Venice festival salutes the spaghetti Western
Venice Film Festival's Secret History of Italian Cinema sidebar created quite a stir when it was announced that the fourth edition would focus on what the locals 'round these parts call "Western all'Italiana."
The rest of the world call the films "spaghetti Westerns" -- low-budget, frequently bloody Italian-made horse operas from the 1960s and early 1970s that became a cultural phenomenon that is still very much alive today.
"It would be difficult to overestimate the influence that these Italian films have had on films in general, not just on Westerns," says Christopher Frayling, who has written several books about the genre. "Take our concept of the hero as a stylish but not noble figure who is good at what he does and who does it for his own reasons. Every film about a rebel cop or detective owes a debt to this genre."
The films also provided something of a model for independent filmmakers, often proving that with some ingenuity compelling cinema could be made on a shoestring budget.
"Most films were made in (General Francisco) Franco's Spain, which looked like the American West and which was cheap," Frayling adds. "Some others were made in Sardinia, which looked a little less like the American West but was even less expensive. And some particularly modest films were made just outside of Rome, complete with modern telephone lines visible in the background."
"These were films we made with almost no budget, and we compensated for it by being creative," says Carlo Pedersoli, who made nearly 100 spaghetti Western films under the screen name Bud Spencer.
"It proves that real professionals can make worthwhile films under almost any circumstances."
Organizers of the sidebar -- which will be hosted by director Quentin Tarantino, an admitted fanatic of the genre -- spared almost no expense to find and refurbish 32 films from the period,
"A lot of directors who never got their due will now get their due" in this sidebar, Tarantino said in a video message aired in Rome when the lineup was announced last month.
Films on tap include 1965's "Blood for a Silver Dollar," from director Giorgio Ferroni; "The Ugly Ones," made in 1966 by Eugenio Martin; 1967's "Death at Owell Rock," from Riccardo Freda; "The Ruthless Four," made the same year by Giorgio Capitani; and Pasquale Squitieri's "Death's Dealer," from 1970.
Also screening in Venice but not officially part of the sidebar is Sergio Leone's 1964 classic "A Fistful of Dollars," the film credited with launching Clint Eastwood's film career and with giving legs to the then-fledgling spaghetti Western genre.
Even the lineup of contemporary films pays homage to spaghetti Westerns, featuring the in-competition world premiere of Andrew Dominik's "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," starring Brad Pitt as Jesse James; Japanese director Takashi Miike's "Sukiyaki Western Django" (which even features a cameo by Tarantino); and Alex Cox's "Searchers 2.0," in the Horizons sidebar. All three films are said to be heavily influenced by Italian-made Westerns.
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