One of the biggest concerns when a foreign director does a feature-length commentary track in another language is whether the flow of thoughts are adversely affected. Sometimes adding colleagues or friends maintains a certain momentum, and the inclusion of a talkative scholar also boosts the discussion topics when the film itself has a substantial running time. Enzo Castellari, a prolific director in Italy, has a good command of English, but what keeps the facts flowing are the director's own lively personality, and a steady dose of queries from journalist Waylon Wahl.
Considered one of the last great spaghetti westerns, "Keoma" defied the odds by enjoying a good theatrical run when, according to Castellari, no one was making westerns in Italy anymore. When production began, stuntmen were delighted their term of unemployment was temporarily over, and Castellari took advantage of crumbling western sets to depict a small town in the throes of its own unemployment, after mining operations ceased long ago.
One theme keeps repeating itself, both in the fairly steady commentary track, and the excellent making-of featurette with actor Franco Nero: for the director and star, "Keoma" remains a special work, and an everlasting tribute to their deep friendship. The day before filming was to commence, the final script was delivered, and both men threw out the screenplay and literally improvised and reworked ideas on a daily basis. The approach sounds impractical, but the resourcefulness of the cast - many of whom wrote their own dialogue - and the director's deliberate mini-salutes to every favourite film and director of his youth, makes "Keoma" a noteworthy film.
Along with a rebellious half-breed character like "Billy Jack," the musical approach in Robert Altman's "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" figures heavily in the film's score design. Mimicking Leonard Cohen's narrative lyricism for "McCabe," the lengthy theme by brothers Guido & Maurizio De Angelis is admittedly overused, and the vocal stylings sometimes conjure the image of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Joan Baez's lesser cousin, singing after a long, sleepless night.
Castellari's religious symbolism and Bergman nods are more successful, and the film's violence - frequently stylized in slow-motion - add a marvelous colour to the film. A lot of production details are covered in the commentary track, including some wonderful personal anecdotes regarding Castellari's career as a boxer, his family's history in the movie business, and a great Sam Raimi anecdote.
The director's enthusiasm for the genre is obviously tinged with sadness for the western's demise as a once-dominant genre at the box-office, but modern film fans will get a kick in spotting the director's overt nods to key films by now legendary directors; it's a referential style that's almost standard in contemporary filmmaking, making "Keoma" very accessible to western fans.
Originally released separately July 18th, 2001, “Keoma” (also known as “Django Rides Again,” Django's Great Return,” and “The Violent Breed”) is also available as part of Anchor Bay's “Once Upon A Time In Italy” Collection (Cat. # DV12436).
The boxed set includes “A Bullet For The General,” “Companeros,” “Four Of The Apocalypse,” “Keoma” and “Texas, Adios”. This 5-disc set is housed in a sleeve, each film in a clear slim case, with chapter index and lobby card printed on the inner side, plus attractive tan covers reflecting the set's western theme.
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan