Tag Archives: Genre

Joe Kaiser “Clint Eastwood Western Review”

 

There are not enough Spaghetti Western reviews on Youtube! Here, Joe Kaiser does his part by reviewing Leone’s Dollars films. Joe looks like an enthusiastic movie fan that likes to share his experiences of watching different movies. He is not a spaghetti western expert, but it is cool to hear what a normal (non-obsessed Eurowestern geek-freak) thinks about some of the films.

What is really cool is how he picks up on how Cline Eastwood’s Man With No Name always ends up helping out another character at some pivotal point in the movie. In Episode 2 of the Django Rising Podcast, I briefly talked about the protagonist in an Italian western. They are often times called anti-heroes. The idea is that they do the opposite of what a typical western hero would do. Supposedly, they are ultimately amoral and cynical. But this is not the case at all. In fact, movies with characters like that rarely work for audiences. Instead, Leone and Eastwood agreed to cut out most of the expository dialogue for the Man With No Name in Fistful of Dollars (1964). That had a wonderful effect. The audience is not really sure why the character is doing what he is doing. In fact, he ends up freeing Marisol and her family, then liberating the town . . . and he makes a fortune. But this is what happens in many classic Hollywood westerns. But in a classic Hollywood western, the hero usually justifies his violence. Not in the Italian western . . . the laconic hero does not bother excusing himself. That is what makes him an ‘anti-hero’: he doesn’t make excuses for his violence.

In later Italian westerns, the heroes do make ‘excuses.’ Sometimes they do it for revenge. Over the course of 13 years (1964-1977) he number of fictional wives, mothers, and sisters that are raped and murdered to provide a motivation for the hero is staggering and, ultimately, monotonous. In other movies, the heroes are motivated by a cause. There are the Zapata westerns like A Bullet For The General and Tepepa.

What is an ‘excuse’? Well, by that I mean a justified reason. And the reasons that justify actions are specific to a culture and political regime. So in Hollywood westerns, there was a particular set of justifications (‘ideology’) for the actions of the heroes. In late 1960s Italy, many of the filmmakers were populists or socialists, so their justifications reflected there time, place, and beliefs.

Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood did something slightly different. They stripped the western film of its timeliness  and made it more timeless, in a sense. They found the underlying mythic structure of the story. This is where the force of the genre comes from. This is why it is compelling. This is more important than finding excuses for why the Man With No Name does what he does. There are deeper reasons that transcend the political and cultural climate both of their time (mid-1960s) and our time (mid-2010s).

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Ryan at Lost Laowai on “Shangdown — The Way of the Spur”, a Spaghetti-inspired Eastern

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Ryan at Lost Laowai published a post titled “Shangdown — Interview with Shanghai spaghetti western director Jakob Montrasio” that was interesting:

When Shanghai-based expat Jakob Montrasio first told me he was directing a spaghetti western set in his adopted city, I’m sure I blinked uncomprehendingly. The movie, Shangdown: The Way of the Spur is an east-meets-west kung fu cowboy mashup.

This Bruce with boots (or Clint with a kick) premise for a film seemed strange and intriguing, so I decided to probe a bit further into what the movie was all about. My interview with Jakob is below. But first, how about a more official synopsis (and a trailer):

Guerino, a cowboy from Italy, travels to Shanghai in search of his sister Elisa, who was working as a model in China but mysteriously vanished. In Shanghai, Guerino finds an unlikely ally in Jieikai, a local Chinese, whose girlfriend also mysteriously disappeared while working in the same modeling agency. During their search to uncover the truth, they are dragged into a dark world of criminality, corruption and human smuggling affairs. When things take a bad turn and innocent people start getting killed left and right, Guerino takes the matter into his own hands in order to save his sister before it’s too late… Driven by his thirst for vengeance and his desire for justice, he vows to take down every single link to this chain of smuggling affair following his one and only rule: kick first, ask questions later. . . 

From the interview:

LLW: What was your interest in melding the Spaghetti Western-Kung Fu Action genres? Do you think there are similarities between the two styles?

JM: The Spaghetti Western and the Martial Arts Eastern are, from a plot point of view, actually quite similar. Usually they have a lead actor who ends up fighting someone much bigger than him, out of personal conflict or due to a need for help — or simply for money. There are, of course, differences in the sets, the actual action and some more things. For example, Spaghetti Westerns from Leone have the famous stare-downs, because the actual shooting is quite quick – one shot and the enemy is down; whereas martial arts are exciting through the moves and stunts. We combine those two and mash them up.

The last mashup in this style that I’ve seen was the Sukiyaki Western Django, but there they used guns and shot and shot and shot … I didn’t like that very much. I think using martial arts in a Western that’s shot in the East is much more exciting.

LLW: It’s interesting to me that Leone’s Dollars Trilogy kicked off with a remake of the Japanese filmYojimbo. These films all seem to mix up Asian and European directors, actors and locations; and use principally a North American “Western” concept of cowboys and gunslingers — does this say something about the universality of these themes and how they are accepted and understood across cultures? How do you think that plays out in Shangdown?

