Spaghetti westerns and politics


(scherpschutter) #1

My ghost is haunting the Net or my double is lost in space:

http://fistfulofpasta.com/index.php?go=articles/spagpolitics1


(lordradish) #2

As he doesn’t start robbing banks and murdering people you should probably be ok.


(Tigrero) #3

Great article very interesting and informative. It is stuff like this which helps me review my SWs in a new light and the more I understand them the better I can enjoy them. Thanks for that Scherp. Much, much appreciate the time and effort you put in to producing top quality reviews and articles. Always a good read.


(Col. Douglas Mortimer) #4

Great job


(Jack Burns) #5

Interesting essay. Supports my case that there’s much more to spaghetti films than what a lot of American reviewers are willing to admit. I recently read a review of western films produced in the U.S. that didn’t include a single spaghetti film.

The reason? “I don’t like them and didn’t want to include them.”

Okay, but shouldn’t any serious attempt at reviewing western film include some representation or some statement about why an entire genre was excluded?


(lordradish) #6

To be fair (as an American reviewer myself), much of what scherp writes of in his articles is not known to many Americans. THere are lots of things he wrote about that I would have never picked up upon with my limited knowledge of Euro politics. It’s a cultural lens, really, because those who love the John Fords and such can probably pick out their own political/cultural underlyings as well.


(Stanton) #7

Very interesting reading, Scherp, indeed.

(Oh, and you should possibly change Fabio Questi (of Fabio Testi fame) to Giulio Questi on page 2. :-*
A good one. :wink: )


(scherpschutter) #8

[quote=“stanton, post:7, topic:1013”]Very interesting reading, Scherp, indeed.

(Oh, and you should possibly change Fabio Questi (of Fabio Testi fame) to Giulio Questi on page 2. :-*
A good one. :wink: )[/quote]

Right, having trouble with names lately …


(Trinity) #9

A great article that confirms a number of my own suspicions concerning the meaning of some of the Spaghetti Westerns under discussion.

Scherpschutter (or anyone else), are you aware of any other books, articles or papers that discuss Spaghetti Westerns in this kind of social and political context? Please post details of them if so. I’d like to check them out.


(Romaine Fielding) #10

Scherps, that is a really great piece of writing.
You said: “films tend to reflect more the period in which they are made than the period they describe.” This is understood about American westerns by many fans but, as Lordradish said, Americans (myself included) lack the cultural awareness and linguistic ability to see and understand the context in which Spaghettis were created and viewed. Your article helps to create a bridge for us toward that context.
I recently read an article called “A Forkful Of Westerns: Industry, Audiences and the Italian Western” by Christopher Wagstaff (it is in a book called European Popular Cinema). It approaches the cultural milieu that you describe from a somewhat more economic framework and makes crucial distinctions between types of Spaghettis. I won’t get into it here but to briefly expound: Wagstaff makes a distinction between films meant to appeal to a “mass” audience (more high quality films that appeal to all classes, across the board- that play at prima visione theaters) and films made for a “popular” audience (lower quality films produced to be played at terza visione theaters). He recognizes the Italian north/south divide as do you. He draws many interesting conclusions. Have you read this article? I was planning to summarize it in a post I hope to make, about all things, Anthony Steffen!
Anyway, great work on your article! 8)


(Phil H) #11

[quote=“Romaine Fielding, post:10, topic:1013”]I recently read an article called “A Forkful Of Westerns: Industry, Audiences and the Italian Western” by Christopher Wagstaff (it is in a book called European Popular Cinema). It approaches the cultural milieu that you describe from a somewhat more economic framework and makes crucial distinctions between types of Spaghettis. I won’t get into it here but to briefly expound: Wagstaff makes a distinction between films meant to appeal to a “mass” audience (more high quality films that appeal to all classes, across the board- that play at prima visione theaters) and films made for a “popular” audience (lower quality films produced to be played at terza visione theaters). He recognizes the Italian north/south divide as do you. He draws many interesting conclusions. Have you read this article? I was planning to summarize it in a post I hope to make, about all things, Anthony Steffen!
Anyway, great work on your article! 8)[/quote]

I, for one, would be very interested in hearing a summary of that article. Sounds useful.


(scherpschutter) #12

I haven’t read that article, like Phil looking forward to a summary.

I think Frayling talks about these things (mass audiences versus popular audiences etc.) ; Frayling talks about all kind of things, most of them very interesting, but like somebody said on this forum a short time ago, his book isn’t that easy to read.


(Romaine Fielding) #13

[quote=“scherpschutter, post:12, topic:1013”]I haven’t read that article, like Phil looking forward to a summary.

