Realism in spaghetti westerns?


(Silvanito) #1

Would be interesting to discuss which aspects of SWs that can be called ‘realistic’, I don’t think we’ve had a thread about it before

I’ve always felt most of the settings and scenery in SWs had an authentic feel; the shanty towns, muddy streets, the Almeria locations doubling for Arizona and New Mexico (even if I’ve never been there myself :o ) and so on

Also many of the costumes of the characters seems fairly ‘genuine’ and above all dusty and worn

What’s not ‘realistic’ in SWs is the operatic style, the larger-than-life characters, the wild situations and humour, the prolonged rituals

The overall grittiness and violent nature of SWs is what many have said is more realistic compared to the classical western though

The ambiguity of the SW anti-heroes is another thing

Comments?


(Silence) #2

I’d say just about nothing is realistic about SWs ;D. But more realistic than the older 50’s ones. Or just as realistic…


(Chris_Casey) #3

It is incredibly tough to generalize about things like this, because it can change on a film to film basis.
However, generally speaking, the Spaghetti Westerns were (are) MUCH more realistic than most of their Hollywood counterparts.
But, their realism, or perhaps historical accuracy, was relegated to chiefly visual aspects and characterizations.

As Lindberg has pointed out, the towns in Spaghetti Westerns are more realistic than the average “old West” town you would see in a Hollywood film.

The attitudes of the people, or characters, in SW’s are absolutely more real than the average “code of the west” or “manifest destiny” types you see in a lot (not all!) American Westerns (pre-1967).

And the Spaghetti Westerns definitely deserve higher marks for their costuming! Old West historian Bob Boze Bell (editor of True West magazine) has told me several times that up until the Leone films came out, the costuming in Westerns was somewhere “between almost right and ridiculously wrong”. Once Leone hit the scene with Simi’s more period authentic costuming—Western movie clothing was, happily, never the same.

So, the Spaghetti Westerns might not be “realistic” from a story standpoint, or an action standpoint—but, more often than not the “universe” in which these unrealistic events occur is rooted in enough realism to make the occasional incongruencies more than palatable.
My favorite example of what I mean by all of this is Corbucci’s DJANGO. The film has highly realistic, period authentic costumes. The town is an incredibly accurate depiction of a true old West town. Most streets of actual old west towns were seas of mud (hence boardwalks, etc.). The mud was not always due to weather conditions, by the way, it was really due to a combination of animal urine (horses, cattle, mules, donkeys, etc.) and other things. Some towns had crews that went around putting down water, and sometimes even oil, in an effort to keep dust down.
So, we have realistic costumes and sets…but, then there is the classic scene where Django whips out the Spanish Civil War era machine gun out of his coffin and mows down a slew of Major Jackson’s Klansmen! That scene is, indeed, brilliant…but, it encompasses all of the delightfully unrealistic elements at work in the film. The coffin as a means of transporting one’s belongings isn’t very realistic, or practical, but it is cool as hell! A machine gun like Django uses would not be invented for at least another 30, maybe even 40 years, after the period of time the story takes place, and so on.
But, it is the mix of the real and unreal that makes films like DJANGO so marvelous!

Oh…and I wanted to mention that the Spanish locations do, indeed, provide very real substitutes for Arizona, New Mexico, and even Mexico. Christopher Frayling has said that Almeria looks nothing like Arizona; but, he is ridiculously wrong! I live in Arizona and I have been to Almeria many times—and they are much more alike than they are different. I think the only places in Arizona that Frayling has been to are Phoenix and the Grand Canyon, and maybe Tucson. He has undoubtedly never been to the area around Yuma or even here near Tombstone or he would never have made such a stupid statement.
Also, many of the Italian locations used in SW’s look reasonably like parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Colorado.

There are no films, American or Italian, that get it 100% real every time; but, why would any film fan want it that way in the first place?
If you want 100% realism—well, you shouldn’t be watching movies.


