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Radical Frontiers in the Spaghetti Western: Politics and Violence in Italian Cinema

From The Spaghetti Western Database

Title: Radical Frontiers in the Spaghetti Western: Politics, Violence and Popular Italian Cinema

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A heavily-armed battalion of communist students, led by a man dressed as Che Guevara, is a disconcerting spectacle at the best of times. When it appears in a Western, the viewer might be forgiven for checking the DVD case, only to be informed that the film is indeed described thus. Clearly, something is amiss.

Though European cinema frequently reflected the shifting mores and ideological schisms which now characterise the 1960s in the popular imagination, the complex and extensive relationship of the Italian (or “Spaghetti”) Western to these ferments has gone almost entirely unnoticed. Radical Frontiers, as the first in-depth account of the genre’s Marxist extremities, fills this gap. Fisher opens up this area for scholarly cultural-political discourse with a detailed, historically-grounded examination of such films as A Bullet for the General, The Big Gundown and Face to Face – hitherto placed as footnotes to the now-canonised Sergio Leone – arguing that they directly engage contemporaneous issues preoccupying Italy’s political Left. Challenging long-held assumptions about this increasingly-adored yet oft-homogenised genre, his book charts the historical narrative of this movement’s brief but intriguing lifespan: from its cinematic and cultural antecedents, through its emergence from the Italian studio system, to its legacy in exploitation cinema from the 1970s to the present day.

Through close readings of stylistic, ideological and narrative methodologies, Radical Frontiers demonstrates how and why Damiano Damiani, Sergio Sollima and Sergio Corbucci, in responding to international and national events, chose the Western genre as an apt vehicle for Far Left doctrine in the second half of the 1960s. By refocusing the Hollywood Western itself through the lens of Italy’s revolutionary Left in and around the events of 1968, Fisher shows how, in this new political context, the genre’s traditional focus on redemptive violence took on fresh meanings, and appealed to new audiences. As Horace Greeley did not quite say: “Go West, comrade!”

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