Tag Archives: Cult Film

What does ‘laughably weird’ even mean?: A few notes about “THE MOST LAUGHABLY WEIRD SPAGHETTI WESTERNS”

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In Anthropology, there is a concept called ethnocentrism, which essentially means judging the norms and conventions of another culture by one’s own. This is a problem because it typically leads people to judge what they looking at superficially. If someone if trying to understand something, like an Anthropologist in the field, they need to be willing to look at it on its own terms. In terms of cultural experience, this attitude limits your ability to grow.

I was thinking about ethnocentrism when I recently came across a post at Balladeer’s Blog titled “The Most Laughably Weird Spaghetti Westerns.” If we generalize the concept of ethnocentrism, it is applicable to this strange list.

The first issue is the title. What does it mean for something to be ‘laughably weird’? Usually, you hear of movies being referred to as ‘laughably bad’, not ‘laughably weird.’ A quick look at this list finds a strange mixture of films. There are some bad films: White Comanche, Kung Fu Brothers in the Wild West, Bad Kids of the West, Dynamite Joe, and Jesse James’ Kid. Only the first three really verge into ‘laughably bad’ territory. What is odd about the list is the inclusion of some good films: Django Kill!, The Price of Power, John the Bastard, Blindman, and Johnny Hamlet.

This strange idea of the ‘laughably strange’ and the odd mixture of films in the list leads me to this conclusion. ‘Laughably weird’ means that the Balladeer didn’t ‘get it.’ He was nonplussed. What he was watching was coming from outside his cultural frame of reference. Cultural signifiers – meaningful symbols, emotions, events, or ideas — were used in ways that he couldn’t follow. The strange juxtapositions provoked laughter, the same way they would if he were watching a bad movie.

In other words, the Balladeer exhibited a bit of ethnocentrism.

Regarding his criticisms of the particular films:

1) Django Kill (1967) His criticism seems to boil down to the fact that the film contains a series of extreme and strange elements. To this, I would point out that the movie is (1) based on the director’s experiences as a partisan (guerilla opposed to the fascist) in the surreal final days of WWII in Italy and (2) it is carnivalesque like most Eurowesterns. Carnivalesque refers to a perspective on life in which the world is turned upside-down, the body is celebrated in all its grossness, and atrocity merges into laughter. Conclusion: I don’t think Balladeer knew what he was looking at.

2)The Price of Power (1969) The criticism of this movie is based in its ‘pretentiousness’ and historical inaccuracy. I would contend that the movie is only ‘pretentious’ in that it is trying to reach the epic scope of Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In The West . . . and it largely fails. What results is melodrama. That said, this film has great cinematography and a wonderful score. And, at its heart, it is an expansion on the mentor/apprentice or father/son dynamic of Tonino Valerii and Giuliano Gemma’s earlier classic Day of Anger (1967). At that level, this film works. Conclusion:  The Balladeer probably got caught up in the perceived absurdity of the assassination conspiracy plot and the melodrama about racism. However, he missed the solid b-movie underneath.

3 and 4) Bad Kids of the West (1967) and Jesse James Kid (1966) Yeah, these are not good movies. But are they actually weird? Bad Kids of the West was intended for children and numerous movies have tried to cast children as adults for comic effect. So does that make it weird or just part of a genre pitched at a particular audience? The weirdness of Jesse James Kid is, according to the Balladeer, the fact that Billy the Kid is Jesse James’ son in the story. But that is no more strange than the plotlines of numerous b-westerns, comic books, etc. Given the fact this movie is the equivalent of a 2-reel b-western from the 1930s, I don’t understand what makes this ‘weird’. Conclusion: Does the Balladeer know what the word ‘weird’ means colloquially?

5 and 9) John the Bastard (1967) and Johnny Hamlet (1968) The main complaint here is that Don Juan by Lord Byron and Hamlet by William Shakespeare were made as b-westerns. By this criteria, I guess it is equally weird that Macbeth and King Lear were remade as samurai movies in Throne of Blood and Ran. Were Kurosawa’s films laughably weird? Johnny Hamlet is very good acid-western that doesn’t take itself too seriously. John the Bastard also has a sense of humor about itself and is decent, though hurt by its shoe-string budget. Conclusion: The Balladeer is struggling with the meaning of the word ‘weird.’ He seems to have missed the irreverence of these films for their source material.

