Commies and Indians
Little known Western films – in which cowboys were the baddies – will be the subject of a special event in Edinburgh today (Friday 17 May).
The event, organised by Film Studies scholars at the University of St Andrews, will examine cowboy films made in Europe in the sixties and seventies, at a time when traditional Western movies were declining in Hollywood.
The one-day symposium will discuss how so-called films such as ‘Sauerkraut Westerns’ were adapted to fit in with communist sensibilities of the day.
Conference co-organiser Dr Jonathan Owen, a Teaching Fellow at the University’s Centre for Film Studies, said, “Our event looks at a fascinating episode in the history of genre cinema – the emergence of the Red Western, a series of Westerns made in the Communist Eastern Bloc mainly in the 1960s and 70s. Alongside the famous Italian Spaghetti Westerns, we have Sauerkraut Westerns from East Germany, Goulash Westerns from Hungary, and so on.
“We will explore how these Westerns transformed the genre in adapting it to local histories and the political demands of communism – for instance by making the American Indians good and the cowboys bad.”
The event will offer a chance to hear the fascinating stories of those involved in making these films – such as Gojko Mitic, a Serbian actor who played an Indian chief in East German Westerns, and Dean Reed, the mysterious American actor and singer who defected behind the Iron Curtain for political reasons.
Dr Owen continued, “During the 1960s the Western genre, then waning in its native Hollywood, took root in a number of European countries. Though Italy’s ‘spaghetti Westerns’ remain by far the best-known result of this transposition, the genre also crossed political lines into Communist Eastern Europe.
“The various forms of ‘Eastern Western’ that ensue transform and politically inflect the genre in diverse ways, for example Indianerfilme cast cowboys as villains and American Indians as heroes. Elsewhere we see a translation of Western trappings to local history and terrain: Yugoslavia’s popular ‘Gibanica Westerns’, for instance, make Western heroes out of Tito’s Communist Partisan fighters.”
Experts will gather at the Filmhouse in Edinburgh to chart this fascinating episode in the critically marginalised history of Eastern Bloc popular cinema.
“Commies and Indians, The Western Beyond Cold War Frontiers”, a One-Day Symposium, takes place on Friday 17 May 2013 at 9.30am – 6pm at the Guildroom, Filmhouse, Edinburgh.
Note to Editors: Dr Jonathan Owen is available for interview today on 07580 356 777.
Issued by the Press Office, University of St Andrews
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