1883 (United States, 2021. Creator: Taylor Sheridan. Photography: Christina Alexandra Voros. Music: Breton Vivian y Brian Tyler. Edition: Chad Galster. List: Sam Elliott, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Isabel May, LaMonica Garrett, Marc Rissmann. Available in: Paramount+. Our opinion: Excellent
At least six decades passed since some decreed the death of the western, victim of the irrepressible advance of television. To put it briefly, it was argued that the narrow dimensions of the screen that was beginning to become dominant were incompatible with the classic stories of the West, supported above all by the majesty of an environment that could only be portrayed through cinema.
Without open spaces and also without certain characters in their behavior through the action, the western began to lose its status as such. Television came with another type of human portrait, more introspective and supported by psychological elements. The archetypes of the quintessential classic genre of cinema moved away from that claim. The die was cast.
Half a century passed and the western never completely disappeared. Between “twilight” looks, rescues, variations, experiments and tributes, he managed to survive and be vindicated by some great authors, who were joined by some good students of the classical experience. It was also used more than once by prestigious filmmakers, who use the tools of the western to present, generally without too many subtleties (and a resounding ignorance of the rules of the genre), their concerns about topics of debate typical of our time. There are some very recent examples of this enormous mistake.
The appearance of 1883 it is a great event. The great novelty of this series is that finally a story originally conceived for television (or for streaming platforms, to put it in the language of these times) naturally and classically incorporates open spaces and the imposing landscape as elements essential elements of the plot, just as it happened in the great historical works of the genre. There is no memory of a series that honored that classic tradition with such breadth and thoroughness, enriched with a contemporary gaze that does not want to impose its conditions, but rather follow with attention, respect and balance the footprint traced by the masters of the genre.
Of course we would like to see 1883 on a movie screen, but the reduced dimensions of its broadcast do not dwarf or reduce the importance of the environment in which the action takes place. Quite the contrary. We see, touch and understand many of the behaviors of the characters (their motives, their impulses, their reactions, everything they think and imagine behind their laconic expressiveness) through their movements in the landscape.
At the same time, this environment acquires a new meaning (more “twilight”, if you will) in the choice of the voice that narrates the action. It’s Elsa DuttonIsabel May) who will lead us with beautiful words and deep lyricism to the discovery of a world in which tragedy lurks behind the most wonderful dream. “I knew nothing about the horrors that lurked in the shadows of freedom,” he admits when the misfortune turns out to be irreversible.
Elsa’s last name is the thread that connects 1883 with another great contemporary television fact. This series is the story of the origins of the Dutton family, protagonist of Yellowstone, a great contemporary western. That story begins with a patriarch determined to give his family a very different future from the one he experienced through a long and dangerous journey from Texas to the northwestern United States. The territory of the Great Plains, plagued by bandits, opportunists, dreamers, immigrants (families from Central and Eastern Europe, central figures in the story) and hostile natives.
James Dutton (played with grit and effort by country music star Tim McGraw) is a defeated officer in the Civil War who finds another tough veteran of that war, Shea Brennan (the immense Sam Elliott), a soulmate. Both command a caravan journey full of uncertainty, in which dreams will always be accompanied by the greatest fears and the worst memories.
In addition to giving the western back its classic atmosphere and some of its characteristic elements (cavalcades, cattle drives, nightly vigils by the fire, the saloon, the sheriff and the lawless towns), 1883 It’s a great character story. The protagonists of the story know very well that their lives are worth very little, but they still insist on trying to find meaning in what they do.
This is another win for Sheridan. Here is a great painting of genuine men and women of the West, led to move, act and speak (with few and fair words) without the need to bring into play “important” issues or join the fashionable debates. the creator of 1883 shows that he knows very well the work of iconic western directors such as Howard Hawks, Anthony Mann and Budd Boetticher. To tell a story of roots and uprooting, losses and ambitions, contained pain and impossible dreams, there is nothing better than turning to teachers. The series is the contemporary representation of that heritage.
In 1883 heroism and pettiness, nobility and ambition, innocence and contempt for life coexist. It’s a lawless world with determined men and brave women (Hawksian legacy perfectly represented by the character of Faith Hill, McGraw’s fictional and real-life wife), which works as the perfect prologue to everything we’ll see later about the Duttons and their entourage in Yellowstone. He had the help of a huge production (they say that 10 million dollars were invested in each episode) and the cameos from some friends (Tom Hanks, Billy Bob Thornton), but his admirable talent as a storyteller and creator of climates is enough for him. Taylor Sheridan is already at the height of the great creators of television formats of our time.