The ds106 daily create for Jan. 4, 2016, was to do some research on Spaghetti Westerns. I relished this encouragement to do so because, well, the whole idea has never made sense to me. What does pasta have to do with Westerns? And why specifically spaghetti?
I realize that by saying all this I admit I know nothing about Spaghetti Westerns, which is certainly true. I know next to nothing about Westerns at all. The genre has just never really appealed to me, even though I grew up in what is technically the “West.” Small town Idaho had its share of cowboys and cowgirls, and rodeos were big. But that’s really not the same thing now, is it? We had sheriffs and saloons, but things were mighty tame by the time I was born out there in the wilds of small town Idaho.
I don’t know…something about the aesthetic, or about the over-the-top masculinity and violence, about the sexism…it just has all not been attractive to me.
So I am taking it on as a challenge to find something I like in Westerns, by joining #western106 this term, an open, online #ds106 that was supposed to be taking place with Alan Levine at KSU, but that didn’t have enough students (what were they thinking?). So it’s up to use open online participants to corral the wagons.
And as a start, I’m learning a bit about Spaghetti Westerns.
The daily create site suggested we look at the TV Tropes entry for Spaghetti Westerns. And there is where I discovered the connection:
- “A sub-genre of the Western films, so called because they were produced by Italian studios (and tended to feature quite a bit of gore).”
Ah, okay, like tomato sauce. I had no idea that the Italians were into the Western genre. Shows you how little I know about Westerns at all.
I found out more from an Introduction on the Spaghetti Westerns database:
- “The name ‘spaghetti western’ originally was a depreciative term, given by foreign critics to these films because they thought they were inferior to American westerns.”
- “In the eighties the reputation of the genre grew and today the term is no longer used disparagingly, although some Italians still prefer to call the films western all’italiana (westerns Italian style). In Japan they are called Macaroni westerns, in Germany Italowestern.”
So spaghetti westerns are macaroni westerns too. The pastas multiply! And if that weren’t enough, some Westerns that focused on political topics having to do with Mexican revolutions were, according to the same site, known as “Zapata Westerns,” but sometimes as “Tortilla Westerns.”
I can’t help but wonder what Canadian-made Westerns might be called. Somehow “Maple Syrup Western” just doesn’t have an authentic ring to it.
I also learned from that same site that A Fistful of Dollars (1964) is a remake of a Kurosawa film called Yojimbo (1961), and Wikipedia tells me that Yojimbo was heavily influenced by “the 1942 film noir classic The Glass Key, an adaptation of Dashiell Hammett‘s 1931 novel.” I haven’t heard of any of these except the 1964 Western, and now I’m interested to follow this particular thread (perhaps mainly because, well, I just really like film noir).
From A Beginners Guide to Spaghetti Westerns, I learned that
- “Initially, the Spaghetti Western protagonist was a loner/outcast in the Eastwood mold — not a traditional John Wayne-style “good guy” in a white hat, but a morally flexible type, more unpredictable and cynical.”
Okay, that sounds intriguing to me. I can get on board with that to some degree, though I’ll have to deal with the sexism and unnecessary violence somehow.
Also, the genre changed later with the political films (late 60s), according to the same site:
- “The lone hero was out; collectivist themes were in. Many took as their historical basis the border battles between Mexico and the United States (leading to their occasional branding as “Zapata Westerns”).”
Since I haven’t seen these, I can’t comment on whether or not they have racist or xenophobic overtones (that will have to wait until I see one or two).
A number of sites said that one thing that makes Spaghetti Westerns stand out in part because they were much more violent than other Westerns, apparently. And when I learned that Tarantino was a fan of spaghetti westerns, well, after this, I wasn’t surprised. I haven’t seen Django Unchained, but now, at least, after reading all this, I understand the reference to Django (1966).
So after all of this I am more intrigued about Spaghetti Westerns, and will find myself some time to watch a couple (after I’ve finished a lecture on Apocalypse Now that I have to give for a class next week!).