Explain yourself: film critics and their shorthand

incritc

Among contemporary film critics, there is a shorthand that communicates alot of information about a film quickly. One example of this shorthand is calling something a ‘spaghetti western.’ The terms is generally used to evoke memories of Sergio Leone’s Dollars films, which by now most of the film literate world are intimately familiar with. But I often find the use of the term just lazy.

For instance, in a review of The American (2010)a recent Hollywood film starring George Clooney, there is a well-written and thoughtful review at incritic. However, the author titles it The American: Reinventing the Spaghetti Western. Sounds like an interesting title, right? But nowhere does he explain why the film is like a spaghetti western nor how the genre is being ‘reinvented.’ So the author is trying to build up the significance of an over-looked movie he or she liked by creating a linkage to the classic movies of Sergio Leone. The final lines just add to the confusion:

 

The American is actually fully Italian, then: beautiful, deliberate, spare, symbolic, Catholic, overly sentimental. And a throwback to the great Italian Neorealismo of the Sixties.

The respected, self-consciously artistic directors of the Neorealism and the opportunistic, pulp directors of the popular cinema were two distinct traditions of filmmaking. Largely made up of Northerns from cities like Milan, filmmakers like de Sica, Rosselini, Fellini, and Visconti were respected internationally. At least early in their development, they created a cinema focused on Italian lives and experiences. The popular filmmakers Leone, Corbucci, Bava, and others tended to be Southerners. They made movies in whatever genre money could raised for at the time. I think most people would agree that there movies had a subtext of significance drawn from the lives and experiences of people in Italy, but this submerged under the surface formulas of giallos, westerns, police films, spy films, peplum, etc.

In other words, it at first seems strange to say that The American combines the very different approaches to filmmaking of the spaghetti western and neorealism. This is not to say that these two traditions did not influence each other because they certainly did. It is also not to say that the director and screenwriter did not make a decision to make a film combining features from each. But only that this is not explained by the author. Instead, we are left with a cryptic shorthand, a few ambiguous gestures that tell the reader too little about the film.

 

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Movie Rip-Offs : A User’s Guide – Turkish Remakesploitation

Wonderful introduction to the world of Turkish exploitation cinema. There is a decent amount of information about Turkish westerns. Turkish westerns are nuts . . . I mean, they are completely insane. Just like the Italian filmmakers of the time, copyright was not a major issue . . . but the Turkish filmmakers took pirating to a new extreme. Their movies are typically very tongue and cheek. At first they seem just weird, but after watching a few I have started to get into them a little bit. Too few have subtitles for English speakers, though I think that there is a growing community of fan subbers dedicated to making these movies more accessible to the English-speaking world. Great blog post!

Physical Impossibility

Many thanks once again to Gokay Gelgec of the Sinematik website and Bill Barounis of Onar Films for invaluable background information on these films and the culture they were made in. Wherever possible, I’ve referred to the best-presented and ‘official’ versions of these films available.

Cüneyt Arkin’s spaceship manifests from one frame to the next in “Turkish Star Wars”, Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam (Çetin Inanç, 1982)

Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam AKA The Man Who Saved The World (Çetin Inanç, 1982) doesn’t make it too far past the endearingly handmade titles before it demonstrates the elements that gave it its better-known title, “Turkish Star Wars”. Edited into new Turkish scenes are newsreel clips of NASA rocket launches, instantly recognisable shots from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (chopped from a print in a different aspect ratio from the rest of the Inanç‘s film – making the Death Star an odd shape), and identifiable footage from Sodom…

View original post 3,596 more words

Tagged ,

Coming Soon! Spaghetti Western Trailers: “Seven Jackals” (1974)

 

Here is the trailer for the 1974 film Seven Jackals, directed by Jose Luis Madrid. Having just come across this trailer, I am pretty excited about the movie but have been unable to find a copy so far. The film is not a western, but is instead set in the mountains of Spain during the chaos of the Napoleonic Wars. It is about a band of brigands. While not a western, it looks like it is modelled after them. The director helmed several westerns. And the cast is an great assortment of Eurowestern favorites. Here is cronosmantas’ description of the video:

English trailer for the 1974 Spaghetti Western “Seven Jackals” (aka “7 Jackals” and “Siete Chacales”) starring Anthony Steffen, Gianni Garko and Eduardo Fajardo. Directed by José Luis Madrid.

 

Here is a little bit more information from FlickAnt.

ypM3UBuOJEltQ1Mlx6qGu12JFIZ

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Learning to see beyond Django: Christopher Forsley of PopMatters on “Minnesota Clay” (1964)

minne clay

At PopMatters, there is an interesting review of Sergio Corbucci’s second western Minnesota Clay (1964) by Christopher Forsley. Since Quentin Tarantino popularized Corbucci’s Django (1966) among film geeks and hipsters, the ‘other’ Sergio has been a great deal of attention. Here is what Christopher had to say:

It’s hard not to compare Minnesota Clay (1964) to A Fistful of Dollars(1964). Not only were they filmed at the same time, released the same year, and both made by men named Sergio—Sergio Corbucci in the first case and Sergio Leone in the second—but they also used the same source material to tell similar stories. The source material used was Dashiell Hammett’s early hardboiled detective novel, Red Harvest (1929), along with Akira Kurosowa‘s cinematic samurai version of that novel, Yojimbo(1961). The stories told involve marksmen who, after arriving to towns in turmoil due to on-going gang wars, pin one gang against the other to bring gold to their pockets and peace to the citizens.

