I got the urge to watch SILVERADO a few nights ago. Although I own Lawrence Kasdan's 1985 Western, it's been a while since I've sat down to view it.
I don't know how many times I've seen this movie. Dozens, I guess. As it began, though, I realized something for the first time. SILVERADO came out in 1985, when I was ten years old, which means that this movie might well be the first full length Western that I can remember seeing. I was a TV-Western obsessive as a kid. THE LONE RANGER, THE RIFLEMAN, and THE BIG VALLEY were favorites. I'm certain my parents took me to see the notorious flop THE LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER in 1981, but I don't really remember it.
I remember SILVERADO well, though. The first time I saw it, I was pretty sure it was perfect. As I've gotten older, of course, that original opinion has been tempered by nearly thirty years of seeing other Westerns. Watching it today, I can't help but notice that the film is essentially a grab bag of cliches. Just about every element from the genre is represented here: homesteaders versus evil ranchers, heroes who never miss, villains who can't hit the broadside of a barn, dance hall girls, sleazy gamblers, hangings at dawn, Henry rifles, six-shooters, jumps onto moving horses, wagon trains, community dances. The thing even ends with a showdown on a dirt street in the middle of town. SILVERADO is like an album of standards--it's performed with skill, if not with a great deal of originality.
If this renders the film as something of an exercise rather than its own artistic statement, I hasten to add that it's an overwhelmingly successful exercise. The cast--Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn, Kevin Costner, Danny Glover, Brian Dennehey, Linda Hunt--all seem seized by the same contagious sense of fun. From scene to scene, it feels like everyone is on the verge of breaking out in silly grins and yelling, "We're making a Western!" At the end of the day, maybe a movie doesn't need to make any deeper statement than that. The movie is a celebration of tropes and signifiers--gun belts and horses and rocky peaks and saddles and boots and saloons. And here's the thing: when I was a kid, that was really all I wanted. That was the stuff I loved. Hell, that is the stuff that people love when they love Westerns.
One final word on this. I've also come to realize that this was my first exposure to Kevin Costner. At ten, I didn't know who he was, I just knew he was my favorite character in the film. But of course he was. He plays the goofy kid brother, Jake. I was a goofy kid brother, and my name was Jake, and I loved that he carries twin six-shooters and rides his horse bareback and kisses the pretty dance hall girl at the end. In his big scene in the film, he rides into town, jumps off his horse, and then shoots two guys at the same time as he's backing out of a saloon. I'm pretty sure I reenacted those moves in my living room. It's interesting to note, then, that Costner began forming the archetype of the Western hero in my imagination before I was old enough to know who he was.
I could say the same thing about the entire movie. In giddily reshashing a million old Westerns, it actually established the genre template that would guide me through another thirty years of watching cowboy movies. Looking back on it now, I guess I can say that for me SILVERADO was THE original Western.