Thursday, January 7, 2010

Bernardo Bertolucci on Italian Westerns

by Joseph Gelmis

This interview was held in Bertolucci's hotel suite with the assistance of Michele Barbieri, an interpreter, in the fall of 1968 at the sixth annual New York Film Festival.

G: Is it difficult for young Italian filmmakers to get financing because the Italian film industry is in trouble?

B: No, it's just the opposite. It's because the Italian industry doesn't have any problems. They won't risk any money. It's very established. "Ah, now we go western." We make a hundred westerns every year.

G: Isn't it possible for young filmmakers to work within that system and turn out an interesting western or gangster film, to make a few action films well and make a success so they can get the money for more personal films? It would still take less than four years in any case.

B: Yes, I can, I can. All the time the producers are asking me, "Why don't you make a western?" But I don't want to. Because I love westerns very much. The western means Howard Hawks and John Ford. It would be like asking John Ford to make a Pasolini film. The Italian westerns are not very good.

G: Even the Sergio Leone films?

B: Ah, Sergio Leone I like. But they are not westerns. They are something else. He is a very genial man. I wrote the first draft for the latest Leone film ONCE UPON A TIME...IN THE WEST.

G: The plot for that film sounds like a remake of UNION PACIFIC.

B: I was thinking of JOHNNY GUITAR, actually. Anyway, you know, that was a curious experience. My serious friends in Italy have accused me of selling out because I wrote for Sergio Leone, who is considered just a commercial moviemaker. But I worked for Leone because I admired him and thought it would be a good experience. And it was very educational. If Leone reads this, he will have to blush because the film had a $5,500,000 budget. I was paid $700 for a hundred page treatment, or $7 a page.

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