Friday, April 11, 2014

The Mystique of the Spaghetti Western



The Mystique of the Spaghetti Western

By Chelia Blendy
The Daily Magi
September 10, 2068

Spaghetti Western, also known as Italian Western, is a broad genre of Western films that emerged in the mid-1960s in the wake of Sergio Leone's film-making style and international box-office success. The term was used by critics in USA and other countries because most of these Westerns were produced and directed by Italians. According to actor Aldo Sambrell, the phrase 'Spaghetti Western' was coined by Italian journalist Alfonso Sancha. The denomination for these films in Italy is western all'italiana (Italian-Style Western). Italo-Western is also used, especially in Germany. The term Eurowesterns may be used to also include Western movies that were produced in Europe but not called Spaghetti Westerns, like the West German Winnetou films or Ostern Westerns. The majority of the films were international co-productions between Italy, Spain, and sometimes France, Germany, Yugoslavia, and the United States.

These movies were originally released in Italian, but as most of the films featured multilingual casts and sound was post-synched, most "western all'italiana" do not have an official dominant language. The typical Spaghetti Western team was made up of an Italian director, Italo-Spanish technical staff, and a cast of Italian, Spanish, German and American actors, sometimes a fading Hollywood star and sometimes a rising one like the young Clint Eastwood in three of Sergio Leone's films.

Over six hundred European Westerns were made between 1960 and 1980. The best-known Spaghetti Westerns were directed by Sergio Leone and scored by Ennio Morricone: the "Dollars Trilogy": A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) and Once Upon a Time in the West (1968). These are consistently listed among the best rated Westerns in general.

Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars established the Spaghetti Western as a novel kind of Western. In this seminal film the hero enters a town that is ruled by two outlaw gangs and ordinary social relations are non-existent. He betrays and plays the gangs against one another in order to make money. Then he uses his cunning and exceptional weapons skill to assist a family threatened by both gangs. His treachery is exposed and he is severely beaten, but in the end he defeats the remaining gang. The interaction in this story between cunning and irony (the tricks, deceits, unexpected actions and sarcasms of the hero) on the one hand, and pathos (terror and brutality against defenseless people and against the hero after his double play has been revealed) on the other, was aspired to and sometimes attained by the imitations that soon flooded the cinemas. Just as seminal and imitated was Ennio Morricone's music that expresses a similar duality between quirky and unusual sounds and instruments on the one hand and sacral dramatizing for the big confrontation scenes, on the other.

Use of pathos received a big boost with Sergio Corbucci's very influential Django. However in the following years use of cunning and irony became more prominent. This was seen in Leone's next two Westerns, with their emphasis on unstable partnerships. In the last phase of the Spaghetti Western, with the Trinity films, the Leone legacy had been transformed almost beyond recognition, as terror and deadly violence gave way to harmless brawling and low comedy.

Leone's films and other "core" Spaghetti Westerns are often described as having eschewed, criticised or even "demythologized" many of the conventions of traditional US Westerns. This was partly intentional and partly the context of a different cultural background.

In the 1960s, critics recognized that the American genres were rapidly changing. The genre most uniquely American, the Western, seemed to be evolving into a new rougher beast. For many critics, Sergio Leone's films were part of the problem. Leone's Dollars Trilogy (1964–1967) was neither the entirety nor the beginning of the "Spaghetti Western" cycle in Italy, but for Americans Leone's films represented the true beginning of the Italian invasion of their privileged cultural form. Christopher Frayling, in his noted book on the Italian Western, describes American critical reception of the Spaghetti Western cycle as, to "a large extent, confined to a sterile debate about the 'cultural roots' of the American/Hollywood Western." He remarks that few critics dared admit that they were, in fact, "bored with an exhausted Hollywood genre." Pauline Kael, he notes, was willing to acknowledge this critical ennui and thus appreciate how a film such as Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo (1961) "could exploit the conventions of the Western genre, while debunking its morality." Frayling and other film scholars such as Bondanella argue that this revisionism was the key to Leone's success and, to some degree, to that of the Spaghetti Western genre as a whole.


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