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How the West Was Shot:
Six Westerns, Six Decades

Dates: Fridays and Saturdays, January 23 & 24 and 30 & 31, 2009
Location: Getty Center, Harold M. Williams Auditorium
Admission: Free; a separate reservation is required for each film. Call (310) 440-7300 or use the "Make Reservation" buttons below.

This film series samples great westerns from the 1920s to the 1970s, complementing the exhibition Dialogue among Giants: Carleton Watkins and the Rise of Photography in California.

The western landscape has long provided a raw and encouraging palette seemingly created for the artist. Just as photographer Carlton Watkins evidenced its majesty in the late 1800s, filmmakers a few years later would insert characters and epic stories into its environs. John Ford's The Iron Horse (1924) and Raoul Walsh's The Big Trail (1930) laid the groundwork for the concerns of filmed westerns for years to come: the treacherous building of the transcontinental railroad and the pioneering move west. In time, most great filmmakers would try their hand at a western; for some, it would prove a distinct and mythic genre.

January 23, 2009: The Iron Horse

January 24, 2009: The Big Trail

January 24, 2009: Red River

January 30, 2009: Once Upon a Time in the West

January 31, 2009: Bad Day at Black Rock

January 31, 2009: Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

Still from John Ford's The Iron Horse

The Iron Horse
Directed by John Ford | 1924

Friday, January 23, 2009, 7:30 p.m.

In his first epic western, Ford tells the story of the creation of the first transcontinental railroad, completed in 1869. The film lays the groundwork for the tropes that would always be considered "Fordian": landscape as character, sensitivity to the worker over the businessman, and, above all, a deep sensitivity to how history is turned into myth.

This film has been preserved by The Museum of Modern Art with funding provided by The Film Foundation.

Still from The Iron Horse

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The Big Trail
Directed by Raoul Walsh | 1930

Saturday, January 24, 2008, 4:00 p.m.

Walsh and cinematographer Arthur Edeson create a riveting tale of pioneers crossing the Oregon Trail with the help of trapper John Wayne, whose incredible visage, physique, and presence announce him in his debut as a major star.

This film has been preserved by The Museum of Modern Art with funding provided by The Film Foundation.

Still from The Big Trail

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Red River
Directed by Howard Hawks | 1948

Saturday, January 24, 2009, 7:30 p.m.

Historically based on the opening of the Chisholm Trail in 1867, Hawks's film invokes a typical Western theme—the tough journey through tough land—but with his penchant for drawing character, the interior story of conflict between the gritty, headstrong father John Wayne and the softer, compassionate son Montgomery Clift rivals the stunningly shot external story.

Still from Red River

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Once Upon a Time in the West
Directed by Sergio Leone | 1968

Friday, January 30, 2009, 7:30 p.m.

Like its fairy tale title, Leone's operatic ode to the west captures a period of time both current—the "civilization" of the wilderness through the railroad and commerce—and mournful, and simultaneously serves as a parable of the death of the western. Gathering up influences of westerns past, Leone here etches his own vision of the myth, as the grizzled human face stands equal with the fading scrubrush of the land, both destined to fade into the sunset.

Screened with an introduction by Barry Allen, Executive Director of Film Preservation and Archival Resources at Paramount Studios.

Still from Once Upon a Time in the West

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Bad Day at Black Rock
Directed by John Sturges | 1955

Saturday, January 31, 4:00 p.m.

The western can be a beautiful thing: it can be the setting for the hero, the bad guy, and the horse; or it can be a film that uses western signifiers and settings as allegory for the social circumstances of the day. Here Sturges brilliantly utilized western tropes—the one-armed stranger versus the town of hostile ruffians—as an allegory for the blacklisting blazing through '50s Hollywood.

Still from Bad Day at Black Rock

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Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid
Directed by Sam Peckinpah | 1973

Saturday, January 31, 2009, 7:30 p.m.

Fifty years after John Ford initially celebrated the birth of the west, Sam Peckinpah, a true lover of the west and the western, here elegizes it. Progress in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid equals the dehumanizing takeover of the wilderness and the end of the way of life inherent to the western. As James Coburn as Pat Garrett claims, "this country's getting old and I'm getting old with it." Not, however, without a fight.

Still from Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

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