7) Blindman (1971) I don’t even know why this is on the list. The movie is no more weird than the Zatoichi (The Blind Swordsman) movies on which it is based. It was relatively well-financed and well-made. As a quibble, the Balladeer states that there were numerous spaghetti westerns made based on the Zatoichi movies . . . no, there was only this one. There was an American made TV movie called Blind Justice made in the 1990s as well as a few American action movies in the 1980s. But no other spaghetti westerns. Conclusion: This is no weirder than much of popular culture. Is the Balladeer sneering at popular culture in general?

6, 8, and 10) Dynamite Joe (1966), Kung Fu Brothers of the Wild West (1973), and White Commanche (1967) are all bad movies. Outside of the over-the-top theme song to Dynamite Joe and the over-the-top Shatner in White Commanche, these are just typical lower rung b-movies. Conclusion: The Balladeer gets off on pointing out the obviously bad.

In the end, this is my reaction to “The Most Laughably Bad Spaghetti Westerns”: The author is like a kid in the playground who gets attention by making fun of another kid with goofy clothes, thick glasses, and a strange accent. As a critic, the Balladeer points out obvious defects in films, some of which are good and others transparently bad, then sneers and makes snarky comments for his audience. There is no insight. There is such an obvious question that he misses. If genres like Eurowesterns or blaxplotiation strike contemporary viewers as being so strange and bad, why do they even exist? Why were they so popular? Were there audience just inferior in some way? Lets start with a different assumption: The audiences for these films weren’t ‘inferior’ and these movies had meaning for the audience in some way. Trying to grapple with this forces the critical viewer to move beyond themselves and view the movies a little differently. What Balladeer is doing the worst, most uninteresting and superficial type of film criticism (of course, its really just clickbait). It seems that the point of this sort of film writing is for the author to ‘demonstrate’ that they are, in some sense, superior to the audiences for these films.

To say that something is ‘laughably weird’ is to admit that you didn’t get it. I suppose that this would be the Balladeer’s response to silent films, Kabuki theater, or Chinese opera. If he doesn’t understand the conventions and symbolic universe of the art form, that makes the genre of performance “bad”. This sounds a bit like that concept of ethnocentrism that I started with.

Korano provides a much more interesting short list at the Spaghetti Western Database: Spaghetti Western Oddities.

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Django Prepare a Coffin (Suite)

Great score by Gianfranco Reverberi

Sampled by Danger Mouse of Gnarls Barkley in their hit Crazy.

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More News On Tarantino’s Next Western Project

Tarantino at Comic-Con: Confirms New Western After All, Jacquline Sahagian at Entertainment Cheat Sheet.

Quentin Tarantino made an appearance at Comic-Con over the weekend to confirm that his beleaguered Western The Hateful Eight is moving forward as planned despite a script leak earlier this year that made the iconoclastic director declare that he would shelve the project.

According to Deadline, after a fan asked about the status of The Hateful Eight, the director said that he’s continuing with the film, though he didn’t give any more details. Before his panel at Comic-Con, Deadline reported that a source had told the publication that Tarantino is in the process of locking everyone in to begin shooting in early 2015. . .

. . . A few months later, Tarantino came back from all that controversy by staging a rock star-level reading of the first draft of the script at Film Independent in Hollywood in April. Actors present for the reading included Samuel L. Jackson, who played Major Marquis Warren; Kurt Russell, who played the bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth; Amber Tamblyn, who played The Hangman’s prisoner, Daisy Domergue; and Bruce Dern, who played Confederate Gen. Smithers. The other actors on hand were James Parks, Walton Goggins, Denis Menochet, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Dana Gourrier, Zoe Bell, and James Remar. The reading lasted three and a half hours and gave viewers the chance to catch a rare glimpse into Tarantino’s creative process as he directed the actors through their parts.

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Most Wanted Western Movies Presents Their Top 20 Spaghetti Westerns

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Good list, especially for someone just beginning to explore the genre. The top 5 are all movies by Sergio Leone and all of the films are Italian. Spanish and German westerns are an acquired taste, though I would imagine that fans of Leone would really enjoy the German director Roland Click’s neo-spaghetti western Deadlock (Trailer).

To check out my ratings (of 350+ Eurowesterns) start here.

