(This article appears in Issue #4 of Americana Magazine, Gone Are The Days, written and photographed by Margaret Malandruccolo)
Since the early 1900s, and throughout the twentieth century, the genre of the Western film was pivotal in the development and expansion of the iconic American Cowboy and The Old West.
While Gone Are The Days has the time-honored outlaw characteristic, the age of the gunslinger ended at the turn of the century. The film is set in 1903 when we saw the dawn of the automobile and the end of the Old West as we knew it; the end of an era. (Coincidentally, 1903 was the year that arguably the first American narrative western film was made, The Great Train Robbery .)
Producer Rich Cook describes, “This film has classic western elements, like a gun fight, bar scenes, guys in boots and chaps but it’s a different take. It also has elements of Dante’s Inferno . It’s a hybrid. It’s unique, and we need unique westerns to set them apart.”
“It’s a thinking person’s, character-driven western,” producer Richard Hocutt explains. “It has good action, but it isn’t action-based, it’s a complex story.” Indeed, director Mark Gould’s theatre background makes him a perfect fit for this character piece while his personal sincerity drives a relaxed ship. Lance Henriksen beautifully portrays Taylon’s character, “There is such a thing as making mistakes in your life, and if you make a bad enough mistake, you end up shutting off, bowing out, with so much guilt that you don’t even represent the person you were. You end up way beyond the place where you would have a second chance.
“In this story, that has happened. You’re on a journey with this guy, searching for forgiveness, just trying to make good on past mistakes, and for his daughter, whom he never got a chance to raise. So we are leading him, supporting him, traveling with him through all the levels you have to go before you die. He’s looking for redemption, and even resurrection.”
Tom Berenger plays the legendary Texas Ranger Will McMullen and was drawn to the script because, “It doesn’t follow the typical pattern. It’s an allegory, similar to Cervantes’ Don Quixote or the River Styx in Greek mythology, crossing the river into the spiritual realm, like Hades.”
The river in this film is magnificently guarded by Danny Trejo as the River Man. “The River Man is a mysterious character. He takes the tickets before you cross over to the other side. You need the coins to cross over. It like getting close to death, the closer you get, the tougher and more mysterious things get.”
Writer, Gregory M. Tucker, was from the Four Corners area and set this film predominantly in Durango, CO, recreated by Production Designer Burns Burns. Tucker feels there’s a resurgence of Western film. As a child, he, like any young boy, played Cowboys and Indians. His children were on set during filming and were astounded by the fact that, back then, there was no electricity, no running water, kerosene headlamps on an early model automobile.
Actor Steve Railsback, who plays Jaden, the ruthless boss of this dying mining town, reminisces, “Westerns taught us history, and history was my favorite subject. I just think about the pioneers that came across, because the west was so open. They were tough people and tough women; in covered wagons, giving birth. A lot of time, they didn’t make it. Sometimes a whole wagon train didn’t make it. They were a lot tougher than I am.”
The landscape is one of the most prominent codes of the Western Genre. The wide open spaces become a character in and of themselves. Meg Steedle, who plays Heidi, grew up in North Carolina, and while driving across the country to California, she just “couldn’t believe that ALL of that is America! We are descendants of people who wanted to go out and find new places, new wealth, new ways to live. It’s hard living! Driving across the country in 2010 and having my car break down seemed like such a struggle! It really would have taken a certain type to do it back then.”
In her research, Meg was astounded to find that, “In the main part of Gold Rush, 90% of the people coming west were men. They were coming out without their wives and children. Often the only women in those communities were prostitutes. I feel invincible in this day and age, and I need to remember back then, even a smart girl who didn’t have marriage, needed someone watching over her back, even if it was a pimp. Someone that could provide food and shelter. The decision- making was different. Without the protection of a man, women would often not survive longer than six months!”
Sure the Western genre has seen its ups and downs in the past 50 years, but we can see why this genre has maintained and never gone away. There is a romanticism with the Old West, that adventurous and rebellious spirit which drove explorers into unchartered territories, survival of the fittest, and the shaping of American legacy.
Producer Richard Hocutt sums it up, “Americana is synonymous with Western. They are so linked. It’s about getting things done and being really self-sufficient. People are fascinated with it, the gold rush, the misfits, the self-made man; the guy with a burro that discovers gold and ends up losing it in a poker game. The West has been so idolized and mythologized. We’re all mutts and misfits and the whole idea of individuality is perfectly epitomized by westerns.”