Recommended Reading

"Shooting Cowboys and Indians: Silent Western Films, American Culture, and the Birth of Hollywood"

by Andrew Brodie Smith (University Press of Colorado, 2003, 230 pages)

If the title had been simply "Shooting Cowboys and Indians," the book may appeal to a broader audience, but when you add "Silent Western Films, American Culture, and the Birth of Hollywood," it sounds more like a textbook. Smith's book is not a textbook, although it is an informative and scholarly study. Don't let the "American Culture" part of the title mislead you. Smith doesn't try to get into politics or do a psychological study of the nation at that point in history. He does, however, give us some insight into the tastes of audiences in the first 20 or 25 years of the century, the mores that affected what was being produced for the screen, the criticisms and praises that the writers of the day had for the westerns, and he takes an interesting look at the changes that took place in the evolution of the western film and what most likely brought about those changes. Although I said it wasn't a textbook, it is educational. How many times have you heard or read about names such as Harry H. Buckwalter or knew anything about his influence (before Broncho Billy or William S. Hart) on the development of the western movie -- or James Young Deer and Lillian Red Wing, filmmakers and actors whose role in the development of the early western may be given its due credit here for the first time. Of course, names such as Broncho Billy Anderson, William S. Hart and Tom Mix are here, as well as the early companies who established the western genre on the screen such as Selig, Essanay, Bison and others. Smith does an excellent job of giving us a brief but sufficient history of the development of these companies during the fledgling days of the movies. The reader gets a real "feel" for the time period and the role that westerns played in the overall make-up of cinema history at this time. The book doesn't attempt to be a complete history, and certainly you won't find the myriad of minor western stars who churned out pictures, particularly during the 1920's, here, but you will see those who exerted some influence, helped lay the foundation that was there by the time sound came in, and left their indelible mark on the history of the cinema. Smith deserves credit for his research and also deserves credit for not providing us a rehashing of the same information that has been published before. This is good not only for the western fan, but the fan of early cinema who wants to learn a little more about this era than you'd get from the typical star's biography.

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