Category Archives: Ratings

Tom McCormack on “Dziga Amuck: Daffy Duck and the French New Wave’s Marxist Spaghetti Western”

the wind from the east

 

Interesting piece by Tom McCormack of The L Magazine titled “Dziga Amuck: Daffy Duck and the French New Wave’s Marxist Spaghetti Western”

Wind from the East is, like Amuck, Farberian, Brechtian and Greenbergian, by turns. Writing in the New York Times when the film had its stateside premiere, critic Vincent Canby summed up the movie’s disorienting formal strategies by writing that “consequences precede actions and effects give birth to their causes.”

Wind was made as Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin were still riding their high from May ’68, and the idea for the film was given by a leading light of ’68, Daniel Cohn-Bendit. Cohn-Bendit’s original concept was more of a standard Western—accounts make it sound something like High Noon for hardcore Althusserians. What Godard and Gorin ended up making is rivaled in its genre revisionism only by Andy Warhol’s Lonesome Cowboys. Stunning tableaus are set to didactic pontifications regarding the nature of class struggle. Anne Wiazemsky, Godard’s wife, an actor in the film, and the one who got Godard and Gorin in touch with Cohn-Bendit, had reservations about Wind’s political efficacy. Viewers today might feel something similar—one can almost laugh when the voice-over declares, “don’t represent the problem abstractly,” since that seems to be precisely what the film is doing.

But it’s become easy, and fashionable, to dismiss this era of Godard and Gorin’s work. They were, after all, plotting a revolution that never came about. But one should keep in mind that their revolutionary antics were inspired by the tidal events of ’68, and Wind is really an attempt to make sense of and come to terms with that very real and very concrete instance of workers’ unrest and bourgeois resentment. In that sense, the film might still be very relevant. In an age when Sarah Palin can hijack the rhetoric of solidarity to perversely say that “We are all Arizonans”—when she’s actually talking about the exact opposite of that sentiment—it could be a balm to remember the signs that were carried around during May ’68: “We are all undesirables,” “We are all German Jews.”

I have to admit that I HATE Wind from the East. In fact, I consider it to bad exploitation cinema for late 1960s, quasi-intellectual Utopians. It is full of garbled Marxist platitudes, lacks any sort of coherent flow, and its inversions of the western are unimaginative and obvious . . .  lets just say that Sergio Corbucci (at his best, 1966-1968) turns out to be a more brilliant filmmaker than Godard. But its greatest sin is how it exposes its actors and director. The film is exactly what it looks like: a group of pretentious, preaching, prancing youth out for a picnic. Compared with A Bullet For The General, this is self-indulgent child’s play. In other words, this movie insulted me. I have watched all of Demofilo Fidani’s, Gianni Crea’s, and Franco Lattanzi’s films and not felt insulted . . . both those directors and the audience (in this case, me) know what these movies are all about. Being bad is alright. Being pretentious and bad is not. Eventually, I will review the film on the podcast. As of now, I would give it a rating of 2 of 10.

 

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Kevin Phipps at AV Club on Spaghetti Westerns for the unitiated

Spaghetti Westerns · Gateways To Geekery · The A.V. Club

 

Good introduction to the genre by Kevin Phipps. 

Pop culture can be as forbidding as it is inviting, particularly in areas that invite geeky obsession: The more devotion a genre or series or subculture inspires, the easier it is for the uninitiated to feel like they’re on the outside looking in. But geeks aren’t born; they’re made. And sometimes it only takes the right starting point to bring newbies into various intimidatingly vast obsessions. Gateways To Geekery is our regular attempt to help those who want to be enthralled, but aren’t sure where to start. . .

. . .Geek obsession: Spaghetti Westerns

Why it’s daunting: Europe’s fascination with the American West dates back to before the Old West could rightly be called old. German author Karl May began writing about the Native American hero Winnetou and his German blood brother Old Shatterhand in the 1890s, and his stories seeped into the water of European popular fiction and inspired several films from the 1920s through the 1960s. So it wasn’t that odd, really, that Italian director Sergio Leone would decide to shoot a Western in Europe: It had been done before. But the 1964 release of A Fistful Of Dollars, starring minor U.S. television star Clint Eastwood, started a deluge of European Westerns. They quickly came to be known as spaghetti Westerns, thanks to Leone and the number of Italian directors making them, but they were often European co-productions shot in southern Spain with casts drawn from across Europe and the United States. Between 1964 and 1976, hundreds of spaghetti Westerns saw the light of day. As with any vibrant genre, the quality varies greatly from film to film. Furthermore, Leone’s work tends to overshadow his contemporaries’, meaning a lot of good-to-great movies tend to get overlooked by those who stick with the master.

