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January 09, 2018

Spaghetti Westerns at the Crossroads

spaghetti westerns xroad book cover.jpg

Spaghetti Westerns at the Crossroads: Studies in Relocation, Transition and Appropriation
Edited by Austin Fisher
Edinburgh University Press - 2016

Crossroads would have been simpler. What we have here are twelve chapters each going in their own direction. Not that any of these chapters are without interest, but the serious film scholar may respond with more questions than answers.

What dominates more than anything else are reminders that the so-called Spaghetti western was usually an international co-production, and the films are the results of cinematic, political and cultural influences that are being analyzed well after the genre has come and gone. Certainly Sergio Leone gets his due, but also two other Sergios - Sollima and Corbucci. Sollima unsurprisingly is cited for his trilogy of films starring Tomas Milian. Corbucci is cited most frequently for his film The Mercenary. For both Cobucci and Sollima, the films in question can be read as political allegories, often taking place during the Mexican Revolution.

Lee Broughton brings attention to the lesser known Giuseppe Colizzi and his films Ace High(1968) and Boot Hill (1969). The two films featured African-American actors Brock Peters and Woody Strode, respectively, in rolls and billing more significant than their work in Hollywood, Broughton also discusses the presentation of black actors in Hollywood westerns prior to shift when "blaxploitation" films were a commercially viable genre.

Genre hybrids are also part of the discussion on the handful (fistful?) of Italian westerns that featured Asian characters, if not Asian actors, as well as the Asian films that showed the influence of the Italian westerns international popularity. Hideo Gosha's Three Outlaw Samurai (1964) is discussed here, although it is the later Goyokin (1969) which arguably shows Gosha working under the spell of Leone. Mentioned in passing is the Euro-western, Five Man Army (1969) which included Tetsuro Tamba, a star of the two Gosha film. That film also included frequent Italian western star Bud Spencer, and was co-written by Dario Argento, one of the several writers for Once Upon a Time in the West.

Less obvious connections are to be made in a survey of Hindi films that transposed aspects of the Italian westerns to contemporary stories. Stretching things further is a discussion on two early films by Pietro Germi, arguing that the use of certain western tropes made the films in question proto-Italian westerns.

Pete Falconer suggests that the Italian western has replaced the classic Hollywood western as defining the genre in popular culture. There are a few films mentioned as "afterlife Westerns", those films made following the demise of the western as a commercially viable genre and how genre conventions have been reworked for a younger audience. If there is a crossroad, then a new map is needed to make sense of the newer films such as Kristian Levring's The Salvation (2014), Sweetwater (2013) - among the period and contemporary westerns of the past decade to star Ed Harris, and the direct to video productions that appear on Netflix.


Posted by Peter Nellhaus at January 9, 2018 10:06 AM