Last Thursday the Astor cinema here in Melbourne had a double bill of Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns – A Fistful of Dollars and A Few Dollars More. I am becoming an appalling grouch in my middle age, and am becoming more and more reluctant to venture out to watch movies in a cinema these days. I have a problem with the audiences. They can’t concentrate any more. They talk, giggle, eat food with noisy packaging, text and tweet, wriggle and generally disrupt the viewing experience of everyone around them. The whole point of going to a cinema is that it is dark, the visuals on the screen are huge and the amplified sound surrounds you – it is supposed to be an immersive experience. But it is hard to surrender yourself to the immersive experience that the film maker wants you to have if the dick beside you is playing games on his iPhone while listening to his girlfriend’s running commentary of what is happening on the screen. As a society, we have forgotten how to run this piece of internal dialogue through our heads whenever we go into a public space: “Right now I am not alone in my own lounge room.”

I think a lot of people think like I do but it is worse for me. My favourite films are not mainstream fare but martial arts movies – kung fu movies from Hong Kong. I am starting to discover samurai films from Japan and spaghetti westerns too. These types of films are seen as junk by many people, pulp films, trash, cult films to get stoned in front of. Most of these films I have to see on DVD, of course, but every now and again one of them shows up on the big screen at a festival or a retrospective season. In the past my heart has been broken by sitting in an audience that had turned up just to jeer and poke fun at what they considered to be exercises in camp, but what I had considered to be masterpieces that are creatively audacious and beautifully crafted. So I am becoming more and more inclined just to stop at home, where I can sink into rapture in front of the movies that excite me without having some rude little batch of cultural snobs imposing their ADHD afflictions on my viewing pleasure.

It will now take the promise of a very special screening to tempt me from my home, and the Astor, by announcing that is was screening restored 35mm prints of A Fistful of Dollars and A Few Dollars More on its vast screen managed to do just that. It was glorious – the colours of the cinematography looked soft and rich on the big screen and Ennio Morricone’s wonderful soundtrack rumbled and oozed its way out of the sound system. I bought myself a couple of
beers to watch during the movies, and managed to pat the Astor cat’s head on my way to the spacious loos. The plots are compelling, artfully directed and shot. Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and oodles of reprehensible looking Europeans who could pass for Mexican in a good light show an impeccable command of style, and play their alpha and beta males with an irresistibly grimy stylishness. For most of the screening I just watched with a big happy grin on my face.

And did the audience behave themselves? Did I have to go and thump anyone on the head for
not paying attention? Well, on the whole, yes they did behave! Anyway, the Astor is so big that, even though a good sized crowd showed up, I managed to sit a long way away from anyone else so I couldn’t really see what they were doing on their IPhones. The bright spark that brought the snack wrapped in what sounded like cellophane at the beginning of A Fistful of Dollars was, therefore, mercifully a long way away. My heart sank when, at the beginning of A Few Dollars More, a young Gen Y* lass entered, sat down, and proceeded to titter vacuously at anything that made her uncomfortable – which was pretty much everything, from the music to the sight of a man on a horse to the sight of Clint Eastwood smoking a cigar to a close-up of someone’s boots to someone getting shot or someone drinking a mug of coffee. Fortunately, she was the only one (even one of her friends who came with her moved away from her after a while) and the audience were mostly
genuinely enjoying the film rather than looking at it to find it stupid. In the end the film was too big and robust for her – it overpowered her, drew her into its rhythms, so that after a while she only laughed occasionally, with genuine enjoyment, at the film’s sly humour and her endless and humourless nervous giggle ceased.

In the following weeks the Astor will be showing The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, A Fistful of Dynamite and (the uber western and one of my absolute favourite films) Once Upon A Time In The West. Dare I go?

*Gen Y = general knowledge and concentration span bypass.

P.S. Fuck it. I was going to post clips of this film from youtube. I followed the instructions faithfully and. it. didn’t. work.

Never. does.

If you want to see these clips click on these daggy urls below:

2 thoughts on “Spaghetti Westerns and the authentic popcorn cinema experience

  1. This article truly warms my heart. Not for the poor theater etiquette of the public, but for the fact that you got to see some Leone in a theater!

    I know exactly the feelings you describe and have had similar theatrical experiences. A few months back I was able to see a couple of Shaw Bros films on the big screen. One of the films was dubbed and most of the audience was just laughing at it the whole time. I realize that the dubbing is funny, but at the same time I wonder if these people appreciate the films for what they are or instead what the camp value is.

    In any case, it’s awesome you got to see two Leone films on the big screen. I’ve seen Fistful in a theater and it was great! A truly different experience than sitting at home. I know I’ve said it before, but Once Upon a Time in the West in a theater was one of the best movie-going experiences I’ve ever had. Truly magical. You simply must go.

    I also love your description of the Gen-Y girl who got slowly sucked in by the power of the film. Great stuff.


    1. Thanks Will! Seeing those films on the big screen truly was magical, and since putting up this blog I returned to this cinema to see The Good, The Bad and The Ugly with a good sized crowd that seemed to be as rapt as I was. Once Upon A Time In The West is a very favourite film but I have only ever seen it on DVD. I simply can’t wait to see it.

      I too have sat through a couple of my beloved kung fu films on the big screen only to be surrounded by an audience that seemed to have turned up with the express purpose to sneer. It dismays me.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s