Watch This: Behind The Scenes of Classic Italian Westerns
Here’s a featurette from 1968, produced for American TV, that is as fascinating as it is occasionally infuriating. It is fascinating because it does a pretty solid job of explaining the genesis and appeal of Italian Westerns – let’s not call them Spaghetti Westerns anymore, please. We hear from three of the very best directors: Enzo G. Castellari, Sergio Corbucci, and Sergio Sollima. Director/photographer Patrick Morin (a well known photographer of the time) is clearly well-versed in his subject and the pace is quick and varied.
That’s also where the infuriating part comes in. The tone of the piece is similar to a Mondo Movie of the time. It is held together by arch, sometimes dismissive, sometimes offensive narration. The gags, designed to track with American TV audiences of the ’60s, don’t really land today.
But, the virtues are so great that it rewards viewing for anyone who is interested in the ways that genre cinema reflects the culture. The three filmmakers are especially good exponents of their various philosophies about this.
Here’s Castellari, the popular entertainer, captured on the set of KILL THEM ALL AND COME BACK ALONE, between staging fistfights:
“I would say it is the public who decide the success of a film – or a kind of film. And the public finds in Westerns an escape from its daily problems and worries. There have been so many heavy, serious, difficult films in recent years. The public is tired of trying to understand them. Me too. The Western is different. The spectator sits and is just amused by the world of fantasy with horses, rides, fights and chases. I guess that it is directed at the child that remains in most of us.”
And then here is Sollima, whose work can be read – rightfully – as a leftist critique of the geopolitical and cultural situation in the mid -to-late 20th Century. We find him at a flatbed editor, piecing together a scene from RUN, MAN, RUN. He says:
“The western has always appealed to intellectuals and, as we know, to most Italians. Also, it gives me the possibility of using a fable. That is, a very popular story which can be understood by any public, to express myself. I can describe characters and present themes dealing with the great problems of our times and various controversial questions.
I believe the time has come to draw a film hero from the people of the underdeveloped countries – the Third World so to speak.”
And then we have the director who is possibly the most well-known Italian Western director after Leone, Sergio Corbucci. We find him shivering on the snowy location of a film that many consider his masterpiece, THE GREAT SILENCE. He is succinct, even as he describes how post-synch sound editing is accomplished. His interview ends on a jokey button:
“I hate westerns.”
There is also a terrific interview with THE GREAT SILENCE’s star Jean-Louis Trintignant here. There are other, less essential sequences too. At a mere 38 minutes, you can probably weather the clunkers without too much trouble.
Here it is, enjoy it. Oh, and if you are interested in delving into Westerns All’Italiana beyond Sergio Leone, you might use this ranked list from AFS Lead Programmer Lars Nilsen as a roadmap.