JM: I think the typical David versus Goliath concept appeals to the audience, and Akira Kurosawa’s films are pretty much quoted in every western, whether on purpose or not. I wonder where he got his inspiration from. It doesn’t matter where you are, what culture you’re in, if you see someone fighting or tricking out someone bigger than himself, it’s exciting.

My personal favorite Kurosawa film is The Seven Samurai, which was also remade into the Western The Magnificent Seven, and the topic of it is simply honor. The honorable samurai take on a huge enemy knowing that they wont make it, but try anyway, to help the poor village people. It’s fun to see that! Tragic in the end, but fun! John Woo’s Hong Kong films have the very same topic, but he transfered it into the cops of the southern metropolis. In a way, he’s referencing The Seven Samurai at the end ofHard Boiled, when Chow Yun-Fat saves the baby from the exploding hospital.

Also, 2010 and 2011, with stuff like Cowboys & Aliens from Iron Man director Jon Favreau, are years of the cowboy comeback. Even videogames sell cowboys well; look at Red Dead Redemption, pretty much the best game of the year. Cowboys are really “in” again and martial arts will always be.

I don’t think Jakob Montrasio really understands spaghetti westerns very well. He says that they are about”fighting or tricking out someone bigger than [the hero]”. There is usually a bit more going on than that, I think. The heroes not only meet their equals, but they are knocked down and humbled a bit (think of all the beatings of the hero in almost every spaghetti western). But that is okay. Shangdown – Way of the Spur looks like it might be fun, though the images of an American in a black duster and cowboy hat in Shanghai are a little out-of-place. This movie might be worth checking out, though. There has been a resurgence of the Spaghetti-inspired western in straight-to-streaming-video b-movies over the past few years. Some have been decent.

 

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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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Jandê Saavedra Farias Short “Lindonéia – Western Comics”

Art and animation for the comic book sequences in the short film “Lindonéia” by Tainá Vital and Raquel Gandra. Inspired by old italian Tex comics.

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More Spaghetti Western Comics “Marvel Tries To Revive the Western… With a Side of Spaghetti”

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Once Upon A Time In The West In Comics  had a nice blog post about Spaghetti western inspired comic books from the 1970s, including an entire story about Caleb Hammer.

During the 1970’s, DC had unleashed a string of Western comics that drew from the spirit of the Italian western films. Although they also reprinted earlier stories of heroes like Pow-Wow Smith and Johnny Thunder, they had introduced more contemporary charcters like Jonah Hex, Scalphunter and Bat Lash.

Marvel, on the other hand, had produced a nearly endless string of reprints of Kid Colt, Rawhide Kid, Two-Gun Kid and Outlaw Kid. Their new Western comics were usually a new story featuring one of their old, Atlas heroes backed up by reprints of their old, Atlas heroes. They introduced Red Wolf, but his adventures were formulaic, and very similar to Atlas’ Apache Kid.

In 1980, Marvel tried to introduce a new style of Western hero. Well, new to Marvel. Caleb Hammer has the look and feel of an Italian Western. Caleb bears more than a passing resemblance to a certain high plains Drifter. And, if it reminds you a little bit of a DC Western from 10 years before, it may be because it was inked by Tony DeZuniga, the original artist on DC’s Jonah Hex.

From 1980’s Marvel Premiere #54, we have “The Coming of Caleb Hammer” by Peter B. Gillis, pencilled by Gene Day and inked by Tony DeZuniga.

 

This earlier post contains an entire early Jonah Hex story:

The recurring heroes in Western comics were traditionally cut from heroic cloth. Guys like Red Ryder, The Lemonade Kid, NightHawk… Maybe some of them wore masks, but they weren’t outlaws or bandits, just guys with secret identities. And even the guys who were “outlaws” were never really bad. Guys like The Rawhide Kid, Kid Colt, The Outlaw Kid, the Two-Gun Kid (Weren’t there any grown-ups in the West?) were branded as outlaws, but they were all falsely accused.

Sure, there were a few misfits, mostly Indians or “half-breed” characters who weren’t accepted by the folks they tried to help. But the reader knew about their troubled, noble hearts and so that was okay.

This approach lasted from the Golden Age of the late 30’s all the way through the 1960’s. And then, in 1971, a new type of hero began to surface in the fabric of American Western comics. The ANTI-hero. What’s an anti-hero?

“In fiction, an antihero is generally considered to be a protagonist whose character is at least in some regards conspicuously contrary to that of thearchetypal hero, and is in some instances its antithesis.” – Wikipedia

Jonah Hex is not a typical hero. He is not handsome (although he may have been once). He is not noble (He kills men for money). Jonah Hex is a horribly disfigured Confederate veteran who makes his living as a bounty hunter. And he’s mean. Plumb, mad-dog mean.

Enjoy his debut in All-Star Western #10, “Welcome to Paradise”

 

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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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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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