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“THIS SENSE OF FAILURE RUNS VERY DEEP — MAYBE IT HAS TO DO WITH THE FRONTIER BEING SYSTEMATICALLY TAKEN AWAY, WITH THE GUILT OF HAVING GOTTEN THIS COUNTRY BY WIPING OUT A NATIVE RACE OF PEOPLE, WITH THE WHOLE PROTESTANT WORK ETHIC...I CAN’T PUT MY FINGER ON IT, BUT IT’S THE SOURCE OF A LOT OF INTRIGUE FOR ME.”


— SAM SHEPARD


Mojave Road Photo: Jim Chaote


between 1930 and 1954 alone, approximately 2,700 Western cowboy films were produced in this country. Most of these were filmed on the lot at various Hollywood studios, but as the genre became popular, producers filmed in places ranging from Arizona to Montana, Wyoming to Mississippi. These dramatic landscapes captured imaginations across the country, reinforcing America’s rugged cowboy mythology. Affirming a national sentiment of entitlement to the land, these films showed damsels being rescued by dirt-smeared heroes, and they depicted white men riding into sunsets they knew belonged to them alone.


When we remove our rose-colored glasses, however, we can see that the mythology of the American West was built on policies of violence enacted by the American government against Native peoples, women, immigrants, and the land itself. And while both the mythological and true American Wests of the 1800s may not exist temporally anymore, their echoes are with us today. Frustrated with his brother’s fixation, Austin explodes, proclaiming, “There’s no such thing as the West anymore! [...] it’s dried up.” But the audience knows this isn’t true—for some, like Lee, it still exists inside. And as he brings the unpredictability and venom of the desert into Austin’s suburban way of life, the audience is left to consider what’s truth, what’s fiction, and how history may be chasing us much closer than we think.•


This 1895 illustration by European-American painter Frederic Remington shows a moment of interaction between a cowboy and Native Americans.


TRUE WEST UPSTAGE GUIDE


11


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