I’ve watched this film several times this year. I’m not sure how widely available it is to fans. I got it as part of a eight disc DVD collection in which it is the only film viewable in English (subs, in this case). But I bought the set just to get a copy of this film. Unlike most films talked about in this part of the forum, I won’t worry about “spoilers”. This is something of a documentary (but more).
At first appearances, this seems like a nostalgic look back at the by-gone days of the 1960’s when Spaghetti western production was at its greatest. Director Gianfranco Pannone offers a few of his own personal remembrances but, in the main, the nostalgia is channeled through actor/stuntman Guglielmo Spoletini (aka William Bogart/William Spolt) and his mates (fellow former actors & stuntmen). Through interviews, old film clips & photos, the time and flavor of the Spaghetti western golden age is recalled.
Spoletini is an interesting and charismatic guide to the time. He introduces Pannone to his mates, those with whom he has maintained close friendships that have lasted from the Spaghetti era up to the present day. They are: (Remo Capitani/Ray O’Connors, Paolo Magalotti/Paul Carter, Giovanni Cianfriglia/Ken Wood, Luigi Marturano/Jim Martin, Mauro Mammatrizio/Victor Man, & Franco Daddi/Frank Daddy).
In addition to the interviews, Pannone visits (along with Spoletini) many of the old sites used in and around Rome for filming. Among them are Cinecitta, Elios Film Studios, DePaolis Studios, Villa Mussolini, & Tolfa Gully. All currently exist in some degraded or dilapidated form.
In the interviews, the actors recall the “boom years” of economic growth when money and goods were plentiful to many for the first time. A common theme at this point is how the actors were able to splurge and buy fast, new sports cars. Gino Maturano has this poignant recollection: “I had the same pair of shoes for eight years, changing soles from time to time. As soon as I got the chance I got ten pairs at a time. I felt I needed it.” Pannone says: "Westerns were a pot of gold, everyone wanted to be part of the action, driven by the chance of easy money."
Several of those interviewed talk about the roles they played and how they frequently played Mexicans, often peons. Spoletini relates how he identified with these characters because they reflected his own early experiences of poverty in Rome. Spoletini speaks about his own left-leaning political views and identifies himself as a communist.
As Pannone tours the locations around Rome and Spoletini expounds on the gulf between rich and poor a different aspect of the film begins to emerge, moving it beyond mere nostalgia for a lost time.
Pannone says: “But I was interested in something else. The inexorable advance of the city across empty meadows. Since the 1950’s Rome had never stopped spreading. Swallowing fields, towns, the lives of those who lived here.” In one particularly meaningful composition, Pannone frames a ruined building (perhaps an old location set?) as, in the far distance, a giant construction crane swivels like a enormous pistol and comes to a stop, pointing directly at the ruin.
Guglielmo says: “It made me think of Trastevere when I saw people pushing carts piled with belongings, saying: I’m going because they’ve thrown me out.” Pannone: “Mexico surrounds Rome and the city sits in the center.” Then: "In Mandrione Guglielmo shows me the other side of the economic boom. People excluded from the binge. Immigrants from the south, the Roman sub-proletariat. People for who living meant getting by."
Pannone persuades Guglielmo to participate in a vision he has about another film, dressing him with a poncho and six-gun and hammer & sickle pendant! A hero-for-the-people in a showdown in one of those areas around Rome, overrun by progress. Ultimately, Guglielmo leaves, unconvinced of the viability of the idea.
Pannone thinks he has alienated Guglielmo only to find him enthused in their next meeting with the idea of making a film together. Guglielmo’s idea is interesting but undeveloped beyond the beginning stages of a story. But, with a robust Roman enthusiasm, Guglielmo seeks out two different producers (Peter Berling & Manolo Bolognini) to pitch the idea as Pannone films the encounters. But ultimately, he is unable to convince the money men of the worth of the idea.
Toward the end of the film Guglielmo has a dinner for one of the producers at a family restaurant along with his six mates (who would, along with Guglielmo, star in his movie). It’s an interesting scene to watch as the seven friends interact over food and drinks. Mary Spoletini serves as hostess and sings, a cappella, a lovely but untranslated song that seems to be about spaghetti !
The movie concludes with an image of Pier Paolo Pasolini (from his role in the Spaghetti western Requiescant) intercut with Guglielmo watching as three horsemen (from his movie idea) exit screen “left”.
This is a movie that exists on several different planes, often at the same time. Some might find it a confusing pastiche as if it tries to do too much in its short running time of approximately 75 minutes. But, even as an overtly political film, it has more than enough fine stories and insights to make it a “must see” for Spaghetti fans.