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Bob Dylan and the “Hippie Western”

Imnottherewenk01068During a recent New York press conference for his brilliant new Bob Dylan exploration I’m Not There, writer-director Todd Haynes talked about some of the classic films and filmmakers he drew on to recreate the different eras of which Dylan was such an important part.

After revealing that parts of the film were inspired by Fellini and Godard, he spoke about the closing section starring Richard Gere (pictured) as Billy, a western hermit who may be Billy the Kid trying to live a quiet life after faking his death:

“The Billy story was inspired by the hippie westerns that came out in the late 60s. Prior to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid westerns were these big overdone studio productions made on soundstages. But the genre was reinvented by the counterculture, and the actors with stringy long hair were often scored by the artists of popular music scene, from Burt Bacharach, Leonard Cohen, and of course Dylan.“

Once American’s most popular genre, Westerns have declined since the 1950s but never quite go away, with filmmakers in every generation finding new use them. Following in the wake of the endless spaghetti westerns, the heyday of the “hippie western” was only a few years in the early 1970s, but it produced some fascinating films that commented on such subjects as the Viet Nam war, social violence and issues of personal freedom. (It was also the era of the “Hippie Jesus” movie—Jesus Christ Superstar, Godspell—but that will be a subject for another day.)

Among the more memorable hippie westerns:
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here (1969)
Little Big Man (1970)
A Man Called Horse (1970)
El Topo (1970)
McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)
The Hired Hand (1971)
Dirty Little Billy (1972)
The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972)
Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973)

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