Acid Western is a subgenre of the Western film that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s that combines the metaphorical ambitions of critically acclaimed Westerns, such as Shane and The Searchers, with the excesses of the Spaghetti Westerns and the outlook of the counterculture of the 1960s. Acid Westerns subvert many of the conventions of earlier Westerns to "conjure up a crazed version of autodestructive white America at its most solipsistic, hankering after its own lost origins".
The term "Acid Western" was coined by film critic Pauline Kael in a review of Alejandro Jodorowsky's film El Topo, published in the November 1971 issue of The New Yorker. Jonathan Rosenbaum expanded upon the idea in his June 1996 review of Jim Jarmusch's film Dead Man, a subsequent interview with Jarmusch for Cineaste, and later in the book Dead Man, from BFI Modern Classics.
In the book, Rosenbaum illuminates several aspects of this re-revisionist Western: from Neil Young's haunting score to the role of tobacco, to Johnny Depp's performance, to the film's place in the acid-Western genre. In the chapter "On the Acid Western", Rosenbaum addresses not only the hallucinogenic quality of the film's pace and its representation of "reality", but also argues that the film inherits an artistic and political sensibility derived from the 1960s counterculture which has sought to critique and replace capitalism with alternative models of exchange.
In the traditional Western, the journey west is seen as a road to liberation and improvement, but in the Acid Western, it is the reverse, a journey towards death; society becomes nightmarish.
Rosenbaum used the term "Acid Western" to describe a "cherished counterculture dream" from the 1960s and 1970s "associated with people like Monte Hellman, Dennis Hopper, Jim McBride, and Rudy Wurlitzer, as well as movies like Greaser's Palace; Alex Cox tapped into something similar in the 1980s with Walker." 
The Western pictures of Hollywood director William A. Wellman may have been an early influence on the genre. The Ox-Bow Incident (1943) and Yellow Sky (1948) feature characters that are forced to step out of society and take a stand against it. Yellow Sky in particular set up many elements that director Monte Hellman picked up two decades later.
Monte Hellman's cult film The Shooting (1966) could be considered the first Acid Western. The film stars Will Hutchins, Warren Oates and a young Jack Nicholson, and was anonymously financed by Roger Corman. The Shooting subverts the usual priorities of the Western to capture a sense of dread and uncertainty that characterized the counterculture of the late 1960s. Hellman quickly followed up with Ride in the Whirlwind (1966). Screenwriter Rudolph Wurlitzer is considered "the individual most responsible for exploring this genre, having practically invented it himself in the late '60s and then helped to nurture it in the scripts of others", such as McBride's Glen and Randa, Hellman's Two-Lane Blacktop, Cox's Walker, and Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. Wurlitzer worked on the script of Gone Beaver, which Rosenbaum describes as "a visionary script" for Jim McBride. It was an extremely ambitious big-budget Western about early American trappers and Indians, for which a virtually invented language of “trapper talk” was devised. The film was aborted one day before production. Wurlitzer's unproduced 1970s screenplay Zebulon inspired Jarmusch's Dead Man. Wurlitzer later transformed his script into the novel The Drop Edge of Yonder.
Rosenbaum calls Dead Man a "much-delayed fulfillment" of the Acid Western, "formulating a chilling, savage frontier poetry to justify its hallucinated agenda." More recently, Jan Kounen's Blueberry from 2004 was cited as an example of the genre.
Abel Cain (formerly known as Sons of El Topo) is a stalled film project written and directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky and the sequel to Jodorowsky's classic acid Western film El Topo. It was to be produced and financed by Parallel Media. In a 2010 interview, Jodorowsky said that the film had "dragged a long time" and suggested that Abel Cain will not feature any "stars", adding that he would cast his son Axel Jodorowsky in the lead role just as he did in his 1989 cult classic film Santa Sangre.It was expected to be released sometime between late 2011 to 2012, but appears to be shelved so that he may shoot his biopic, The Dance of Reality first. In a November 29 interview, Jodorowsky announced that he had found financing for the film and would begin shooting the project in September in Mexico after he is finished with The Dance of Reality.
