Any Gun Can Play - Book Review
From The Spaghetti Western Database
I’ve been thinking for some time that I’d like to write a book on Spaghetti Westerns. It would be a celebration of the genre but have a sound analytical base. The writing would be well informed but entertaining and it would encompass the history of the genre from pre Leone to Twilights , focusing on key elements of the filone while simultaneously telling the story of its rise, development and closure. It would also be packed full of great pictures and have an informative ‘who’s who’ guide at the back and comprehensive filmography to boot. It would be a book for novice and expert alike and become a ‘must have’ for any self respecting fan’s bookshelf. I’ve often thought how I’d like to write that book. But I won’t be bothering now. Kevin Grant has already written it.
Any Gun Can Play: The Essential Guide to Euro-Westerns, published by FAB Press and, amazingly, Grant’s first ever book, is all of the above. It is a hefty tome of some 500 pages which manages to be both a reference guide and intelligent discussion of this rich and fascinating slice of commercial Italian cinema. And as if this weren’t enough, with the literally hundreds of photos, posters and lobby cards included in both colour and black and white, it functions just as well as a coffee table book to flick through for purely visual pleasure.
The majority of the book is structured around nine chapters which cover diverse aspects of the genre from an admirably comprehensive introduction through the early pre Leones, the Second Wave, the Zapatas and the Twilights as well as focusing on threads and tropes specific to the European manifestation of the Western; religion, left wing politics, genre hybrids and so on. This is the meat of the work and Grant’s writing style is impressively well balanced for the purpose. Scholarly but accessible, detached yet clearly rooted in committed fandom. Above all, the prose is well informed and insightful and makes for compelling reading. The choice of structure is also a well judged one. The chapters act as a series of stand-alone essays but, together, form a comprehensive history of the filone which, despite being set out thematically, also offer a chronological account of its development. Each chapter is well researched and well compiled but the one on the political westerns was, in my opinion, worthy of particular note and praise. Grant places these films clearly in their contemporary political milieu, discusses the ideology, experience and affiliations of those involved in their creation and explains their relevance in a continuum of overtly and covertly politically motivated productions released in Italy during this most prolific of eras. This is scholarly stuff and places the book securely alongside some of its more obviously academic siblings in cinematic writing but it remains at all times totally accessible and a pleasure to read. Grant’s use of extensive footnotes helps no end in this regard; allowing for more information and clear referencing while never interrupting the narrative flow of his text. This kind of balance is not as easy to achieve as it might appear and the author is to be heartily congratulated for succeeding so thoroughly in this regard.
The depth and array of Grant’s research for this book is also to be admired. Apart from the countless hours he must have spent watching the actual films and reading what others have previously written on the genre he also undertook a wide and genuinely impressive array of interviews with the creative personnel who were active at the heart of the genre. Actors, directors and writers from the time are all quoted regularly throughout and their input adds a very personal, inside perspective, not only on how things were at the time of production but also how those involved view events and their own work now with the benefit of hindsight.
It is also pleasing to see some of the less celebrated films and film makers getting more coverage than is often the case in many such books on the subject. Indeed, although his place and significance is well and truly acknowledged and referred to throughout, this book is quite noticeably light on Leone. He is far from ignored. No book on the subject could possibly attempt that. Rather, it appears that Grant accepts that the great one has been discussed sufficiently elsewhere and he can assume his reader’s knowledge in that area is already well established. Consequently there is more room to explore the input of others. For example, much of the chapter on the early, pre Leone films focuses on the work of the far too often overlooked Joaquin Romero Marchent, while the chapter on hybrids gives equal time to the gothic penchants of Antonio Margheriti and Sergio Garrone and the acrobatic and ironic tendencies of Messrs Carnimeo and Parolini.
As a result, this book comes as close as is possible to being all things for all folk. It is a serious and thorough study that delves deeper than most into the themes and tropes of the genre without descending into the realms of turgid academic ramblings. But it also offers an accessible yet comprehensive guide to the uninitiated or casual fan while simultaneously providing the more committed devotee with plenty of interest as well as possibly some new information. Its hundreds of illustrations will satisfy the most image hungry of us and the ‘who’s who’ and filmography sections will supply a handy reference guide for those moments when you are just too darn lazy to switch on the computer.
Is there anything wrong with it? In the interests of providing a well balanced review I’ve given that question much thought and came up with the following. At around five hundred pages it’s a bit heavy and sometimes my hands hurt from holding it up. That’s about it.
In all seriousness, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is genuinely one of the very best I have read on the subject and it has taken pride of place on my shelf amongst some very worthy company. At thirty quid it is probably the most I have spent on a book of this type. But I can honestly say it was worth every penny.
If you haven’t ordered a copy yet, correct that situation as a matter of urgency. --Phil H 14:05, 12 July 2011 (CEST)