Category Archives: Reviews

Turkish Westerns: Chicago Reader and Dirty Pictures

chicago turkish westerns

A few days ago, I reblogged The Physical Impossibility of Rad’s great introduction to Turkish cinema. Well, the following for these completely off-the-wall, cartoonish movies continues to grow. Recently, the Doc Films series at the University of Chicago screened Yilmaz Güney’s The Hungry Wolves(1969). Ben Sachs of the Chicago Reader’s The Bleader blog wrote this about the film he was lucky enough to see on the big screen:

Spectacle may be an odd word to describe productions as evidently cheap as Yilmaz Güney’s, which abound with slapdash editing and bare-bones sets. Yet the films I saw at Doc Films’s Güney series this Saturday afternoon—Bride of the Earth (1968) and The Hungry Wolves(1969)—conveyed a mythic sense of landscape and story, often using one to reinforce the other. Violent crowd-pleasers in the spaghetti western mold, both took place in desolate, godforsaken regions of Turkey that proved ideal backdrops for the elemental conflicts of cowboy movies (I assumed that Güney exaggerated the desolation of these settings, but given my general ignorance about rural Turkey in the 1960s, I may be wrong).The Hungry Wolves was particularly inventive in its use of snowy tundras, a sharp contrast from the deserts and mountains of most westerns: in one scene, Güney, playing a Clint Eastwood-style badass, shoots down bandits from the inside of an igloo!

Güney reminds us that cinematic spectacle has less to do with production values than with an enthusiasm for what movies can do.

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I also came across a review by shootgringoshoot at the Dirty Pictures forum. I just watched the movie one month ago and really enjoyed it, as well. It is a rip-off of the Sergio Sollima Cuchillo westerns The Big Gundown (1967) and Run Man Run (1969), with a nutty Turkish b-movie twist on the proceedings.

He writes:

One of my favourite turkish westerns! prefer it above many italian made westerns!
Yimaz köksal is a nice acter …. in this movie he plays Cuchillo (named after tomas milian in run man run) a carecter clearly inspired by the terence hill trinity figure and tomas milian in run man run.
Daglarin Oglu (video title…even the sleeve says Dag Kurdu) has everything a good turkish western should have; crazy comic style carecters, obscure violence, chicks, special weapons, over the top fighting scene’s and cool gadgets …. in this movie a trinity like contruction, a wagen that is pulled by cuchilio’s horse.

the camera work is much better as in the avarage turkish western, long landscape views and other creative/borrowed camera actions.

the story has some holes in the plot and every now and than its a bit unclear what is going on, but that didnt spoil the fun of watching this movie. I enjoyed every minute of the movie, another great turkish western for the collection.

Check out the rest of the review here.

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Incredible Hungarian Goulash Western “The Wind Whistled Beneath Their Feet” (1976)

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Last night I watched an incredible Hungarian film “The Wind Whistled Beneath Their Feet” from 1976. Here is some information about the film from the folks at Spectacle Theater in Brooklyn, NY. They had a showing of the film recently, about which I am very jealous:

György Szomjas brings exquisite style and pacing to this elegiac gallows western about a betyár — a brand of 19th century highwayman popular in contemporary Hungarian balladry — set amid the Great Hungarian Plain in 1937. It follows the path of a brooding, aging outlaw newly escaped from prison whose personal revenge quest dovetails with the interests of the landless herdsman who oppose the state’s building a canal through the fields on which they work their trade. He becomes an unlikely hero to unwashed vagabond workers while facing down a mutually-admiring adversary in the form of a forthright squire who had captured him before. Meanwhile, an opportunistic youngster attempts to work both sides to his benefit. As ditches are dug for canals and corpses alike, the state puts increasing pressure on the wistful squire, who realizes the social order is changing and his fortunes are in decline; and yet he remains dutifully attached to his mission.

Along with Szomjas’s follow-up ROSSZEMBEREK, THE WIND IS WHISTLING UNDER THEIR FEET is probably the only example of a “Goulash Western.” Though carefully paced and supposedly based on historical documents, it aims squarely for populist appeal. The autumnal palette, period imagery, and sudden outbursts of hysterical grotesquery recall Andrzej Żuławski’s THE DEVILS. Yet most of all it brings to mind the unlikely grouping of Woody Guthrie, Miklós Jancsó, and Akira Kuroswawa — or maybe Béla Tarr meets Sergio Leone. Whatever the comparisons, THE WIND IS WHISTLING UNDER THEIR FEET is a stirring, forgotten gem in classic Spectacle tradition and not to be missed.