During an interview at the Cannes Film Festival in 2016, Jodorowsky announced his plans to finally make The Son of El Topo as soon as financial backing is obtained. Also in 2016 the sequel to El Topo was released in comic book form as Sons of El Topo (the original title for the project), in a miniseries written by Jodorowsky and illustrated by José Ladrönn.Acid Tests
The Acid Tests were a series of parties held by author Ken Kesey primarily in the San Francisco Bay Area during the mid-1960s, centered entirely on the use of, and advocacy of, the psychedelic drug LSD, also known as "acid". LSD was not made illegal in California until October 6, 1966.The name "Acid Test" was coined by Kesey, after the term "acid test" used by gold miners in the 1850s. He began throwing parties at his farm at La Honda, California. The Merry Pranksters were central to organizing the Acid Tests, including Pranksters such as Lee Quarnstrom and Neal Cassady. Other people, such as LSD chemists Owsley Stanley and Tim Scully, were involved as well.
Kesey took the parties to public places, and advertised with posters that read, "CAN YOU PASS THE ACID TEST?", and the name was later popularized in Tom Wolfe's 1968 book, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Musical performances by the Grateful Dead were commonplace, along with black lights, strobe lights, and fluorescent paint. The Acid Tests are notable for their influence on the LSD-based counterculture of the San Francisco area and subsequent transition from the beat generation to the hippie movement. The Jefferson Airplane song "A Song for All Seasons" (from Volunteers) mentions the Acid Tests.Bad Company (1972 film)
Bad Company is a 1972 American Western film directed by Robert Benton, who also co-wrote the film with David Newman. It stars Barry Brown and Jeff Bridges as two of a group of young men who flee the draft during the American Civil War to seek their fortune and freedom on the unforgiving American frontier.This acid western attempts in many ways to demythologize the American West in its portrayal of young men forced by circumstance and drawn by romanticized accounts to forge new lives for themselves on the wrong side of the law. Their initial eagerness to be outlaws soon abates, however, when the boys are confronted with the realities of preying on others in a nation ravaged by war and exploitation. The film is often credited with inspiring the name of the classic rock band of the seventies Bad Company.Bad trip
A bad trip (acute intoxication from hallucinogens — "bad trip", drug-induced temporary psychosis, psychedelic crisis, or emergence phenomenon) is a frightening and unpleasant experience triggered by psychoactive drugs, especially psychedelic drugs such as LSD and magic mushrooms.
The features of a bad trip can range from feelings of mild anxiety and alienation to profoundly disturbing states of abject terror, ultimate entrapment, or complete loss of self-identity. Psychedelic specialists in the therapeutic community do not necessarily consider unpleasant experiences as threatening or negative, instead focusing on their potential to greatly benefit the user when properly resolved. Bad trips can be exacerbated by the inexperience or irresponsibility of the user or the lack of proper preparation and environment for the trip, and are reflective of unresolved psychological tensions triggered during the course of the experience.It is suggested that, at a minimum, such crises be managed by preventing the individual from harming oneself or others by whatever means necessary up to and including physical restraint, providing the patient with a safe and comfortable space, and supervising the intake until all effects of the drug have completely worn off.Blueberry (film)
Blueberry (French: Blueberry: L'expérience secrète) is a 2004 French acid western directed by Jan Kounen. It is an adaptation of the Franco-Belgian comic book series Blueberry, illustrated by Jean Giraud (better known as Moebius) and scripted by Jean-Michel Charlier. However, the film has little in common with the source material. The film starred Vincent Cassel as the title character along with Michael Madsen and Juliette Lewis. Although the film is a French production, the film is in English to match the story's setting in America's Wild West in the 1870s. Since the character of Blueberry remains obscure in the States, the film was released on DVD in America in November 2004 under the title Renegade and marketed very much as a conventional Western.Captain Apache
Captain Apache is a 1971 Spanish-British acid western film directed by Alexander Singer and starring Lee Van Cleef, Carroll Baker and Stuart Whitman. It was written and produced by Milton Sperling and Philip Yordan. The vocals of the opening and credits song were performed by Van Cleef.Cyberdelic
Cyberdelic (a portmanteau word combining prefix "cyber-" and "psychedelic") is a term used to refer to either:
Immersion in cyberspace as a psychedelic experience.
