It’s Jesse James’ birthday today, September 5th. I mean the famous “frontier outlaw,” sometimes referred to as “America’s Robin Hood,” but actually an obnoxious Missouri sumbitch still venerated and romanticized by an addled public. In movies he tends to get played by pretty studs like Brad Pitt and Colin Ferrell and Rob Lowe and Tyrone Power. There’s an occasional “revisionist” attempt to come to grips with James’ less lovable qualities, such as Robert Duvall’s fake-pious looney in The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid, or Brad Pitt’s fame-swollen paranoiac in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. But it’s still Brad Pitt, for God’s sake, all gleaming and starry, and you can’t hide the hero-worship by claiming to do a serious critique of celebrity culture 19th century-style.
We generally get the Western-hero version of Jesse James as bold bandit and manly martyr, on accounta it’d be awkward to focus too much attention on the true-life particulars of secession-mad Border State Jesse James, the virulent racist Jesse James trained up in terror tactics by Confederate heroes William Quantrill and “Bloody Bill” Anderson, the Jesse James whose gang wore Ku Klux Klan hoods during one train robbery.
September 5th, 2011 | Comments (45)