Here a condensed report of dialogues I had with the Maestro del Cinema Sergio Sollima, during my numerous visits in the last years at his home in Rome and again when he called in at my dwelling in the Roman countryside. I define this article more as a collection of dialogues, rather than as an interview like the one with Stefanelli, because it summarizes the essence of many encounters and discussions, even if most of it originates from a real, targeted interview I videotaped few weeks ago.
Sergio Sollima is alive and kicking, contrary to Sergio Leone, so that only one opinion can be heard today, concerning some issues that have given food for debate in the past. Anyway, he is living cinema History, and what he says deserves our greatest respect and gratitude.
Before entering the core of the article, I need to express my own thoughts about him and his work. I am myself a Roman, like Leone and Sollima, and perceive well certain small details in the choice of words, in the style of expression, in the language they use to formulate feelings or opinions. This is important. It is important because viewers, listeners and spectators far away, from Korea to California, from Brasil to Finnland, may only be able to understand part of the truth. Not the full truth. The reason lies in the fact that Romans in general tend to be imperial, but at the same time they assassinate the emperor. What I want to say here is condensed in one sentence: do the Roman directors believe in what they do? Do they love their art creations? Do they believe in the intimate spirit that is inherent in their fiction characters? Do they feel what Cuchillo or Mortimer feel? Do their soul, their innermost spirit ride away in freedom and boldness, like Cuchillo down the sand dune in Big Gundown or Beauregard in Faccia a Faccia, or Nero in Companeros, or Clint at the end of GBU? My personal answer is : only Leone went spiritually completely alongside with the soul of his creations, of his world of fiction. He believed. His westerns were the reflected mirror image of his inner being. He was an artist, a dreamer. And found beauty, unequalled beauty in bringing his dreams down to earth. Leone , in his movies, never introduces a question, he does not want to ask difficult questions or find deep answers. A dreamer doesn´t ask either, the answer is in the dream itself. Not so Sollima and the others. They were just great, exceptionally talented professionals.
On the day I called Stefanelli, before going to Almeria to shoot my video, I looked again into the phone directory and there he was: Sergio Sollima! I dial the number....ring...ring...ring...and a loud pronto, qui Sollima!! comes barking back at me. Not the gentle and feeble voice of an elderly person, as you would expect, but the whacking voice of a harbor worker in a tavern!I stammered a few words of introduction, asking if I could see him to get some info concerning locations of his movies. He answered he was terribly busy with some remake of Corsaro Nero, for the RAI (Italian Television), and that I should call him again in a few months. OK, I thanked and said to myself that he probably didn´t like me. Should I really call him again after the video was edited? In fact this is what I did, he invited me over to his place, calling me another crazy guy who goes after Italowestern after so many years. He looked very energetic, full of wit and irony, very very friendly, his face resembled closely Rod Steiger in his late years.We became good friends, and one day he watched my humble Almeria video (my legs were shaking and I felt really embarassed and ashamed to show what I thought was such a piece of junk to the father of Resa dei Conti) . At the end he smiled to me, stood silent for a moment and said only: Bel lavoro, bella fotografia, posso averne una copia? (engl.: beautiful work, beautiful photography, can I have a copy?) . Amigos, it was like Christmas for me!!!
MM: Sergio, give me a brief autobiography, who are you?
SS: Well, I was born in Rome on the 17th March 1921. My father was a successful lawyer, wanted me to follow his footsteps... you know how parents are, what THEY do is the best YOU can do... bahh. I tried law studies a few months at the University, much later in 1939, but you see what became of me... From my childhood on I was a fan of cinema, spent countless hours in the local movie theatre in Tivoli , near Rome, where they had often double features, my heroes were Tom Mix and Hopalong Cassidy! I remember the western of William Hart. These were our child dreams, what else? There were no other distractions available back then. I was five or six years old, and I suffered my first shock when someone told me that I was not an American, that the prairies and the Indians were out of my reach. So, from my first days since I could perceive consciously my environment I soaked up cinema as an addict.
