The Last Spaghetti Western-Documentary
by Sherif Awad
The Spaghetti Western subgenre contained this group of western films made in Italy and Spain during the mid-1960s cashing great box office sales worldwide. Sergio Leone contributed to the most famous and immortal ones like The Dollars Trilogy starring Clint Eastwood and One Upon a Time in the West starring Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson and Claudia Cardinale.
One documentary director from Bulgaria is still influenced by the genre and decided to travel to the small town where they used to shoot these movies around half a century ago. His name is Tonislav Hristov and he made his first feature-length documentary Family Fortune in 2009. It was followed by The Rules of Single Life, Soul Food Stories and Love and Engineering. The latter was shown in Tribeca Film Festival last year.
And so Hristov travelled to the Andalusian town of Tabernas to shot his documentary Once Upon a Dream: A Journey To The Last Spaghetti Western where he met many normal townspeople living there but still captivated by the magic of Westerns that used to be shot in their desert and landscapes. Tabernas is located in the southern desert of Spain, a place that used to be for decades the shooting place of not only Spaghetti Western but also received the cast and crew of successful Hollywood productions, which went around the world to become part of cinema history. To name a few: King of Kings, Cleopatra, Lawrence of Arabia, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Elizabeth Taylor, Harrison Ford, Claudia Cardinale, Sean Connery, Steven Spielberg and hundreds of other famous names in the film industry, all of them were already there and have left their mark. The residents of the town live for generations in an almost unreal backdrop, caught in a twilight zone between theatre, film and life. They all live somehow from working in theatre and film. Some of them play as extras and in smaller roles, some play in the shows, in which tourists can see the great moments of cinema alive (something like Disneyland and Universal Studios in the US), others have their jobs and their daily lives built around the functioning of this system around. Life in this town itself is like a never-ending film. But as time has passed by and the economical crisis took over, the village lost all its glamour, the citizens their jobs. Pubs and local businesses had to close; grown-up men in the best working age resigned and lost their jobs possibilities. There is hardly any decent paid work, only few tourists get lost in the town, no future prospects are in sight. All of a sudden, a rumor flies that a new big film production starring Claudia Cardinale is coming into town. For few people a new light of hope shows up, a new chance to escape the rough reality of their daily lives. Some of the workers in the town’s western film museum start to dream of joining the backstage of the production as electricians or carpenters. Another middle-age man, who happens to be a lookalike of Jack Palance, dreams of making a stunt scene in front of Cardinale. In fact, he still believes that she is that young and beautiful young woman that seduced Henry Fonda and Charles Bronson in Leone’s One Upon a Time in the West back in 1968. Pepe Novo, another actor and stuntman, has a more sinister story. He believes that he is son of Henry Fonda who had a one-night-stand affair with his mum during the shooting of Leone’s film. And so, till now, he still sports the same outfit worn by Fonda in the classic spaghetti western: a cowboy dressed in black from top to bottom and big dark sideburns. If I remember correctly, it was Fonda’s sole villainous role in his renowned career.
The Last Spaghetti Western is a very funny yet poignant film about how cinema can influence Ordinary People to the extreme by making them living in twilight zone between reality and fiction. It also shows how the image of great stars like Eastwood, Bronson, Fonda and Cardinale can challenge time only to be eternally beautiful as a long as the film plays on again and again.