Westerns, Part 3

“I can name for you every western I’ve ever seen. It wouldn’t even be hard.” – 2018

“There’s something just better about westerns, I can’t explain it. A great western is a special thing.” – 2019

“… nobody wants to be the crotchety old man saying things were much better in the good old days. But then you sit down and actually watch a 1940s western and it melts your face clean off.” – 2020

There probably wasn’t an exact moment when I went from “getting into westerns” to just “being a big westerns guy,” but if I had to pick, it would probably be around the time I started watching the Friday western on TG4. TG4 is an Irish public broadcast TV station that mostly shows Irish language programming, but every Friday night, they show a western. I’m not sure why, but I’m glad. “An western”: Irish for “the western”, with the word western untranslated, the way you wouldn’t translate noir or giallo into English. The films they show range from established classics to obscure gems to stuff that really isn’t very good at all, but usually in an interesting way. I don’t always watch the western on Friday, but I’m always happy I did. There are some things in this world that are so purely joyful, so satisfying, that they make your heart feel like it will burst. They’re precious, and I try to hold onto them where I can. A great western is one of those. The particular pleasures great westerns offer make me fall in love with films all over again.  

Continue reading “Westerns, Part 3”

Michael Collins Remains an Irish Cornerstone 25 Years Later [Paste]

25 years ago, Neil Jordan was coming off directing The Crying Game and Interview with the Vampire. He had two box office hits and a screenplay Oscar under his belt. So, naturally, he spent his Hollywood cache on a biopic about Irish republican Michael Collins.

The result occupies a peculiar place in film history and Irish culture. Despite being a major studio release, it faded from the consciousness of the international film community more or less immediately. But in Ireland, it remains a cornerstone of both pop culture and popular history: We’ve all seen it, probably lots of times, so it’s a big part of how we understand our nation and its history. For me, and I’m sure millions more, when I picture some of the most significant figures in Irish history they look like Liam Neeson or Alan Rickman.

I wrote about the 25th anniversary of Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins for Paste magazine! You can read it here.

Westerns, Part 2

Two years ago, I wrote about starting to watch westerns. It was mostly about the gap between westerns as I imagined they would be through cultural osmosis and westerns that I actually watched: defending westerns from the preconceptions of those who haven’t seen them. I was rejecting the view of westerns as a reactionary monolith. No genre is as uniform as the popular imagination frequently remembers westerns to have been.

I’m not sure if the rhetorical function of the western in popular discourse has shifted or if I’ve just noticed different parts of it, but I haven’t seen much of “westerns, of course, went into decline when audiences became uncomfortable with racist depictions of Native Americans” lately. Instead, westerns seem to be more often invoked as… a defense of superhero movies. The westerns/superheroes comparison is probably as old as the contemporary superhero boom – westerns, the story goes, dominated Hollywood for a time, just as superheroes have in the last few years – but was kicked into overdrive when Martin Scorsese called Marvel movies “theme parks” and a million nerds lost their minds. There were a lot of arguments made against Scorsese, from calling him a racist for not thinking Black Panther is extremely important to long Twitter threads of ugly CGI landscapes or medium shots of actors looking sad to “prove” that Marvel movies are cinema.

Continue reading “Westerns, Part 2”

Notes on Black ’47

This article is part of the Notes on Failure series, which discusses interesting cinematic failures. Previously, Mary Magdalene.


The Great Famine is the most significant event in Irish history by some distance. It killed around a million of the eight and a half million or so people on the island of Ireland, and turned another million into refugees. The loss of population didn’t stop there either: devastated economically, mass emigration drove the island’s population down to around four and a half million by the 1920s, where it hovered for a good fifty years. It began to climb steadily from the 1970s onward, so that now, over 150 years later, we’ve just about returned to where we were after a plague wiped out a quarter of our population in less a decade.

The Famine is well-represented in literature and song, but, until last year, with the release of Black ’47, never in film. There was, some might argue, the increasingly obscure silent feature Knocknagow (1918), based on the novel of the same name, which is ostensibly set in rural Tipperary in 1848, but it only depicts evictions, not starvation. The Irish communist author Liam O’Flaherty, whose novel The Informer was adapted for screen by John Ford, wrote his novel Famine with the explicit intention it be made into a film, but it never came to pass. Stephen Rea, who stars in Black ’47, told Today FM he’d been approached about a famine movie in the nineties, but the American producers thought it was too heavy. (“How are you going to lighten it?” Rea’s agent asked, “Feed them?”) So, here we are, with Black ’47, the first film about the Great Famine.

Because the Famine looms so large in the Irish consciousness, yet is so invisible on screen, I’ve often thought about different ways the subject could be approached in a film. The Western seemed the perfect fit, the ruined Irish countryside replacing the lawless desert wastes, so I was really excited when Black ’47 was announced.

Folks, it was bad.

Continue reading “Notes on Black ’47”

Westerns: A Take

I can name for you every western I’ve ever seen. It wouldn’t even be hard. That’s not even close to true about any other genre: I always feel I came relatively late to horror, but the idea of listing all the horror films I’ve seen seems absurd, a job it would be impossible to finish. But I’ve seen, like, fifteen westerns – I’m a total novice, fumbling around in the dark in a genre in which I have yet to grow roots.

But as I slowly, stumblingly get into westerns, I’ve become acutely aware of the gap between the way people talk about westerns and what they’re actually like. The western – especially for people my age, who didn’t grow up watching them on Saturday afternoons – is treated less like an artform than a rhetorical device, and this means, necessarily, reducing a huge, varied film genre to a static set of characteristics. It means assuming that everything westerns were, are or can be fits in a little box.

Continue reading “Westerns: A Take”