MM: When did something inside you click to turn your full attention towards cinema as a serious endeavour, a lifetime passion and profession?
SS: I did have a strong passion for cinema, but somehow another temporary flirt with the theatre surged. As a teenager I had acted on stage in a drama, in charge of a secondary role, and learned about the existence of another way of expression: the theatrical one. However, going to a cinema was very inexpensive , especially for a child. Going to a theatre representation is far more expensive. I made an extraordinary discovery , as perceived through the eyes of a kid, the claque. The claque consists of a bunch of hired spectators who are paid to cheer and applaude at certain times when some actor does a certain thing on stage. There was a guy who distributed free entry tickets to anyone who was willing to clap hands , even if one didn´t understand a damn of what was performed on stage. This option gave me access to a lot of theater representations, much more probably than a mentally sane human would be able to bear! Among the claque people there was a friend of mine, Leopoldo Trieste, who told me that he was attending the courses at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia. Another shock for me! What an idiot , I said to myself.. with all my affection for cinema .. what am I waiting for? However , enrollment was not possible for me, you had to be 21 years of age, I was only 19 at that time. Another former schoolmate of mine was already attending courses at the Centro too, and he agreed to help me. He arranged an interview with the director of the Centro, Mr.Chiarini, telling him of a „desperate“ case of a young lad, who loved cinema and would cut his veins if not accepted at the Centro. Meeting Chiarini was my first real „examination“ in life, forget school tests... but I had a guardian angel watching over me. He must have acted in my favor, even if I don´t believe, you know, I am an atheist. Chiarini agreed to have me enter the courses underage.
MM: At the Centro you probably met other people who played some kind of role in the following years in the Italian development of film industry and art, I assume.
SS: I was just a kid, but imagine Mario, there was Giuseppe DeSantis, Leopoldo Trieste and an "old" man, 29 years old, whose name was Michelangelo Antonioni! And Luchino Visconti no less! And as it often happens in a chaotic country like Italy, where tragedy and comicity co-exist in an unconflicting way, where things are great but never serious, the director Chiarini was confronting the gray matter, the brain, the theoretician of the Centro, Mr.Barbaro. Barbaro was decidedly left oriented, as opposed to the fascist Chiarini , who was fascist but didn´t give a damn for fascism. Barbaro was the one who translated into Italian the masterpieces of Russian directors, like Eisenstein , for example. So , altogether I was in good hands.
MM: Did you complete your studies at the Centro?
SS: No, those sons of bitches of the War Ministry recruited me in ´41. I became a soldier and that´s why we lost the war against America!! But then something decisive happened. Chiarini, using his fascist authority, suceeded in recalling some of the students from active service, back to the Centro. His point was, that the recuperated people could be the film crew members of the Italian Ministry of War Public Relation and Documentation Office. I was among those rescued. Suppose I was hybernated in Russia or dehydrated in the Lybian desert! So I worked for the Ministry in the making of documentaries.
MM: When and how did you earn your first loaf of bread due to your film related activity?
SS: It was not due to a film deal, but through writing. I was an assistant journalist at the magazine CINEMA. This was in 41-42. CINEMA was directed by the son of the Duce, Vittorio Mussolini, another typical absurd italic feature. He was a fan of Hollywood, went there once and had pictures taken together with Shirley Temple. The majority of important people at CINEMA were antifascists at least, if not comunist. There was also Pietro Ingrao, who would become President of the Italian Comunist Party in the ´70s . I also wrote my first booklet , entitled "Il Cinema in America".
MM: Do you have a copy here?
SS: A copy? No, I do not.
MM: You mean you don´t have a copy of your first milestone in your career??