(Starblack) #4

I concur with Chris’s excellent summary above.

It’s the mix of the credible - the cynicism of the characters, the worn-out quality of the clothing, the, ahem, ‘ugliness’ of many of the supporting players, the shabbiness of many of the settings - with the anachronistic - much of the weaponry – and the far-out and fantastical that makes SWs so fascinating and enjoyable.

If they had been either strictly realistic or purely unrealistic, I doubt they would have such a following.


(Silvanito) #5

Thanks for your input Chris

I wondered if the Italian locations used in SWs looked anything like America, but according to you they’re an ok substitute, good to know

Of course there’s also a certain difference between films in this genre, I mean Tepepa and Bullet for the General probably seem a bit more realistic than Sabata or Sartana for example :o ;D


(Chris_Casey) #6

Absolutely correct!
Funny you should mention BULLET FOR THE GENERAL—yesterday I was talking with a Mexican friend of mine. I had loaned him a copy of that movie to watch. I just wanted to get his opinion of it…seeing as how he is Mexican and his great Grandparents fought in the revolution of Zapata and Villa.
He said he really liked the film and he wanted to know what part of Mexico it was filmed in! When I told him the movie was shot in Almeria, Spain—he was truly amazed. So, I think that says a lot for the realistic aspects of that particular film!


(Silence) #7

Nice!


(Reverend Danite) #8

This grittiness is what has drawn me to them. :stuck_out_tongue:

These aspects are also what draws me to them. :wink:

The “ambiguity” of the hero/antihero, as you’ve hinted, is a major element. The ‘inbetweeness’ of our Men with No Name (or indeed with a name) makes them so. Instead of the white/black and good/evil delineation of character that many American westerns became, the spaghetti westerns play in a more ambiguous and grey area. As the zombie, vampire or android play in the inbetweeness of life and death (neither fully alive or completely dead), they become the objects that disrupt our understanding of these concepts.
The stranger also acts between opposing forces - between families and feuds, (and between El Indio and Col. Mortimer) in the best of them. He brings disruption and uncertainty to the balance of life and death in the best or most interesting films of the genre.

I agree with Chris about Django as well. I’ve heard (somewhere - shobary?) that the gun he takes apart with his teeth couldn’t have that done to it (I must check this), and Franco Nero says of that opening shot, that dragging the (presumably empty) coffin through the mud was incredibly tiring. Having the gun in it would have made it impossible.
Don’t care!! It is the fantasy rooted in the realism that makes the genre so stylish 8) and ideosyncratic. When the mix is right it becomes sublime. When it’s wrong though you get Trinity bollocks!


(Col. Douglas Mortimer) #9

The most unrealistic aspect of SW’s in my opinion were the gunfights and showdowns, which were almost nothing like the real thing.

Also in the real west, there was alot of buffalo roaming around, of course you never see that in westerns.

One realistic aspect of the SW is the amorality of the characters, as already mentioned in this thread.


(Chris_Casey) #10

[quote=“Col. Douglas Mortimer, post:9, topic:2167”]The most unrealistic aspect of SW’s in my opinion were the gunfights and showdowns, which were almost nothing like the real thing.

Also in the real west, there was alot of buffalo roaming around, of course you never see that in westerns.[/quote]

