death and the shrieking nationalism of the Nazi Party. Mann's resistance to delineating what is 'reality' and what is the product of Adrian's syphilitic imaginings echoes Fellini's openness to the surreal, strange, and magically true.

Ada, or Ardor - Vladimir Nabokov
This, my favorite of Nabokov's novels, is written as the unfinished, heavily annotated memoirs of Van Veen, a famous psychologist whose lifelong love affair with his sister, Ada, obsesses him in his old age. Set in an alternate Earth, called Demonia or Antiterra, the novel's world fuses together diverse aspects of the 19th and 20th centuries, an uncanny blend of the familiar, the historical, and the purely fictive. Ada, or Ardor could thus be classified as science fiction, but it reaches far beyond one genre, encompassing erotica, family saga, scholarly treatise, poetry, and suicide note, and its devilish linguistic complexity requires a cursory knowledge of Russian and French. The novel is cosmopolitan, campy, lurid, ethereal, punning, and as literarily incestuous as its characters. Pair it with 8 1/2 for a potent head-trip, LSD not needed.

Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
Salman Rushdie's magical realist history of India's independence owes as much to Bollywood films as it does to postcolonial theory. Saleem Sinai is one of the blessed, or perhaps cursed, children born in the first hour of India's existence as an independent republic, each endowed with a magical gift. Saleem has a powerful sense of smell and the telepathic ability to bring all of these children together to plot and plan, but his nemesis Shiva seems determined to destroy the bond they all share. Rushdie has a bouncy sense of fun, even as he sends Saleem out into repression, poverty, and war in India and Pakistan. Like Fellini, he refuses to take his country's history too seriously, while making an impassioned and pained gesture of love for that country, its culture and its values.

Higglety Pigglety Pop!; Or There Must Be More to Life - Maurice Sendak
Sendak's picture book may be less than seventy pages long, but in it one finds a rich and nuanced philosophical story, a rare book for children that doesn't cling ghoulishly fast to optimism. Jenny, a shaggy white dog, has everything there is in life, but it's not enough, so she sets out to be the star of the World Mother Goose Theater, only to discover there is something she lacks: experience. So, she seeks out experience and it takes her to some very dark places indeed. Higglety Pigglety Pop! is infused with an agonized sense that there really might not be more to life and yet its whimsy, sweetness, and puzzled curiosity keep it from getting bogged down in pure pessimism. As complex as any weighty tome by Kant, Hegel, or Schopenhauer, but much more fun to read!

Conversations in Sicily - Elio Vittorini
Written in simple, colloquial Italian, Vittorini's experimental novel follows a man in a profound and quiet despair, for he sees humanity as hopelessly lost, hopelessly irredeemable. A southern migrant working in the north, Silvestro heads home to Sicily to visit his mother on her saint's day, encountering strangers and family members, some of them dead or perhaps not there, and engaging in conversations that operate almost like a secular catechism. Usually interpreted as a veiled critique of fascism - and indeed, Vittorini would be imprisoned by the fascists for his political writing and resistance work - the book adheres to a dream-like sense of stasis, echoing repetition, and meandering forward movement and anticipates post-modernism. Silvestro's journey, his encounters and observations, the strange, highly localized, and yet, for me at least, comfortingly home-like details such as a frittata in the shape of a fish, form a quiet, calm, and still insistent protest against the pain of poverty, oppression, and the impossibility of truly knowing another human being.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Is "Jane Got a Gun" Actually a Revisionist Western?

Gavin O'Connor's Jane Got a Gun had a tortured production history, with cast members quitting or dropping out as shooting got delayed and planned director Lynne Ramsay abandoned the project a day before filming was set to begin due to disputes with the producers. Nevertheless, with Natalie Portman as the star and co-producer, Jane was hotly anticipated, even as its release was continually delayed. In the end, it flopped with both audiences and critics.

It's true that the fevered expectations that had been raised by the idea of a feminist western, a collaboration between Academy-favorite Portman and indie darling Lynne Ramsay, were not met, and not only because the movie was ultimately directed by a man. Jane Got a Gun was touted through the years between its production and its release as a revisionist western, but in fact, it's a tightly scripted, neatly (perhaps too much so) structured, morally strait-laced, and deeply traditional western, with little sign of a revisionist impulse.

