The World According to Renee

Views, Reviews, Short Stories and More…

The Anti-language of Film

For context, I’m currently studying Screen History at uni, which focuses on the Westerns genre of film. One of the required readings was about the language used in Western films, and it was interesting enough to send my blogging on a Saturday afternoon.

According to Jane Tompkins, the actions in Westerns are the focus, not the words. Only actions and objects count, not the talking. Often within the Western genre, any talking is usually a put-down. It’s a pity I didn’t read this at the beginning of the unit, I’d have paid more attention to the films to see if it was true.

In any film, the plot is usually driven by talking. For example, Limitless is narrated by the lead character Eddie Morra. At the beginning of the film, he is standing on a ledge, about to jump to his death. Through his narration, the viewer is led through the circumstances that led to this moment. As with these sorts of films, the plot takes almost the whole film to reach that first point. In contrast, a film like Die Hard is just about the explosions. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

In Westerns, the plot follows a very narrow band of story (unless it’s a genre crossover, but that’s another story) and this is, in part, what defines it as a Western. Bad guy + good guy + shootout = justice prevailing. The hero of a Western speaks actions: “Put down that gun”, “Go on, shoot”, “take the horse”. Westerns attempt to communicate with minimal words, which is interesting because the Western is arguably the most well-trodden film genre (have a look on youtube for early Westerns such as The Great Train Robbery). Maybe fans of Westerns are there for the scenery and not the chit chat? (With the Coen brothers’ True Grit, I was definitely only there for Matt Damon…)

Tompkins goes on to say that males in both Westerns and society don’t say much; language is reserved for females. When a cowboy doesn’t speak, he is sexy, virile and full of integrity. The Western genre is a revolt against language, making the anti-language inherently male as opposed to the Victorian era of femininity and romantic languages (never mind that Victorian literature was dominated by male novelists…) In essence, not speaking shows the hero as having power over his self, his emotions and his situation. Clearly this power is essential in the Western genre… how else would we expect the hero to win?

This brings me to the point of this entry: how do real life females expect our men (or heroes) to communicate? Sure, chocolates and flowers speak volumes, but what about their voice? With regards to film, do we subconsciously equate a “talkie” film such as Limitless or Inceeption  with a thinking movie? Are audiences getting smarter with the advent of time?

Tompkins, JP ‘Women and the language of men’, West of Everything: The Inner Life of Westerns. Chapter 2, pp 47-67


July 23, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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