My report on 7 days at the Film Forum retrospective
Tue Jun 12, 2012 6:04pm
I flew to New York and spent most of June 3-9 attending screenings at the Film Forum. It was great to see these movies on the big screen with (mostly) packed and appreciative houses. There were some disappointments, though, which I guess would have to be expected. The programmers themselves commented on how this was the most difficult retrospective they have ever had to program, because it was so hard to get prints of the movies.
The only films I skipped during my time there were DEATH RIDES A HORSE (I recently watched the Wild East release) and MINNESOTA CLAY.
THE BIG GUNDOWN was screened as a DCP (Digital Cinema Package) restoration and it was STUNNING! What a great movie. No complaints on this one. New subtitles were provided for this, which was the US premiere of the complete Italian version. The audience loved it. I watched this a second time on June 9 with my girlfriend. She thought it was great and I asked her what she thought about Cuchillo during the course of the story. Having no knowledge of Tomas Milian or the film itself, she assumed he was guilty, or at least dangerous, and found the scene with the Mormon girl by the water to be creepy. So for those of us who wonder whether or not audiences in 1966 would buy Milian as a villain, I think they would have.
FACE TO FACE was the biggest downer of the whole week for me. I was SO anxious to see this on the big screen. But the English-language print used was in terrible shape. I could have lived with this, but four scenes were missing! The scene where Brad and Beau practice shooting and kill a rabbit, then see Siringo first approaching, was cut. Even worse, the scene where Siringo kills the sheriff was cut! Thirdly, the scene where Rusty, Brad and Aaron discuss Rusty's reputation and reward was cut out, so Rusty does not utter a line until his death scene near the end. Fourth of all, the part of the bank robbery where Beau first talks to the Mexican boy and where the woman shows the note to the sheriff was cut out. So disappointing. I love this movie and I fear that it will never be widely seen.
TEPEPA was shown in HDCam format with projected subtitles. I have never seen the whole film in Italian with subtitles so it was nice to get the whole story (the DVD I have has a silent soundtrack for the English gaps, with no subtitles). Most interest in this one seemed to come from the presence of Orson Welles, which inspired chuckles at his appearance.
DJANGO KILL was also HDCam and was similar if not identical to the Blue Underground DVD. Looked great and the audience ate it up. English with the previously censored scenes subtitled.
THE MERCENARY was preceded and followed by Tony Musante in person, which has already been reported on here. It was a new 35mm print, which looked great, and it was in English. But, man, if you are going to strike a new print, you should be sure to use the complete negative! This one was missing parts of at least three scenes. (1) One shot ends before we see the casino dealer's body with the pitchfork protruding; (2) one scene ends before Franco Nero explains revolutions using the naked body of the prostitute to illustrate it (a great scene); (3)one scene cuts out before Jack Palance puts the grenade in the wounded rebel's mouth. It was a G-rated version, basically.
A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL was a bit surprising. It was an HDCam presentation that looked great, in English, but I have no idea where it originated. The print was not the one used by Anchor Bay or Koch Media, and the soundtrack was the second English dub that Koch added. I am not sure if the projectionist screwed up (which unfortunately happened several times during the screenings I saw) but the first 25 seconds were missing so that the film started with the firing squad shooting almost immediately. The title appeared as A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL in an unusual font but there were no other head credits, as there are on the DVD releases I have seen. All the credits for cast, director, crew appeared at the end of the movie in the same unusual font. Regardless, what an outstanding film.
DJANGO was an HDCam presentation in Italian (thank God) with new subtitles. It looked great and went over well with the audience but I prefer the subtitles on the Blue Underground release.
COMPANEROS was a 35mm Italian print with new subtitles that differ from those on the Anchor Bay release. Everything seemed to be there, including exit music. It was a crowd pleaser. Now, I feel confident in saying that COMPANEROS is superior to THE MERCENARY, having seen 35mm screenings on consecutive nights with large audiences. I cannot understand why the common perception seems to be that THE MERCENARY is better, other than the fact that it came first. Corbucci improved upon what he had already basically done.