 

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Quick Review: Dead in Tombstone

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Hi! I watched an interesting film on Netflix that I thought I should put up a few quick notes on.

Jayson Kennedy has a great review of the direct to video Dead in Tombstone (2012) at his blog, basement of ghoulish decadence.

Danny Trejo in an action “horror western” was an inevitability, but the Western genre is deceptively complex. To produce even a “decent” example a convincing drama needs to be constructed around punctuated violence. The screenplay, penned by the duo behind the awful killer clown slasher Drive Thru (2007), instead strings along action sequences with scattered bits of shallow exposition. In that respect, Dead in Tombstone succeeds and shows how well a measly five million dollars, and major studio backing, can be utilized. The Deadwood aesthetic is in full effect with a western town backlot and actors drenched in that unnatural “readymade rustic” grit. Frenzied editing hampers most nuance of the camerawork, but the sound design is extremely impressive and the film never once sounds its low cost.

Matt at Ruthless Reviews also has a fun review of the film:

Holy shit, dude. An old fashioned Western starring Danny Trejo, Mickey Rourke, and Anthony Michael Hall! What’s this review doing in the Shithouse? This just might be the best film of the year

I agree with Jayson that the acting is very bad and the characters under-developed. Furthermore, the gunfights are energetic but brain dead . . . too often there are dozens of men shooting in close confines to the Trejo, but they almost never hit him. However, while there is some Bad and Ugly to this movie, there is also some Good. The Romanian locations are great. Next, this movie feels like a real grindhouse spaghetti western ~ shabby, gritty, ragged and cheap. Most importantly, it not only imitates Western alla’Italiana style, but the screenwriter and director actually understood the basic formula of an spaghetti western. As direct-to-video American clones go, this is not too bad. In fact, I enjoyed it more that I enjoyed Tarantino’s Django Unchained . . .

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In an earlier blog post, I wrote about the mythical/ritualistic plot of the Italian western. Basically, the character is killed and then reborn in a classic ‘liminal’ narrative. In their rite of passage, they usually end of saving the town . . . even though their explicit motivations are always selfish.

Dead in Tombstone is very similar to And God Said To Cain and Django the Bastard with its Gothic elements and spectral protagonist that returns from the grave to extract revenge for a wrong done to them. Django Kill!, Twice A Judas, and Ciakmull also have similar structures. . . with characters ‘returning from the dead.” This movie catches that element well. However, in those movies the characters only figuratively or narratively returned from death. In this movie, Danny Trjeo repeatedly moves from God’s County (the town of Edenland) to Hell and back. This is an interesting variant of this basic story.

This movie gets a 6.75 / 10 on my rating scale. Its worth a watch if you are fan of the genre.

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Great documentary “K. Khan’s ITALIAN CINEMA: The Life & Times of RICHARD HARRISON”

From Youtube description:

Khalid’s Interview with one of the top stars of Italian Spaghetti Westerns, and EuroSpy secret agent and heist films from 1960s-1970s era, Mr. Richard Harrison, of The Invincible Gladiator, 100,000 Dollars for Ringo, Gunfight at Red Sands, and Agent 077: Spies Killed in Beirut [ Secret Agent Fireball ], and many other adventure films made in Europe and Asia.

I don’t know how you can be a cult movie fan and not have a fondness for Richard Harrison (IMBD, SWDB). He was in some hilariously terrible movies like Ninja Terminator, but he was also in a few Spaghetti western classics. This is a cool interview covering his experiences working in Italian during the Western/Spy movie cycle between 1963 and 1975.




If you are interested, here are two of Richard Harrison’s best Spaghetti westerns. Vengeance (My rating: 7.25/10) is a good film in the trippy, ‘acid’ western vein of Death Sentence or Matalo!. Gunfight At Red Sands (My rating: 6.75/10) is one of the best pre-Leone Spaghetti westerns and the first with an Ennio Morricome score. Sure, its a little hokey, but I have always enjoyed it. Supposedly, it had an influence on Leone’s Fistful of Dollars in terms of story.