MM: You don´t really have it? YOU DON´T?? (my voice gets increasingly louder here)
SS: NO , I DON´T , Mario , you have no idea of how many things I have lost in my past years! (his voice gets increasingly louder too. We stare at each other, like duelists, frozen somehow, then each one smiles and relaxes and regains his normal posture. This was very typical of our ebullient encounters, was lot of fun! ) Sergio goes on:
After the war, I started to orient myself towards the theatre again. I didn´t have enough skill and experience to even think of being a movie director. I wrote a comedy, A Man and his Rifle, placed in the partisan historical environment, which I presented at the Prague Youth Festival 1947. The play was directed by Luigi Squarzina, I acted too with Rossella Falk, Tino Buazzelli, still young and slim then, and Nino Manfredi. I won the first prize. But then finally the film business began, even if in small scale. I made a first documentary, called Turismo col Pollice, telling about hitch-hikers travelling around, and a second one, Intervista al Cervello, about the daily activities in a lunatic asylum. I kept however writing for theatrical stage shows , delivering the comedy Gli Uccisori, vaguely inspired by James M.Cain´s novel The Postman always Rings Twice. Another comedy followed, an Italian farce , Apocalisse a Capri, which enjoyed a warm welcome by a numerous audience. Delia Scala was acting too in the comedy. I started to get known as a theatre writer. Due to the success of the farce, also important people of the movie world came to watch, among then a famous Italian director, Alessandro Blasetti, who said to me that I was original and crazy enough to have success. Here the link to the world of cinema was established for the first time. I got offers as second unit assistant director and similar, which I generally refused. Rather, I wrote screeplays and treatments for other directors, like Luigi Comencini ,Persiane Chiuse(1950), Pino Mercanti, Il Cavaliere dai Cento Volti (1960), Domenico Paolella, Il Segreto dello Sparviero Nero (1961), Carlo Campogalliani, Ursus (1961), Guido Malatesta, Goliath contro i Giganti(1961), Gianfranco Parolini, I Dieci Gladiatori (1963) . In reality these screenplays were written, and most of the people don´t know it, by my wife. A splendid person, I fell in love with her when she was sixteen years old. She was always a good partner, lover , mother, accomplice, just everything for me.
MM: Where is she now?
SS: In heaven, she died young at the age of 36. I was shooting Sandokan in Indonesia in 1976, one day my production assistant rushes into my hotel room , with a strange look in his eyes , I have to call Italy immediately, he says. They told me she had died from a sudden stroke, almost instantly. I remember, I went to the bathroom to cry and vomit, and in desperation I repeatedly hit my fronthead against the tiles of the bathroom walls. I cracked a few.
When Sergio told me this we had a few moments spent in silence.
Then the interview was resumed.
MM: When came your first movie as director?
SS: In the year 1962. Luciano Lucignani, a friend of Vittorio Gassman, found a producer , Piazzi, suggesting him to make a film with four young directors . The movie was designed as a cluster of four separate stories, from four novels of Italian writers. Among them were Moravia and Calvino. It was called L´Amore Difficile, with Enrico Maria Salerno (the Clint Eastwood voice in the Italian Leone film versions) , Catherine Spaak and Claudia Mori, among others. I was one of the four directors chosen. The others were Nino Manfredi, Alberto Bonucci, and Lucignani. After this, the producer Piazzi, who was the producer of the first Leone film, Il Colosso di Rodi, came with the idea to make a spy-story film. I liked the idea, especially because I had in my desk a story, or treatment even, called Requiem per un Agente Segreto. This treatment of mine had so far been rejected by all other producers to which I had shown it. Why? Because the so-called good guy was as much a son of a bitch as the supposedly bad guy. This, the standard way of thinking would not accept. And producers are mostly standard thinking, at least back in those years. So, the producer invites me to modify the script. I write what would then be Agente 3S3, Passaporto per l´Inferno (1964). Protagonist was Giorgio Ardisson, the movie was pure James Bond style, but money and resources were very limited. Still, it was a financial success. I made a sequel with Agente 3S3 Massacro al Sole, shot in Ibiza in 1965. Then, a pivotal event occurred. There was a group of people gravitating around producer Alberto Grimaldi, among them Sergio Leone. I was a very good friend of Sergio Leone. Rome is a village, and the few dozen people who count in the movie businnes knew each other. Leone had already made FFDM, we are talking 1966. Leone, bless him, introduces me to Alberto Grimaldi. I owe Leone my becoming a successful Italowestern director. Alberto hands me over a script, thought for a film with Stewart Granger, who was in Europe for good, after his Hollywood decadence. I did not like the script at first. It was a spy story. I get back to Alberto and make him read my story, which was resting in the desk drawer. Alberto accepted, I rescued Stewart from a God-forsaken place in Yugoslavia, and we shot Requiem per un Agente segreto.
