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Sunday, 27 November 2011

I Misplaced It At The Movies: Of Pasta & Politics - Face To Face

As I mentioned in my Blog regarding the Spaghetti Western 'Little Rita Of The West' (see here), Italian Westerns tend to fall into three categories; The Stylish, The Political and The Weird (some even manage to be all three). So, I'd like to share some Blogs on the more Political of these movies, as these tend to be the more interesting, and the more involving.
Let's start with a look at Sergio Sollima's 'Face To Face' from 1967.

If there is one thing that Sergio Sollima is fond of, it is the Political allegory, and 'Face To Face' is no exception, being seen by critics as an analogy on the rise of European Fascism. More importantly, how Fascism seemed to flourish, in Europe especially, amongst those who had actively taken part in Socialist Politics but had become unenamoured with it's apparently motiveless priorative actions. The point being, when one ceases to believe in Socialism, one doesn't gradually adopt Right Wing practices, but in fact swings violently to the Far Right.
'Face To Face' is a movie of silly haircuts and even sillier character names; Professor Brad Fletcher, Solomon Beauregard Bennet, Zachary Shot, Maximillion De Winton, Charlie Sirringo to name but a few. The film stars Italian method actor Gian Maria Volonté, famous for his roles as the bad guy in both 'A Fistful Of Dollars' and 'For A Few Dollars More'; and Cuban actor Tomás Milian who appeared in many Spaghetti Westerns and who is still acting today, sometimes in big productions like 'JFK' and 'Traffic'.
Volonté was a blacklisted Communist and Left Wing activist, and it was Sergio Leone who defied the blacklist and gave him the roles he is most famous for. He would later appear in the Italian movie 'Sacco é Vanzetti', a film about the unfair Political trial of two anarchists which led to their much contested execution. The different acting styles of the two leads gives the movie it's dynamism; Volonté's slow-burning intensity colliding with Milian's twitchy, deliberately hammy over-enthusing.

In 'Face To Face', Volonté plays Brad Fletcher, a consumptive professor who quits his job and heads West for the cleaner air and warmer climate. Upon his travels he is attacked by bandit Beauregard Bennet (played by Tomás Milian), a long haired thug who travels with an (equally long haired) commune of rogues. The long hair and communal living, coupled with the Robin Hood-esque nature of their banditry, is clearly both a depiction of the long haired youth of the time, and a way of engaging with the hippy audience.
Fletcher is a Professor of social history, and while recovering from his attack within the very group who mugged him, he begins teaching Bennet about social upheaval, the injustices of the class system, and how force can sometimes be used for good. Bennet somehow falls under Fletcher's spell, reading Fletcher's books on history and politics and deciding to use his gang for proto-revolutionary purposes. Fletcher on the other hand begins to enjoy the the rush of the violence and becomes more and more maniacally aggressive, even taking over the gang, much to Bennet's now passive indifference.
As I'm sure you can imagine this leads to flashpoint where both men have gone from enemies to comrades and now back to enemies again, but this time on different sides of the (moral) law.
And as the two men come face to face (there's your title) for the final showdown, it is obvious that both men have become both sides of the same coin. They now also so resemble each other that director Sollima blurs some of the final shots to deliberately cause confusion and drum home the point that both men have become as one. This echoes the previous year's film 'The Shooting', Monte Hellman's existential Western starring a young Jack Nicholson in his first manic role, and Warren Oates as a gunman who appears to be stalking himself, until a last minute reveal leaves the audience quizzing "Who, exactly, shot whom?". And this being 1967, Sollima throws in some trippy acid spangle effects to the final showdown which add further confusion but probably found favour with the hip audiences of the time.

Critics have always been very sniffy about Spaghetti Westerns, complaining about them being formulaic, violent and incomprehensible, but 'Face To Face' is a prime example of how good the genre can be when it's in the hands of good actors and even better directors. Even if it is only a smokescreen for a politically motivated director to hide his message behind!


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