HELLBENDERS was an HDCam presentation in English and it looked great. This is a top 10 spaghetti western for me, and one that I think is vastly underrated. It rivals THE GREAT SILENCE among Corbucci's work.
THE GREAT SILENCE was a 35mm print in English that was in pretty good shape, although it had burned in French AND German subtitles. The exit music was in place (why do DVD releases of most films drop the exit music???) and it played well to the audience. I heard people around me commenting on how "heavy" it was. The big flaw of this presentation was that part of the sheriff's death scene was missing! The scene ended with Loco shooting at his feet. I can see now how it could have played with the alternate ending, since in the print shown, we don't see the sheriff go into the water and he could have survived (assuming Loco just left him to freeze).
NAVAJO JOE was a 35mm print that seemed to attract an audience hoping to enjoy the Burt Reynolds factor. The print was good but the movie itself did not overly impress me. On the big screen, its sloppy editing and bad day-for-night photography really stood out. Oddly enough, the music at the beginning was synced up as it is on the domestic MGM DVD, which was fixed by Koch for the German release. So the faulty syncing of music and image on that MGM release seems to date back to the original North American film releae, unless this was a newly struck print, which seems unlikely. Without a doubt, the weakest of the 16 films I watched this week, along with SARTANA.
SARTANA was a 35mm English-language print that looked great but the projectionist had some trouble getting the aspect ratio set up at the beginning (which reminds me of the problems with the Wild East DVD). The movie makes little sense, and this was really apparent when trying to focus on it in the middle of watching a bunch of other, better-told films.
THE PRICE OF POWER was a revelation. The 35mm print was gorgeous! I have not seen it in Italian before, and it plays much better with subtitles than in English. Because Alex Cox introduced the film and spoke afterwards, it was a full house. Cox spoke very highly of it (calling it Gemma's "one great film") and I thought the crowd would be disappointed, but it played very well and the reaction was extremely positive. Considering the politics of the time, this really is a remarkable film for many reasons that have nothing to do with westerns, and it deserves wider reappraisal.
FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE was a 35mm print that was not in great shape. There was very poor colour for some reels. Still nice to see it on the big screen.
THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY was also a DCP restoration but not as good as THE BIG GUNDOWN restoration. I noticed several digital anomalies. I have seen a perfect print of this in Toronto a few years back so it is odd they went with a restoration. It was the extended version.
A great week of movies, and aside from FACE TO FACE's poor condition, my biggest disappointment is that I had to leave before seeing CHINA 9, LIBERTY 37 which screens tonight. The audiences I saw were varied in age and gender, and it was sweet to hear people whistling themes they had just heard while waiting for their subway trains to arrive afterwards.
I'd concur with Eric. Most screenings I was at were well-attended or close to sold out, with a real mix of people in the audience. Young couples, older couples, some solitary women and men. At PRICE... more
I went to several screenings and there were a lot of women in the audience - some came alone, some on dates. Very surprising. Also fathers bringing their sons to see the films. Most of the screenings ... more
I saw PRICE OF POWER today and it was indeed a beautiful print. Also an excellent film - much more plot-driven than your usual spaghetti western. I would argue with Cox's assessment that this was... more
I always find it interesting how people disagree on films in this genre. For instance, I think FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE is Leone's weakest western in that it drags so badly in the middle. Other fans... more
I saw COMPANEROS and THE BIG GUNDOWN tonight at the Film Forum and would pretty much agree with Pasta Shel's reviews. BIG GUNDOWN was a gorgeous looking film, and so many scenes or bits of scenes... more
Thanks Pasta Shell, I'm sure you had a great time by your enthusiastic reviews. So many of these films look much better on the big screen the way they were meant to be seen. Something like this... more