By Massimo Iondini
October 3, 2015
The epic Western film was running out. The films of John Ford, Anthony Mann, John Sturges, Raoul Walsh and many other great directors had already given us their greatest masterpieces. The western tried other avenues, before handing the scepter. And from Hollywood, a half-century ago, he led the way in Italy. Birthing the spaghetti western. Complete with a "Giallo" about his paternity. The registry would give credit to Sergio Leone in 1964 the Rome director came out with A Fistful of Dollars. But in Milan someone had thought of the spaghetti western before him. For more than a year in studies Bozzetto and a dozen animators, including the effervescent Guido Manuli, he was in fact working day and night on another innovative film, West and Soda. "I had left before, but after I arrived," he laughs Bruno Bozzetto in exactly fifty years after theatrical release of his pioneering work.
Because in the end his spaghetti western came second?
"Drawing thousands of scenes takes longer to turnout then live action. However, it was a pure coincidence, and we talked often with Leone. Neither knew of the other. If anything, the incident shows that in art, but not only, some ideas often reach maturity at the same time because they are the daughters of a particular climate."
And in the film what climate breathed in those early sixties?
"I needed to get out of some kind of cliché. At that time, for example, the classic Western had now exhausted its cycle and certain clichés had reached its peak. He could face from new points of view and with different approaches, to the ironic parody. So did I, but Leone personally executed a sort of parody, challenging the traditional stylistic and narrative."
And there was the spaghetti western ...
"It went well. I was already working on West and Soda for a year when Sergio began to turn out A Fistful of Dollars. To me it took two years, he made it first. But there were two different products, my cartoon, created with my friend Attilio Giovannini, was in itself of lighter impact. It was very ironic, it was not the classic cardboard designed for children. None of my work, after all, has never made for a specific target. I've always done animation for all."
When he started it was in full thought he was Disney and those cartoons had a precise audience.
"I have always been a fan of the Disney cartoon, since Bambi. But on closer inspection the same Bambi, film ecologist before its time, it was not quite for children. The idea that the cartoon is a product of its own children is wrong. For television the speech in part changes because now there are dedicated channels. Anyway think of cartoons for those who have gone to school already has a limitation: Today the children are very cute, they receive a lot of input, especially visual. Too bad they are flying low."
However, even for a cartoon there are different levels of understanding.
"Luckily. This explains the success of the American blockbuster Pixar and, in part, by Dreamworks. I am glad that they now like to reason like I reasoned fifty years ago. Sure, maybe the kids grasp the most vivid colors, the simple lines, certain movements of the characters, while the adult is beyond that."
The box office seems to agree.
"It is true. The box-office records, these days, of two animated movies like Inside Out and Minions shows the cartoon should be designed for everyone, children and parents. It is the winning recipe. He is setting the idea of good children’s cartoon for the Christmas holidays. Thus the film becomes for the whole family, maybe touching strong themes such as ecology, friendship, etc. Think of the depth of Toy Story, in which toys are afraid of being tossed away and destroyed by the children. Or Up, starring a senior. The cartoon must give pause. Mine did it by force of irony, those of today with more humor. I appreciate Pixar because they know the risk. I've always done it, but I had to work independently or else I would have had my hands tied."
What references in particular?
"To achieve what I had in mind, the producers were not acceptable. So I self-financed with the proceeds of the commercials that I drew for Carousel and others. The producer does not like to risk, let alone with animated films. Then exploring new roads is impractical to a producer who obviously wants to make a hit. Better replicate a success, but it kills creativity."
Manufacturers aside, is not that today the artist's creativity is a bit 'limited also by the very high technological level?
"I would say no, in fact the opposite may be true: higher means may stimulate a different creativity. Perhaps, if anything, there is a bit 'less poetry and is a bit' less central to the human dimension, individual and social. But this is a very personal point of view, one that pointed all to the caricature: the tics, obsessions, the mannerisms, certain collective rituals. Today it’s the prevailing humor rather than irony."
Does' a character like his Mr. Smith could have happened then? In Germany it was even a cult ...
"I wonder, about other times. Irony and caricature was still the key to winning. I used it since my first short Tapum! The story of the weapons. There denounced, ironically, the stupidity of man rather than rise to do good things and spends time in useful pursuits to fight and destroy. On the issue of arms I then made Grasshoppers and Rapsodeus.
Why is a film made fifty years ago as West and Soda and Vip are still loved today?
"Because they are full of funny twists, gags and very ironic. It understands that it primarily amused those who made them. And in the center is the man with all its contradictions. In Vip then there is also a strong social cut, with the mockery of advertising, consumerism and massification. Quips with fifty years in advance to the undesirable effects of a certain globalization."