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.
Docurama's release of Netflix and IFC's The Spaghetti West is a Blue Underground production. It appears to have taken advantage of interview material and production expertise gained from the creation of DVD value-added featurettes. Video and audio quality are good. Writer/director David Gregory works well in this longer format and has kept his show to watchable dimensions without skimping on any particular subject along the way. The casual viewer will be surprised to find out that there's more to Spaghetti Westerns than Clint's fast draw. More serious fans won't be disappointed when they get to see all of those genre notables talking about their favorite subject.
The Spaghetti West was originally released as a Netflix rental exclusive in 2005. Docurama's disc is essentially the same.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Spaghetti West rates: