Quentin Tarantino has made no secret of his love for the spaghetti Western. But as well as regularly plundering the soundtracks of classic cowboy films for his own movies – and name-checking the father of the genre, Sergio Leone, at almost every turn – the Pulp Fiction director’s own career has always had an air of the Wild West about it.
Often clad in black and with a face that only his mother could love, he arrived in a frontier town called Hollywood in the early 1990s and set about trying to make it his own. By quickly establishing a reputation as a maverick (as well as the fastest talker in the West), Tarantino built a loyal posse of followers, but his appetite for controversy and bloodshed meant regular showdowns with powerful foes. All the while, younger gunslingers, desperate for their own fistful of dollars, began imitating his tricks.
So the news that the writer-director – who has lived and breathed Westerns for decades – is about to make his first foray into the genre, is more than a little overdue. Last month, the movie website Deadline reported that Tarantino had completed the screenplay for a Western and planned to hand it to his long-term backers the Weinstein brothers within two months.
A further report claimed that the Oscar-winning actor Christoph Waltz, who starred as the despicable Nazi colonel Hans Landa in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, will take a major role in the film. Several other sites reported comments made by the spaghetti Western veteran Franco Nero, in an Italian newspaper, that he had signed on to appear in a Tarantino movie, alongside Treat Williams and Keith Carradine, the half-brother of the titular Kill Bill actor, David Carradine. Nero, who stared in the 1966 movie Django as a gunslinger caught in a feud between Ku Klux Klan members and Mexican bandits, also dropped a possible title for the movie. He claimed it would be an explicit Leone tribute, called The Angel, the Bad and the Wise – a name that closely resembles the final part of the director’s Dollars trilogy, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
Originally seen as cheap knock-offs of Hollywood cowboy films, spaghetti Westerns emerged out of Italy in the 1960s using a mixture of Italian, German and Spanish actors and European landscapes to double for the Old West. Because of a more relaxed attitude towards on-screen violence in Italian cinema, the films were able to portray the near-lawless era of history in a more honest light. The Hollywood director Burt Kennnedy once described them as containing “no story, no scenes. Just killing”.
The addition of American actors, such as the rising star Clint Eastwood, and the increased use of foreign-language dubbing, helped the films to find international commercial success. Alongside Leone, directors such as Enzo G Castellari and Sergio Corbucci – who did not have the sweeping vistas of Monument Valley at their disposal – were forced to bring a new visual intensity to the genre. Made complete by the unforgettable scores of composers such as Ennio Morricone, Spaghetti Westerns soon outmatched their US-produced counterparts. As well as Leone and others eventually being invited to make films in Hollywood, US directors such as Sam Peckinpah (The Wild Bunch) began to incorporate the Italian directors’ darker tone into their own work.
While little is known about what Tarantino’s movie might entail, the filmmaker has dropped small story hints in the past. During a television interview last year, he floated the possibility of making a biopic about the American slave trade abolitionist John Brown, calling him “my favourite American who ever lived”. In 2007 he also discussed setting a film in “slavery times” but conceded that such a film would more appropriately be named “a Southern”.
Tarantino told the Telegraph he wanted “to do movies that deal with America’s horrible past with slavery ... but do them like spaghetti Westerns, not like big-issue movies. To deal with everything that America has never dealt with because it’s ashamed of it, and other countries don’t really deal with because they don’t feel they have the right to”.
In spite of these comments, Tarantino has not confirmed that he intends to keep this direction for the film. Given how quickly other details have emerged, however, expect to hear more soon. Hold on to your hat.
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