Bring Your Guns to Town (and The Astor)

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The term ‘spaghetti western’ conjures up a pretty powerful image in my mind. Imagine: the lines of a sunburnt face shot so extremely close-up that the porous skin resembles the surface of a red moon; eyes scowling and squinting, watching for an opponent to draw his gun from its seemingly massive holster; a quick blur of motion later and one of them is reeling back from a gunshot — falling in slow-motion — the eye of the camera capturing it all with bloodthirsty revelry.

Sergio Leone is the man responsible for spaghetti western as we know it. The director of only a handful of films, Leone single-handedly helped spawn an entire industry of gritty, bloody, poorly-dubbed westerns. To commemorate this man’s contribution to film, The Astor is playing some of his best in the coming weeks:

A Fistful of Dollars (1964) & For A Few Dollars More (1965) Thursday October 13, 7.30pm

A reimagining of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo… replacing samurai with cowboys is so much more than a cheap knock-off and was the film that started it all, creating a character that its star Clint Eastwood continued to channel his entire career.

Eastwood rides into a small town, spies an opportunity to make some money by playing two power-hungry families off each other and does so like any good opportunist would. But as the story progresses and he meets a beautiful young woman condemned to a life of servitude, we find that there is more at work within Eastwood’s shady character than mere capitalism, though we only get a faint glimpse of it. The climax is largely iconic to younger audiences due to its exposure and influence of the Back to the Future films.

It is interesting to note that Fistful’s predecessor Yojimbo was heavily influenced by the 30s westerns of John Ford (as were many of Kurosawa’s other samurai films). The wheel continues to turn.

For a Few Dollars More is the second film in Leone’s ‘Man with No Name’ trilogy.  Our hero intends to collect a bounty for apprehending a criminal group, but he has competition when fellow bounty hunter Colonel Mortimer (Lee Van Cleef) joins the trail. Though first at odds, gunslingers Eastwood and Cleef decide to team up to take the baddies down.

Of particular interest in this film is the appearance of Klaus Kinski (who would go on to have a major role in Leone’s namesake Sergio Corbucci’s brilliant spaghetti western The Great Silence) playing a surly hunch-backed member of the criminal gang in one of his first non-German film roles.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966) Thursday October 20, 7.30pm
The last of Leone’s trilogy with Eastwood is the best of the three and widely considered his best film of all. Set against the backdrop of the American Civil War, Eastwood and pal Tuco are searching for buried loot. Having to contend with villain Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef, who is miles away from the character he played in the previous film) for the hidden treasure, the film is a series of double, triple and quadruple crosses and is a hell of a fun ride.

At three hours long, and with a desolate, echoing score by long-time Leone collaborator Ennio Morricone, this is epic, awe-striking filmmaking that must be seen in a cinema to be fully appreciated.

A Fistful of Dynamite (1971) Thursday October 27, 7.30pm

Also known as Duck, You Sucker!, this spaghetti western — that is perhaps grander in scale than Leone’s previous films — throws Irish explosives expert Mallory (James Coburn) into the familiar backdrop of the west during the Mexican Revolution. Criminal Juan Miranda (Rod Steiger) tries to recruit Mallory and his skills for a bank robbery, but Mallory has other plans; namely to meet with Mexican Revolutionaries to help in their efforts. Juan eventually gets caught up in the revolution as well and unwittingly becomes a hero of it.

Leone’s last western of note is overlooked by some, but A Fistful of Dynamite is a different film from Leone’s other more blood-thirsty depictions of the west, with greater politics at play, and shows—along with Once Upon A Time in the West—a progression in his career that follows along the historically progressing timeline that moves through all of these films.

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) Thursday November 3,  7.30pm

My favourite of all of Leone’s films, OUATITW (unnecessary acronym acknowledged) brings together a bunch of great characters for a story about a beautiful widow (Claudia Cardinale, who I’m madly in love with) and her struggle to keep her ranch from the grasp of a group of killers — lead by Henry Fonda — who have been hired by the railroad company to get rid of her in order to free up her valuable land for the construction of the on-coming railways. The hearty and charismatic Cheyenne (Jason Robards) and the silent, vengeance-seeking Harmonica (Charles Bronson) are motivated to help the widow with her troubles and the pair form an unlikely team that come up against Fonda and his gang.

Its story of modernisation and domesticity out on the range was the first sign of a ‘taming of the west’ of sorts in his films, and it has perhaps the most well-paced and carefully constructed opening scene you’re ever likely to see on film. Check out this one Leone film if no other.

For full session times at information visit: www.astor-theatre.com

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