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Masculinities in American Western Films

A Hyper-Linear History

Emma Hamilton

The «Western» embodies many of the stereotypes of masculinity: rugged, independent men in cowboy hats roam the barren landscapes of the American West, resolving conflicts with guns and tough talk. Where did these cowboys come from? What historical trends led to their emergence on screen?

This book explores the relationship between the Western, film and historical representation and the ways in which masculine gender performance is itself historical. It posits a new interpretation of how history functions on film, termed hyper-linear history. Hyper-linear history creates the possibility of seeing film as a vehicle that makes the past immediately explicit and relevant, rendering historical understandings complex.

The study offers a fresh exploration of American Western films made in the 1950s and 1960s, arguing that many Westerns of this period rely on the post-Civil War on-screen past to make sense of the tumultuous experiences of the period, to various effect. The films especially tap into the ways in which national economic, political, technological and social changes impact the performance of hegemonic masculinities. These films provide insight into the ways in which masculinities are performed and gender crises are expressed, explored and resolved.

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A man sits astride a horse, gazing at another two-bit settlement town and the rolling desolate hills beyond it. He is white, weather beaten and just plain tough. He and his ilk have dominated the pre-eminent American film genre. ‘Who are those guys?’ Butch Cassidy asks. Answering this question has been the central preoccupation of this volume and has necessitated an inter-disciplinary approach that engages issues of historical representation, gender and film. In examining hyper-linear history on film a distinct theoretical paradigm for understanding the ways history functions on film has been put forward. Engaging this discourse is particularly significant as historical representation in visual mediums continue to flourish and inform public and pedagogical approaches to historical knowledge. It is hoped that hyper-linear history continues to feed into this important discourse and bears fruitful understandings of cinematic representation.

Furthermore, the centrality of gender as a vehicle for transmitting hyper-linear connections between past and present is a significant indicator of the centrality of gender more generally as a historical category. In examining the ‘demasculinization’ of American male representation in 1950s and 1960s Westerns this work contributes to a discourse surrounding gender representation. Specifically, it contributes to a discussion regarding the ways in which masculine representation changes in American cinema over time. This provides significant insight; insight into the ways in which representations of gender reflect connections between the private and the public, the personal and the national identities; insight into the ways patterns of behaviour and...

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