Cowboys and Cameramen: Switching Lenses

21 Mar

So, the elections tonight. Still not sure how I feel about that. And if I wasn’t anxious enough, our lecturer today claimed that four months from now we’ll be well into working on our dissertations. Although thinking about it now, I realise he just meant looking for books to consider reading and stuff like that, but at the time, it worried me. This is the biggest piece of work I will ever have done, and with it being worth two modules that’s a third of next years grade, right there.

My classmates were in a similar mindset. After the talk, a couple started claiming that they had no idea where they would even start thinking about their proposed topic. Fortunately, for once, I’m a step ahead; I had to figure out some sort of basis for my dissertation a few months ago, as a means of convincing a university trust to give me some money to go travelling. I succeeded, and now I’m tied to the topic for the next fifteen months. Luckily, I haven’t narrowed it down to an exact title yet, but the broader theme is cemented. I’m going to study cowboys. Sort of.

My proposed topic is something to do with how the Western Frontier of America influenced cinema. But here comes the problem; as the lecturer pointed out today, we can’t leave our topic to be too broad. Yes, we have 10,000 words to write, but that doesn’t mean we have all the space in the world. So whilst he was listing off the steps we need to take in starting our dissertation, I zoned out slightly and started considering my options.

Option One. How the Western Frontier influences modern American cinema.

The west was a vast place, and as we’ve all seen from the movies, its vastness allowed for expansion, adventure and a whole range of events to occur. In today’s world, expansion is still a subject which can be found in many modern films. The Indiana Jones franchise see’s the title character travelling to strange countries and fighting untold evil (whilst donning a fedora and sidearm; it doesn’t get more cowboy-ish than that). The most recent instalment of the Django series allows for race differences to be studied from a new perspective. Even science-fiction films like Pacific Rim see our heroes battling against a new enemy that they don’t truly understand. All in all, there’s a lot to work with. But really, a lot of those topics revolve around one core subject, and that is…

Option Two. How the Western Frontier fostered ideas of Masculinity in American Visual Culture.

Cowboys and Cameramen; things that have been working together for over a century. Since the earliest flicks like the Great Train Robbery, ideas of heroic strong men have graced our screens, presenting to America how ‘manly’ men should conduct themselves. Through this, I could analyse what truly makes a man in cinema by contrasting him with more alternative heroes like Napoleon Dynamite, or assessing his sexuality by looking at pictures such as Brokeback Mountain. The topic is rife for researching, but then our lecturer went and spoke that phrase that none of us can achieve; originality. Whilst it would be impossible to find something wholly original, I can imagine that the cowboys influence on America has been done to death. Which lead me to an equally unoriginal idea, but one that might be slightly less overdone due to the more recent nature of it’s creation…

Option Three. American Frontiers, from the Old to the Final: How the Old West influences Science-Fiction.

Now really, I’m not sure why I didn’t think of this before. It had always been there in the back of my mind, as I pondered just how much I could force the idea of Han Solo as a space-cowboy onto my dissertation. But really, the whole idea of Science-Fiction; expansion, settlement, heroics and exotic locales; is directly plucked from the Old West. Unfortunately, whilst Science-Fiction is easily my favourite genre of film, I also think it seems less professional a topic to write such an important piece of work on. There’s also the problem that out of the two film essays I wrote this year, the one based on Science-Fiction did the worst, in part I think, because I got too excited about the topic, and began to stray too far from the question in my hopes of splurging every idea I could think of about Star Wars, RoboCop and unfortunately, Starship Troopers onto the page. Rookie mistake.

So where do I go from here? Do I go with vague, and let things whittle themselves down over time? Do I go with focused, start off early, but get bored sooner? Or do I go with what I enjoy (slightly too much) and run the risk of getting a lesser mark?

What a to-do. I suppose the best option for now is spoken on this small speech I have to give tonight.

I was eager to grow up. Still am. But I fear my usually relaxed persona may soon be stripped away. I hope not. That would be very un-Dude…

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Posted by on March 21, 2014 in Life


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