I think Frayling talks about these things (mass audiences versus popular audiences etc.) ; Frayling talks about all kind of things, most of them very interesting, but like somebody said on this forum a short time ago, his book isn’t that easy to read.[/quote]

Yeah, there are long stretches of opaque prose in Frayling’s book. He recognizes this and, in one of the newer forwards (there are several forwards), he says that if he were to re-write the book today he would make it, in effect, more accessible. But, he says the book really reflects the time in which it was written and, for better or worse, he used the critical tools available to him. It was actually in one of his forwards that I saw a reference to the book containing the essay I mentioned by Wagstaff. I spent 40 bucks to buy the book just to read this essay. I don’t regret it because, for me, info of this type is hard to come by.
You and others on this site have helped to educate me beyond the dearth of written critical info about Spaghettis and their times.


(Romaine Fielding) #14

Scherps,
I have a question for you about a comment you made in your essay regarding Companeros.
You said it is a "much darker, pessimistic movie (than the Mercenary), ending with Nero’s famous suicidal attack, screaming the line ‘let’s go and kill, compañeros’"
I did not take that away from my viewing(s). I thought it was more optimistic than The Mercenary in that Nero decided to stay and embrace the “Cause”. I interpreted his “charge” to be a return TO the revolutionaries (which may or may not prove to be ultimately suicidal!) so that he could fight alongside them. I did not think that he charged INTO the approaching Mexican army (which would have been suicidal).
Is it a common understanding that his was, in fact, a suicidal death charge?


(scherpschutter) #15

[quote=“Romaine Fielding, post:14, topic:1013”]Scherps,
I have a question for you about a comment you made in your essay regarding Companeros.
You said it is a "much darker, pessimistic movie (than the Mercenary), ending with Nero’s famous suicidal attack, screaming the line ‘let’s go and kill, compañeros’"
I did not take that away from my viewing(s). I thought it was more optimistic than The Mercenary in that Nero decided to stay and embrace the “Cause”. I interpreted his “charge” to be a return TO the revolutionaries (which may or may not prove to be ultimately suicidal!) so that he could fight alongside them. I did not think that he charged INTO the approaching Mexican army (which would have been suicidal).
Is it a common understanding that his was, in fact, a suicidal death charge?[/quote]

You are right, he returns to the revolutionaries, he doesn’t ride into the army, so the term ‘suicidal attack’ is wrong
The point is that this return was (and maybe still is) interpreted as an act of self-sacrifice: there’s very little hope for a revolution when the wealth of the revolutionary community is a few ears of corn, and it’s clear that they will be blown away soon by the army. The film was especially popular in France and interpreted as an allegory on the '68 student uprising that had failed, due to a shortage of means (they had money nor weapens, only a revolutionary fervour, like these revolutionaries). But of course other interpretations, more optimistic ones for example, are possible.

I’ll rewatch the film carefully soon


(Hud) #16

I like the end sequence of Companeros because it’s open to so many interpretations, “optimistic”, “pessimistic” and beyond. If freedom is possible it comes with a price, but what price exactly? Not offering easy answers is a wise choice from Corbucci’s somewhat boyish adventure. Yod & co are ready to sacrifice themselves but for me their behavior doesn’t seem really suicidal - at least it’s different from THE WILD BUNCH and other guys with heavy “something to do with death” attitudes. The companeros are heavily outnumbered but that’s not an impossible situation for SW/Corbucci heroes, these two managed to put down all of Mongo’s troops and there’s still a Gatling gun in town…

Just look at the wildly happy face of Nero as he rides back, the look of a guy who has just got a big monkey off his back. What is it that makes him tick, newfound “ethics”, a political ideal, buddies sharing the same fighting spirit or just appetite for destruction? In my interpretation the key is that his actions turn impulsive in contrast to his earlier choices & alliances which were similarly quick but much more calculated and rational (or “cynical” if you will) and not really unusual for the genre. Continuing scherpshutter’s French connection, one could describe his final actions as existentialism or just acting crazy. What I find interesting is how Corbucci closes the tale with an act of “anti-cynicism” without resorting to sentimentality. TEPEPA and BULLET FOR THE GENERAL do something similar with the protagonists finally discovering their allies as enemies, here it has more to do with friendship, which feels to me like leaning towards optimism.


