Tag Archives: Genre Fan

Weaving authenticity and meaning in genre film: “SHOOTING ‘SIX BULLETS TO HELL’ IN ALMERIA’

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Danny Garcia had an interesting post late last year over at his A Spaniard In The Workz blog. In it, he briefly wrote about wrapping up shooting on a low budget western titled ‘Six Bullets To Hell’. He wrote:

They said we were crazy. And yes, it was hot, it was dusty, it was real hard work but it was also great fun to shoot a real Spaghetti Western with a bunch of great actors and a great crew right in the middle of July AND right in the hottest spot of Spain: the desert of Tabernas in Almería

Almería had been the European Hollywood in the 60’s and 70’s, a good number of films where shot in that area of Spain every year. Fifty years ago, there’d be a couple of movies shot there everyday. Everybody in the small town of Tabernas would be somehow involved in the productions: the shops, the restaurants, horse wranglers, drivers, electricians, carpenters, extras, etc.

The great Frank Braña (R.I.P.), who worked in Almería hundreds of times (even with the Master Sergio Leone in all his westerns) told me there wasn’t a single hotel in Almería when they started shooting there in 1964. The cinema industry helped that city grow big time. . .

. . . As fans of the old Spaghetti Westerns, this was the perfect chance for all of us to shoot in legendary sets like the Oasys (aka MiniHollywood), Sergio Leone’s set, the very same set he built with Carlo Simi in 1965 for For a Few Dollars More (and was also used in classics like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Hannie Caulder, Doc, etc) and also at Fort Bravo, where Ringo Starr did Blindman and where greats like Lee Van Cleef, Jack Palance or Charles Bronson starred in great westerns like Death Rides a Horse, Chato’s Land, etc. So we were literally standing on the footsteps of giants.

What stuck me as I read this was how it showed just how profoundly the Italian westerns of the 1960s-70s completely transmuted the Western genre. The term ‘Spaghetti western’ was coined by American film critics that wanted to mark out these Italian films as cheap knock-offs and fakes. In fact, this is how the Italian filmmakers initially viewed them as well. Look at how the names of directors and actors were changed in order to fool Italian audiences into believing that these were American productions. The most famously example is, of course, Sergio Leone appearing under the alias ‘Bob Robertson’ in the opening credits for Fistful of Dollars (1964) (an alias that actually goes back to his director father and the silent film era).

After Leone had the resources to make big budget productions, he made an interesting choice. He planned on shooting much of his masterpiece Once Upon A Time In The West (1968) in the ‘real West,’ Monument Valley, Arizona. Of course, this was John Ford country. Here, the legendary American director had filmed many of his most iconic Westerns. In deciding to film there, Leone was creating a link with these places, locations, and films. From them, he was gaining something . . . authenticity.

However, after the economic, artistic, and cultural success of Leone and other European filmmakers in remaking the Western from Italian, Spanish, or German perspective things changed. Today, when young filmmakers want to give their films a link to the classic cinematic images and experiences of the past, they don’t travel to John Ford country. They travel to Leone country, the Almerian desert in Spain. In his blog post, Danny Garcia promotes his film by focusing on the locations and actors that provide a link to the Eurowestern boom of the 1960s.

As Chritopher Frayling points out in this great biography of Sergio Leone: Something To Do With DeathLeone inverted the situations and rhetoric of the Hollywood Western to create new and interesting effects. Perhaps this is the ultimately the most interesting inversion that he accomplished.

 

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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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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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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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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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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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