ITALIAN WESTERN DIRECTORS

I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting Sergio Leone or Sergio Corbucci (Del Zamora has a very funny and desperate story about being Leone’s minder at a Latino CInema event in Los Angeles, but he must be the one to tell it). When I first went to Italy – to attend the Torino festival – the Sergios were alive and I got their numbers and called both their homes. Luckily for them they were out. Less fortunate was Carlo Lizzani, who was directing a play in Rome and agreed to meet me at the theatre.

Cox and Lizzani, 1984

What a generous man he was, to put up with a young jarhead fan who wanted to talk about his great film REQUIESCANT. Since then I have revisited his earlier Western THE HILLS RUN RED, which I’d unfairly dismissed as “in the American style”. It’s really in Lizzani’s style with lashings of politics and action and great compositions – both are really worth seeing. As I recall, we licensed REQUIESCANT for Moviedrome, together with Corbucci’s IL GRANDE SILENZIO and DJANGO, and the most insane Western of them all, SE SEI VIVO SPARA / DJANGO KILL. Some twenty years later I went to Venice to screen SEARCHERS 2.0 and participate in a celebration of the Italian Western. I met various maestri there, including Giulio Petroni and Enzo Castellari, and Lizzani again, and the wonderful Giulio Questi, director of SE SEI VIVO SPARA. Here are Questi and I, flanked by Roberto Silvestri, Manifesto journalist, and Marco Guisti, author of the Italian Western Bible.

Questi_Bunch

That’s it! I just wanted to share those pictures. Lizzani died two years ago, aged 91. Questi died last year, aged 90. IMDB lists Lizzani as having seventy directorial credits (including documentaries and TV). Questi has 17 credits, mostly TV dramas. His three feature films, DJANGO KILL, DEATH LAID AND EGG, and ARCANA, are all remarkable.

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THE REPO MAN BLU-RAY

Michael Nesmith, executive producer of REPO MAN, played here two nights ago. I didn’t get to see him since his show began at the Boulder Theater at 6.30pm (rock’n’roll shows seem to start earlier and earlier) and I teach screenwriting till 7.30pm. Which is a pity (not the screenwriting part — it’s a great class and my students are more literate and inventive than you could possibly imagine) because I wanted to hand him a copy of the Criterion Collection BluRay disk of REPO MAN, which had arrived that day.

First let me praise the package! Criterion’s artwork is simply lovely, particularly the cover art. This is the very best graphical representation of the film I have ever seen: even better than the old English poster of the smoking boots. The illustration is by Jay Shaw:

Image I don’t need to go into the contents of the box, since they are described in amazing detail at the DVD Beaver site, which compares the original Anchor Bay NTSC DVD with the Universal NTSC DVD, with the Masters of Cinema ‘Region B’ BluRay, with the new Criterion ‘Region A’ release.

The original Anchor Bay was sparse in additional elements, inevitably, since Universal Pictures had refused to create any. Instead, Jay Douglas of Anchor Bay paid for an audio recording in which Nesmith, I, Sy Richardson, Zander Schloss, Del Zamora, and  Vicky Thomas all participated. He offered us each a $2000 bonus if Harry Dean Stanton came to the recording session! But Harry declined to attend. Still, the Anchor Bay DVD was popular, so popular in fact that Universal demanded the rights back — terminating their contract with Anchor early, and giving them the DVD rights to EVIL DEAD 2 in return.

Universal, well aware how much money Anchor Bay had made, wanted a piece of that REPO DVD action. But now they faced a problem. Other than the audio recording we had made there were no additional elements. All but eight of the production stills we had delivered had been lost. A solution came in the form of Rick Finkelstein, formerly Nesmith’s attorney and, suddenly, CEO of Universal Pictures. I contacted Finkelstein and suggested Universal bring out a decent DVD of REPO MAN, rather than a vanilla one. Thanks to Rick’s intervention, Universal gave me a budget to create elements for the DVD: I shared the dosh with the film’s producers, Jonathan Wacks and Peter McCarthy, and we created three new elements — Peter’s interview with Harry Dean Stanton, Jonathan’s round-table chat, and the “missing scenes” interviews with Sam Cohen and Zander Schloss.

Rolling Stone magazine decreed the result their DVD of the year. At which point Universal should have swallowed their pride, contacted Nesmith, Wacks, McCarthy and me and offered us $20 million to make a sequel. Unfortunately they didn’t: instead they re-branded one of their unreleasable flops as “REPO MEN” and sent a letter threatening to sue me if I ever made a movie with the word REPO in the title.

Charming, aren’t they? I talk a bit about Universal’s weird threats and the studio’s attempts to own the word REPO on the Masters of Cinema BluRay: for some reason, this element doesn’t make it onto the Criterion Blu-Ray disk which is, otherwise, entirely complete. The DVD Beaver site goes into extraordinary detail comparing the visual aspect of the two Blu-Rays. Both look damn good to me. In any case, which one you watch has already been decided for you, depending on where you live, thanks to the MPAA’s regional censorship and profit regime.

Thanks very much to Criterion for this lovely new release. And under no circumstances should you watch the outrageously-offensive, almost certainly untrue hidden additional element created by a pair of Colorado cowboys named Hafnor and Powers. I have no idea who these varmints are, but they’d better watch out, telling such subversive stories about the real origins of REPO MAN. As Hanging Judge Jeffreys said, the fact that the libel may be true, just makes it worse!

By the way, the rights to the original screenplay of REPO MAN revert to me in just a few years’ time. If anyone wants to remake the original script, or do a sequel to it, get in touch with me in early 2015…

UPDATE

The Blu-Ray got a very nice writeup from the LA Times but when I tried to post a comment I was unable to (it seems you have to sign up for a subscription first, which is a bit extreme. Or maybe my browser’s broken…) so here is the comment I wanted to post:

Thanks for that very nice analysis of my film REPO MAN. I do have to correct one misapprehension, though. REPO MAN is not a critique of Reagan policies, because these policies, sad to say, were systematic, whatever party was in power. It’s true that we saw a massive increase in the homeless on our city streets when Reagan came to office (I’d seen the same thing happen in England when Thatcher’s government took power). But it’s wrong to ascribe agency to either politician.
It was generally assumed that George H.W. Bush ran the show during the Reagan years. Bush was a highly intelligent man, fluent in Mandarin, and the former head of the CIA. Reagan was… an actor.
In terms of international politics, the Central American holocaust and the disastrous blowback of Islamic terrorism in Afghanistan were the invention of Jimmy Carter, as CIA chief Gates observes in his memoir, From The Shadows.
So REPO MAN isn’t a critique of any individual, no matter how detestable. Its analysis is systematic: it’s a little clearer in WALKER, which perhaps explains why the studio expended more efforts to suppress that film.

TROOPERS TO THE SKIES AVAUNT!

The Bill The Galactic Hero Kickstarter campaign went live yesterday. So far just over $15,000 has been pledged by 170 backers. This seems very good. Among those offering their support for the Bill feature are Harry’s two children, an actor I have known since we made Repo Man, my favourite film composer, an independent bookseller, Japanese and British journalists, and the programmer of the International Film Series at CU. Plus many people I don’t know! Which is very important as $85,000 remains to be raised. Still, these are auspicious beginnings. We shall see how things progress.

Bill the Galactic Hero - a Japanese Edition

Bill the Galactic Hero – a Japanese Edition from Mr. Negishi’s collection

Oh! Please visit the Bill The Galactic Hero Kickstarter Campaign here!