The Acid WesternThe term Acid Western is a relatively new one that is used to describe a type of counterculture themed film that emerged in the mid 1960’s and flourished for a time. These films looked to use the context of the typical western as a means of exploring spiritual and social questions relevant to the time period.
These films were often made on the periphery of the studio system in much the way that other counterculture films such as Easy Rider were made. Key films in the Acid Western genre include The Shooting (1966, Hellman) Ride in the Whirlwind (1965, Hellman) El Topo (1970, Jodorowsky) and Dead Man (1995, Jarmusch).
In much the same way that John Ford could be said to be the father of the Western, Monte Hellman could be said to be the creator of this genre, along with Alejandro Jodorowsky. They are the two men most responsible for shaping the look and thematic concerns of the Acid Western.
Hellman, working in the United States with actors such as Jack Nicholson, made several films that dealt with existential and moral crisis in a much more radical way than Hollywood was creating at the time. Jodorowsky was working in Mexico, and he used the classical Western framework to explore spiritual and religious concerns that included psychedelic and mystical issues. His films, especially El Topo, are still considered among the most unique and original films ever made.
These films had their heyday in the late sixties and early seventies, however there are still filmmakers who are creating Acid Westerns. In 1995, Jim Jarmusch wrote and directed Dead Man, staring Johnny Depp. The film was unique in its depiction of the various Native American tribes and also delved into spiritual issues faced by the protagonists.
In 2007, David Von Ancken created Seraphim Falls. This film, starting Liam Neeson and Pierce Brosnan, depicts combatants who travel through a desolate landscape. The film uses the traditional Western milieu, yet it dispenses with much of the conventional narrative, and what is left is a mystical film that incorporates religious iconography as well as supernatural overtones.