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Sergio Leone’s Fistful of Dollars and Sergio Corbucci’s Django were the two key films that ushered in the Spaghetti Western invasion. Leone’s film had the larger effect on American film, because it led directly to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, but throughout Europe Django had a massive impact. The international appeal of Franco Nero's title character lead to roughly fifty false sequels, and the moniker effectively became both an adjective and a brand name. Germany was especially fond of the character, and a large number of Westerns were renamed for release in the region during the era. This occasionally ridiculous fanfare was hard earned however, as Django really is a masterpiece, and a subgenre defining film. The story follows a particularly gruff lone traveller happening upon a small, muddy western town trapped between warring factions of white supremacists and Mexican banditos. Behind him, Django drags a wooden coffin, the contents of which will remain a mystery until the time the right moment arrives.

Django
Blu-ray


Django
DVD


The parallels between Fistful and Django are legion. Most critics will cite the works of auteurs like Federico Fellini, Bernardo Bertolucci or Michelangelo Antoninio as the apex examples of Italian filmmaking, but the regional motion picture output is better epitomized by a series of genre waves. Leone and Corbucci’s careers followed a very similar trajectory. Both came out of the Peplum, or ‘Sword and Sandal’ genre. Corbucci was more experienced in terms of being the directorial lead, but Leone worked as an assistant director on Ben Hur, so it kind of evens out. Corbucci dabbled in the supernatural wave that began cresting post-Peplum, but also made a Western called Massacre at Grand Canyon the same year Leone blew the doors off with Fistful of Dollars, followed by Minnesota Clay and Johnny Oro. The problem was these were both relatively conventional, Hollywood style Westerns, and Leone’s films were something new. Django was the stylistic break Corbucci needed.

Fistful and Django were released enough years apart, so Leone receives, and deserves the credit for starting the ball rolling, but Corbucci’s best work  never mimics Leone’s lead visually. Django was so striking and well received it put the director into a bit of a slump, but the flavour was all his own, and was itself mimicked almost as often as Fistful of Dollars. Sergio Leone may have defined the look of the Spaghetti Western (arguably the more important achievement), but it was Corbucci that defined the utter brutality, and it was Corbucci who defined the left-wing politics that permeated throughout the subgenre. Leone would make his own political comments with Once Upon a Time in the West and Duck You Sucker, but usually left politics to the subtext. Corbucci’s politics were worn defiantly on his sleeve, and Django saw him testing the waters of historical analogues. The Mexican revolution is a common period setting for Corbucci’s following films, and paved the way for the more thoughtful subgenre entries, which lead to more interest from young revolutionaries, and built a greater cult fan base. Leone made movies about movies, Corbucci made movies about late ‘60s politics.

Django
Blu-ray


Django
DVD


Cobucci’s morale crushing brutality was perfected with The Great Silence (his best film, and arguably the best Spaghetti Western ever made), but Django set the tracks for the rest of his filmography, and for the most grotesque and gory Westerns ever made. The film's violence, once considered truly shocking, has lost some of its bite over the past forty years, but the sequence where a man is force fed his own ear still manages to push the bile in even the most jaded viewer’s throat. The passion play imagery that became so prevalent in Italian Westerns started in earnest with Django, which stops short of actually crucifying the lead character (Django’s hands are crushed, and he’s forced to place his gun on a cross to make it fire). The brutality extends to the production design, which would also set the stage for both Corbucci’s follow-up features, and inspire other directors. The Great Silence’s snowscapes are probably the bleaker image, but Django’s desolate, post-apocalyptic mudscapes instil genuine dread, and lead other Italian directors to mix more gothic and horror elements into their Westerns (Giulio Questi’s Django Kill…If You Live Shoot!, and Sergio Martino’s Mannaja, A Man Called Blade being perfect examples)

Arguably the one definite advantage Corbucci’s films hold over Leone’s is that of story. Though the basic foundation of Django does mirror Fistful of Dollars (which, of course, mirrors Kurosawa’s Yojimbo), Corbucci’s film features a more surprising and mysterious unfolding of events. Leone’s protagonists are perpetually shaded in grey, but the audience usually knows what to expect from them at the end of the day. It’s generally difficult to spoil the plots of any of the Dollars Trilogy films. Corbucci’s best features, starting with Django, feature pretty significant twists, and unpredictable characters. It is possible that the last minute reveal of Django’s emotional motivation had an effect on Leone’s masterpiece, Once Upon a Time in the West. Lee Van Cleef did run on revenge, and is arguably the lead character of For a Few Dollars More, but throughout the Dollars Trilogy Eastwood’s characters remain delectably ambiguous, whereas Django, Silence, Navajo Joe and El Vasco all reveal themselves by the end of their respective films.

Django
Blu-ray


Django
DVD


Video


This release marks Django’s first gallop onto the Blu-ray format, and I don’t think we could ask for anything more. The film is framed in its appropriate 1.66:1 aspect ratio (Corbucci was not as interested in widescreen framing as Leone, Sergio Sollima or Giulio Petroni were), and appears to use the same source material as the previous Blue Underground DVD release, which is slightly longer than the Anchor Bay release. Corbucci’s use of shallow focus and slightly inferior, non-anamorphic film and lenses leads to an overall lower detail quality when compared to the only comparable films I can find in my high definition collection ( The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, From Russia with Love and The Wild Bunch, for whatever that’s worth), but this 1080p transfer features plenty of extras easily missed on the flatter DVD presentation, such as fiber details, facial crags, sweat and grains of dirt. I’d never noticed the actors’ breath during any VHS or DVD viewings, but apparently it was pretty damn cold on location, because there are definite puffs here and there. The details are also pretty consistent throughout the transfer, only noticeably faltering when the depth of focus is specifically lacking.

