The Spaghetti West (IFC Original Documentary / 2005)

From DVD Talk
The Spaghetti West - An IFC Original Documentary
Docurama // Unrated // $26.95 // June 26, 2007
Review by David Walker | posted June 8, 2007

The Film:
I have to admit that I went into this documentary with more than my fair share of apprehension. Promoted as “a celebration of the classic Italian westerns of the 1960s,” this documentary, produced for IFC, was going to have to go a long way to impress me.

Without sounding like some sort of snob–which I may or may not be, depending on who you talk to–I am, if little else a die-hard fan of spaghetti westerns. I know a lot of people who also claim to be fans of westerns produced in Europe, primarily by Italians. But most of these people are nothing more than fans of Sergio Leone, the filmmaker most closely associated with the genre. And while Leone’s reputation as one of the premiere directors of Italian westerns is well deserved, and appreciation of his films does not a spaghetti western fan make. It is when can start talking about the other Sergios–Corbucci, Sollima and Martino–as well as people like Enzo Castellari, Damiano Damiani, Ennio Morricone, Tomas Milian and Franco Nero, that you can really start to call yourself a fan of Italian westerns.

The Spaghetti West offers a fast-paced tutorial to the European produced westerns that emerged out of Italy in the early 1960s, and quickly grew in popularity, spawning over 500 entries in the genre within a decade’s time. Leone’s Fistful of Dollars is the film that launched the craze, and it helped catapult an actor named Clint Eastwood from television star to international movie star. The tremendous popularity of Leone’s first western opened a floodgate that gave rise to and entire generation of Italian directors and stars.

Written, produced and directed by David Gregory, who clearly knows his subject matter, The Spaghetti West is a crash course for anyone who knows little to nothing about the genre, but it also offers some interesting background for diehard fans who think they know everything. Gregory’s documentary is rich with clips from a wide variety of films–most of them well-known to fans of the genre–as well as a wealth of interviews. Some of the interviews are older, as filmmakers like Leone and Corbucci have been long dead. But more recent conversations with aging filmmakers offer even greater insight into the work they did, as well as the genre itself. Damiano is very adamant that his seminal work A Bullet for the General was not a western, but rather a political film. Sollima, whose work was always uncompromising and politically charged, comes across as a grouchy old man who takes great insult at the term “spaghetti western.” And Casterelli, whose film Keoma was one of the last great spaghetti westerns, succinctly sums up the difference between Italian and American westerns when he explains, “The issue of morality belongs to the American western.”

The Spaghetti West is presented in widescreen, with various different aspect ratios. Most of the film clips that appear throughout the documentary appear to have been mastered from very good sources, with clean transfers and vibrant colors. Audio:
The Spaghetti West is presented Dolby Digital stereo.

There are no bonus features.

Final Thoughts:
The Spaghetti West is a solid documentary that manages to be amazingly comprehensive for only clocking in at less than 55 minutes. In fact, if the film has any true flaw it’s that it runs too short. You could spend the entire run time of this documentary focusing solely on Leone or Corbucci, and in covering them and so much else, The Spaghetti West can feel a bit rushed. More than anything, the documentary itself feels like something that would turn up as a bonus feature on some other disc. Fans of Italian westerns will enjoy the film, and probably find reason to watch it more than once. Those that are unfamiliar with the genre, or only know the work of Leone will definitely get a lot out of The Spaghetti West. The problem, however, is that it is difficult to encourage people to buy a film like this, which is less than an hour long, and has no bonus features. So while the film is most definitely worth watching, I’d be hard-pressed to spend my hard-earned money buying a copy.


This is mainly compilation of interviews from several dvd’s. If you have all the Anchor Bay and Blue-underground releases there’s not that much new stuff to see. Worth watching but I wouldn’t spend my money on it.

You’ve obviously seen it. Where did you screen it?

It originally aired on IFC when they ran a string of spaghetti westerns. It’s been available exclusively on their website for a long time (like over a year). I rented it through netflix at that time. It a single layer disc. I agree with the not spending money on it comment. It’s something you should see included as an extra on a disc with an actual movie on it. It’s been available for some time but only through exclusive sources.

BTW Jack great avatar, I love Townes Van Zandt. I live in the same county in Tennessee he did before he died. A friend of mine delivered flowers to his home and got him to sign a CD for me. Best songwriter ever!


