The so called "post-modernist" approach to making art is all about de-constructing the mythos of that which came before, then re-constructing it with various parts turned on their side, flipped over, juxtaposed against other elements for irony or effect, and then painted blue. You drag it into a prominent corner in a display area, project video of people talking about their bathroom training or eating meat, something obscure like that, and give it an oddball title that is supposed to endow it with some sort of ironic or revealing meaning. The point isn't so much to recycle art from the past as it is to re-create it in light of the modernist trends that define present day expression, which is why so many people dismiss post-modernist art as being just piles of stuff painted blue with a video projected onto it (or whatever strategy the artist has used). The meaning isn't always discernible just by looking at the surface and quite often requires some readings or at least having been made aware of specific information that makes it all come together in the mind's eye of the viewer.
With that as my preface, I have no idea what THEY CALLED HIM VERITAS! is about, yet admire the end result nonetheless. There are some great Spaghetti Western moments in it's 85 minutes or so of life, a fabulous musical score by Manuel De Sica (probably best known for his score for the outrageous CEMETERY MAN), and another quirky, offbeat starring role for the always fascinating Mark Damon. In rough, broadly painted terms, the film concerns itself with four Civil War era vagabonds who have become bored with the war and would rather play cards, drink some nice cold beer, eat fried chicken in bed with whores, and throw horseshoes. Come to think of it, who wouldn't. The film depicts the quartet engaged in various Western movie oriented activities while avoiding work, conflicts with each other, and staying one step ahead of the forces who would wish to reign in their slacker cowboy lifestyle with such unfortunate distractions as prison.
Beyond that, however, the main thrust to the film's "plot" -- if there is one -- remains elusive, and I have now watched it roughly six times. I am not a stupid man, yet remain enjoyably mystified by exactly what the point of this movie is. So to a certain degree this film might actually be one of the most "pure" examples of the Spaghetti approach, which traditionally eschews concerns like coherent plotting and character development for elements like style and attitude. Here is a movie that is completely style and attitude, resembling a later period Spaghetti (1972, as the form was entering it's twilight years) but too preoccupied with it's own sense of existence to bother having a plot at all. The movie doesn't even conclude with a decent showdown or quick-draw match, the principals simply ride off in search of more adventures, as if this was merely an episode in a longer drama that had no beginning or ending, just existing as a series of moments that thanks to the filmmakers we are made privy of.
With that in mind, THEY CALLED HIM VERITAS! is a Spaghetti Western that is about Spaghetti Westerns: The six guns, gold swindles, plates of beans, cowboy costumes, horses and hats are all self-reflexive references to the passion for Spaghetti Westerns, which are a very different breed of entertainment that the Hollywood approach with John Wayne & Kirk Douglas. You might even say that Spaghetti Westerns are a post-modernist appropriation of the traditions that American Westerns concern themselves with, since one you get down to brass tacks a Spaghetti is (in the unfortunate words of a brain dead associate) a "fake" version of a Western. They aren't even filmed in the western parts of America, which I guess is supposed to endow American made Oaters with a sense of authenticity. Tell that to anyone like me who found SOLDIER BLUE to be bogus as a Swiss Navy wristwatch being sold in Times Square for $5.00; that movie is completely insincere even with it's Vietnam era social agenda.
My opinion is that European made Westerns that were filmed in Europe can be just as "authentic" as those made in the USA even if the filmmakers couldn't afford the sweeping shots of Monument Valley found in Sergio Leone's ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, which is perhaps the Spaghetti Western's most traditionally "authentic" moment. Fans of Spaghetti can usually detect the "fakeness" involved with a classic Spaghetti and many like myself come to prefer that artifice over the simplistic, staid, and dowdy approach used in the majority of their American made counterparts. There are of course some examples that defy the Hollywood formula (THE WILD BUNCH, THE WAR WAGON, DIRTY LITTLE BILLY) but they are exceptions rather than the rule and it's very correct to say that once you have seen one Western with Burt Lancaster you've pretty much seen them all.
This is the idea that THEY CALLED HIM VERITAS! is playing with, I believe. We were so familiar with the conventions of Spaghetti by 1972 that the need for anything but an endless series of Spaghetti-themed incidents strung together was extraneous to making a good Spaghetti. All you need is the right music, the right supporting cast (Enzo Firemonte, William Bogart, Gilberto Galimberti, Franco Garofalo), the right dialog, the right opening titles sequence and the right "look" to the production and you've got yourself a winner. The story is secondary to the attitude, style and cultural references cited, right up to the bizarre scene where they find a guy hanging upside down and crack jokes while cutting him loose. There's a wonderful scene where Mark Damon puts the various hats of the era in their respective places, and another great comic Western moment involving sweaty, hungry cowboys scarfing down plates of beans. What more do you need?
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