Minnesota Clay and A Fistful of Dollars are also two of the earliest offerings from the two greatest Spaghetti Western directors. But whileA Fistful of Dollars became an international sensation, launching and then guiding the genre in the years that followed, Minnesota Clay was in comparison a quickly forgotten box-office bust. One reason for its failure was the bad-timing that left it in the shadow of Leone’s groundbreaking film, but another was its mediocrity, which becomes especially obvious when you compare it to Corbucci’s later triumphs like Django (1966), The Great Silence (1968), and Companeros (1970).

 

He continues:

Structurally, Corbucci tells his story with just as much craft as Leone, and the plot of Minnesota Clay, like A Fistful of Dollars, is an entertaining one. But unlike A Fistful of Dollars, nearly every element surrounding the plot is bland. For most of Minnesota Clay’s 91 minute runtime, I felt as though I was watching one of the many nondescript American westerns that the Hollywood studio system shitted out during the ‘40s. The costumes are too clean and colorful, and the sets are too well lighted and swept.

 

While Forsley is a bit harsh at times, he does admit that the film isn’t terrible, only that he found it bland.

51jSFOzUAgL._SL500_SY300_What I found interesting about this article was not its analysis. I differ with Forsley’s conclusion about the film, but I would not have when I first started watching Eurowesterns. As with most people, my introduction to the genre was through the Dollars trilogy, then Once Upon A Time In The West (1968). In the early 1990s, you simply couldn’t get your hands on most other spaghetti westerns. I was able, however, able to get my hands on a couple of VHS tapes including a washed version of Day of Anger (1968). When I first saw this film, I was disappointed. I wanted to see another film like For A Few Dollars More (1964). But this movie was “too clean and colorful, and the sets are too well lighted and swept.” The hero was clean cut Giuliano Gemma. The music was a little cheesy (I thought then).

Later, when the internet became ubiquitous, venues like the Spaghetti Western Web Board allowed me to trade duped tapes with other fans. Since then, there has been a Renaissance of the genre in DVDs, peer-to-peer sharing, and even Youtube. Seeing a wider range of films, I slowly was acculturated to the genre. When WildEast released their great DVD version I gave Day of Anger another chance . . . and it is now a favorite.

In other words, I had to learn to see beyond Leone.

If Forsley continues to pursue the genre, I predict that he will eventually have the same experience. He will need to see beyond Django and CompanerosMinessota Clay is a decent b-western effort with the first appearance of a number of Corbucci’s recurrent themes. It does look a bit like an American b-western, but there a number of films made in this imitative aesthetic that are enjoyable: In A Colt’s Shadow (1965), Gunmen of the Rio Grande (1964), Bullets Don’t Argue (1964), etc. If you are willing to accept these films for what they are — and not reject them for what they are not — you will find that they are enjoyable, decent b-westerns (and Day of Anger is a classic . . .).

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Scherpschutter on “Kill or Be Killed” (1966)

kill or be killed

Scherpschutter has a great review of “Kill or Be Killed” (1966) up at the Spaghetti Western Database. His reviews are always perceptive and well written.

In other words: this movie is hodgepodge; it freely borrows form Hollywood classics but we have arrived in 1966 and the style is mostly Italian; Boccia (working as Amerigo Anton) handles some of the material well, but doesn’t know what to do with those scenes set on the Drumond ranch and therefore the second part of the movie occasionally feels like a Hollywood B-movie; there’s even a would-be funny old man of the grumpy type, who talks to his dog (who is smarter than he and saves the hero’s life). The ending echoes the final events of a knight’s tale, with our chivalrous hero – fancied dead by his sweetheart – arriving just in time to prevent the poor lady from marrying the black Knight – sorry, the evil Chester Griffith.

It would take Boccia one more effort to strike the right chords; his Kill the Wickeds, made one year later, is often called a minor genre classic. But even this small entry isn’t all bad; the shootouts are quite good, but there aren’t enough of them (it’s not a particularly violent movie) and the brief and sudden action moments are better than this protracted finale, which goes on far too long; the best scene, is the one with Ringo surprising four opponents in the main street (a clear reference to the famous scene from Tessari’s A Pistol for Ringo set on the children’s playgound). The score is a grab bag of tunes, some bad, some good, but hardly ever creating a real spaghetti western atmosphere. Kill or be Killed is not as bad as some may tell you, but I can only recommend it to aficionados. If you’re relatively new to the genre, there are many other entries you should check out first.

Tagged , , , ,

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

spectacle theater

 

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.

talpukalattfutyulaszel(2)

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Lifetime Achievement Award for Bud Spencer and Terence Hill (2010)

Italian audio. “Delivery of the 2010 David di Donatello Award for Lifetime Achievement at the greatest pair of splendid actors for over 40 years we have been graced with unforgettable comedies … Terence Hill and Bud Spencer ! Thank you for all that you wanted to give away!”

Tagged ,