 

Here is the trailer Spectacle put together:

I thought director György Szomjas did an incredible time mixing the style of Sergio Leone with a more Eastern European approach to filmmaking . . . and Hungarian settings. The film is gorgeous and confident in its timing. Not overlong, it does not rush to come to its inevitable end. The story of the outlaw Farkos Csapó Gyurka, played by Djoko Rosic, translates into an fairly familiar western movie plot about the end of the frontier. It is thematically and plot-wise very similar to Once Upon A Time In The West (1968).  There was an obligatory bar fight, shootouts, etc. There was even a nod to John Ford with a shot of a woman framed by a inn’s doorway.

This is a wonderful film. I really recommend it. The semi-sequel Rosszemberek (1979)  is available on Youtube in Hungarian and there are subtitles floating around for that film. I am eager to watch it as well.

It is a little too early to say, but I think that I would rate this film in the 8.5 range. This is a real classic deserving of more attention from fans . . . or at least for the fan who seen virtually everything.

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

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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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Aballay (2010): Excellent Argentinian Western With Some Spaghetti Flavor

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Yesterday, I finally watched the recent Argentinian western Aballay, el hombre sin miedo, directed by Fernando Spiner. While I will not write much in detail here, I wanted to just post my initial impressions.

Set in the Argentinian pampas during the late 19th century, this is an excellent revenge Western reminiscent of Giulio Petroni’s Italian classic Death Rides A Horse, but perhaps set in the world of Black God White Devil and Antonio Das Mortes. The performances, cinematography, and locations are excellent . . . earning numerous awards in Argentina. What is really cool, from my perspective, is how the filmmakers translated the imagery and themes of the Italian western into an Argentinian idiom. The movie has two characters that following parallel liminal narratives described in my article on the Carnivalesque Western alla’Italiana. The religious imagery is evocative without being too heavy handed.

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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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Good review of Little Rita of the West . . .

. . . by Randy Johnson at Not The Baseball Pitcher.

 

Talk about your odd ball movies: a spaghetti western musical. Lots of songs, jokes, even some real spaghetti action. The idea behind it was to boost the career of Italian singer Rita Pavone. Little Rita was her actual nicknme. 4.89 feet tall and about 86 pounds. Boost her career? Since I never heard of this film until I stumbled across it on Youtube, probably not a lot. Possibly in Italy.

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“Only God Forgives” and the spaghetti western

I really enjoyed Nicholas Winding Refn’s recent Only God Forgives (2013), though I guess I am in the minority. The movie was mezmorizing in the theatre with its rich visuals and incredible score. The movie makes obvious references to the spaghetti westerns of the 1960s and 1970s, so I thought I would poke around on the internet and see what I could find on this.


Interesting comment
in a short review Nicholas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives by M. Faust at ARTVOICE:

Gosling is also in Refn’s newest film, but don’t be expecting Drive II. Only God Forgives has a title recalling the 1968 spaghetti western Chiedi perdono a Dio… non a me (God Forgives, I Don’t). It concludes with a dedication to Refn’s friend Alejandro Jodorowsky that should have been put at the beginning of the film so that audiences familiar with Jodorowsky’s hallucinogenic oeuvre (El Topo, The Holy Mountain, Santa Sangre) would have some idea what to expect.

Looking more into this, I find this from an interview of Refn’s at We Are Movie Geeks by Melissa Howland:

You’re films kind of have a Spaghetti Western feel to them. A kind of Clint Eastwood, Sergio Leone quality – where your leading man is a “man with no name”… the strong, silent type. I’m curious if those types of movies influence you? Where do you find influence and inspiration?

NICOLAS WINDING REFN: I get influence from everywhere, of course. I’m a child of cinema. I like cinema. I can’t get enough of it. But then again, I could be looking out the window, I could be staring out a plane, I could be going on a bus brining my kids to kindergarten. I could be hearing a piece of music. Music a lot! It’s very inspiring because I don’t do drugs anymore, so music enhances my emotion, which is what you tap into to be creative. You tap into your emotions. So, it’s all over. I try not to be dogmatic about anything. I don’t get up at 9 o’clock every morning and start working unless I have to. If I don’t have to I do it at night.

