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This set of documents is going to deal with the theme “Representation” with the following subtheme “Representation et Participation”. The main keyword of this portfolio is “Representation”. It
means the action of speaking or acting on behalf of someone or the state of being so represented. The
subject of this theme will be “the Far West”. Four documents will be used in this synthesis ; a painting
made by John Gast in 1872 called “American Progress”, an extract of the blog,
written by Jone Johnson Lewis in 2019 talking about Calamity Jane, a video entitled “How the West
was won” which is a presentation of the movie “How the West was won” produced by John Ford in
1972, the last document is a the trailer of the movie “The man who shot Liberty Valence”, also
produced by John Ford. We’ll see how the western movies reflect the conquest of American West. In
order to answer this question, we will study the conquest of the West and then we will talk about the
western movies.
The conquest of the West was the process of colonization by populations essentially of
European origin and the government of the United States, in the 19th century, of the immense territory
that stretches in North America between the Mississippi and the Pacific Ocean, inhabited until then by
the Amerindian peoples. The painting of John Gast, «American Progress» is a good representation of
this conquest. Many clues describe its story in detail. For example, we can see people on this painting
going west, the railroads are a metaphor to describe that new technologies are discovered. Religion is
also very present. The invasion of the West brings violence and new heroes like Calamity Jane. This
cowboy inspired generations because she is strong, she is a woman and she is not afraid to resort to
violence, which was very common for male cowboys in the cowboy era. This part of American history
has amazed, inspired and made the people dream. To not forget, many films have been released so
that we can better imagine what the cowboys' life was like. The film “How the West was won” is a
perfect example. It depicts these heroes, their battles, the difficulty of conquering the West where the
Indians were already settled and the power struggle.
As said previously, the story of the conquest of the west is an inexhaustible source of ideas for
film directors. John Gast, for example, is one of the most famous. In all his films, the codes of western
films are respected. His film «The man who shot Liberty Valance» immerses us into their universe
where the notion of good and bad is very distinct, as in all cowboy films. A man killed the bad guy, and
the men chasing him, the bad guys, are dressed in black, and are on black horses. His other film, seen
above, “How the west was won,” although a different story, uses the same codes ; the opposition of
good and bad men, guns, impressive fights. Landscapes also play an important role in these films. We
always see mountains and valleys, places waiting to be colonized. Another famous western film is
Calamity Jane’s “Jane got a gun”. Despite the fact that women are almost non-existent and victims of
sexism in western movies, Calamity Jane knew how to find her place. She stands up to men, dresses
like them, wears a hat and knows how to use a gun. She is determined and that is what makes her a
hero of these cult films.
In a nutshell, the history of the conquest of the West is very rich. It was very violent and bloody, but it
also brought new technologies, expanded religion, conquered new lands and new heroes. All these
changes have been a great source of inspiration for the cinema, making the western movies very
popular and identifiable.