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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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Unleash the Fanboy “Boba Fett Unchained: What Disney Can Learn From Tarantino’s Spaghetti Western”

Interesting piece by Davey Bachar at Unleash the Fanboy:

It goes without saying, Quentin Tarantino’s controversial Django Unchained is undoubtedly an inappropriate film to draw inspiration from for the family oriented “House of Mouse.” However, it does have some lessons to teach.

Disney is having trouble trying to write a Boba Fett movie that will keep the notorious bounty hunter’s reputation intact, while also drawing in a family audience. Disney has had their hit and misses with more mature-themed movies, like the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, but with Boba Fett, the demand for a great story is much higher, especially with how critical fanboys are of the properties they love. Tarantino has never been one to care what people may like, he just comes up with an idea, puts it on paper and follows through, making a movie he wants to make that he shares with the world, whether they want it or not. His most recent film, Django Unchained, was critically acclaimed, but also pissed off many people, who called the western about a slave racist, violent, and disturbing. While it may be those things, underneath, it is an entertaining adventure story about two bounty hunters, going undercover to save a woman one of them loves, and that underlying plot is what Disney needs to look at to find the inspiration needed to make a good Fett movie. . .

I know my little “fan-fiction” is sloppy and dumb, but the point I want to make is this: by utilizing the plot over everything else of Django Unchained, Disney could produce a great new adventure story that doesn’t need to be about any known Star Wars characters, but could be if they wanted to. Ironically, Django fromDjango Unchained and Jango from Attack of the Clones, are namesakes of the original 1966 spaghetti western Django, starring Franco Nero and directed by Sergio Corbucci, so it could work out. In fact, here’s my first casting suggestion: everyone’s favorite Firefly captain Nathan Fillion could play one of the new hunters!

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Context of the Spanish Western

Somewhat interesting video about what was going in Spain at the time that the Marchent brothers, Leon Klimovsky, and others were making westerns. The Marchent family was close to Franco.

The Spanish westerns are something of a enigma to me. The typical story involves a doomed main character whose innocent actions lead to disastrous results. In these movies, violence corrupts the protagonist, making it necessary for society to purge them. This fascinating and strange story has to have something do with the fallout of the Spanish Civil War and life in Franco’s Spain. Does anyone know anything about this? If so, please leave a comment below!

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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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“God Forgives . . . I Don’t!” (1967), one of the most influential Italian westerns of the 1960s

Below is the ‘family tree” of “God Forgives . . . I Don’t!”

Giuseppe Colizzi’s “God Forgives . . . I Don’t!” (1968), starring Terence Hill and Bud Spencer, does not often get mentioned as one of the most influential Italian westerns of the 1960’s western cycle. However, it was one of the highest grossing westerns in Italy. This allowed Colizzi to make two sequels, “Ace High” (1968) and “Boothill”. All three films show the influence of “The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly” in terms of characters and plot structure, especially the second film which recast Eli Wallach as a Greek version of Tuco (“The Ugly”).

Giuliano Carmineo essentially a ‘Cat Stevens’ (name of Terenace Hill’s character in GFID) movie with Jorge Hilton, “The Moment To Kill” (1968). A year after the final film in Colizzi’s trilogy, “Django” (1966) cinematographer Enzo Barboni was essentially making another Cat Stevens movie with Hill and Spencer when he decided to throw out the script and amp up the slapstick (humor was an element that had always been present in the the Colizzi trilogy). Like “God Forgives . . . I Don’t!”, “They Call Me Trinity” (1970) and “Trinity is STILL My Name!” (1971) were huge hits. The success of these movies altered the course of the genre, leading to the production of dozens of slapstick comedies, similar films and television series staring Hill and Spencer individually in roles similar to those they played in the Trinity films, and a long series of Hill and Spencer comedies in other non-western settings.

The most notable offspring of the Trinity films were probably the Nobody films produced by Sergio Leone. “My Name Is Nobody” combines themes and casts from the Trinity movies and Leone’s “Once Upon A Time In The West” (1968) in a story about the end of west, the origins of the western genre, and the twilight of the Italian western. It also combined the mentor / novice or father /son plot that “My Name Is Nobody” director Tonino Valerii used in his own classic Italian westerns “Day Of Anger” (1967) and “The Price Of Power” (1969). “A Genius, Two Partners, and a Dupe” (1975) continues the story of Nobody.

 

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