I have an awful confession to make. And probably the least American thing about me: I don’t like Westerns.
To be fair, this was also the least Portuguese thing about me, since the westerward expansion and everything it implies is now an ur-myth of the Western civilization that includes Europe, and most Europeans are mad for a good Western. The only Europeans who don’t love a good Western are the pseudo sophisticates.
There used to be an area, just out of the village that looked (for some reason) like the old west, and Italian movie companies used to film scenes there (there was even a rickety train bridge, and of course, until I was about 10 all the trains in Portugal were coal and really old.) We used to walk out, my brother, his friends and I, and sit and watch them film.
Why did I never take to them? I don’t know. It’s not pseudo-sophistication, not given the other stuff I read. And yes, I tried Louis L’Amour. I slid right off. Now, maybe it would be different now — don’t know. Sometimes it’s a “language feel” and my “language slide off” changes every few years — but when I tried him 20 years ago, I slid off.
I like the ideas and the concepts, but can’t for the life of me read the book till the end.
I’d like to blame the myriad spaghetti westerns I read (it’s a thing. Portugal had a minor industry of writing/publishing pulp westerns every week or so, for some houses) when I was under six. You see, my brother and cousin (who lived with us) collected them, spending pretty much their entire money on them, and one of my first memories of reading was of reading their collections before anyone knew I was reading. They were very bad, of course. But I read a sh*t ton of bad mysteries and bad science fiction, published by the same knock-off factories (maybe not as many, but close) and I still read the genre. And sure, cousin’s bullfighter romances did put me off romances for a good long time, but I came back in my thirties, even if just to Georgette Heyer.
So– Why don’t I like Westerns? I don’t know.
But yesterday I was sitting on my chair in the family room, minding my own business and trying to work through a script rewrite when suddenly a
bad dude my husband, who was waiting for me to be ready to go to bed decided to put Rango on. He says he watched it a decade or so ago with the guys, and maybe he did. I have trouble sitting down and watching movies, but we used to have a Friday pizza and movie night, where I normally watched with the guys as it was a big family thing. However if I was sick or on deadline (and there was a lot of both) I might have missed that one.
Anyway, at some point some sound or movement called my attention and I looked up. It’s Walter Mitty meets the classical western (which I do understand is a normal western trope, yes, with the tenderfoot finding out he has to live up to his dreams. I told you I read a sh*tton of them before I entered elementary.) But it’s animated, and weirdly the visuals are stunning.
I got interested when the chameleon who is the protag survived in the desert simply by refusing to give up. He’s not the least suited to survive. He should have died in five seconds flat. But he refuses to. And he makes it.
And then I stayed for the rest of it (which means I need to get some caffeine in me and get my ass upstairs to finish the script rewrite.)
If you haven’t watched it, you should, and yes, this is me recommending a movie. And if you need to learn plot structure, just cribbing it off that is not a bad idea. It works, not just for Westerns. Also you have to see the posse riding chickens. This might have hit me particularly hard, since I’m one of those people who find chickens inherently hilarious just by existing. (I once had a screen saver of chickens and cows flying with balloons attached to their mid-sections.)
Anyway, this morning I was talking to my husband while we stumbled through the morning routine, both of us still technically asleep and literally walking into walls and I told him I was amazed at how much I enjoyed the movie, and thank you for actually having it on, because I needed that, even though I didn’t know it.
He said, “I needed the ending, when he realizes he has to go back and fight, because “the hero can’t walk off on his own story.””
I think a lot of us need to hear that right now.
You can’t walk off on your own story.
You might feel impotent — I know I do — and you might feel like you’re not the hero, and you’re waiting for the hero.
But each of us is the hero of his own story. And we can’t walk out. We can quit, and turn our story into one of those Frenchmen love, with despair and nihilism as the message. Or our form of heroism might be the little caryatid where we know the cause is doomed, but we go out fighting (and if that’s it, try for the defiant song to the end, please.) Or we might think the end is foretold and we’re already doomed, but still fight. And fight the best we can and as big as we can. And sometimes, sometimes, a miracle occurs and we win anyway. Now that’s rare enough that it becomes the stuff of legends… and westerns. But you know, the chance is worth it.
Anyway, we might be impotent, or frankly ridiculous int he hero role. Or we might be temperamentally suited to play the villain, and bit and curse, but….
Each of us is the hero in our story, and a lot of us are puzzled at being on the side of light.
The battle is much bigger than us, and has been going on a long time. But each of us has a role to play. Even if we are a misguided pet chameleon lost in the middle of the desert and having to face up to a conspiracy much bigger than any of us.
Yes, we’ll surely die. But not today. Today, we fight.