Friday, October 20, 2017

Spaghetti Western Trivia ~ One and Done for Brock Peters




“Ace High” marked the only Spaghetti western outing for Brock Peters, who came to fame when he played a black man accused of raping a white girl and was defended by lawyer Gregory Peck in 1962’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.” He was also a longtime friend of Charlton Heston; the two appeared together in “Major Dundee” (1965).


Montreal Museum of Fine Arts redefines the western in Once Upon a Time



The MMFA’s remarkable new show arranges visual art around excerpts from classic western films, making original and provocative connections.

Montreal Gazette
By Ian McGillis

“We do not want people to leave this exhibition with the same image of the subject that they come in with,” said Mary-Dailey Desmarais.

The curator of the huge exhibition opening at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts next Saturday can rest assured. Equal parts jaw-dropping spectacle and sobering critique, Once Upon a Time … The Western arranges a vast array of visual art, from the mid-19th century to the present day, around excerpts from classic western films, making original (and often counterintuitive) connections that take something we thought we knew and turn it into something completely new.

Those who have always thought of the western as a quintessentially American form — that’s to say, most of us — will be surprised at just how much, and how smoothly, the show incorporates material from all over the world. The Italian spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone are well represented, as are regional variants from France and Germany, but so are Canada and, perhaps most unexpected of all, Quebec. How many remember, or knew in the first place, that Quebec rock legend Robert Charlebois had a part in Leone’s A Genius, Two Partners and a Dupe? Or that celebrated Montreal photographer William Notman shot portraits in his local studio of Buffalo Bill and Sitting Bull?

Montreal photographer William Notman shot this portrait in his studio of Buffalo Bill and Sitting Bull, circa 1885. (Photo: Golden, Colorado, Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave)

Another common perception of the western is that it is locked in the past, its golden age and cultural relevance having ended sometime around the early 1960s with films like The Misfits and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. On the contrary, the exhibition is full of salient reminders of how the form, far from disappearing, morphed into a canvas that could be adapted for any number of purposes, from the blaxploitation westerns that turned racial stereotypes upside down to the late-1960s anti-war counterculture.

“It was really a surprise to me to discover the critical approach of films like Arthur Penn’s Little Big Man and Ralph Nelson’s Soldier Blue (both from 1970),” said Desmarais. “They were pointing out parallels between the way Indigenous peoples were treated in the American West and the violence coming out of the Vietnam War.”

The exhibition follows that subversive impulse into the present day, as with the homoerotic element that was first introduced in Andy Warhol’s underground Lonesome Cowboys, transposed into a contemporary urban setting by John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy, and finally brought into the mainstream by Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain. A light is also shone on the underappreciated depiction of strong female characters in recent films like 2010’s Meek’s Cutoff, with Michelle Williams, and 2014’s The Homesman, with Hilary Swank.


[Once Upon a Time รข€¦ The Western arranges a vast array of visual art, from the mid-19th century to the present day, around excerpts from classic western films. Albert Bierstadt’s Emigrants Crossing the Plains dates back to 1867. (Photo: Oklahoma City, National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, gift of Jasper D. Ackerman. Image courtesy of the Dickinson Research Center)]

For Desmarais, the mission and challenge of Once Upon a Time was to strike the right balance between celebration and critique.

“We want to position this show as a critical take on the problematic aspects of the genre,” she said. “We show the use of the term ‘Indian’ as being completely misguided; we point out how so many of the landscape paintings of the West ignored or marginalized the people who already lived there; we address cultural appropriation, stereotypes of Indigenous people, misuse of cultural artifacts, misunderstanding of Indigenous culture. We make the work and perspective of Indigenous artists central to the show.

“But at the same time, we didn’t want to tear apart the genre. There are beautiful aspects to what it was, a romance that has been attractive to people for generations. We thought, ‘Let’s find a way to show the construction of this mythology, to show the fictions embedded in it.”

Timing can be a tricky element in an undertaking as big as Once Upon a Time, but even so, the show is landing at a juncture when its themes are especially resonant and pertinent.

“Yes, I believe it is,” said Desmarais. “In our particular historical moment, we see issues of gun violence, race, gender identity playing out daily on the news. We also see the legacy of the cowboy in American politics and styles of leadership — and not just with the current presidency, but historically. The perpetuation of violence is mirrored in the culture of violence that one sees developing in these films. It’s more important than ever that we look at the ways in which a culture creates its own myths and stereotypes.”

AT A GLANCE

Once Upon a Time … The Western: A New Frontier in Art and Film opens Saturday, Oct. 14 and runs through Feb. 4 at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1380 Sherbrooke St. W. For tickets and more information, visit Timing can be a tricky element in an undertaking as big as Once Upon a Time, but even so, the show is landing at a juncture when its themes are especially resonant and pertinent.

“Yes, I believe it is,” said Desmarais. “In our particular historical moment, we see issues of gun violence, race, gender identity playing out daily on the news. We also see the legacy of the cowboy in American politics and styles of leadership — and not just with the current presidency, but historically. The perpetuation of violence is mirrored in the culture of violence that one sees developing in these films. It’s more important than ever that we look at the ways in which a culture creates its own myths and stereotypes.”

More Information

Once Upon a Time … The Western: A New Frontier in Art and Film opens Saturday, Oct. 14 and runs through Feb. 4 at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1380 Sherbrooke St. W. For tickets and more information, visit https://www.mbam.qc.ca/en/exhibitions/upcoming/once-upon-a-time-the-western/

Special Birthdays



Bela Lugosi (actor) would have been 135 today, he died in 1956.












John Bell (actor) is 20 today.