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The Ostern (Eastern; Russian: И́стерн, Istern; or остерн) or Red Western was a genre film created in the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc as a version of the Western films that originated in the United States. The term refers to two related genres:
- Proper Red Westerns, set in America's "Wild West" but involving radically different themes and interpretations than US westerns. Examples include Lemonade Joe (Czechoslovakia, 1964), or The Sons of Great Bear (East Germany, 1966) or The Oil, the Baby and the Transylvanians (Romania, 1981), or A Man from the Boulevard des Capucines (USSR, 1987). These were mostly produced in Eastern European countries like East Germany and Czechoslovakia, rather than USSR.
- Easterns (Osterns), set usually on the steppes or Asian parts of the USSR, especially during the Russian Revolution or the following Civil War, but presented in a style inspired by American western films. Examples of these include The Elusive Avengers (1966) and its two sequels, White Sun of the Desert (1970), Dauria (1971), At Home among Strangers (1974), The Burning Miles (1957), The Bodyguard (1979), and The Sixth (1981).
While influenced by Westerns, Easterns form a specific and distinct genre. The word "Ostern" is derived from the German word Ost, meaning "East".
Red Westerns of the first type are often compared to Spaghetti Westerns, in that they use local scenery to imitate the American West. In particular, Yugoslavia, Mongolia and the Southern USSR were used. Some of the East German films were called Sauerkraut Westerns.
"Eastern" films typically replaced the Wild West setting with by an Eastern setting in the steppes of the Caucasus. Western stock characters such as "cowboys and Indians" were also replaced by Caucasian stock characters, such as bandits and harems. A famous example of the genre was White Sun of the Desert, which was popular in the Soviet Union.
Red Westerns in an international context
Red Westerns which use the actual American west as a setting include, the Romanian The Oil, the Baby and the Transylvanians (1981) which dramatises the struggles of Romanian and Hungarian settlers in a new land. The Czech Lemonade Joe and the Soviet A Man from the Boulevard des Capucines plump for pastiche or satire, making fun of the hard worn conventions of the American films. The German The Sons of the Great Bear (1966) turned the traditional American "Cowboy and Indian" conventions on their head, casting the Native Americans as the heroes and the American Army as the villains - this was well within the established tradition of Karl May's highly successful German Western novels (such as the Winnetou series), but had some obvious Cold War overtones. The film started a series of "Indian films" by the East German DEFA studios which were quite successful.
Many of the non-Soviet examples of the genre were international co-productions akin to the Spaghetti Westerns. The Sons of the Great Bear for example was a co-production between East Germany and Czechoslovakia, starring a Yugoslav, scripted in German, and shot in a number of different Eastern Bloc countries and used a variety of locations including Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Mongolia and Czechoslovakia. The Oil, the Baby and the Transylvanians was a Romanian film, but featured emigrant Hungarians heavily in the storyline.
"Gibanica western" was a short-lived term for the Yugoslav equivalent of the Ostern, more commonly known as partisan film and, sometimes, the Partisan western. They were made in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, and were about the partisans in World War II.
- DEFA (film studio)
- Native American hobbyism in Germany, a hobby consisting of Germans impersonating American Indian culture.
- Vsevolod Ivanov, Soviet writer who was a formative influence on the Ostern.