From Brent Mcknight at Beyond Hollywood:

With films like “Drive,” “Bronson,” and “Valhalla Rising” on his resume, anything Nicolas Winding Refn does immediately leap frogs to the top of my must see list, especially when it involves teaming up with his handsome man muse Ryan Gosling. You can imagine that as soon as I heard about their new collaboration, “Only God Forgives,” described as a Muay Thai spaghetti western, my anticipation meter went through the roof. The trailers, posters, and pictures, all indicate a quiet, tense film, punctuated by sharp bursts of brutal violence.

Ryan Latanzio at Thompson on Hollywood:

Before the film started, Winding Refn told us that while “Drive” was like “doing cocaine all night,” “Only God Forgives” is more of “an old school acid trip.” But this film — nocturnal, deathly quiet and far more sinister — is also a more sleepy psychotropic experience. It’s David Lynch goes to Thailand to direct a spaghetti western on quaaludes

Rebecca Baker, Rushes Magazine:

The latest creation from the Dutch film maker is the red-fluorescent-twin of Drive, Only God Forgives,where Martinez’ noted piece, ‘Wanna Fight’, combines influences from the Spaghetti Western scores by Ennio Morricone to the minimalist pieces by Philip Glass. “Morricone was a strong influence in the ‘Wanna Fight’ piece, as the pipe organ is the acknowledgment of the God element,” he laughs, “while Philip Glass was an influence through his style of repetitive-minimalism with the Synthesiser.”

Glass and Morricone were not the only influences to be added to Martinez’ soundtrack, “Nicolas kept talking about these Italian horror films, so I watched a couple by Dario Argento,” who is best known for the Giallo sub-genre. “I think Brian Eno and some other composers wrote the scores for those films. That’s what I like about O-G-F the score is a mixture of influences and not just one.”

Russ Fisher, Film: Blogging the Reel World:

It’s easy to hope for, or insist on a declaration. For this movie, “I am a spaghetti western.”

Refn: Then you’re like “With my knowledge, I can categorize that.” Then it’s like, you define it, but then where is the fun? Where is the experience beyond that?

Andrew Johnson, In Reel Deep:

This is a bit of a shame because the rest of the film is captivating.It’s not just Thomas and Pansringarm, but also the city of Bangkok itself and Winding Refn’s bizarre, fascinating fixations on hands and hallways and karaoke that give it some great moments. Winding Refn is a near-master at this point of the post-Western. There are no cowboys or Indians or horses, but the Spaghetti Western influence is painfully obvious and well-crafted, whether it’s mysterious, almost nameless characters, visceral scores or exotic, seemingly limitless locales.

This is the best review that I have seen yet on the film:

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Great Review of “Sukiyaki Western Django” by ETHAN DE SEIFE at LIVECULTURE

Here:

Sukiyaki Western Django is an embodiment of Miike’s inconsistency. It may be the one film of his that best encapsulates all that is good, bad and ugly about his style. A lurid, blood-splattered hodge-podge of a movie, Sukiyaki Western Django (hereafter SWD) is a veritable catalog of genres, emotions, narrational tones … and everything else .

The film’s title begs parsing. The reference to sukiyaki evokes the so-called “spaghetti westerns” made in Italy beginning in the 1960s, but it also works in the sense of the olio I describe. Just like its titular stew, SWD is a combination of whatever ideas, props, story ideas, etc., happened to be on hand at the time. (My preference is to read the title as part of a response to a question asked by a person named Django; viz. “Is this film a spaghetti western?” “No, it’s a sukiyaki western, Django.”) . . .

. . . I found the film’s central story to be fairly incomprehensible, largely because characters’ motives were rarely made clear. So it was difficult to ascertain whycertain actions were committed. (This is not necessarily a bad thing; comprehensibility is often overrated.) In fact, in place of clearly sketched characters with stated goals, Miike substitutes fragments of other films, not all of them westerns. The landmark 1988 anime film Akira is name-checked more than once. . .

. . . Even if SWD isn’t a straight-up western, it depends on, adapts and complicates the format. The film wants to be understood through that lens even as it upends many of that genre’s conventions. And that’s the same process spaghetti westerns went through a half-century ago.

I’m not suggesting Sukiyaki Western Django sets a new template for the western, but it’s impossible to predict the course of a genre’s evolution. Spaghetti had its day; perhaps sukiyaki’s time has come.

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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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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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