Paul Goes West

Although at first glance a new comedy by British comedians  might not seem to provide likely subject matter for the WLA Blog, but the film Paul, starring (and written by) Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, is surprisingly a film about the American West—as it explores a vision of the American West as constructed by a combination of UFO conspiracy buffs and science fiction films. To adapt the language of Paul itself, this is the nerd’s version of the American West, and when our intrepid British explorers set off on their first trip to America to explore the West they’ve been consuming through comic books, UFO websites, television shows such as Star Trek and films such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, they are seeking (like many a western adventurer before them) an authentic encounter with this fictional West while traveling through a real western landscape (the film was mostly shot in New Mexico). And, of course,  this being a fantasy, they get that authentic encounter with the real West (that is, the West of their pop-culture saturated dreams) when they meet Paul, the title character, an extra-terrestrial being (voice by Seth Rogen) who just wants to go home.

And from the moment they encounter this real E. T. on a New Mexico desert highway, you just know that a trip to Devil’s Tower, Wyoming,  isn’t far away. Most of the narrative of the film consists of a mock epic journey across the American West, from Roswell, New Mexico, to Devil’s Tower, sprinkled with comic episodes along the way.

Starting with the pop culture Mecca of Comic-Con, the boys skip traditional tourist spots such as the Grand Canyon in favor of places like the site of  the black mailbox (near Area 51 in New Mexico), Area 51 itself, the Little Aleinn (where they pick up an Alien on Board bumper sticker for their RV), locations where scenes from  Star Trek were filmed, Big Chief convenient stories, and RV parks. The film is fun in part for the different angle it provides on the idea of “westernness” usually seen in film. The West of Paul is not a place of sublime landscapes but kitschy tourist traps and cheap roadside attractions.

There are lots of nice moments in the film when the mixture of science fiction allusions and the contemporary western setting work quite well. When the boys go into a country music bar, the string band onstage is playing the same song as the band in the Cantina scene in Star Wars.  To hide Paul’s alien presence on a busy street of a small western town, they dress him up in a cowboy outfit to conceal his bulbous head (with an oversized cowboy hat) and alien features (a kerchief, pulled up outlaw-style).

The film has not received many positive reviews, and it’s certainly not a weighty film, but it makes for an entertaining hour and half, especially for those of us who, like Graeme and Clive, have seen far too many science fiction films and thus can enjoy the many allusions and references.


Announcing a new website on critical regionalism

To all Western Literature Assoc members and those interested in re-thinking and challenging ideas about regions and regionalism, I am announcing a new website looking to expand and critique these concepts –

It is an open and collegial forum for exchanging and sharing ideas, essays, reviews, recommendations around the broad field known (and defined here) as Critical Regionalism. It is, as you will see, non-prescriptive as a site — but really intended as rhizomatic and open to comments and applications. 

Please join in and make the site a success.

Best wishes to all – Neil Campbell and Caleb Bailey University of Derby, UK.

Rocky Mountain MLA (Call for Papers)

The call for papers for the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association meeting has been recently posted at the RMMLA website.

Justified: Save My Love

Tonight’s episode of Justified, “Save My Love,” continues a plot line started last week. In a moment of weakness, Winona pulled a hundred dollar bill from a box of confiscated cash, not realizing that the bill was marked for tracking. Then, in a bit of bad luck, the bill was stolen from her during a bank robbery, thus making it difficult to return it to its place, and, she and Raylan feel, potentially putting it into circulation and drawing the marshal services attention to the fact that someone has been into their stash of monetary evidence. And, although Raylan believes he’s found the missing $100 in the money recovered when the bank robbers are captured, that turns out not to be the case. To complicate things, it turns out that Winona hasn’t really told Raylan everything about the money—especially in terms of how much she actually took.

Gary, Winona’s soon-to-be-second-ex-husband, returns to the loan shark that Raylan had to rescue him from in last season’s “Hatless.” Wynn Duffy, the loan shark, comments to Gary, “Thanks to you I took a bullet, lost six pints of blood, and lost 18 inches of intestine.” Hooking back up with Duffy is maybe not the best idea Gary has ever had.  In these past two episodes, Raylan has been mostly hatless as well, perhaps because much of the action takes place inside, and perhaps to indicate that Raylan, in covering up Winona’s “crime,” has once more stepped outside his role as disinterested and objective enforcer of the law. And those moments when he is wearing the hat he seems to be wearing it as a way to conceal his actual intentions. But when a bomb threat gets called in to the courthouse, Raylan puts on his hat and wears it  without irony.

