Week 3: Johnny Guitar

Although I have not yet viewed Johnny Guitar, through the readings I was struck by how prominent the film continues to be despite its shortcomings. Specifically, Peterson and Robertson discuss the issue of female representation within the film. Whether Vienna and Emma promote feminism or anti-feminist ideals is grappled with. At times the characters seem to represent deviations from the norm, possessing lesbian and commandeering traits. While other times they appear to conform to previous conventions of femininity, fraught with oppression and stereotypes. Maybe this is the function of camp. Sontag definitely depicts many contradictions in describing the genre, likening it to a “parody” with a “love of the unnatural” infused with “exaggeration” and a strange sense of “sensibility”. Regardless of this, Johnny Guitar, seems to have inspired many artists and generations in regards to female and queer identities. The primary anthem of the film, “Johnny Guitar” by Peggy Lee, looks to have inspired the Runaway’s very own “Johnny Guitar”.  As Peterson highlights, Lee’s song “reasserts Vienna’s presence over Johnny’s” since Lee calls him “my Johnny”. Meanwhile, the Runaways’ take reasserts a sort of sexual dominance over Johnny, ordering his actions and declaring that “I’m a hunter, he’s my gun”, extending Johnny Guitar’s legacy and message. Furthermore, the use of a female singer establishes almost a narration over the film, suggesting Vienna’s dominance and ownership of Johnny. In this way, Vienna becomes the protagonist, despite the male title of the film. Which precisely mirrors one of the intents of  Johnny Guitar, to provoke nuanced thoughts on societal norms, via its camp execution. Not to mention, the song is a distinctly pop-y upbeat track placed within a western environment, further establishing incoherence, somehow making the film all the more notable and camp.

Works Cited:

Peterson, Jennifer. “The Competing Tunes of Johnny Guitar: Liberalism, Sexuality, and Masquerade.” Volume 35, Number 3 (1996): 3 – 18.

Robertson, Pamela. “Camping Under the Stars: Joan Crawford in ‘Johnny Guitar.’” Volume 47, Number 1-3 (1995): 33 – 49.

Sontag, Susan. “Notes on ‘Camp.’” Against Interpretation and Other Essays. New York: Picador, 2001: 275 – 292.

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