by Jim Ridley
Need a Christmas present for the cult-movie fanatic in your life? The Belcourt beat you to it. Starting in December, Hillsboro Village's clubhouse for cinephiles ammos up the Gatling gun, cranks up the trebly electric guitar, and paves the way for Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained with a four-film salute to one of the spaghetti Western's underappreciated heroes: "the other Sergio," Sergio Corbucci.
At the time of his death in 1990, Corbucci, a former film critic, didn't have the critical adoration of his friend maestro Leone. He had moved from the violent, cynical, politically incendiary Italian Westerns that made his career — including the original Django with Franco Nero and the Klaus Kinski oater The Great Silence, both heralded now as two of the genre's greatest — into broad comedies like 1980's Super Fuzz (a trailer I loved as a kid — see below). But in recent years, admirers such as Tarantino and Repo Man director Alex Cox have removed him from cinema's Boot Hill and given him a hero's rediscovery.
DJANGO is Corbucci's fourth Western, made in Italy and Spain in 1966. It's violent, impressionistic, sadistic, anti-clerical. In one scene, the prist/Ku Klux Klan spy falls into the hands of the Mexican bandits who cut his ear off, make him eat it... and then shoot him dead! (The censor told Corbucci to cut the ear-severing scene. But Corbucci 'forgot to' remove it from certain copies: these were the ones screened for the press!) Costumes and sets were by Carlo Simi, who also designed Leone's films. Enzo Barboni shot it, and Luis Enrique Bacalov wrote a magnificent score. DJANGO is set in a sea of mud. Though influenced by YOJIMBO - there are two opposed sets of outlaw gangs, and the hero suffers horribly - it feels fresh and original. Notice the cast and crew don't take American-sounding pseudonyms: Corbucci made DJANGO for the Italian market. More violent and pessimistic than anything before it, DJANGO was banned by the British censor until 1993. 32 sequals followed! Only one of them 'official'.
NAVAJO JOE was made by Corbucci after DJANGO. He directed three Westerns that year - 1966. NAVAJO JOE has a bigger budget: the producer was Dino de Laurentis. And it has an American star - a former Playgirl centerfold, Burt Reynolds, in his first film role. Reynolds called NAVAJO JOE "the worst experience of my life," but I bet he had worse ones. Ugo Pirro created a great persona for him: the implacable avenger with a long speech about how he, and not the white racists, is the REAL American. Fernando Rey, as the priest Father Rattigan, gives all his scenes a Buñuelian tone until the villain, played by Aldo Sambrell, shoots him dead. Did Cormac McCarthy see this film? NAVAJO JOE anticipates his grisly scalphunter epic, BLOOD MERIDIAN.
Above, the terrific trailer Belcourt staffer Zack Hall cut together for the series. Not recommended to those with a medical intolerance for zooms. Below, the full schedule — and what the hell, the international Django Unchained trailer.
Sunday, Dec. 2
THE GREAT SILENCE
Dir. Sergio Corbucci, Italy, 1968, 105 min., NR, Archival 35mm Print
A mute gunfighter (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is hired to kill an evil bounty hunter (Klaus Kinski) during the Great Blizzard of 1899. Widely considered one of the greatest spaghetti westerns and hailed by filmmaker Alex Cox (Repo Man and western aficionado) as the most pessimistic western ever made, THE GREAT SILENCE elevates the genre to its most insightful and artful potential. Screening from the only known 35mm print in existence.
"Corbucci's masterpiece. Contains one of Morricone's loveliest scores."
— Justin Stewart, The L Magazine
"Remarkable! Revels in haunted, unsettling instrumentations and spontaneous quick zooms that anticipate a generation of slasher films."
- Steve Dollar, The Wall Street Journal
Wednesday-Thursday, Dec. 5-6
Dir. Sergio Corbucci, Italy, 1966, 93 min., NR, 35mm
After massacring a village of Indians, outlaw Mervy "Vee" Duncan (Aldo Sambrell) and his band of henchmen are besieged by a lone vigilante, the only survivor of the massacre. Referred to as "one of the great revenge movies of all time" by Quentin Tarantino, NAVAJO JOE stars Burt Reynolds as the one-man deathsquad, out to bring the villainous outlaws to justice in a bloodbath of stylish, grisly, tomahawk-tossing retribution. Featuring one of composer Ennio Morricone's greatest scores.
“Fashions some bold widescreen frames from the men and mountain terrain. There's also a breathlessly edited, dizzily exciting train robbery sequence and some startling, pre-Peckinpah graphic violence.”
— J.R. Jones, Chicago Reader
Saturday-Sunday, Dec. 8-9
Dir. Sergio Corbucci, Italy, 1968, 110 min., PG-13, 35mm
Amid the tumult of the Mexican Revolution, a Polish mercenary (Franco Nero) and a Mexican guerilla (Tony Musante) join forces against a rich colonel (Eduardo Fajardo) and a sadistic American out for revenge (Jack Palance). Sergio Corbucci's tale of revolution, similar to Leone's DUCK, YOU SUCKER, emphasizes the tension between greed and idealism as motivating factors in times of upheaval.
Corbucci essentially remade the film with many of the same actors in similar roles two years later under the title COMPAÑEROS.
"Anticipates The Wild Bunch in its near-hysterical local color (a troupe of clown toreadors, a religious procession with concealed machine guns) compounded by a frenzied revolutionary joie de vivre and a suitably excessive Morricone score notable for its choral outbursts, Peruvian pipes, and wailing electric guitar."
— J. Hoberman, Film Comment
Wednesday-Thursday, Dec. 12-13
Dir. Sergio Corbucci, Italy, 1966, 87 min., NR, 35mm
Django (Franco Nero), dragging a coffin behind him through the mud, arrives in a border town where he has to negotiate a bitter feud between ex-Confederates and former Mexican revolutionaries by killing anyone who dares cross him. Progenitor of countless unofficial sequels, remakes and loving send-ups, DJANGO's unabashed brutality, stylized violence and immense body count lit the way for a new brand of action film (and a better, badder-assed action hero).
“Rates alongside Leone's 'Dollars' trilogy as one of the daddies of the spaghetti/paella Western… Corbucci's style is a mix of social realism, highly decorative visuals, and finely mounted action sequences. For the rest, there are enough mud-wrestling prostitutes, whippings, ear-loppings, explosions and scenes of wholesale slaughter to keep any muchacho happy. Funny, visceral, bloody, no-nonsense entertainment with a touch of class.”
— Time Out (London)