I had watched a documentary on the genre last night and had learnt so much!!! I’m excited… :heart_eyes:

Somebody in it gave the genre modes throughout its history: the first was characterized by a Take That! at the American western, so the Dollars trilogy, the second being the descent into more offbeat approaches like A Bullet For The General or Shoot The Living and Pray For The Dead, and the third – with Keoma and them – being the genre’s twilight days, when the towns looked more gloomy. Someone said there was something to that: by the time of Keoma and those mid-70s westerns, all them cool western sets was torn down or otherwise abandoned, so they had to work with what was left. The consensus of the genre’s “death” was chalked up to the comedy-western – what Trinity did, because up to that point, audiences couldn’t take the genre serious no more. They said that Leone ain’t get comical westerns… which I thought was typical, lol.

But actually, while I was learning, I actually get Leone now, and all them creators. I loved Duck, You Sucker, it’s my favorite Leone joint, but I always noted that it was more gloomy than the earlier westerns he’d done. OUaTiTW is the same way. And everyone else’s movies, like And God Said To Cain or, something I just watched, The Price of Power. All them folks’ movies got gloomier as time went on, and I chalked all that stuff up to, like, melodrama, deliberate edginess, cringed at it and moved on. But it’s really something I ain’t take into account: 90% of these creators saw the horrors of war, saw the horrors of political unrest, so, it was almost like… “vent art”; they expressed their pain. It’s these folks’ battered, trying-to-heal hearts on a platter. It’s literally like us American creators at that time, what with Vietnam and Civil Rights and all this other stuff. I don’t know how I ain’t take all that into account… anywho, I’ll probably still not like them darker themes of them movies, but I can certainly understand them now. I’m not so confused no more or – better yet – ignorant, hehe.

I saw some familiar, and much older, faces in the documentary. Some old reviews of Corbucci and Leone, Morricone showed up, Sergio Sollima, some producers and screenwriters, they talked about the flood of character actors from America into Italy of all different nationalities and – for some reason – I was pleasantly surprised to see how well Tomas Milian had aged, lol. Three of them analysts showed up too. Alex Cox, that Howard Hughes (not the airplane man – I know that now, LMAO!!) and the Frayling dude… I don’t really jive wit him but I don’t think that opinion is unpopular here, lol.

Anywho, I thought it’d be nice to hear that the newbie is learning. This the documentary I watched.

Sincerest apologies for gushing… I dearly love to learn. :laughing:

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Hi all,

Just a quick note to let you all know that the 2005 documentary: “The Spaghetti West” will be shown
Saturday morning, 4-5 AM (Pacific) on the IFC channel. It has been shown numerous times on IFC.

Here is a good review…for those of you who have yet to see this documentary:

This engaging docu look at the Italian western film phenomenon was first shown on the IFC (the Independent Film Channel) in conjunction with a cable-TV roundup of top Italo oaters. It’s thorough, academically-oriented and quite lavishly appointed with film clips and interview appearances by top names in the field - twenty or thirty actors, directors, writers and critics. The narrator is Robert Forster.

The Spaghetti western genre is discussed at length by many of the personalities who created it. The Italian film industry in the late 50s and early 60s was enjoying international success with genre-based movies, and began experimenting with home-made westerns after several German-made efforts became popular. Sergio Leone had a breakout hit with 1964’s Fistful of Dollars giving the Italian industry a major boost. One spokesman estimates that for several years, 40% of Italian movies were westerns.

We’re told that the Italian audience was voracious for films and that the Spaghettis didn’t ignore the local market even as they were dubbed into English for export. The producers split costs between European markets, which explains why so many of the films starred a combination of Italian, German, French and Spanish actors. Clint Eastwood describes why he was enticed to Italy to star in a movie, and Leone’s screenwriter Sergio Donati explains that the outrageous copycat mentality resulting in 1,001 imitations of “The Man With No Name” was understandable, considering that the first film had been plagiarized from Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo.

The Spaghetti West shows depth and breadth when it gets into later films in the genre, which from approximately 1965 to 1973 or so went through several major mutations. The Eastwood imitators spawned a fairly original ultra-violent variant in the Django films starring Franco Nero. They were so popular that other filmmakers simply stole the character name for their own films. Distributors retitled Franco Nero films, even a modern detective movie, with the Django name. When Nero exited to America to make Camelot his producers found a dead-ringer lookalike (Terence Hill) and passed him off to their moneymen as more or less the same guy!

