Short Film Wednesday - The Gunfighter
When life gets in the way, yet you still want to continue your film education, here is a short film that you can slip in during a spare moment of the day.
In The Gunfighter, an omniscient narrator with the bloodthirst of the Old Testament God narrates an encounter in an Old West saloon that is just raring to explode into a “ballet of death.” The big twist (not really) is that the characters can hear the narrator, and much of the comedy stems from the characters’ reacting with varying degrees of discomfort and anger as the narrator lays on every dark secret each of them has.
While I enjoyed this short comedy, my critical mind would not shut up. The Western is perhaps the most influential movie genre in all of cinema, American and otherwise. So many genre pictures use Western conventions even if they are not obviously Western pictures. Any vigilante movie most likely took its cues from a Western. Any movie that has a complicated relationship with an Other (basically any movie with aliens) probably took inspiration from the relationship between White people and Native Americans in Westerns. This is hardly surprising given that Westerns were the superhero movies of their day. If you think that there are way too many superhero movies now, you are way too young to remember when Westerns seemed to be every other picture released, mainly because they all used the same sets and environments and were relatively cheap to shoot.
Westerns were so popular that even their offspring, the revisionist Western is a rich genre in and of itself. Unforgiven is the most obvious candidate, but more recent offerings such as No Country for Old Men, Gran Torino, and Hell or High Water would qualify. Having said all that, this short does not qualify as a revisionist Western at all. There are so many tropes in addition to the ones that I have mentioned that this short could have explored if it really was a revisionist Western. The external conflict of man vs. environment. The deconstruction of the mythology that surrounds the characters in this film. The Western as an expression of naked capitalism. And so on. The Gunfighter does not touch of any of these to the point that the setting is incidental.
Strangely enough, I actually thought more of Shakespeare in terms of the meta nature of the whole venture. In Hamlet, Hamlet shows many signs of being aware that he is in a play not of his own choosing. His obsession with theater is no coincidence. In one of his famous soliloquies, Hamlet complains of the ease of artifice that the actor in a play can affect,
“O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!
Is it not monstrous that this player here,
But in a fiction, in a dream of passion,
Could force his soul so to his own conceit…”
Not unlike Hamlet, the narrator of The Gunfighter gives interiority to the characters through his revealing narrative, something which many characters lacked in the most generic Westerns. Also not unlike Hamlet, the narrator sets the stage for the “ballet of death” that he desires. Yet unlike Hamlet the play, the characters within this film are in on the narrator’s plans as well, or at least, they think they are.
So there you have it. This short film is an heir to tradition of Shakespeare and the meta-narrative or the Poem Unlimited as Harold Bloom would call it.
Or not. Yeah, definitely not. You can just view The Gunfighter as a juvenile comedy that just happens to be set in the West. And that is perfectly fine.
You can watch the film on YouTube.