There seems to be an assumption that putting a woman at the center of a western is sufficient to flout genre conventions. Portman's Jane is a steely-eyed, miraculously dewy-skinned frontierwoman with a husband (Noah Emmerich, excellent, but under-utilized) shot full of bullets and a gun battle ahead of her with the Bishop Boys, led by a moustached Ewan McGregor. Unable to run, she enlists her former flame, Ned (Joel Edgerton), to help her protect the homestead and send the Bishop Boys to perdition. This plot is rip-roaring - and entirely in line with the plots of any western starring John Wayne, Randolph Scott, or Alan Ladd. Most westerns have one or two women to feature, looking gorgeous, on the poster.

Yes, Jane is a woman. She is also the only woman in the entire cast, barring some miscellaneous unnamed whores (the actresses are even credited as such) whose faces are never seen and the two little girls who play Jane's daughters. It is otherwise a fully male production and fails to subvert the hyper-masculinity of traditional westerns.

Yes, Jane shoots guns. She even shoots some bad guys! But, this is nothing new. Women frequently shoot guns in westerns, about as frequently as they need to be rescued by men. In the stunningly misogynistic Ride Lonesome, damsel in distress Carrie (Karen Steele), wearing a bright red blouse that Mae West wouldn't have bothered converting to a bustier, has no trouble at all shooting guns, but there's nothing remotely empowering in this action. When women shoot guns in westerns, they have a small set of purposes from which to choose: protecting themselves from rape, revenging themselves after being raped, protecting their children, and, slightly more rarely, revenging the man they loved (in this last case, the target for the bullet is usually a racistly depicted Native American character). None of Jane's reasons for violence fall outside that tiny range. Jane relies on men for help, for protection, for planning. Ned sets up the booby traps and readies the house, telling her what to do, not Jane.

The real problem with Jane is that Jane is totally justified. Hints of villainy dissolve as the past is revealed in flashbacks that seem to arrive with the regularity of a clock chime. There is no moral complexity in Jane Got a Gun. Bad guys murder, rape, traffic women to brothels, lie, steal, betray. Good guys protect, learn to listen with compassion, only shoot with perfect justification, rescue women and children, desire nothing more than to honor the woman they love with marriage. They shoot up the brothel to release a good woman from being raped. Women... well, the only woman is Jane. And Jane is a paragon.

This lack of moral complexity is what renders Jane Got a Gun so traditional. It's very satisfying as a traditional western, replete with dusty, golden landscapes, snorting horses, jingling spurs, whiskey that goes down as easy as water, and guns, guns, guns. Rather than confront the troubling racial politics of the genre, the film features an entirely white cast. I didn't spot a single extra who wasn't white. Rather than confront the troubling gender politics of the genre, Jane softens the usual dynamics so that the heroes do nothing unacceptable without altering the essential power structures and the villains are defined primarily by their malevolent sexual intentions and actions. Rather than confront the blatant justification of extra-legal violence westerns have always embraced, the film makes use of its moral simplicity to consider the murder of brutes a-okay and the murder of innocents a handy justification for murdering bad guys.

A true revisionist western dares to examine without flinching the rotten politics at the genre's core. Dances with Wolves told the story of western expansion from the point of view of a Sioux tribe and the white man who becomes their ally. Hombre destroyed the moral center that anchors most westerns by making its hero a biracial man expelled from the Native American tribe whose rights he cherishes and despised by the white men and women who need him to survive. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid let its heroes, if such they can be termed, have an underdeveloped sense of morality and an overdeveloped sense of fun. Blazing Saddles gave the racist little town of Rock Ridge a black sheriff they couldn't begin to deserve. Nicholas Ray's Johnny Guitar completely subverted expected gender dynamics, with Joan Crawford out-Wayne-ing John Wayne and Mercedes McCambridge out-Marvin-ing Lee Marvin. True Grit dared to have a female protagonist who is never a sex object and shoots her gun for as many reasons as a man does.

Jane Got a Gun is a pretty darn good western, of the traditional bang-bang-shoot-'em-up variety, though it adds a bit of gauzily filmed romance and its heroine wears a cartridge belt. But it's not a revisionist western and suffers critically if considered as such.