MM: How was Stewart under your direction?
SS: Look, as professional actor he was doing exceedingly well, but I had the feeling that the role in my movie would not fit him. He acts splendidly when in period costumes, his english demeanor, his aristocratic flair... but for the role of a son of a bitch.. not really. I would be thinking of a guy like Russel Crowe, you understand what I mean. Personally he was not an easy person to deal with, sometimes uneasy and full of psychological meanders, he hated film directors, especially after a director had stolen him his wife, Jean Simmons. We had a good cast with Daniela Bianchi, the first Bond girl, and Peter Van Eyck. The irony of life wants me to have written James Bond scripts before the English did the movies for real. John Glen was encouraged to direct Bond movies after seeing my spy movies, in which I appeared under the alias Simon Sterling. This ended the spy trilogy. Then came the western trilogy.
MM: Sergio, listen carefully to my question. Did you have the inner urge to create a western, did you want it strongly?
SS: Not really, I did not pursue the goal of making a western as a response to an inner necessity. It was Grimaldi himself who addressed me in this sense, inviting me to think of a western. He gave me a script written by Franco Solinas, called Il Falco e la Preda (engl.: the Hawk and the Prey), a title that was kept in Spain, el Halcon y la Presa, for my la Resa dei Conti (engl. literally : the Getting Even, or the Final Revenge in a figurative sense , known as Big Gundown ). It was the story of a young American sheriff hunting down an older mexican bum, a drunkard, supposed to have committed a murder. It was the ever functioning story of a hunt. They thought first of Gian Maria Volonte´as the Mexican character. I was a bit disappointed reading the treatment, because none of the two characters attracted sympathy, I do not mean he was not positive, I mean no sympathy ... a character in a movie doesn´t have to be a positive character, but it is important that he generates sympathy in the viewer. I wrote a few lines turning the thing upside down, with a young Mexican, a pleasant , attractive type, and a mature bounty hunter. Grimaldi had Lee van Cleef under contract, so that I was immediately in favor of giving him this role. I had seen Thomas Milian in a Spanish western before, I think it was Bounty Killer, and I liked him. I liked his exuberance. He came from the Actors Studio, was first a little intellectual and sophisticated, but we got that sorted out pretty soon. The only thing I told Milian was: Thomas , forget now the American westerns, go and watch Mifune in the Seven Samurai, and then come back He understood, and you see the result in Cuchillo.
MM: When I look at Resa die Conti, I realize that it is an Italian western, but at the same time you are not imitating Leone, as hundreds of other manneristic films have done. You do not force eyes-close-ups, or compelled laughing of drunk mexicans, and your photography, although very Italian in style, is not a xerox of Leone. You have achieved to talk your own, very personal and elegant visual language. As your aficionado, Sergio, I want to tell you that one of the best frames ever seen in italowestern history, is the one when Cuchillo, at the final duel, sticks his knife into his robe, camera showing shoulder, hand and face, and he makes a slight turn of his head, like looking at Cleef. This is a perfect, intense, vibrating image. It is pure beauty
SS: Yes, I wanted to go my own way, and I did not get inspired by Leone´s previous work, I did not want and did not need to copy. This is also why I refuse to call my westerns „Italowestern“. The are just "films". Grimaldi told me, that ,after the overwhelming success of Resa dei Conti, Leone was a bit jealous. This is understandable, but he was the one who gave me the chance to do a western !! And more, the title "Resa dei Conti" is a Leonian child too, because it is the name of the sound track of the final Indio-Mortimer duel of 'Per Qualche Dollaro in Piu´. If you look at the Italian Morricone film score releases, you find „Resa dei Conti „ as that particular music segment. When we had the first pre-release show of Resa.. at the ANICA cinema in Rome, Leone was present. He neared me at the end and said to me "it is better than mine"
(My comment: other sources tell that Leone did see Resa... but stated that he liked the story but not the movie. We have only one living voice here, the one of Sollima, and the final judgement is nowadays impossible. Certainly, as Leone was an intelligent man, he understood that Resa... was an excellent movie, but maybe he got caught by fear or jealousness and later expressed his second, negative opinion about Sollima´s movie.)
