In this issue, we chose to celebrate the ‘Spirit of the West’ as we imagine it to be: an intangible and yet very real flame of adventure and unorthodoxy burning in the souls of the artists and filmmakers we have chosen to profile.

Perhaps more than anything, the spirit of the American West resonates up from the very ground. The awe-inspiring natural beauty of the western states of North America is, after all, unique. The deserts and mountains. The rivers and canyons and ancient mysteries of early mankind are hidden here, drawing us into a magical and mystical place. It is then, to me, that this ‘Spirit of the West’ idea is a metaphor for the journey across the American continent from the East, the old world, to the West, the world of new beginnings. This potential utopia of freedom is a place where dreams are realised, and it is the spirit we celebrate here.

Cat Ballou (1965). Poster by Wiktor Gorka. Courtesy of Posteritati.

At A Rabbit’s Foot, we also tip our cowboy hats to the pioneer immigrants who faced unimaginable obstacles and suffered enormous hardships to pursue a better life as they headed west—a life of possibilities away from the constraints of tradition and censorship. Theirs was a journey of abundant hardships and disappointments, and betrayals seemingly impossible to overcome.

Though many died facing these challenges, others triumphed and built wonderful lives of adventure and freedom and, well, Hollywood. What endured most though was that iron spirit to build a better world. We embrace the notions of the American Dream and the Spirit of The West and insist they cannot die, must not die, and that we should all, regardless of nationality or ethnicity, embrace the ideas behind this pioneer nation, even if it is perhaps in these confusing times hard to do so. It may seem that we are asking ourselves the impossible. But it is not impossible to believe in the good in people, and we must embrace optimism and become pioneers of kindness and respect and love.

Indeed, there is plenty to love in this new issue. In the art section, we are enormously proud that Richard Prince has personally shared his breathtaking Cowboy photographic series, as well as his essay on the subject. Lucy Davies also pens a piece on Georgia O’Keeffe, the great artist who found peace and liberty at her famous Ghost Ranch in New Mexico. For the first time, O’Keeffe felt as though she was one with nature in the arid desert and mountains—centred and free. You will also find the photography of actor Jeff Bridges, Doug Aitken, Elliott Erwitt and a selection of striking film posters from artists in Ghana.

In cinema, we naturally talk about the brilliant slate of 2024 films, and investigate the work of Willem Dafoe in Poor Things, Emily Blunt in Oppenheimer, and Todd Haynes’ film May December. Our Manifesto section again sheds light on the most exciting filmmakers, including Alice Rohrwacher in conversation on La Chimera, as well as introducing readers to the British director Luna Carmoon.

We also bring you stories and interviews with Western heroes in life, as well as in film. Clint Eastwood, Jeff Bridges and Viggo Mortensen give rare insights into their craft. There are brilliant essays on Sidney Poitier’s Buck and the Preacher, and a long-read on John Wayne and John Ford’s journey in making The Searchers—the most emblematic cowboy film of them all.

Sidney Poitier in Buck and the Preacher (1972). By Sidney Poitier.

Gus Van Sant, a true original, takes us back to his Drugstore Cowboy—an embodiment of the American independent spirit—and we cherish his film through an oral history, and thank his stellar collaborators Matt Dillon, Kelly Lynch, Laurie Parker and Nick Wechsler for participating. We did our own second little fashion shoot with our muse Penny Lane embodying Gus’ classic, which you can find in these pages.

I won’t mention everything here, but we give a special thanks to Martin Scorsese for answering our questions about his dear friend Robbie Robertson who passed away last year. Robbie was a wonderful musician and force of nature who collaborated with Scorsese for many decades. If you have not seen the director’s early music documentary masterpiece The Last Waltz—shame on you! I also knew, and loved, Robbie. He once let me direct him for a music video that only the pair of us liked.

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Featured image: Sam Shepard in True West (2002)