Finding the Hero’s Journey in Death Rides A Horse

By Greg Mucci

Guilio Petroni’s Death Rides a Horse marks Lee Van Cleef’s fifth outing as a beady-eyed gunslinger in a Spaghetti Western, a sub-genre of the outlaw-ridden world that would come to represent the sort of villainy inherent in such a gaze. While five isn’t a glaring amount of films to have under his holster, it’s a heavy number when taking into account the level of hollowness mixed with stern stoicism that accompanies each role. Black brimmed hat sitting low atop a dusty brow, its face carved with an expression of grim desire. It’s a look Cleef has owned, and rightfully so, engraining himself into a world made grand in scope by Italian maestro Sergio Leone. Though Leone is a director who creates worlds, life cast behind Cleef, who for better or worse, needs no set-piece to do the devils work. What separates Petroni’s Western from others aren’t the plumes of smoke that drift across the sand after a shootout, but the outlaws journey who carry a redemptive factor unseen in previous Westerns.

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The Issues of Genre in Once Upon a Time in the West

By Tara Zdancewicz

With a simple Google search of the film Once Upon a Time in the West thousands of results pop up detailing the Western’s magnificence. Coming in at #5 on Rotten Tomatoes’ Top Westerns List and #30 on IMDB’s Top Rated Movies list, this film has indisputably made an impact on cinema. However, along with those glowing marks comes a multitude of blogs where viewers vent their frustrations about the blatant misogyny found in the film. Despite being distinguished, as a Western, Once Upon a Time in the West inherently has some problematic connotations.

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The Unabashed Complexity of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

By Tara Zdancewicz

“There are two types of people: those with loaded guns and those who dig. You dig.” – the Man with No Name

 

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly might seem like a straightforward Spaghetti Western; Within the first half hour of the three hour-long epic, the representative characters of the titular good, bad, and ugly are introduced. While director Sergio Leone presents three types of people in the West, the ugly Tuco consistently reminds the audience that “there are two types of people in this world…” giving a new opposing binary every time. Black and white oppositions of morality are constantly being made throughout the film. This clear moral dichotomy harkens back to the uniform moral lines of earlier Westerns that showed the egregiously bad antagonist overcome by the incorruptible and scrupulous protagonist. However, the ethical certainty of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (and the rest of the Dollars trilogy) is not as incontrovertible as the Westerns that preceded it. This film is not straightforward or simple, rather it is a highly complex and reflective film that changed the landscape of the western genre inspiring the likes of Quentin Tarantino and the Coen brothers.

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Vanishing Point or: Have Car, Will Travel

By Kerry Fristoe

In 1970s films, nothing signified independence and a disdain for authority like a muscle car with a V8.

Driving a car is a rite of passage. Teenagers are thrilled the first time they can take the car out without Mom and Dad. Owning your first car is an even bigger deal. It means you get to decide where you’re going. It also means you can go there alone. The makers of counterculture car films of the 1970s took that desire to go your own way further than most teenagers. For them, hitting the open road was less of a weekend pastime and more of a lifestyle. In vehicle-centric films of the late 1960s and 70s, the car was an extension of the man. Insulting a guy’s car was akin to questioning his manhood and stealing his wheels was like rustling in the wild west—punishable by hanging (or the modern equivalent).

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Swept Away: Wertmüller’s Maze of Sex and Politics

By Selin Sevinc

Italian filmmaker Lina Wertmüller’s Swept Away is at once outrageous, weird and guiltily seductive. As the poster suggests we’re in for passionate love and sex on a beach. The affair’s unlikely pair of counterparts are a rich socialite, Raffaella (Mariangela Melato), and a communist deckhand, Gennarino (Giancarlo Giannini). The pointedly ironic mismatch, namely the rich girl vs. poor boy tale, seems at first to be the basic premise of the film. But soon enough, Wertmüller’s unapologetic boldness in handling her material makes the film truly stand out. The film has four distinguishable chapters that differ drastically in tone and content, and provide evidence of Wertmüller’s unique storytelling technique.

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Seven Beauties: A Satire of Survival

By Eli Boonin-Vail

The cinema of Lina Wertmüller dangles before feminist critical theory like a poisoned carrot. One of the sharpest female auteurs of her time, Wertmüller is – in the modern vernacular – “problematic.” Her films present us with problems, often ones which we have no hope of solving. Seven Beauties is one such film, a slick and clever cavalcade of ugliness and grotesqueries on a historical scale that sees fit to incorporate pretty much every type of unpleasantness conceivable, from sexual assault to electroshock therapy to dismemberment to holocaust. Few filmmakers other than Wertmüller can flirt so openly with such nauseous subject matter and get away with it. She produced a picture that somehow achieves moments of great beauty and hilarity amidst the chaos, pain, and despair of abject human suffering.

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Love and Anarchy

By Eli Boonin-Vail

Lina Wertmüller leaves us with a lengthy quote and a mystery at the end of Love and Anarchy (1973). The quote is from diehard anarchist icon Errico Malatesta and the mystery is how we as an audience are supposed to interpret it after what we just saw. Malatesta advocated violence against the state and its agents as an essential component of class struggle and glorious revolution, yet died an elderly man far from home and conflict. Giancarlo Giannini’s dirty-faced provincial Antonio “Tunin” Soffiantini, the world-weary protagonist of Wertmüller’s film, is a young man heavily entrenched in a violent struggle against the state.

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The Palm Beach Story: The Runaway Bride

By Christian Gay

One of the earliest and best-written “gold-digger” or “grifter” narratives, Preston Sturges’ 1942 comedy The Palm Beach Story is a fast-paced, entertaining farce with witty dialogue that still captivates audiences, decades after its release. The premise of the film is a provocative one: after several years of marriage, Gerri Jeffers (played by Claudette Colbert) leaves her husband in pursuit of more profitable relationships with men. She openly and unapologetically acknowledges the role that sex and beauty play in social status and access to money, and as such, the plot dances around the notion of prostitution, or at least, of “sex as commerce,” while strictly adhering to the neutered demands of the Production Code. Thus, a film that at first blush appears to be a formulaic screwball comedy is actually quite radical, relying upon (and critiquing) certain norms and notions of gender and economic class in 1940s America.

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Special Pages | Asian Women in Cinema III

Tan Chui Mui (b. 1978)

Credited with marking the rise of a new wave of socially conscious Malaysian filmmakers, Tan Chui Mui has enjoyed a multifaceted career in her country’s film industry. She first gained wide recognition when her debut feature, Love Conquers All (2006), took home top honors at the Rotterdam and Busan International Film Festivals. The melodrama, which she wrote and directed, focuses on the pressures faced by a small-town girl as she enters a dangerous romance amidst the hustle and bustle of Kuala Lumpur.

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Special Pages | Asian Women in Cinema II

Deepa Mehta (b. 1950)

Though born, raised and educated in India, Deepa Mehta’s film career took off only after a momentous move to Canada. The daughter of a film distributor, a post-collegiate Mehta worked on short documentaries before meeting, marrying and following filmmaker Paul Saltzman to his native Toronto. While she is revered and reviled in both countries where her films have come to be eagerly anticipated cultural events, her films have received polarized responses as they have tackled India’s struggles with arranged marriages, misogyny, homosexuality, rape culture and religious strife, among other issues.

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