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September 11, 2005

The Spaghetti West

David Gregory - 2005
Independent Film Channel

Call it synergy or cross-promotion but the Independent Film Channel, Netflix and Blue Underground joined forces to produce this survey of Italian Westerns. For those not familiar with Blue Underground, filmmaker William Lustig's company specializes in the DVD release primarily of Italian police and horror thriller, as well as directors as varied as Jesus Franco, Gillian Armstrong and Lustig himself. This overview mostly succeeds in not only giving an overview of so-called "Spaghetti Westerns", but also luring people to add titles to their Netflix list or buy more DVDs.

If you are a fan of the genre, you pretty much are familiar with the history of the films and the main creative people. The one bit of information that was new for me was from film historian Howard Hughes (his real name) pointing out that the genre was initially inspired by the German produced westerns based on the novels by Karl May. As it turns out, Sergio Leone wasn't the only person shooting a western in Spain in 1964. Fistful of Dollars made a fistful of dollars while the other film has since been forgotten. It also is revealed that Fistful of Dollars wasn't released in the United States until 1967 because Akira Kurosawa sued Sergio Leone for re-working Yojimbo without permission. Considering that both have acknowledged the book Red Harvest as their source, the Dashiell Hammett estate seems entitled to some profits as well.

Some of the talking heads include Sergio Martino, Damiano Damiani, Alex Cox, and Clint Eastwood. The genre is presented as going through an evolution from essentially straight-forward genre films such as Leone's Dollars trilogy through the political allegories of such films as A Bullet for the General, with a closing of the genre with infirmed gunfighters (Blindman) and parodies (My Name is Trinity). I was familiar with most of the films excerpted although not all of the clips were captioned with their respective titles. In addition to the Leone-Eastwood trilogy and Once Upon a Time in the West, the other films discussed in some depth included The Great Silence, Bullet for the General, My Name is Nobody and Django. I haven't yet seen any of the Django films, but in addition to making a star out of Franco Nero, there is a scene in the first film that made a big impression on Quentin Tarantino.

The Spaghetti West was narrated by Robert Forster, a guy who never was in a Spaghetti Western, unlike Burt Reynolds and Eli Wallach for example. Forster has appeared in a couple of films by William Lustig which probably explains how he got this gig. It would have been more interesting to have Tomas Milian narrate. As a Cuban born American actor who became a star in Italian films, Milian makes a worthy subject of a documentary. The Spaghetti West has a bit of flavor, a bit of sauce, but not a lot of substance to be truly satisfying.

Posted by peter at September 11, 2005 12:04 AM