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The Ostern (Eastern) or Red Western was the Soviet Union and Iron Curtain countries' take on the Western movie.

It generally took two forms:

  1. Proper Red Westerns, set in America's 'Wild West', such as Czechoslovakia's Lemonade Joe (Limonadovy Joe, 1964), or the East-German The Sons of the Great Mother Bear (Die Söhne der großen Bärin, 1966) or The Oil, the Baby and the Transylvanians (Pruncul, Petrolul Si Ardelenii, Romania, 1981) involving radically different themes and genres. These were much more common in Eastern Europe, rather than the USSR itself.
  2. Easterns (Osterns), which took place usually on the steppes or Asian parts of the USSR, especially during the Russian Revolution or following Civil War. Examples of these include The Burning Miles (Ognennie Versti/Огненные вёрсты, 1957), The Bodyguard (Telokhranitel/Телохранитель, 1979), At Home among Strangers (1971), and famous Soviet film White Sun of the Desert (Beloye Solntse Pustynt/Белое солнце пустыни', 1970). While some of these are obviously influenced by Westerns, in some cases, the material can be seen as a parallel formation.

Naturally many of these contained political messages, but they can still be watched impartially as action films, comedies etc, and it is certainly true to say that American director John Ford imbued his films with controversial political messages too.

'Red Westerns' in an international context

A still from White Sun of the Desert, a popular Ostern A still from White Sun of the Desert, a popular Ostern

'Red Westerns' of the first type are often compared to 'Spaghetti Westerns' (although technically these are 'Paella Westerns' being shot in Spain, rather than Italy), in that they use local scenery to double up for the American West. In particular, Yugoslavia, Mongolia and the Southern USSR were used.

'Red Westerns' provide a counterpoint to familiar mythologies and conventions of the original genre, particularly as the makers were on the other side of a propaganda war without parallel, the Cold War, and this is partially why many have never been shown in the west, at least not until after the Cold War ended. In a war in which many fabrications were made on both sides, there was often a lingering fascination with the cultural developments in enemy countries.

Westerns have proven particularly transferrable in the way that they create a mythology out of relatively recent history, a malleable idea that translates well to different cultures. In Russia, the Ostern uses the generic calling cards of the American Western to dramatise the civil war in Central Asia in the 1920s and 30s, in which the Red Army fought to maintain their country against Islamic Turkic 'Basmachi' rebels. By substituting, 'red' for 'blue' and 'Turk' for Mexican, there are the same opportunities for a sweeping drama played out against a backdrop of wide-open spaces. The Ural Mountains can be equivalent to Monument Valley, the Volga river for the Rio Grande. Add the gun slinging ethos, horse riding, working the land, pioneers of a sort (ideological often in this case!), the bounty hunter traversing difficult terrain with outlaw in tow, railroading and taming the wild frontier and you have a generic mirror image of the American genre.

Red Westerns which use the actual American west as a setting include, the Romanian The Oil, the Baby and the Transylvanians (Pruncul, Petrolul Si Ardelenii, 1981) which dramatises the struggles of Romanian and Hungarian settlers in a new land. The Czech Lemonade Joe and the Soviet A Man from the Boulevard des Capuchines plump for pastiche or satire, making fun of the hard worn conventions of the American films. The German The Sons of the Great Mother Bear (Die Söhne der großen Bärin, 1966) turned the traditional American "Cowboy and Indian" conventions on their head, casting the Native Americans as the heroes and the American Army as the villains, with some obvious Cold War overtones... it started a series of "Indian films" by the East German DEFA studios which were quite successful.

Interestingly, many of the non-Soviet examples of the genre were international co-productions akin to the Spaghetti Westerns. The Sons of the Great Mother Bear for example was a co-production between East Germany and Czechoslovakia, starring a Yugoslav, scripted in German, and shot in a number of different Eastern Bloc countries and used a variety of locations including Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Mongolia and Czechoslovakia. The Oil, the Baby and the Transylvanians was a Romanian film, but featured emigrant Hungarians heavily in the storyline.

See also

Home | Up | Film genres - A | Film genres - B | Film genres - C | Film genres - D | Film genres - E | Film genres - F | Film genres - G | Film genres - H | Independent film | Jidaigeki | Legal drama | Film genres - M | Ostern | Film genres - P | Film genres - R | Film genres - S | Film genres - T | Film genres - W | Zombie

Movies, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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