Blu-ray Review: Salvatore Giuliano

Each decade the British Film Institute’s magazine Sight and Sound polls key figures from the industry to crown a film as ‘the greatest of all time’. In tandem with this survey, the publication prints a selection of lists from a cross-section of directors, simultaneously showing how the overall data was compiled and giving a window into key creative figures’ influences. Amongst the films cited by Martin Scorsese was the gritty 1962 neo-realist docu-drama Salvatore Giuliano.

On the morning of 5th July 1950 the body of Sicilian bandit Salvatore Giuliano was found in a courtyard. The leader of a local gang of outlaws from 1943 until his death. The township of Castelvetrano and its surrounding villages saw him as a mythic hero who fought valiantly in the quest for Sicilian independence. A Robin Hood for the post-war era pitched in direct conflict with a tyrannical political regime which refused to recognize the region’s right to self-govern. Separatist sentiments were encouraged during the allied invasion of 1943.

Four years later, eleven people were slain and thirty-three wounded during Mayday celebrations. Twelve days after a leftist coalition was elected to govern the region a cross-section of the populace was preparing to follow the annual parade. A speaker from the local Communist party began to address the crowd when shots ran out from the surrounding hills. In the massacre, four children lost their lives.

Taking full responsibility for the atrocity, Giuliano wrote an open letter that was published in several newspapers which stated his intention was to disrupt the political gathering, not to murder innocent citizens. His men, so he claimed, had been instructed to fire their guns into the air.

From this moment onward support for his actions began to wane. Previously loyal champions denounced him and a cash bounty was offered by the Italian government for his successful capture.

Fourteen years after that May morning, events were recreated with meticulous attention to detail in the very same region, survivors of that carnage relived the experiences for a feature film that probed with forensic precision the conflicting accounts of Giuliano’s death. Except for two professional actors, Salvo Randone (President of the Court of Assize) and Frank Wolff (Gaspare Pisciotta), the cast is comprised of local citizens, many of whom knew the deceased bandit.

Drawing from court records, the director (Francesco Rosi) constructed a patchwork narrative, inviting the viewer to piece together events and form their own conclusions. Giuliano is largely absent from the film. He is seen as a corpse and briefly in a pan but his influence is writ large into every frame.

A fragmented and subjective narrative is welded together by echoing Citizen Kane‘s investigative approach to constructing a biography. The ‘facts’ surrounding the titular character’s life and death are presented by people acquainted with him.

Regarded by Martin Scorsese as ‘one of the true masters of cinema’ and considered by film critic Derek Malcolm to be ‘the heavy conscience of Italian cinema’ Francesco Rosi is a Golden Lion-winning filmmaker that trained alongside Luchino Visconti. His 1972 feature film The Mattei Affair won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

A politicized director, and a key figure in what he termed as the ‘second phase of neorealism’, Rosi’s films frequently expose corruption at the heart of society. This former lawyer who had previously been an assistant to Antonioni is fêted in his homeland but remains less well known in the UK possibly due to the unavailability of his films. Redressing that imbalance, Arrow Films release of a restored Salvatore Giuliano demonstrates that the movie, and Rosi’s singular vision, continues to be felt in Italian cinema and TV. From Gomorrah to Romanzo criminale, the contemporary gangster genre’s DNA is built upon this film’s legacy.

To accompany the film, Arrow has assembled an extensive collection of bonus content, delving deep into the myth behind the man, alongside a wealth of material covering the film.

Salvatore Giuliano is avalable to order from Amazon.


Blu-ray Review: Django, Prepare A Coffin


In historical accounts of the Spaghetti Western the Django films are often overshadowed by Siegio Leone’s Man with No Name trilogy despite having at least eighty entries in the franchise, albeit of questionable legitimacy with the most recent being Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. Whilst not a direct sequel, Tarantino’s film drew heavily from themes prevalent in the original films specifically a focus on wreaking revenge on an evil capitalist for the suffering Django’s wife has endured. With increased interest in the franchise since the release of the Tarantino film Arrow Films has given the 1968 sequel Django, Prepare A Coffin a HD restoration and Blu-ray release.

First appearing in the eponymously titled 1966 film, Django was originally portrayed as a Civil War veteran drifting across a newly reconstructed America. Dragging a sealed coffin across inhospitable terrains Django’s journey would not end until he had found the person responsible for this wife’s murder. Criticised at the time for its excessive violence the film was denied a certificate in Sweden and it wouldn’t be awarded one in the UK until 1993. Irrespective of whatever problems the film may have had in gaining a release in certain European territories it found an appreciative audience in Afro-Carribean countries, most notably Jamaica. In recent years the film, or rather its soundtrack gained a new audience when it was sampled by Gnarls Berkley on the worldwide hit Crazy.

The precise number of sequels to the 1966 film is almost impossible to pin down with estimates varying from eighty to over a hundred but for the most part, these are considered by aficionados to be unofficial. The criteria for deciding what constitutes a real ‘Django‘ film from the many imitators appears to be to be the participation of original lead actor Franco Nero the director Sergio Corbucci.

What differentiates Django, Prepare A Coffin from the numerous unofficial sequels is that a concerted effort was made to secure the services of Franco Nero and it was only when it became apparent that the production could not accommodate his commitments to an American project the decision was made to recast the role.

With a new Django on board played by Terrence Hill (They Call Me Trinity) the character’s backstory is substantially revised to the extent that this film could be called a reboot. Retiring from a life as a gun for hire in the services of an ambitious senator, Django heads off for pastures new with his wife. Whilst en route to California with a consignment of gold the trailer is attacked, his wife killed and Django left for dead.

Following the template laid down by the first film Django, Prepare a Coffin is a tale of revenge albeit somewhat less violent than the original. The subtitle plays on the audience’s foreknowledge of what is hidden inside Django’s coffin and the delaying of it’s reveal is part of an overall narrative strategy which is based upon misdirection and the implied promise of greater action to come.

Whilst not as well regarded as the 1966 film, Django, Prepare A Coffin is a classic example of the B-movie strand of Spaghetti Westerns. It most probably hasn’t looked as good at any time since the original release. In all previous domestic versions the image was softer, colours less defined. The restoration by Cinecteca di Bologna greatly enhances the range of visual information and this is particularly noticeable when viewing the exterior sequences. The overall package is complemented by some very well put together bonus content including an interview with Spaghetti Western expert Kevin Grant, optional English and Italian soundtracks, and a booklet by Howard Hughes.

Django, Prepare A Coffin is available to order from Amazon.