The purposefully dull pallet looks very impressive during the mud caked exterior shots, which can appear almost monochromatic on occasion (the DVD release was warmer and yellower). The desolate browns allow Corbucci’s colour-coated teams to pop against their backdrop. Django’s Yankee blue poncho and pants still disappear a bit thanks to their darkness, but the red scarves and masks of Jackson and his men, along with the main titles and some of the whore’s costumes pop like never before. The black levels are deeper and pure for the most part, revealing definite differentiation between very dark blues and proper blacks on various wardrobe items. There are some obvious bits of business throughout the film that hinder the transfer from utter perfection, but based on the film’s age these are expected and easily overlooked. The major issue is that of fluttering grain, which thanks to the transfers heightened sharpness features more apparent fluctuations in frame darkness. There are small chunks of dirt and other print artefacts throughout the print, and these become more plentiful during the select shots that Blue Underground reinstated. The frame does distort between cuts on occasion as well. The final reel features the most troublesome artefacts, specifically Jackson’s ambush on the Mexicans, which is overrun with blotchy patches (I’m afraid the technical term escapes me).

Django
Blu-ray


Django
DVD


Audio


Fans have two DTS-HD Master Audio Mono options. The first option is the original Italian audio (the word ‘original’ is a bit of a misnomer, as like most Spaghetti Westerns, Django was post-dubbed, and some of the actors did speak English during production), which is ideal by most fan standards for featuring Franco Nero’s own voice. This track has a generally wider breadth, but is tinny, and a little high on treble. The other track is the English language dub, which does change a lot of the dialogue, and features the less than ideal American Django voice. This track is generally quieter and flatter, but features a better bass tone. The vocal performances on the English track are also a little warmer in general. The sound effects vary slightly from track to track as well, from the number of footsteps, to the specific gunshot noise. The two tracks are comparable, but definitely different. For instance: the scene where Django makes dog chow of Jackson’s men with his machine gun. On the Italian track the gun effect is quieter, and the wind effect louder, while the English track features a more aggressive gun, that is oddly intercut with the sounds of the dead men hitting the muck. Luis Enriquez Bacalov’s music has not been altered between tracks, but the sound quality is different. This is the one explicit advantage for the English track, which doesn’t feature the Italian tracks minor distortion. This is most evident during the sequence where Jackson shoots Mexicans like skeet—the Italian track hisses when Bacalov’s strings scream at high registers.

Django
Blu-ray


Django
DVD


Extras


This Blu-ray release features a small collection of extras, most of which were available as part of the Blue Underground DVD release. ‘Django: The One and Only’ (13:00, SD) is a general retrospective featurette and interview collection. Interviews subjects include Nero, who briefly discusses his early career before diving into Django, and assistant director Ruggero Deodato (the notorious man behind Jungle Holocaust and Cannibal Holocaust), who fills in as best he can for the long dead Corbucci. The discussion covers casting (Nero was not the first choice), Sergio Leone, production design, the advantages of the film’s low budget, Corbucci as a director, violence, initial reception, and the renaming of Nero’s films post- Django.

The extras continue with The Last Pistolero (09:20, SD), a short film starring Nero that was made available on a mini-disc with the original release. The black and white short is an endearing enough throwback to the genre, including gorgeous widescreen photography, appropriated bits of Ennio Morricone’s For a Few Dollars More soundtrack, basically zero story or dialogue, but an entertaining little punch line. ‘Western Italian Style’ (38:00, SD), a 1968 featurette about Spaghetti Westerns, features interviews with Enzo Castellari ( Keoma), Serio Sollima ( Face to Face), actor Chuck Connors ( The Big Country) and Corbucci. There’s a bunch of behind the scenes footage from One Dollar Too Many, Run Man Run, The Great Silence (spoiler alert), and Once Upon a Time in the West. The featurette is actually very educational, despite its age, and a bit of a goofy streak (Klaus Kinsky, referred to as a ‘stunt man’ trying to break through a door is a repeated gag). Some of the footage of Castellari made its way onto the recent Inglorious Bastards Blu-ray release, and the interviews were mostly included as part of Spaghetti West, a documentary produced by Blue Underground for IFC. Extras are completed with the international and Italian trailers.

Django
Blu-ray


Django
DVD


Overall


Sergio Corbucci’s Django is a classic, must-see film, and one of the definitive Spaghetti Westerns. It’s also a great entry point for subgenre newcomers, who should definitely check out Corbucci’s follow-up work, especially Navajo Joe, Hellbenders, The Great Silence and Compañeros. This new Blue Underground Blu-ray version of the film isn’t quite the earth-shattering revelation some of the studio’s other releases have been, but it is a solid upgrade from the DVD release, and about as good as we can expect from the material available. The Italian and English dub tracks both feature differing issues, both also present on previous releases. Until someone discovers original, untouched negatives in a closet somewhere this release is the best version of the film available.

*Thanks to Troy at Andersonvision.com for the screen-caps, which have been taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. The DVD caps have been taken from the Blue Underground DVD release.


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