As readers will already know, there can be no such thing as too much Django, Ringo, Sartana, Sabata, Trinity et al, so the release of not one but two excellent tomes on the Spaghetti Western can be considered a bounty. In no preferential order then, Kevin Grant’s terrific Any Gun Can Play: The Essential Guide to Euro-Westerns, published by the ever reliable FAB Press, gives us an insightful eight-chapter socio-historical overview of the cycle and includes two comprehensive appendices: a 47-page survey of ‘Who’s Who in Euro-Westerns’ and an essential 35-page chronological survey, ‘The Euro-Western Westerns’, which begins the voyage with Joaquín Luis Romero Marchent’s 1955 film El Coyote and ends with Lucky Luke (James Huth, 2009). As if this were not enough, I.B. Tauris has also come up trumps with the publication of the more scholarly tome Radical Frontiers in the Spaghetti Western: Politics, Violence and Popular Italian Cinema by Austin Fisher. It necessarily covers much of the same historical ground, but does so in a much deeper critical and analytical way that is not, however, excessively theory-heavy. Academically assured and with a firm grasp on the socio-politico culture of the period, it makes for an engrossing contextual read.
I.B. Tauris is always a reliable and authoritative publisher of film books and has released many other worthy titles in the last months, among which the fecund author Howard Hughes figures prominently. His latest book, Cinema Italiano, is a rip-roaring roller-coaster ride through the history of Italian cinema from the 1950s to the 1970s when it rivalled Hollywood itself as the foremost cinematic production machine in the world. Charting the storming of the box office by Hercules (Pietro Francisi, 1958) and the sword-and-sandal epics that followed in its wake, and then travelling through film space past all the successful genres that the Italians – often with international monies – colonised, such as costume dramas, Gothic delights, sci-fi, Spaghetti Westerns, Euro crime and Euro spy cycles, gialli thrillers, comedies, zombie flicks and soft-core screwballs, allows Hughes to introduce some 400 examples into his text. Though not the ‘Complete Guide from Classics to Cult’ that the cover suggests – a near impossible task as hundreds of films were cranked out in the period – Hughes’s book is comprehensive, with informed commentaries that make the reader want to put down the book and view or re-view many of the movies mentioned, which seems, in this reviewer’s eyes, to be the most important goal of any book about films. Cinema Italiano is great fun and full of fascinating facts that evidence the author’s love and passion for the topic. A thumbs-up for the cover design too, which is a nice pastiche of period graphics.
Finally, Film Noir: Jazz on Film by Selwyn Harris merits a mention for being a classy and sassy little book that is unique in its discussion of five noir soundtracks – Private Hell 36, The Man with the Golden Arm, Anatomy of a Murder, Odds against Tomorrow, Touch of Evil, Sweet Smell of Success and A Streetcar Named Desire. However, the book is only available as part of a fantastic box-set of these re-released (once difficult to get hold of) soundtracks on CD. While it may be argued that not all the films are strictly in the noir canon, these gems of scoring by the likes of Ellington, Mancini and Bernstein are just the jazzy tonic to listen to while reading your Cine Lit choices. A very welcome – and delicious – release.
James B. Evans
GONE… BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
Alongside the warning that the contents include ‘Adult Material’, the back cover of Mondo Macabro: Weird & Wonderful Cinema around the World includes this teaser:
Have you seen:
-the Indian song and dance version of Dracula?
-the Mexican masked wrestling films of El Santo?
-the Turkish version of Star Trek?
-the kung fu fighting gorilla films of South East Asia?
-the gore films of Indonesia?
Author Pete Tombs angles – alongside the like-minded Messrs Stevenson and Sargeant – in the muddy backwaters of film culture in search of strange species. Published by Titan in 1997, this superb collection of mind-bendingly bizarre films takes the reader on a well-researched and knowledgeable insider tour of the transgressive – and downright surreal – cinemas of Hong Kong, the Philippines, Indonesia, India, Turkey, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and three chapters’ worth of Japan. Though 15 years old now, the book is still relevant and necessary due both to the quality of the narrative and the still unavailable nature of many of the films discussed. Save this book!