You are right about the showdowns. But, that is true of any Western regardless of its country of origin.
In the real old West there are only a tiny handful of documented gun battles that even come close to what we would call a gunfight in the movie sense. The closest thing to the face to face at high noon gunfight in the real West that I have run across is the street fight between Wild Bill Hickok and Dave Tutt that occurred on July 21, 1865 in Springfield, Missouri. In this confrontation, the two enemies faced each other in the town square and fired at each other. However, they both already had their guns in their hands—there was no fast drawing done.
The famous gunfight at the OK Corral was another face to face encounter; but, again, most of the people involved in that fight already had their guns in their hands. There are a few other face to face encounters on record, but I can’t remember any of them, at the moment.
But, even though there were a few of these kind of fights—nobody ever strolled down main street at high noon with their pistol in a low-slung holster to meet another man like you see in the movies.
Most of the time in the old West—people that wanted to kill somebody else with a gun generally snuck up on them and shot them from behind. Or waited to ambush them (“dry gulching”). Then, there are the countless shootings that happened inside Saloons, Variety Theaters, and other “Bawdy Houses”—those were general chaotic free-for-alls, descriptions of which remind me of the shoot-out near the end of Corbucci’s THE SPECIALIST or the beginning of Sam Peckinpah’s THE WILD BUNCH.

And here is a historical tidbit for you, amigos…
In the Old West the term “gunfighter” did not exist!
Men who made their way with a gun were known as “pistoleers”, “pistoleros” (only in the Southwestern territories, and southern Texas), or simply “gunmen”. There is some argument among historians as to when the term “gunfighter” came into use; but, most agree it began widely circulating in the early part of the 20th century.

Now, about the Buffalo, or Bison, or whatever you want to call them…
You are only sort of right there, Colonel my amigo.
I agree that if you have a Western movie story that takes place from the late 1850’s until the mid 1870’s in what we would now call the Plains States…then, great seas of Buffalo would be highly appropriate to see in the background. But, of course, we rarely, if ever, see that in such Westerns because there are so few Buffalo living today (that aren’t a part of a game reserve, or something). Occasionally, a film comes along where they show a few buffalo roaming around or a small herd grazing in a field; but, there hasn’t been many, if any, films that show anything like the massive herds one would have encountered in the days of the real Old West!
It has been estimated that around 1850 there were about 75 million buffalo in the United States! They were located only in prairie areas from West of the Mississippi River down to Mexico. However, there were a lot less buffalo located in the desert areas of Arizona, Southern California, or New Mexico (which is where a lot of SW stories take place).
Also, by the time most Western movies take place (late 1870’s and into the 1900’s)–the buffalo population was already endangered and dwindling.


(Chris_Casey) #11

That is correct.
Some pistols did have screw-in trigger guards in those days; but, not very many. And even if they did have them, there was no way anybody was going to be able to loosen them with their teeth.
But, who cares? It is a damn cool thing to see! And the viewer, generally speaking, buys it because the settings, etc., feel so real!

Precisely, Reverend my brother!!


(Yodlaf Peterson) #12

[quote=“Chris_Casey, post:6, topic:2167”]Absolutely correct!
Funny you should mention BULLET FOR THE GENERAL—yesterday I was talking with a Mexican friend of mine. I had loaned him a copy of that movie to watch. I just wanted to get his opinion of it…seeing as how he is Mexican and his great Grandparents fought in the revolution of Zapata and Villa.
He said he really liked the film and he wanted to know what part of Mexico it was filmed in! When I told him the movie was shot in Almeria, Spain—he was truly amazed. So, I think that says a lot for the realistic aspects of that particular film![/quote]interesting


(korano) #13

This is a topic that has always caught my eye when watching Spaghettis. I’ve seen a lot of those old photographs and am somewhat intrigued to see that most of those old westerners mostly wore bowlers or homburgs than cowboy hats.

Corbucci’s westerns often have a feel of realism, mostly in location and such. Sonny and Jed has a very realistic look to it. It’s filmed in almeria but sometime in the winter so most characters wear big poofy coats made of animal skins and such. The towns seem rundown a bit. And the character of Jed will steal anything and fences it. Pigs, cows, money, etc. Much more practical and accurate. In a lot of Spaghettis, they always go for the “it can’t be done” job. Using ridiculous means such as acrobats and train tracks. Also, the treatment of Sonny seems more in tune with the sexism of the old west.

But many a good Spaghetti lives comfortably in the realm of magical realism. Blindman especially. As well as Sabata