SS: I answered to Leone:..Sergio, thanks , but in the end they are two totally different things. He and I knew well, that Resa... was a different thing, in the purpose and in the style. Even if the general environment was similar for both of us: like Almeria, the Morricone music, Lee v Cleef, Carlo Simi, the pattern of production and post-production.
MM: Resa... was different also from the point of view of introducing what the Italian newspapers called the political western. The character of Cuchillo is totally unprecedented in western cinematography, even in the american one. He fights with a knife against firearms. He points at the hyprocrit behaviour of the rich and powerful with few, piercing sentences, coming from the intelligence of a hunted human being who must simply survive, day by day.He is able to rock and shake the iron moral beliefs of Johnatan Corbett, who does things because he believes in the law. Cuchillo tells him ..which law, the law of the one who chases or of the chased?.
SS: James Coburn uses a knife in Magnificent Seven, but it has a totally different and tactically limited meaning. Cuchillo uses a knife because he is a proletarian, he is too poor to buy a gun and ammo, in fact he does not want to be armed at all. He says in a certain scene, he would much prefer to use a knife to cut bread..! So the knife and Cuchillo bring a whole new view of the western myth into play, the one of the really poor, the forsaken, the people with no choice. In reality he traces an image of those who did not sustain the myth of the Wild West, on the contrary, Cuchillo abates the myth itself! And he triggers, symbolically, the crumbling of Corbett´s firm beliefs in a social order, in the law, in a cast-oriented structure of society, in the honesty of the wealthy in pursuing the "benefit of Texas".
MM: Talking about Lee, did you have problems because he drank?
SS: Until the 50th bottle of beer no problems. Oliver Reed, in my Revolver, was worse than Cleef. He drank 50 bottles of a mix of beer, wine, whisky and rhum. He died in a pub, like Moliere died in a theatre. Anyway, Lee had an extraordinary physique du role, and his face.. what a face! Leone also said always, or better, shouted always: FACES, I NEED FACES, GIVE ME FACES !!!
MM: Did Lee understand the roles he played? I mean the spirit behind the roles?
SS: Not completely, I can tell you that towards the end of Resa.. he had a kind of little crisis when it dawned on him that the central character wasn´t him , but the peon, Cuchillo. Same happened to Clint, when he realized that Tuco was running the show. However, Lee was pleasant to work with, because I could easily conduct and shape him into what were my needs.
MM: Carlo Simi created fascinating costumes and props for the Italowesterns. He built the FFDM town , today called Mini Hollywood. He worked for you too.
SS: Thank God, he worked with me. He had a unique gift to perceive what could be effectful in the new, revolutionary way we interpreted the art of making westerns. He was the one who fished the poncho for Clint, out of a pile of trashed costumes in Cinecitta´. He was able to construct an environment AROUND the camera, thus allowing for unimpeded, immediate and easy shooting. Carlo has earned an immortal position in the Italowestern Hall of Fame.
MM: Any funny anecdotes linked to Resa...?
SS: A really funny one. Remember the scene when Lee shoots the three guys at the ranch where the lady in black ruled over the vaqueros? Lee´s horse , for an unknown reason, got sexually excited, and we had to top shooting. The sun was going down, and we impatiently waited the horse to return normal. You know, the spanish crew members did not care, when shut-down time came, they dropped everything and left.
MM: Sergio, do you have the original screenplay of Resa.. to show me, please?
SS: No, I don´t have it.
MM: What do you mean „ I don´t have it“ ? YOU DON´T HAVE IT?(my voice gets louder)
SS: NO, I DON´T HAVE IT!!(his voice too)
MM: WHY... HOW CAN YOU? HOW COME THAT YOU DON´T HAVE IT!???
