Given that the so-called \'Wild West\' lasted a mere quarter of a century at best, it is, after World War II, perhaps the most-filmed period of history. Admittedly, the popularity of the western peaked early, and faded into relative obscurity by the 1980s, while other films maintained or grew in prominence (coming to a cinema near you: my rants about superhero movies…), no-one seemed to care for the classic western anymore. I can quite easily understand the reasoning for this - for a 25-odd year period, hundreds of stories had been crammed into it, probably totalling more runtime than the \'wild west\' itself actually lasted, and moviegoers were fed up with a stale genre. Even with a 10-year or so hiatus from the silver screen, the few well-received modern westerns such as Tombstone, Unforgiven, Silverado or the more recent remake of 3:10 to Yuma, still follow the same basic clichés of the genre - with stoic gunfighters, sheriffs and outlaws squaring off at the height of the \'Wild West\' - usually c.1870-80. Occasionally, these films add in a twist, such as the good-natured steampunkery of Wild Wild West, or descend into shallow and generic star vehicles such as Young Guns (Bon Jovi soundtrack to the sequel notwithstanding) or The Quick and the Dead.

Alongside these largely predictable examples of the western film industry, one can find some real gems that take the familiar concepts and place them outside of the traditional two-decade period, giving the genre a new lease of life. They\'re not even that unheard of, complete with cast and crew who enjoy(ed) international renown. From the dawn of the period, we have 1976\'s The Outlaw Josey Wales, which follows a southern farmer-turned-guerrilla from 1861 through the post-bellum period (c.1866). Directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, this revisionist western was one of the few to apply traditional western themes to a different setting, and includes such departures from tradition as Clint (who, to be fair, is essentially playing a riff on his \'Man With No Name\' character, much as he does in all his westerns) makes peace with an enemy, rather than just gunning them down with his six-shooters. Fast-forward to the 1890s and 1900s, and we have Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman. Following the two notorious outlaws towards the end of their careers (and lives!), as they flee farther and farther afield in order to escape the increasingly effective and efficient powers of law enforcement, culminating in a suicidal charge into the massed guns of the Bolivian army in 1908. However, the daddy of the revisionist, out-of-period western is Sam Peckinpah\'s The Wild Bunch. Facing the end of their way of life in 1913, hunted by a law as ruthless as they are, and recognizing the end of the open west with the advent of the motor car, the titular gang of middle-aged bandits flee to Mexico and become embroiled in the revolution going on south of the Rio Grande. Finding the opportunity to make a profit in co-operation with a corrupt Mexican Federale General, the Bunch betray their ideals, their code of honour and their friends in the ensuing chaos. Finally, the gang come through and decide to make a stand, facing down hordes of Federale soldiers in an unwinnable gunfight. Ironically, my favourite westerns seem to be those that aren\'t really \'Wild West\' at all. Wild, yes. Western, also yes; but with a focus on the characters and the changing times that take them far above the usual succession of gunfights, saloon brawls and Indian raids that account for 99% of the genre.