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Cowboys (1991)

Courtesy of Spectre Films Ltd

Main image of Cowboys (1991)
Production CompanySpectre Films
AnimatorPhil Mulloy
Commissioning CompanyArts Council of England
 Channel Four

Animated series giving an iconoclastic view of the Wild West and an indirect comment on current values.

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Made for Channel 4, Phil Mulloy's Cowboys (1991) takes the implicit and inherent fascism of the Western genre to its logical conclusion, depicting male competitiveness and greed in stark acts of escalating violence. In each of the six episodes the desire for instant gratification and the pursuit of insatiable need combine to subvert both generic expectations and social orthodoxies. In That's Nothin', for example, an overt connection is made between the gun and the penis; the phallic suggestion of this generic principle is made explicit in the gratification of sexual need through violence and the embrace of power, but is ultimately resolved in copulation between the cowboy and his best friend, his horse. The name 'Roy Rogers' may never sound the same again.

Phallic power is also addressed in Outrage, which looks at the ways in which humankind maintains moral disgust and the rhetorical necessity of castration and disempowerment in the face of the deep rooted primal imperative to sustain unchecked physical appetites.

In High Noon, the ritual of the gunfight is parodied as the protagonists are literally exposed as the 'clowns' they are, but it is The Conformist that is most revealing about the deep ambiguities of the genre. On the one hand it illustrates the authenticity of the cowboy as he seeks to pursue the traditional way of the frontier - man and horse united on a single quest - while on the other hand Mulloy shows all the other cowboys now riding horses with wheels. The individual eventually conforms and saws off his own horse's legs in favour of wheels, and follows the others across the prairie.

In these satires, Mulloy clearly reveals both the legacy and the redundancy of the Western.

Paul Wells

*These films are included in the BFI DVD compilation Phil Mulloy: Extreme Animation.

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Video Clips
1. Outrage! (2:43)
2. Slim's Pickin's (2:49)
3. High Noon (3:09)
4. The Conformist (3:18)
5. That's Nothin' (2:36)
6. Murder! (3:03)
Channel 4 and Animation