Go West, Young Man!



Netherlands 2003 : Peter DELPEUT and Mart DOMINICUS : 84 mins

Go West, Young Man! is an undemanding but entertaining documentary in which two Dutch devotees of the Western drive across the US in search of the genre’s locations, survivors and remnants. Interviews with the people they meet are intercut with striking landscape footage and vintage movie clips as the pair whizz from state to state, building a picture of a distinctively American cowboy culture that, while no longer a mainstay of the big screen, is clearly far from extinct.

Delpeut and Dominicus’ enthusiasm for their subject is what gives the film its energy and charm, as they quiz their slightly bemused subjects in impeccable but Dutch-accented English and remain studiously off-camera – presumably their Euro-film-geek looks would appear incongruous alongside the weatherbeaten likes of director William Fraker, who is shown visiting the sets of his end-of-an-era 1970 Western Monte Walsh, and Wyoming-based novelist Annie Proulx.

While rich in anecdote and comment from its wide range of sources, Go West Young Man! doesn’t concern itself with too much serious analysis. It’s refreshing to see and hear a Navajo gentleman who recalls his working life in the movies as arrow-fodder, but there’s no attempt to look at the genre in terms of racial or political contexts – aspects which have suddenly become much more pressing given the attitudes and methods of ‘cowboy president’ George W Bush. As Proulx notes, the West is “not a place of peace talks – things are blunt and direct, and sometimes hard.”

More specifically, given the film’s cinematic focus, it seems bizarre that no mention is made of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven – the genre milestone which looks in retrospect more like a tombstone. Delpeut and Dominicus aim for a lighter tone, kicking off proceedings with an amusing montage in which we’re shown the many ways in which an actor can play a cowboy on the receiving end of a bullet. But as the filmmakers’ journey takes them into ever more spectacular setting, Go West Young Man! achieves on some of the genre’s own epic qualities – Stef Tijdink’s 35mm camera and a lush, mildly ironic score from Paul M van Brugge doing justice to the sweeping vistas of iconic locations like Monument Valley (“Why is this the West? I guess the movies made it the West”) – ensuring this is one of the very few documentaries which demands the biggest screens available.

1st March, 2003
(seen 30th January, De Doelen, Rotterdam – Rotterdam Film Festival)

For all the review from the Rotterdam Film Festival click here.

by Neil Young