Dead for a Dollar it is an intriguing mix between the classic western and modern themes such as racism and female freedom. How was it able to guarantee the right balance between the two souls?
I didn’t want to make a film that was frozen in time or just my version of the traditional western. I was interested in introducing modern issues and themes within the classical structure, in particular allowing a certain feminine sensitivity to emerge. I’ve never believed in visual metaphors, but some of the characters are clearly symbols of an era. I would say that my priority was to leave room for different points of view, I didn’t want the antagonist to be just a villain and that’s it for example. With Willem Dafoe we have created a villain who takes pride, lives following a certain code of honor, albeit a very personal one. Rachel’s character from this point of view is very important, I immediately explained it to Brosnahan: she was not created to seek love like in old westerns, she is looking for respect and dignity.
What does it represent Dead for a Dollar within his career?
It is the others who have to answer this question. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, I felt ready, I was fine, even though I know I’m not the youngest director on the scene. The western remains a vigorous film genre for me, I have always enjoyed making western films, with the great landscapes, the horses, the actors… it is always a great experience to direct one. Often directing a movie is boring and stressful, but westerns are fun. My first works were, moreover, on the set of western films, such as Gunsmoke or Wild West. Also for this reason I am very attached to it, although there is a big difference between television and film westerns.
La Biennale / G.Zucchiatti
In recent years we have had westerns like the Sisters Brothers, The Harder They Fall or a series like Yellowstone. What is special about the western genre?
The western for Americans represents our history, our culture, in a particular space-time dimension: the American dream, the manifest destiny, the country that was formed and the idea that everyone had a chance. The characters are then always called upon to demonstrate what they are worth from a human point of view, they are subjected to continuous tests and challenges. There are rituals and symbolic objects of enormous symbolic importance for our culture: hats, weapons, horses. This film genre originally referred to the agricultural past of the United States, with all its values and characteristics. My parents felt like peasants, like their parents. My generation left that path first. Western cinema once referred to a mature, purely male audience, then you Italians arrived with spaghetti westerns to change things, to make it more fun, for a younger audience, and you did it very well, also revolutionizing the concept of action and making the duel an iconic moment.
Dead for a Dollar pays homage to many great directors of the past, it is also connected to his own The Knights of Long Shadows. In some elements it seems to closely resemble The professionals by Richard Brooks.
I paid homage to Homer. In Brooks’ film a disreputable person lost his wife and recruits mercenaries to have her, but mine is not a new idea as hers was not, Homer was the first to think of it.
You have revolutionized the concept of action in cinema. How do you see this element in today’s cinema? Has it evolved in the right direction?
Today there is a tendency to be succubus to the public, to pamper them with Marvel movies for example, and that’s something I don’t like. I still believe in the old adage that “jokes are funny, but the bullets are real”. In Marvel movies there is no such element, because the concept of action has changed, because the audience has changed and the audience always knows what they want. In my career I have had films that have worked very well, others less so, it is inevitable, it is part of how things go, we are all connected to the moment in this profession. I dreamed of being a new Kurosawa, but today I don’t think anyone who approaches this world does it with the same point of view that I and the others had in the 60s. I don’t want to name names, but I think they just want to be successful, excel. They also have a different attitude, Kurosawa was very serious, methodical, creative, he didn’t care about the expectations of the audience. Now he’ll play like an old man who complains, but today he indulges the audience too much, and this latest film of mine goes in the opposite direction, it wants to lead them somewhere else.
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Do you have a film that you feel more connected to than the others? Among him, which one do you think he had the most role of innovator with?
The film that most influenced me was certainly Alien by Ridley Scott, who then everyone imitated in the following years. Of mine I know for sure that many other directors have been inspired by 48 Hours, they say I changed the buddy cop movie genre. But mine wasn’t a buddy cop, since the two protagonists couldn’t stand each other! But then I also think about The Night Warriors, in general the films I made in the 80s were the best, even if they didn’t get the attention they might have deserved. A great baseball player called Willy Mays, one of the best defenders ever, when asked what was his best interception he always replied: “I don’t put them in the standings, I just do them”. It’s the same for me, and it’s also true if you ask me about directors. We only see the finished product in the cinema, but we do not see the whole creative process, with all the difficulties and problems associated with it. Directing is like being a stagecoach driver, it is not the town where you arrive but the journey you will make, how you will lead the horses.
How was this trip in Dead for a Dollar with Willem Dafoe, Christopher Waltz and Rachel Brosnahan?
Willem is a great friend of mine, and I was happy to work on him once again together. Christopher was also my friend before this film, Rachel was the only one I didn’t know, and it was very easy to work with her, she was able to give great dignity to her character.
What effect does returning to Venice have on you?
Had been there years ago and I love being there again. For me, Italian cinema has always been fundamental and not just for spaghetti westerns. When in the 50s and 60s most of my friends and colleagues focused on French cinema, I instead looked to your country, to everything you have been able to give us. Among many examples, one comes first for me: The Battle of Algiers by Gillo Pontecorvo, a true masterpiece.
What does it have in store for the future?
I’m not ready to sit down and read the paper yet. I’ve just finished rewriting a script for a western movie, but I’d like to do something different first. By then maybe the world will have had enough of me. People say directors quit… I think you just stop making movies when you’re not at the party anymore so to speak. I consider myself lucky to have worked so long at a high level. Certainly I will never start to be a director for a TV series or some episode, cinema for me remains the only real goal, even if in reality it is based on the usual 3-4 stories that everyone tells in a different way.
I was born in Padua in 1985, always a great lover of sports, cinema and art, after twelve years as a professional coach and scoutman in the world of volleyball, I decided to pursue a career as a journalist.