SS: MARIO, IF YOU KNEW HOW MANY THINGS I DON´T HAVE, OR HAVE LOST OR HAVE FORGOTTEN..!! (our voices are like hurricane level now, jumping out of the chairs, wildly gesticulating, then a pause sets in, and we sit down again, grinning)
MM: You and Morricone, the music in your first two films are Morricone masterpieces. Especially in Faccia a Faccia, the soft, insinuating, melancholic theme, called INVOLUZIONE, meaning something that evolves inward instead of outward, so different from the usually more joyful and enthusing tunes of other Morricone scores, has strongly characterized your movie.
SS: It was wonderful to cooperate with Ennio. I only criticize that he used his genius for creating far too many film scores, that is a reason why he did not receive an OSCAR.. what a shame, who deserves it, if not Ennio? But he made too many film scores, too many. Morricone is like Mozart, he does not write music, he talks music. Mozart farted and enjoyed farts as music. Ennio does not fart, but he breathes music. The funny thing is the way he looks, he looks not like a gran Maestro, but rather like a post-office clerk. Ennio has the gift of penetrating the deep sense of a scene, its heart, its meaning, and expresses it in marvellous music. The only time when I wanted it differently was in Citta Violenta, with Bronson. At the end Bronson shoots with a sniper rifle from the top of a building, remember the glass elevator scene, there Ennio had underscored the scene with a good piece of music. I preferred total silence, just the sound of the bullet impact.
MM: After Resa dei Conti, you went on to Faccia a Faccia, what has driven you on? The financial success or something else?
SS: There has been in all my westerns the inherent desire to use them to convey a moral message, not a moralistic instruction, which is sectarian, bigot, but a pure, unbiased attempt of depiction of morality... if morality exists at all. First of all, I try to shed some light on WHY people use guns. Leone did not enter this subject at all, that´s ok so, it is not necessary if you have other scopes in mind. He made Italian frescos, exceptional paintings. I was interested in the conflict between human moral codes and the distortions that society brings to morality. The malignant effect of a so-called „civilized“ society , of a system that self-defines itself as „law-and-order“, the corruption of revolutionary ideals, genuine at the start-out, but transformed into selfishness as times goes on.... all this interested me. And you know why? Because, in contrast to Leone, I am a man of theatre, I wrote pieces for the stage before being behind a camera. On stage you don´t have the support of beautiful photography, of heroic Morricone music, the characters must be strong and valid and keep the focus of the audience for two hours without technical gimmics. It is the richness, the spirit of the stage character alone, that makes it a success or not. So, my movies show, in addition to good photography and music, a psychological pattern, which is typical of theatre people. Here lies the root for describing the individual morality of my characters. Faccia... was the prime occasion to go even deeper in the description of public moral codes, and the way they do not work.
MM: You seem to point at one specific thing, you want to say that what APPEARS is not what IS in reality.
SS: Bingo! Cuchillo is a thief, but gives the coin back in Corri Uomo Corri, a coin he has initially stolen to enter the duel bet in the tavern. Siringo is a Pinkerton agent, on the side of the law apparently, but doesn ´t hesitate to shoot a sheriff.. a sheriff (!) in the attempt to stay undercover in Beauregard´s wild bunch, the rich Texan Brokston in Resa... builds a railway...not for Texas but for himself, the tubercolotic professor, Volonte´, is a Jeckyll-Hyde personality, he osmotically evolves into a killer, while Milian, in a redemption, undergoes an opposite transformation, the girl in the pond bathing with Cuchillo is not an innocent vergin but one of many wifes of a Mormon guy....the respectful wealthy town people of Faccia... look at the street shootings as they would watch a football game. Where is the true moral rule? Where is reality? All my characters, to make a long story short, struggle desperately to find a little island where some form of JUSTICE prevails. This justice is not found in canonical social rules, in written moral codes, but UNIQUELY in the interrelationship between men. Siringo saves Milian at the end, defacing Zachary Shot with his Colt, thus giving to Beauregard that one chance in life that otherwise Milian would have never, I mean NEVER got from society. This is the MORAL CONTENT of my western. You know , Mario, when I was 21 years old, I had a young girl friend in Rome, during the fascist regime, she looked so uncomplicated, pure, but she was the one who betrayed me and some of my classmates, all underground political activists against Mussolini´s regime, they were all arrested. The political police searched my parent´s house, I bolted, hid underground. One of my friends was tortured and died. This fact changed my perception of life forever. This is one hidden motivation of why I made Faccia a Faccia.