The doubling of Raylan and Boyd Crowder continues to be developed. Boyd is asked to join the mining company’s security team, making him closer in occupation to Raylan, just a step away from law enforcement.  On the tangled relationship between Raylan and Boyd, Ms. Johnson, his new boss, comments, “My, sounds like a love story.”

Justified: Blaze of Glory

“Blaze of Glory,” the most recent episode of Justified, begins in the aftermath of the botched robbery at the mine. Boyd and Ava are being questioned by federal marshals, who are dubious about Boyd’s story (even though he’s more or less telling them the truth). The relationship between Ava and Raylan that was at the center of last season has pretty much come to an end. That Boyd and Ava are living together is just one of the many ways that this season of Justified is presenting Raylan and Boyd as kind of doubles, as their stories parallel and crisscross in various ways.

Boyd explains to Raylan that he did what he did to protect the woman he cares for, and he observes, “I seem to recall you being in the same situation with the same woman.”

Raylan’s ex-wife (and not so ex current girlfriend) is having trouble with Gary, her soon to be second ex-husband, who has mortgaged their house in order to buy a race horse. Winona is led into temptation when the guard of the locked evidence area leaves her with a set of keys, and while attempting to store sensitive documents in a metal lockbox, she discovers that the box is already occupied—with a box of cash.

Winona ends up in the middle of bank robbery. In keeping with Justified‘s hallmark of having individualized and interesting criminals,  one of the robbers is an older man who carries  an oxygen tank with him to the robbery—needed because of emphysema. A famous bank robber in his heyday, and just released from prison because of the emphysema, Frank may want to go out in a “blaze of glory.”

And just what did Winona do with that box of cash?

The episode ends with one of the slowest foot chases you’ll ever see, and it is both funny and strangely moving—not a blaze of glory at all.

Willa Cather Article

This might be of interest to Willa Cather scholars. There’s a new article by Courtney Bates about fan letters to Cather posted at the Transformative Works and Cultures (Vol 6 2011)  online journal. Click on the abstract below to go to the complete article.

The fan letter correspondence of Willa Cather: Challenging the divide between professional and common reader

Courtney A. Bates
Although literary scholars, including those who study American novelist Willa Cather, typically have drawn distinctions between real and professional readers, this article overturns the assumption that Cather’s fan letters are merely the purview of common readers. Since both common and professional readers appear in her archive, I argue that the misplaced emphasis on who writes fan letters would be constructively replaced by treating fan letters as a genre used by many kinds of readers. Both professionals and nonprofessionals wrote fan letters to Cather and used its rhetorical methods, since it offered an attractive alternative to professional reading modes popularized by English departments of the 1890s and magazine discourse of the first quarter of the twentieth century. The fan letters create an author-reader relationship based on repeated readings and affective responses to the text as well as personal familiarity with its locations and characters. Moreover, I argue that the letters in Cather’s archive are not a random sampling but are the letters that she preserved, enjoyed, and encouraged. Within the period’s fraught debates about the purpose and nature of literature and the qualifications needed to interpret and judge it, the fan letter exchange creates a more detailed understanding of Cather’s relationship with her audience—what reading methods she sought and preferred over others.

Justified: Cottonmouth

Last night’s episode of Justified, “Cottonmouth,” crackled with a nice fiery glow, as a number of plot lines developing over the last few episodes paid off, and as Raylan’s and Boyd Crowder’s plots (if not exactly their paths) crossed and played off one another in interesting ways.  Boyd has been roped into helping out on a robbery of the safe at the mine where he works by several of his fellow miners, and he alternates between reluctant compliance and subtle sabotage of the plan. In his own way, Boyd sees to it that justice is done, and like Raylan, he steps outside strict adherance to the rule of law to do so. And wasn’t that Jim Beaver, Deadwood‘s Ellsworth, as the mine supervisor?  In an episode that, except for some nicely framed shots of Raylan’s hat, didn’t have much in the way of western references (oh, yeah, also a nice John-Ford-style framed shot of Raylan through a doorway), the appearance of yet another Deadwood cast member added a little western flavor.

And Mags Bennett in this episode brings a little tough love to one of her straying sons, and when I say she brings the tough love, I mean she brings it with a hammer. Mags is something else.