Sunday, June 06, 2004

Spaghetti Westerns For Beginners

Ok, I've - for a variety of reasons - been referring to "Spaghetti Westerns" for a while now, so I thought - under my usual conceit that people are reading this and are interested - that I would give something of beginners guide to this sub-genre that it mostly known for only a very small number of film within it.

The sub-genre is basically defined by being any of the European movies made between 1964 and 1978 that take place in the American West. The Spaghetti name should refer specifically to the Italian films that were more famous and plentiful than the Spanish, French and German movies of the same genre, but because they all feature similar actors, directors, locations - mostly the Spanish desert - and even themes it is much easier to deal with them as one singular sub-genre.

As I'd think would be obvious to anyone with enough interest to read this article, the place to start with the Spaghetti Western is Sergio Leone. Start by watching all of his westerns.
  1. A Fistful Of Dollars and For A Few Dollars More - Watch these two in one evening for best results. Most people definitely have a preference between them. Personally, I think Fistful... is the least of Leone's films.
  2. The Good, The Bad And The Ugly - If you're new to this film, go ahead and watch the new extended edition just released on an exciting, fully packed DVD. If you're already in love with the U.S. Theatrical Edition, you can watch it or skip it as desired.
  3. Once Upon A Time In The West - The best of the bunch!
  4. Duck, You Sucker - Try to find as long a cut as possible and preferably letterboxed. It's a very underappreciated little gem.

Ok, now you're educated on the most basic level. You know the films of The Master, but you only know a small piece of the story.

Next, I suggest trying Sergio Corbucci. Try these three to start off with.

  1. Django - Definitely owes a lot more to Leone than Corbucci's later work does, but be sure to watch it in Italian. The English dubbing is atrocious!
  2. The Great Silence - A haunting masterpiece, considered by many to be the best non-Leone Spaghetti Western and some above even Leone...
  3. Compañeros - An absolutely wonderful romp of friendship and violence. Everything a western should be! This is my favorite Corbucci movie.

Next up there are the two Trinity movies with Terence Hill, They Call Me Trinity and Trinity Is STILL My Name. These are absolutely fun and don't further mine the depth of the genre, but they're too much fun. You can totally throw the Leone produced and co-written My Name Is Nobody in there if you're up for more Terence Hill antics, but it's a very minor, one-joke movie.

At this point, you have seen most of what there is thematically and stylistically.

Your job now is to look and see what else appeals... One of my favorites is Four Of The Apocalypse (discussed below) by Lucio Fulci, better known for his zombie movies. Death Rides A Horse (the Italian title translates as "As Man To Man", which is a much, much better title) is frankly amazing, but the current DVD is such a terrible pan-and-scan print that I can't recommend it at all.

And always remember, having Tomás Milian is always a good start.

Anyway, this is a genre that I myself am only beginning to discover - after years of dabbling - so I don't present myself as a real expert. Just an interested guy trying to share his joy. The Yahoo Spaghetti Western Directory will take you to any number of interesting articles and pages dedicated to these films if you are interested in learning more.

One way or the other, next time I yammer on about how the screenplay I'm working on, which is currently called "Black Train", will be patterned on Spaghetti Westerns, you'll have some better idea what I mean... or you won't and you won't care, which won't matter because I'll write it anyway.

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