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EXCALIBUR AND SPAGHETTI

This is something all creators–writers, artists, even translators–know. When you’re deeply involved in your current project, the world around you seems to echo your work, things start to resonate with your thoughts, and you find yourself even more immersed in what you do.

A case in point. A few weeks ago, I went to see a concert featuring the French singer-songwriter named Juliette. If you’re not French, you may not know how important “chanson française” is in this country. You may have heard about the late Jacques Brel, thanks to a famous musical, or about the still spry Charles Aznavour, who once sang with Liza Minnelli, but the French scene is currently bursting with new talents whose names are unknown to you.

Juliette is one of my favorites. She had released a new album last Spring and, though I’d not bought it yet, I was sufficiently interested to book two seats for her concert in the local theater.

I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed as soon as the curtain rose, for among the musicians’ paraphernalia stood a stone with a sword in it.

And I was hooked by the first song. Circe’s story, as told by the magician herself, and how she used to change men into pigs. An aside here: along with her new album–which I bought after the concert–Juliette just published a book, where she explains the genesis of some of her songs. LE SORT DE CIRCE was partly inspired by a passage in Homer’s ILIAD.

Talk about getting away from work!

I don’t intend to describe the whole show, but I can’t help mentioning a few highlights: IL S’EST PASSE QUELQUE CHOSE (“Something had happened”), a very evocative song in which I recognized a homage to a short story by Dino Buzzati; LE CONGRES DES CHERUBINS (“The Cherubs Convention”), a hilarious romp about a convention of lil’ angels; FRANCISCAE MEAE LAUDES, the most daring number of the evening: Latino music set to Latin lyrics (adapted from a Charles Baudelaire poem); and, last but not least, FANTASIE HEROIQUE (“Heroic Fantasy”), an epic song inspired by fantasy role-playing video games (which explains the sword in the stone).

Since Juliette is a computer geek, her web presence is quite strong, with several sites devoted to her:

The ones where you can have information about her latest album (MUTATIS MUTANDIS) and her brand-new DVD (FANTAISIE HEROIQUE–a filming of her current show, as I enjoyed it live) is:
http://juliette.artistes.universalmusic.fr

The ones where you can have information about her life, work and current schedule is:
http://www.juliettenoureddine.com

Now, what do I do when I’m not busy translating endless epics or grooving to Juliette’s music? Answer: I watch a lot of movies. Most especially western movies. Spaghetti western movies.

It seems hard to believe now, but the late ’60s and early ’70s saw the emergence of a whole new movie genre, cowboys & Indians pictures shot in good ol’ Europe–in Italy and Spain, to be more specific. The John Wayne purists hated them, the critics panned them, and a lot of people loved them. The genre underwent a rapid decadence in the late ’70s, and died amidst a flurry of farces, the most (in)famous of them being THEY CALL ME TRINITY, starring Terence Hill. (Who also starred in a wonderful movie called MY NAME IS NOMAN… er, NOBODY.)

Nowadays, there is a lot of interest in Spaghetti Western, mostly thanks to Quentin Tarantino, who acknowledges their influence, and also thanks to the DVD phenomenon, which makes a lot of pictures available to movie buffs. The greatest practitioner of Spaghetti Westerns–a term he loathed–was of course Sergio Leone, who is now considered one of the greatest directors ever, and of whom it has been said he was the first postmodern moviemaker. (Incidentally, I wish I lived in LA and could visit the Leone exhibition at the Gene Autry Museum. Lucky Californians…)

But the true aficionado will also praise the works of two other Sergios, Sergio Corbucci and Sergio Sollima, whose movies are once again available. Jean-Daniel says check them out.

But the movie I want to tell you about was directed by Ferdinando Baldi, a little-known master of B pictures. Our story starts the day General Carrasco, a hero of the Mexican war of independence, comes back home to his loving wife Anna. But Anna and her lover Thomas kill him that very day, under the horrified gaze of Isabel, the general’s daughter. As for her brother Sebastian, his nurse has the time to whisk him away.

Fifteen years later, Rafael, a childhood friend of Sebastian, who has fallen in love with Isabel, finds Sebastian, who now lives in Texas and has forgotten his trauma, and convinces him to avenge his father. The two of them ride to Mexico…

Sounds familiar? Yep: for General Carrasco, read Agamemnon, for Anna Clytemnestra, for Isabel Electra, for Sebastian and Rafael Orestes and Pylades, and so on.

The movie’s called THE FORGOTTEN PISTOLERO (IL PISTOLERO DELL’AVE MARIA in Italian), and I urge you to see it if you can find it. Besides its clever plot, it sports beautiful photography, leading pretty bad boys Leonard Mann (alias Leonardo Manzella) and Peter Martell (alias Pietro Martellanza), a stunning Pilar Velasquez as Electra/Isabel–see picture–and a wonderful Piero Lulli as the sadistic henchman of Aegisthus.

A quick search will lead you to several sites devoted to Spaghetti Western, but I recommend this one:
http://spaghettiwesterns.1g.fi

See you next time, pardners.

Best,

 

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