Deadwood: Reinventing the World

Curator's Note

Raw. Raw material. The opening sequences in Deadwood refresh any sense of “the Western” we have. It looks true, whatever that might mean. Proabably means it just looks dirty. Muddy. Bloody. Bloody animal carcass, chopped chicken heads, blood on the screen. There’ll be more blood soon. Bodies fed to the hogs. Murders. More dirt on people. Calamity Jane covered in filth. Al Swearingen’s same old suit. “Dirty language.” More Fs and CSs and MFs than ever heard before on TV. It’s usually referred to as “David Milch’s Deadwood.” Milch makes a world. Like God in Genesis making the world, Milch pulls America from the dirt and blood and muck of a mining camp where lusts for power and lusts for gold and lusts for something newer and purer outrun and outstrip lusts for sex. Sex is for sale. Power and gold and something pure have to be molded out of violent action and noble aspiration. And even nobility has to be reinvented before anything or anyone moves forward into what will never be absent power and gold and the violence that attends both. The world invented here is the one we live in.

Comments

The pleasure of Deadwood is

The pleasure of Deadwood is epic quality. A single episode—sometimes a single shot—can conjure, suggest, restate, and assume many of the themes that make the Western the myth of American etiology: degeneration and regeneration through the return to the garden; genteel aristocracy vs. organic meritocracy; the healing of North-South Civil War wounds in the West; and the mastery of criminal skills necessary for those inclined to establish the rule of law (to name just a few). Deadwood picks up a dialogue that includes Hawthorne’s “The Maypole of Merry Mount,” Owen Wister’s Virginian, Frank Norris’s McTeague (and Eric von Stroheim’s Greed), John Ford’s Stagecoach and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, E.L. Doctorow’s Welcome To Hard Times, Richard Boone’s Have Gun, Will Travel, and the critical meditations of Frederick Jackson Turner, Henry Nash Smith, and most of all, John Cawelti’s Six-Gun Mystique. I’m sorry that the day’s pressing needs prevent me from elaborating.

David Marc is right about

David Marc is right about the epic quality of the text, of course, but what’s most striking to me is the way it transforms the western for tv, making an incredible virtue of its teeming, confined spaces. The fluid moving camera both inside and out in this series is itself an instrument of art. This is the first TV western — not forgetting Lonesome Dove, either — that fully respects and exploits the small TV screen.

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