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Short review: Apache Fury (1964, José María Elorrieta)

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Apache Fury (1964, José María Elorrieta)

El hombre de la diligencia

7/10 on the Eurowestern rating scale:

Why so high? A pleasant surprise. Quality direction by Elorrieta elevates this early Spanish b-western above similar movies by directors like Klimovsky. Intelligent use of widescreen, staging, composition in depth, texture, and camera movements reduce the need for multiple shots. At the same time, this technique saves the movie from the static feel of so many other low budget Spanish westerns. Solid low budget film-making ~~ this is why I rate this movie a little higher than I would have expected going in to it. Pan and scan versions would remove this element from the movie and make it much less interesting. However, the mass action is shot in a much more pedestrian manner.

A small group of people at a stage station fight Geronimo’s Apaches and each other in a bid to stay alive. There are a few silly, awkward scenes (including a stage coach attack), but for the most part it works. A very interesting review of this could be written, placing this movie in its context of Fascist Spain. This film is something of a companion piece to Kliimovsky’s inferior Ballad For A Bounty Killer, with the same sets and much of the same cast.

Like other early Spanish westerns, this movie is “leisurely paced” with lots of dialogue, so if you are looking for lots of action this movie will not satisfy you. However, it should be noted that it is no slower or talky than the most near-contemporary b-grade American Indian v. Calvary siege films on which it was modeled.

I am now eager to see José María Elorrieta’s other film in the same vein ~~ Massacre At Fort Grant (1964). Vengeance of Pancho Villa (1967) is increasingly widely available. It is not as successful as this movie, but it is a fairly average Spanish western of middling quality (I gave it 5.75 / 10 stars). He also directed a late western If You Shoot . . . You Live! (1979) that I have not seen available. If you know where to get a copy, I would like to know.

Note: I watched a fairly faded Spanish language version. A fansub .srt was available, but seemed damaged or incomplete.

~~ El Vengador Errante

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Jonah Hex (2010) added to Rating the Eurowesterns page.

Here are my comments about Jonah Hex, a recent ‘clone’ of the Italian western, from the Rating the Eurowesterns page.

Jonah Hex (2010, Jimmy Hayward) 5.75 of 10 stars.

A movie about a bounty hunter who can talk to the dead while seeking revenge in a gothic Corbuccian western landscape is an awesome idea. Unfortunately, this movie completely misses the mark. It manages to make even your average Eurowestern look fairly sophisticated in comparison. Among many other failings, here are five:

  1. The plot and the action are “too big,” which is to say that they are completely out of scale. This movie was made as part of the current cycle of comic book spectacles, not as a western. A simple revenge story at the personal level would have been much more effective.
  2. The movie is built around a simplistic ‘terrorist’ plot that relies on appeals to a crude nationalism. Emotionally, the movie operates at the level of a political rally or commercial. Such appeals are cheap and ineffective.
  3. The movie uses the gestures, style, and basic plot of the spaghetti western . . . but these have rarely translated well into an American cinematic idiom. In the Italian westerns, we are always kept at a distance from the characters and are never really sure of their motivations. In this movie, we are too intimate with the characters. Furthermore, American cinematic morality has never meshed well with the style of Leone or Corbucci. These movies had very different cultural backgrounds . . . but American film-makers usually seem to understand the genre only superficially.
  4. The action scenes are poorly executed. The first gunfight scene is rushed. Leone never rushed. It relies on inappropriate CGI effects that add nothing to the action. Instead, Leone used imaginative staging and music. And the scene ends with a gratuitous explosion that adds nothing to its impact.
  5. The score is non-descript and anonymous.
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Once Upon A Time In The West

Films added to Rating the Eurowesterns pages will generally include a few comments about each. As they are added, I will post these comments to the main blog page along with other content. Below is my rating and comments about the Sergio Leone’s masterpiece, Once Upon A Time In The West.

10 of 10:

Once Upon A Time In The West (Sergio Leone, 1968)

Once Upon A Time In The West is not only the stunning Eurowestern, but it can be viewed as the culmination of the Western genre across all mediums including film, radio, television, and literature. I won’t say too much about the movie but instead will refer you to Christopher Frayling’s great book about Sergio Leone and his films, Something To Do With Death. Using the sweeping, epic style of John Ford, Leone made a metawestern combining the inverted elements from dozens of classic Hollywood westerns. In the sense, this is a movie about movies, a Western about Westerns, or a myth about the making of myths. Few films have ever woven together music and images so flawlessly. It is a masterpiece of cinematic rhetoric and form.

It is interesting to note that The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly (GBU) tends to slightly edge out Once Upon A Time In The West in IMDb’s ratings and in the Spaghetti Western Database’s Top 20. Of the two movies, GBU is better loved.

 

 

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