(scherpschutter) #17

[quote=“Hud, post:16, topic:1013”]I like the end sequence of Companeros because it’s open to so many interpretations, “optimistic”, “pessimistic” and beyond. If freedom is possible it comes with a price, but what price exactly? Not offering easy answers is a wise choice from Corbucci’s somewhat boyish adventure. Yod & co are ready to sacrifice themselves but for me their behavior doesn’t seem really suicidal - at least it’s different from THE WILD BUNCH or other guys with heavy “something to do with death” attitudes. The companeros are heavily outnumbered but that’s not an impossible situation for SW/Corbucci heroes, these two recently put down all of Mongo’s troops and there’s still a Gatling gun in town…

Just look at the wildly happy face of Nero as he rides back, the look of a guy who has just got rid of a big monkey in his back. What is it that makes him tick, newfound “ethics”, a political ideal, buddies sharing the same fighting spirit or just appetite for destruction? In my interpretation the key is that his actions turn impulsive in contrast to his earlier choices & alliances which were similarly quick but much more calculated and rational (or “cynical” if you will) and not really unusual for the genre. Continuing scherpshutter’s French connection, one could describe his final actions as an existential moment or just acting crazy. What I find interesting is how Corbucci closes the tale with an act of “anti-cynicism” without resorting to sentimentality. TEPEPA and BULLET FOR THE GENERAL do something similar with the protagonists finally discovering their allies as enemies, here it has more to do with friendship, which feels to me like leaning towards optimism.[/quote]

You’re right about this, Hud
I think the pessimistic reading was typical for the moment : shortly after may ‘68, French students adopting the movie as a sort of funeral march of some sixties’ ideas …
Those interpretations were in the air
We’re living in a different world today, the film is still with us, and the end is open for new interpretations …
The next time i’ll watch it, I’ll try to do that with a fresh mind


(Mortimer) #18

Scherpschutter I read your article a while ago but only came across this thread today. I am very pleased that you wrote the article and it is included on a prominent spaghetti western site.

I’m certainly troubled by US-centric reviews and analyses of these films. Clearly thier relation to American western films and how they subvert the conventions of those earlier works is important but the ‘serious’ or ‘top tier’ spaghettis can only be understood when the fact that they are Italian films made at a certain time by (mostly) intellectual men of (generally) a certain age group.

I also often find it funny when people critique these films with regard to realism: how closely they conform to the realities of the US civil war, Mexican revolution, or even how many bullets are in a gun. One easy blanket statement of this genre is that it is anti-realist. Also most of the film makers probably knew little of US history and cared less. For example of all the post-civil war films why no depictions of ‘the reconstrucion’ and the place of slaves and former slaves — clearly a central issue in any realist scenario.

For these reasons I avoid the non-academic tomes about the eurowestern. I am very tempted to purchase the new Alex Cox book but wonder, as I have not seen this mentioned, does he place his anylses in the proper Italian historical context?

And an opinion question for you Mr. Scherpschutter: what is your opinion about how big of a role Spaniards played in the creation of these works? Do you think Franco and the Spanish Civil war is addressed in significant SW films?

Thanks. I look forward to your thoughts.


(scherpschutter) #19

The Spanish input - including any possible references to the spanish Civil war - is still unreclaimed territory, I would say. Still, we have been discussing it:

http://www.spaghetti-western.net/forum/index.php?topic=2348.0

I remember A Bullet for Sandoval was based on a legend of Spanish bandoleros in Napoleontic times, and originally was set in those days too, they only decided to make a western (set on both sides of the Mexican-American border) of it for commercial reasons. If they had references in mind to more ‘contemporary’ events, I guess the Spanish Civil war is a more logical choice than the Mexican revolution.

I haven’t seen Killer Kid, but the credit sequence of Run Man Run reminded me of Picasso’s Guernica. If it’s a reference it’s a rather vague one, but I just got the idea when watching it;

Most Zapata westerns were directed by Italians (Damiani, Corbucci, Petroni) and I don’t think they ever had the Spanish Civil war in mind. Mexico was seen as a third world country (and left-wing intelectuals like to identify with the Third World) and furthermore the Mexican Revolution served as a metaphor for the revolutionary ideas that were in the air during the sixties among intellectuals in Southern-European countries. The Spanish Civil war had attracted attention, and young left-wing intellectuals from other countries, but it had failed, Spain was ruled by a dictator now. Those left-wing intellectuals hoped for a better, socialist future (at least in the days before May '68). France, Italy and Germany formed the heart of left-wing Europe in those days, the most influential philosophers (some still living, some from a recent past) were Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Marcuse, Bergson, Adorno. Spain was not of crucial importance to most intellectuals. Spanish artists of major importance, like Buñuel and Picasso, were working outside Spain.

Note: I’d like to repeat that I’m not an expert on Spain and its history. I only recently started to study the language (it’s still some kind of imperfect Italian to me) and I hope to fill this gap in the future.


(Silence) #20

Read this in your review at Fistfull of Pasta. A Bullet For Sandoval is really one of my all-time favorite Spaghs and it really does feel more Spanish than anything else!