The fusion of cyberculture and the psychedelic subculture into a new counterculture of the 1980s and 1990s.
Psychedelic art created by calculating fractal objects and representing the calculation results as still images, animations, music, or other media.
Rave dance parties where DJs and other performers play psychedelic trance music, with the accompaniment of laser light shows, projected images, and artificial fog. Attendees often use "club drugs".El Topo
El Topo (English: "The Mole") is a 1970 Mexican acid Western film written, scored, directed by and starring Alejandro Jodorowsky. Characterized by its bizarre characters and occurrences, use of maimed and dwarf performers, and heavy doses of Christian symbolism and Eastern philosophy, the film is about the eponymous character – a violent, black-clad gunfighter – and his quest for enlightenment.Empathogen–entactogen
Empathogens or entactogens are a class of psychoactive drugs that produce experiences of emotional communion, oneness, relatedness, emotional openness—that is, empathy or sympathy—as particularly observed and reported for experiences with 3,4- Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). This class of drug is distinguished from the classes of hallucinogen or psychedelic, and amphetamine or stimulant. Major members of this class include MDMA, MDA, MDEA, MDOH, MBDB, 6-APB, methylone, mephedrone, αMT, and αET, MDAI among others. Most entactogens are phenethylamines and amphetamines, although several, such as αMT and αET, are tryptamines. When referring to MDMA and its counterparts, the term MDxx is often used (with the exception of MDPV). Entactogens are sometimes incorrectly referred to as hallucinogens or stimulants, although many entactogens such as ecstasy exhibit psychedelic or stimulant properties as well.Greaser's Palace
Greaser's Palace is a 1972 American acid western film directed by underground filmmaker Robert Downey Sr. A parable based on the life of Christ, it utilizes surrealist comedy in a setting of America's frontier days.LSD art
LSD art is any art or visual displays inspired by psychedelic experiences and hallucinations known to follow the ingestion of LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide, which also often colloquially known as "acid" or "azid"). Artists and scientists have been interested in the effect of LSD on drawing and painting since it first became available for legal use and general consumption.LSD causes visual hallucinations, audiovisual synaesthesia, and experiences of de-realisation. When these effects are mixed with an artist, they often illustrate their hallucinations.Native American Church
The Native American Church (NAC), also known as Peyotism and Peyote Religion, is a Native American religion that teaches a combination of traditional Native American beliefs and Christianity, with sacramental use of the entheogen peyote. The religion originated in the U.S. State of Oklahoma in the late nineteenth century after peyote was introduced to the southern Great Plains from Mexico. Today it is the most widespread indigenous religion among Native Americans in the United States (except Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians), Canada (specifically First Nations people in Saskatchewan and Alberta), and Mexico, with an estimated 250,000 adherents as of the late twentieth century.Neo-psychedelia
Neo-psychedelia is a diverse genre of psychedelic music that originated in the 1970s as an outgrowth of the British post-punk scene, also called acid punk. Its practitioners drew from the unusual sounds of 1960s psychedelia, either updating or copying the approaches from that era. After post-punk, neo-psychedelia flourished into a more widespread and international movement of artists who applied the spirit of psychedelic rock to new sounds and techniques. Neo-psychedelia may also include forays into psychedelic pop, jangly guitar rock, heavily distorted free-form jams, or recording experiments. A wave of British alternative rock in the early 1990s spawned the subgenres dream pop and shoegazing.Peyote song
Peyote songs are a form of Native American music, now most often performed as part of the Native American Church. They are typically accompanied by a rattle and water drum, and are used in a ceremonial aspect during the sacramental taking of peyote.Psychedelic era
The Psychedelic era was the time of social, musical and artistic change influenced by psychedelic drugs, occurring between the years of 1965–69 or the early 1960s to the mid-1970s. Psychedelic drug use encouraged unity, the breaking down of boundaries, the heightening of political awareness, empathy with others, and the questioning of authority..
