"Westerns carry meaning and value, codes of conduct, standards of judgment that shape our sense of the world and govern our behavior without our having the slightest awareness of it.”
Jane Tomkins – “West of Everything.”
Some of the grandest things America thinks of itself are symbolized by the settling of the western frontier. Zane Grey helped define the American character by creating Lassiter, the man in black, the first anti-hero bent of vigilante justice, a man who takes matters into his own hands. Regardless of our heroic notions, the themes in “Riders” - sexual harassment, religious zealotry, isolationism, gun control, even a church shooting, are issues we still grapple with. At its core, “Riders” is a power struggle over water. Jane Withersteen owns it. Her churchmen want it to build their empire - and they stop at nothing to demonstrate God is on their side.
If Grey's story provides the blood in this film, mounting the opera is its beating heart. Opera is larger than life, requires the cooperation of legions of artists, is terrifically expensive, and must adapt to survive. Before witnessing this work, even as a musical theatre-lover, opera seemed like a stilted way to tell antiquated stories, but new works are telling stories that matter. Opera gathers all the arts in a single heightened explosion of human experience. It may, in fact, be the perfect art form for our operatic times.
“Riders” is the seminal Western. It’s a story about grief and redemption and what it takes to live in the punishingly beautiful land I call home. With its musical storytelling and grand setting rendered by my favorite living painter, this film about the artistic process and the landscape that inspires it fulfills my soul’s thirst for wilderness and art.
Kristin Atwell Ford