I hate Westerns. It's just not a format I care for. To me it's the American version of the Arthurian legends - with chivalrous knights doing battle for the hand of fair maidens, or riding around doing-what-a-man-gotta-do, which usually involves shooting someone neatly and bloodlessless for Honour, Country or Machismo.
There are only two exceptions that come to mind .
"High Noon" is a complex, multi-layered piece of drama that could easily have been written by Shakespeare, and Gary Cooper's performance is a reminder that acting can be an Art and a Craft.
"McCabe and Mrs Miller" could not be more different, but is every bit as fabulous. Robert Altman's plausibly grim and literally dark tragedy with more mud and drugs than Glastonbury, and Leonard Cohen's definitive soundtrack of melancholy in a minor key.
Deadwood owes really quite a lot to this latter film. I don't think anyone would have commissioned such an expensive anti-Western without Altman's pioneering work of a generation ago.
For those who missed it (and I was one of them) "Deadwood" is HBO's drama based in the real gold-rush town of Deadwood, South Dakota in the 1870s. The statistic that 90% of women living in Deadwood in 1876 were prostitutes should tell you kind of place it was. Muddy, Mucky and Masculine.
There's a lot of cussing in Deadwood - which is totally justified, because everyone's lives really suck. There's disease and violence and hardly any medicine and too much drink and pox-ridden whores and no law. No soft toilet-paper either.
I don't intend to describe it in detail - check out HBO's website or just rent the boxset and watch it in one sitting, like eating a whole box of chocolates. But here's why I love it :-
* The good sheriff, who is fully capable of being genuinely bad in a good cause.
* The evil bar-owner, who is fully capable of being genuinely good.
* The relationship between the bar-owner and his chief prostitute. Not sure if it's sadomasochism or domestic violence, but it's disturbing and complex and I'm dying to see how it works out.
* The massive range of other characters and well-crafted storylines that build a genuine atmosphere and drags you into this so-different world.
Deadwood was one of those series that I could lose myself in. It did sag a little in the middle, but overall it's comparable in quality to HBO's best-known hit, "The Sopranos".
In fact (and I can't believe I'm saying this about a Western) it's better than "The Sopranos". Deeper, darker, bloodier, muddier and scarier. Tony Soprano wouldn't have lasted five minutes.