The docu then gets into the political Spaghettis, which paralleled the student and worker upheavals that swept Europe (and most everywhere else) in 1968; the mercenary nature of the typical Spaghetti anti-hero fit well into stories about class-warfare revolutions. Not much later, the genre morphed into comedies and self-parodies typified by the team of Bud Spencer and Terence Hill, who came off as a Spaghetti Laurel and Hardy combo.

Sergio Leone’s career is covered, with writer Sergio Donati lamenting the director’s need to make the movies bigger and more spectacular. The docu nominates several movies for the best Spaghetti of all time, with Once Upon a Time in the West an obvious favorite even though it was co-produced by Paramount. Director and Spaghetti fanatic Alex Cox nominates Sergio Corbucci’s The Great Silence for the honor.

The docu’s feature clips come from a variety of sources, sometimes trailers but just as often fairly good transfer materials. Many clips aren’t attributed to specific films, which doesn’t always make a great deal of difference. When it comes down to it, many of them look the same. Some judicious use is made of “original shoot” angles on silhouetted figures and boots walking in sand. Good animated graphics fill in the gaps with colorful posters and ad artwork that give the docu the appearance of covering more films than it actually does.

A hefty list of notables is interviewed. For most viewers the faces and names will be obscure, but even confirmed Spaghetti fans will enjoy remarks by directors they’ve seen rarely, if at all: Ferdinando Baldi, Enzo G. Castellari, Sergio Corbucci, Damiano Damiani, Sergio Martino, Giulio Questi, Sergio Sollima. Most are subtitled in Italian; they all seem to love to talk. Sergio Sollima is a highly entertaining old fellow with a deep raspy voice. A few luminaries like Clint Eastwood and Ennio Morricone appear to come from older filmed interviews. Music rights must have been a real problem for this eclectic show, and most cues heard appear to be new compositions by credited composer Mark Raskin. As the docu skates fairly quickly over individual titles, the lack of recognizable Spaghetti music cues is not missed too badly. We do hear a few bouncy bars from Morricone’s My Name is Nobody score.

I saw this doc many months ago and enjoyed it very much.

I loved this documentary. However, it didn’t focus too much on the other major SW stars such as Lee van Cleef. They interviewed Franco Nero and some SW directors extensively, however.

I seem to be alone in thinking that this was nothing more than a quick cash-in by Anchor Bay and Blue Underground.
I’d say 80% of the interviews depicted were ripped straight from the dvds so I had a “seen it all before feeling” through this doc.
Also, the doc is mainly geared towards newbies.
Veterans of the genre won’t find anything to learn here.

There is a much better doc floating out there somewhere dealing with lesser known spaghettis.
I once had a chance to grab it but ended up not doing it :frowning:

I totally agree with you. There isn’t really anything new to those who have all the BU and Anchor Bay spags. Still, it’s much much better documentary than Koch Media’s Denn Sie Kennen Kein Erbarmen.

Well, the doc was good for me as I’m a lame newbie. That’s why I’m an unarmed gringo and you’re a Deputy :wink:

I guess I disagree with you but I get your points.
Many of the interviews are recycled, you are correct of course. But I thought the film had a decent narrative construction. The various interviews were inserted appropriately in the right spot to talk about the development and evolution of the genre. I am far less knowlegeable that many on this forum but still, I’ve seen about 250 or so Spaghettis. I found it informative and interesting. And, yes, it is pretty basic. But there is a dearth of good video info (as opposed to written info) about Spaghettis so this fills a need. I really enjoyed it and have watched it several times. And if it attracts new fans, all the better.
I loved listening to Ferdinando Baldi. What a charming old coot. And the part of the interview with Enzo Girolami where the only English words he speaks are “Action, action, action” is a moment of distilled insight. That is the essense of Girolami’s films.

The second post I agree with you, Romaine :slight_smile: Incredible :wink:

Well, I didn’t know we disagreed that much, we’re all Spaghetti fans after all. I know I’m pretty opinionated but I don’t take myself too seriously. :slight_smile: I hope I’m not offending anybody.

Is this on any other DVDs or BluRays by the way? How is this available outside the US (where I assume it may still be on Netflix)?