MM: This betrays a nihilistic, or at least a cynical perception of life.
SS: You cannot theorize around pure philosophy and then adapt life to it, philosophy should investigate the patterns of life development and adapt accordingly. Nihilism , in my case, is not an a priori model of life, it is the result of what life disclosed itself to be to my eyes.
MM: In Faccia.. I find one of the most impressive achievements of Italowestern photography. When Milian shoots Volonte´, the sun is covered by passing clouds, and the light changes dramatically four times, from light to shadow. This correlates intensly and perfectly with the inner spiritual turbulence of Beauregard, when he struggles between being a desperado or following the conversion path to honesty, the path to redemption, the drama of a spiritual metamorphosis, the everlasting battle between Light and Darkness. Ennio´s music sends shivers up the spine. This is an immense peak of beauty in cinematography. Not to forget that a minute before, Volonte´ and Milian, side by side in the desert, argue about what destiny they have to face, their future actions. It reminds me of Jesus (Milian, white clothes) tempted by the Devil (Volonte´, black clothes) in the desert of the New Testament.
SS: I had not noticed that in the way you tell me , Mario, that´s very interesting. I remember the director of photography telling me he wanted to reshoot the whole thing, because of the changing sun, but I said it was ok . I have not watched these scenes from your more symbolistic-religious point of view, but I have to admit your interpretation is a welcome addition. Let me add an anectode, at this point. Volonte´and Milian, as you say Devil and Jesus, were fiercely arguing about their choice in life, while walking through the desert. Well, their apparent anger was not just acted... they had a terrible physical fight right there... Milian and Volonte´disliked each other from the very beginning, Gian Maria, an intellectual actor from the theatre, a comunist, a difficult person, Milian a Cuban escapee, instinct-driven, anarchic sometimes, they did not ride the same wavelength... I couldn´t help. Then, all of a sudden, around me people start shouting "Maestro, Maestro.. se pelean.. se pelean!!" , in Spanish they fight, they fight, I turned around and saw them involved in a serious fistfight, like in a saloon. I think, Milian was cranked up right when he shot Volonte´, a few minutes later... with blanks of course...ha ha!!
MM: There is another beautiful piece of photography at the end of Faccia... with Siringo kneeling wounded on the ground, the pistol stuck in the sand, and Volonte´at a distance. The geometrical arrangement of the actors and the camera angle are so effective, that we see the same style in Leone´s OUATITW, when Fonda is down on the ground and Bronson at a distance. Almost the same image. Also, the frames with the camera aligned right behind the Winchester barrel, that´s great, did you plan this photography at screenplay level, or was this just an intuition, an invention on the spot, out there in the desert?
SS: I am not such a rational being, certainly not, but this is the profession of a director... things like these you mentioned were invented on the spot. When I was a very young and unexperienced director, I couldn´t sleep at night, because I kept asking myself the same question: what am I going to tell to my film crew tomorrow morning? Later on, with aquired experience, things were self-evident.
MM: How was your relation with Alberto Grimaldi? Normally director and producer are like Devil and Holy Water.
SS: I don´t recall any frictions between us, a gifted producer. He is from Neaples, so a little bit lazy, that the way they are, in Neaples. I remember, when we had the pre-release show of Faccia..there was an icy atmosphere among all of us. Alberto was scared, because he knew my film was not the usual Italowestern, he could not foresee its success.
MM: After the first Cuchillo film, Resa..., you changed the role of Milian dramatically, he became Beauregard, why did you then resume Cuchillo in the third movie, Corri Uomo Corri?
