A draft chunk out of my chapter in Film and the Presidency (coming out in 2014 on Routledge).

The box office and critical failure of Heaven’s Gate in 1980 may have wounded the western’s prospects, but by 1985 the genre was on its way to ten years of success. Comedy westerns Silverado (1985), Three Amigos! (1986), and Back to the Future Part III (1990) as well as westerns aimed at new audiences, such as the youth-market Young Guns (1988) and the kidpic An American Tail II: Fievel Goes West (1991) all turned a profit. The western as a genre for the exploration of American life and ideology showed no signs of going away, with both the revisionist Dances With Wolves (1990) and the anti-western Unforgiven (1992) winning Best Picture Oscars and critical esteem as well as popular acclaim. By the mid-1990s, indie directors Jim Jarmusch, Robert Rodriguez, Sam Raimi, and John Sayles had all made westerns in the major-minor corner of the studios.

Dave is part of this Hollywood return to the western.As Dave is a comedy-western with songs, Dave Kovic enters riding not a horse, but a pig, and soon after he’s singing about the open range. Although he is first enlisted as a stand-in for the President, becomes the real sheriff/President by accident. But pretending to be the President isn’t enough for Dave, and he takes seriously the sheriff’s/President’s charge to clean up the town/Washington DC, where Dave must protect the homesteaders/nation against the outlaw/Chief of Staff Bob Alexander, who wishes to run the town as his own fiefdom. While he’s not accepted at first, Dave works hard to win the trust of the town (and the romantic interest, Ellen Mitchell) and in short order The McLaughlin Group trumpets his comeback. Dave learns to wield his power by making tough cuts and saving good programs with the help of his unconventional deputies, like the suburban accountant Murray. The film’s final showdown takes place not on a western town’s dusty main street, but in the corridors of power; Dave kills/fires Bob Alexander, delivers a speech to Congress, and leaves so that Vice President Nance can assume legitimate power in the newly pacified Washington DC. Two images from Dave’s walk away from Washington DC powerfully signal Dave’s interest in linking an idealized but everyday President with western iconography. In the first, Dave uses a baseball cap to disguise his “real” identity of President. After Secret Service agent Duane affirms Dave’s success as President – “I’d have taken a bullet for you” – Dave exits the ambulance and, in a profile close-up, grabs the brim of the cap to pull it further over his eyes, an image common to every western. Dave western hat

After Dave pulls his hat down, he walks off, and a long shot shows Dave walking away from the camera, framed by the darkness of bushes and trees in an image that resembles, to pick one western, the doorway-framed Ethan Edwards in The Searchers (1955, John Ford). As Dave’s silhouette exits the rear of the image, he heads off into the northern Virginia suburban frontier after making Washington DC a safer, more civilized place.

Dave Searchers shot in Dave Dave Searchers shot original

Dave uses two distinctly American forms – the western and the Presidency – to call for a more active, responsive, and humane government. Calling Dave a western not only has the virtue of being both amusing and true, but also resituates it within a genre studies framework, more specifically, the spatial approach Thomas Schatz develops in Hollywood Genres: Formulas, Filmmaking, and the Studio System. (and from here I use “old” tools because they’re fun and still useful)

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