Writers who explored the potentials of consciousness exploration in the psychedelic era included Alan Watts, Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner, and Ram Dass among others; an important journal of the time was The Psychedelic Review.Psychedelic film
Psychedelic film is a film genre characterized by the influence of psychedelia and the experiences of psychedelic drugs. Psychedelic films typically contain visual distortion and experimental narratives, often emphasizing psychedelic imagery. They might reference drugs directly, or merely present a distorted reality resembling the effects of psychedelic drugs. Their experimental narratives often purposefully try to distort the viewers' understanding of reality or normality.Psychedelic microdosing
Psychedelic microdosing is a practice to use sub-threshold doses of psychedelic drugs in an attempt to improve creativity, boost physical energy level, emotional balance, increase performance on problems-solving tasks and to treat anxiety, depression and addiction. A microdose is usually a tenth of an active dose of psychedelic drugs. This practice has become more widespread in the 21st century.In 2018, a group of scientists at Imperial College London announced a self-blinding study recruiting volunteers across the globe via Internet, using questionnaires and games to evaluate psychological well-being and cognitive function effects of psychedelic microdosing.Psychedelic pop
Psychedelic pop is pop music that contains musical characteristics associated with psychedelic music. This includes "trippy" effects such as fuzz guitars, tape manipulation, sitars, backwards recording, and Beach Boys-style harmonies. Blended with pop, they create melodic songs with tight song structures. It reached its peak during the late 1960s, and declined rapidly in the early 1970s.Western (genre)
Western is a genre of various arts which tell stories set primarily in the latter half of the 19th century in the American Old West, often centering on the life of a nomadic cowboy or gunfighter armed with a revolver and a rifle who rides a horse. Cowboys and gunslingers typically wear Stetson hats, neckerchief bandannas, vests, spurs, cowboy boots and buckskins (alternatively dusters). Recurring characters include the aforementioned cowboys, Native Americans, bandits, lawmen, bounty hunters, outlaws, gamblers, soldiers (especially mounted cavalry, such as buffalo soldiers), and settlers (farmers, ranchers, and townsfolk). The ambience is usually punctuated with a Western music score, including American and Mexican folk music such as country, Native American music, New Mexico music, and rancheras.
Westerns often stress the harshness of the wilderness and frequently set the action in an arid, desolate landscape of deserts and mountains. Often, the vast landscape plays an important role, presenting a "...mythic vision of the plains and deserts of the American West". Specific settings include ranches, small frontier towns, saloons, railways, wilderness, and isolated military forts of the Wild West.
Common plots include:
The construction of a railroad or a telegraph line on the wild frontier.
Ranchers protecting their family ranch from rustlers or large landowners or who build a ranch empire.
Revenge stories, which hinge on the chase and pursuit by someone who has been wronged.
Stories about cavalry fighting Native Americans.
Outlaw gang plots.
Stories about a lawman or bounty hunter tracking down his quarry.Many Westerns use a stock plot of depicting a crime, then showing the pursuit of the wrongdoer, ending in revenge and retribution, which is often dispensed through a shootout or quick-draw duel.The Western was the most popular Hollywood genre from the early 20th century to the 1960s.
Western films first became well-attended in the 1930s. John Ford's landmark Western adventure Stagecoach became one of the biggest hits in 1939 and it made John Wayne a mainstream screen star. The popularity of Westerns continued in the 1940s, with the release of classics such as Red River (1948). Westerns were very popular throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Many of the most acclaimed Westerns were released during this time, including High Noon (1952), Shane (1953), The Searchers (1956), Cat Ballou (1965), The Wild Bunch (1969) and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969). Classic Westerns such as these have been the inspiration for various films about Western-type characters in contemporary settings, such as Junior Bonner (1972), set in the 1970s, and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005), set in the 21st century.
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