This Christmas marks the opening of Django Unchained, or Quentin Tarantino’s film equivalent of the most awkward Secret-Santa gift ever. For those of you looking to kill 180 minutes by taking the family to the old multiplex, be warned: The guys in the hoods are not dressed as Santa. You won’t see reindeer or Red Rider BB guns. In fact, you won’t see much of a Christmas movie at all unless your idea of one takes place in the antebellum South and features a freed slave turned bounty hunter (Jamie Foxx) out to exact revenge on the plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio) who has enslaved his wife (Kerry Washington). Surprised? That’s because Tarantino’s yuletide cadeau is his take on a spaghetti Western—which, I’ve learned, is not the Italian place next to the mall that serves unlimited breadsticks. For the uninitiated, spaghetti Westerns (or “farfalle cowboy shootemups”) appeared in theaters in the 60s and 70s. They got that name because they were usually directed and produced by Italians. They didn’t spend much lire on these films, but they managed to inject their own brand of innovation and European elan—not that anyone noticed much back then. It’s only in recent decades that the term spaghetti Western has shed its negative connotations. And now they have inspired a major Holllywood film. That’s not a bad send up from Tarantino (who’s half Italian himself). But if you want to know more about the visionaries who inspired him, here’s a rundown of some of the genre’s iconic directors. Director Sergio Leone helped launch the spaghetti Western genre with the 1964 film, A Fistful of Dollars (see clip below). He followed up the film with For a Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966), all starring Clint Eastwood in a role that, to my disappointment, did not include a single dialogue with furniture.
In recent interviews, Tarantino has described drawing heavy inspiration from director Sergio Corbucci, whose best known works include Django (1966), The Hellbenders (1967), and The Great Silence (1968). While Tarantino’s new flick shares a name with the 1966 film, the stories are entirely different and only the 60s version has dubbing reminiscent of an old kung fu movie.
You didn’t have to be named Sergio to direct a spaghetti Western, but it apparently didn’t hurt. Sergio Sollima was another director whose gunfighters appeared in the 1960s on the big screen. He directed The Big Gundown (1966), Face to Face (1967), and Run, Man, Run! (1968). Take a look at this clip of The Big Gundown and note the score in particular. That’s by composer Ennio Morricone, whose work appeared extensively in the soundtrack for Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds (2009).
So there you have it: Plenty of trivia to share with your loved ones as you wait in the ticket line for the December 25th opening of Django Unchained. Arrivederci, Christmas.