I have watched half the episodes of NetFlix’s new Western serial Godless, and proclaim it highly worth viewing. In fact, I would rank it as one of the better runs at the genre in the last 30 years or so. The writer/director wonderfully bends the cliches and introduces some interesting female characters that belie typical female characters in modern Westerns. The dialogue is sparse, almost Old Testament at times, and so far the show hasn’t been riddled with gratuitous sex and violence.
Of course Godless is gorgeously filmed in the ranching high country where virtually every Western of distinction since the advent of film has been filmed. It was either the high country or the SW desert. I understand the cinematic reasons for that, but still, the panoramas are the same and readily identified about a half dozen or so from previous Westerns, including, I think Duel at Diablo, one of my all time favorites.
If only John Ford had filmed a Western in Western Oregon, set on west side of the Coast Range, where it really gets tiny, strange, green, dank and claustrophobic. Ford loved big open spaces and tall skies to tell a Western. There are no big open spaces with tall skies on the Oregon Coast, excepting of course the biggest space and sky on the planet, the Pacific Ocean. How come no one has ever filmed a Western at the ocean? Consider that!
Ken Kesey wrote a Western set in the woods near the ocean. It’s called Sometimes a Great Notion. It is has chainsaws, clearcuts, a wild river, honky tonk music, fist fights, whores, talking dogs, rain, cheap beer, Cain versus Abel, death in the woods, cuckolding, and deer swimming in the ocean.
Zane Grey wrote a Western called Rogue River Feud (about salmon fishing) that was set on the Southern Oregon Coast, but the deep purple prose just doesn’t hold up, neither does the happy ending.
There was the Western Honey in the Horn by HL Davis, Oregon’s only winner for the Pulitzer Prize for fiction (1935), but that novel’s style reads more out of the 18th Century Western Europe than modern American literature circa post early Hemingway.
There was a two-hour special of Gunsmoke, latter in the show’s run, filmed in the upper Rogue River. I had a man send me his self published memoir that included an essay about his being an extra on the production. He said all the extras were flying on acid the whole time and I asked if James Arness as Matt Dillon dabbled. Sadly, no.
Yes, there were Paint Your Wagon and Meek’s Cutoff and the original True Grit, but I’m talking west of the Coast Range and something more modern.
Perhaps modern like this:
Rain and wind howled. The streets and sidewalks of a desolate coastal town were empty. It was high noon.
I pushed open the double doors to the animal shelter and entered like it was a Wild West saloon. I shook the water off my pea coat duster and my craft fair hat crocheted by a hundred-year-old woman loaded on peach schnapps.
A smocked barkeep came up to the counter. She looked worried. No one came out in a rain like this. A scotch-colored mutt on the floor behind her growled.
“Can I help you?” she said.
“I want to walk a dog, an old dog, and I want to walk him on a dirty leash.”
She smiled. The mutt stopped growling.
“The oldest you got.”
A few minutes later she produced Daisy, a pointer mix the color of Ouzo cut with water with nicks all over her body.
Daisy. A good country name. A lass from rain country.
“Thirteen, we think.”
I noticed a bowl of treats on the counter and grabbed for them. I loaded my holster and then took up Daisy’s leash and pushed through the double doors. In my mind they were swinging behind me.
Rain and wind almost blew us into the nearby river. We angled toward the beach and the jetty. The ocean was throwing drift logs onto the rocks. Harbor seals rested on the docks. A man slept in his van. Another man appeared from the underbrush wearing a t-shirt and tacked into the wind. It felt good having a sidekick. I was walking an old dog, packing treats, gulls were about, and it was a dark dog day afternoon in the rainiest month on the Oregon Coast. There was good work to do to clean up this dog-neglecting town and I would start after a long walk with an old dog and a breakfast of Hamm’s and eggs.
(Okay, a little rough, maybe more noir than a Western, but why not merge the genres?)
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