Each Monday, I continue to share Western movie reviews as I go through the process of finishing post and releasing my 12 Westerns in 12 Months during 2020. I am watching these films not from an audience perspective but as a filmmaker, as a student of the genre.
Week 120: Dudes
To conclude my month-long study of “Modern Westerns”, I made an unusual choice. Instead of revisiting Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (the best modern Western in my opinion), I decided to finally queue up the Penelope Spheeris “Punk Western” Dudes.
This proved to be a wise decision because not only is Dudes an enjoyable watching experience, it’s one of the most clever contemporary variations on the Western genre. I’ve been a fan of Penelope’s work since watching her music documentary trilogy, The Decline of Western Civilization (watch them if you haven’t), and that appreciation only grew when I finally saw Suburbia. Dudes solidifies her as one of the most important women filmmakers of all time.
Like her other work, this film combines punk culture and humor to perfection. But what I like most about Spheeris is that she gives her films weight without coming off as overly dramatic. The death of a certain character early in Dudes provides an incredible sense of danger for the goofball characters. Imagine if Abbott and Costello were thrown into the plot of No Country for Old Men…. Somehow Spheeris can balance these tones, from the outrageous to the fantastical to moments that are genuinely poignant.
The way she weaves the Western into the fabric of this punk story is perfect from one character’s dreams of a Native American slaughter to another’s visions of a lonesome cowboy. When the movie takes a supernatural twist in its final third, I didn’t think twice because the filmmaker crafted this hodge-podge of genres with such skill and consideration.
Different from most modern variations on the Western, Dudes does its own thing and remains a true original work of cinema. Though not successful during its original release, this is a film that stands the test of time. And believe it or not, unlike most of the films I studied this month, Dudes contains all five elements I selected as the criteria to judge a “Modern Western:
1. Explores Western culture and lifestyle in a modern context.
2. Story revolves around justice and injustice in a significant way, especially involving one or more outlaws and a figure of authority/law enforcement.
3. Includes the riding of horses.
4. The setting must be in the West or a similar frontier-like location.
5. Characters appear in some modern variation of the traditional Western wardrobe.
Watched on Tubi.