SS: I made Faccia.. because I did not want to copy myself in the first place, but after that, I felt OK in going back to Cuchillo. I wanted Ireland for the role that was given to Donal O´Brian, but during the casting we decided to let him be the Mexican Santillana. O´Brian, that´s incredible, did not know how to ride horses, but trained a lot and rode well , in the end. Unfortunately, even with all the enthusiasm brought into the job by Thomas Milian, we had some bad luck with the producer. My intention was to hook up with Grimaldi again, but he was tied up with other projects, meaning that Corri... was possible only two years down the road. So I had to switch to Marcori and Chretien. Corri... was released in ´68, when Italy was flooded with 80 Italowestern at once. The decadence had begun.
MM: There is another Sergio, Sergio Corbucci. What do you think of his movies?
SS: "Il Grande Silenzio" is a masterpiece.
MM: Sergio, can you show me some stills of behind-the-camera situations?
SS: Mario, I fear I don´t have any, that I recall, I live in a chaos.
MM: WHAT DO YOU MEAN, YOU DON´T HAVE ANY..? HOW CAN IT BE THAT YOU DON´T HAVE ANY? (my voice rises, foam at my mouth edges, my fingers curl in a fashion that predicts strangling)
SS: I DON´T HAVE THEM, AND IF I HAD THEM I WOULDN´T KNOW WHERE TO SEARCH THEM!! (Sergio´s voice roars like thunder, his eyeballs almost out of their sockets)
MM: SERGIO, HOW CAN YOU NOT REMEMBER?
SS: IF I HAD NOT FORGOTTEN SO MANY THINGS IN MY LIFE, I WOULD NOW BE IN A VILLA IN BEL AIR, SURROUNDED BY TWENTY BEAUTIFUL PLAYBOY BUNNIES!!!(the explosion of the GBU bridge was not so loud, probably)
We start laughing heartily.
MM: How do you judge the recent revival and appreciation of Italowesterns aroud the world?
SS: I have been pleased to witness that, but we must discern: there a a dozen Italian films that are prototypes, Leone,Corbucci, Damiani, maybe me... but then 400 others which are imitations, which I would define as Italowesterns, the followers, the more or less cheap copies. Come on... those unshaven pistoleros, some walking like zombies...each one with a cigar stump in his mouth ...you see that over and over again.... it is too artificial, too blatantly designed in a production bureau. Certainly, our initial, genuine way of interpreting the American West, which is very different from the traditional Hollywood style, deserves credit. Especially in foreign countries, our Italian cinematography is better appreciated and understood, than it is in Italy. But that is a recurrent feature of this impossible country. I am better known in Japan or Finland than in Italy.
MM: In your opinion, why is it that , among the world-wide aficionados, press people, film critics, the Italians are in a visible minority, concerning understanding and appreciation of Italowesterns? Even in the SW web site, where this article will appear, Italians are very unfrequent visitors. Why?
SS: Because the Italian soul is intrinsically anarchic. Nobody wants to credit the success of another Italian. Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci would have killed each other, and they came close to it. The Italian suffers (or enjoys) from one typical handicap: masochism. In addition, to really enjoy an Italowestern you need to have some „northern“ attitude, the one called ROMANTICISM. The Italians don´t have a drop of romanticism in their blood. They create the most astounding frescos and canvas of Jesus and Maria, but they are the first who don´t believe. In France, Germany in the US, there is more cultural background in dealing with cinematography, I mean the understanding of cinematography. When I introduce my movies in front of an audience, in Paris or Barcellona .... then I normally say: this is a film , not a Western all´Italiana, just a film. I prefer to de-categorize the name Western all´Italiana, as it refers to the hundreds of commercial imitations, retaining the prototypes as masterpieces of the Seventh Art.
MM: Do you believe?
SS: I don´t believe in God, if that is what you mean. If you refer to a general sense of believing, well let me answer with Cassidy´s own words in Corri Uomo Corri:
And damn well you fight, Sergio, sharing your victories with all of us.
Thank you from the deepest of our heart.