A BRIEF INTERVIEW WITH A LEGEND OF CINEMA – ENZO G. CASTELLARI
Many of Enzo G. Castellari’s classic movies were made over thirty years ago and I’ve seen them over and over again, with each passing viewing feeling just as fresh and powerful. Mr. Castellari exploded the Italian crime film movement in the early 70’s with High Crime and knocked out a film cannon that is still dazzling and exciting audiences to this day. From Keoma to The Big Racket to Street Law and on, his movies keep enduring and gaining new fans. The power of great cinema is that it works regardless of the person, time or place. Like the best of Sam Peckinpah or Don Siegel (which were huge influences on him), he found a great cinematic voice for men overcoming huge obstacles and journeys through hell and back.
If the rising tide of popularity in 70's crime cinema has gotten you to see many of these films, yet have never seen High Crime I whole heartedly suggest seeing this film as soon as possible. It's the one that exploded it all. Seeing it would be like seeing every Spaghetti Western, but not seeing Fistful of Dollars and that just isn't right. The jury is still out if and when Blue Underground will ever release it on DVD or Blu-ray.
A Castellari film is action cinema revving with full throttle crash through the walls excitement. You may need to literally buckle yourself in, but chances are you will be rocked back in your seat loving every minute of it.
Some spoilers for High Crimes below.
BLAKE: So here we are 30 years later and we still can’t get enough of your films!
ENZO G. CASTELLARI: You can watch my movies after all these years and you are still interested in the story, to my shots, to the way that I’m using action in high speed and all my techniques, to the way that I’m using stuntmen and chasing them with a car. People are still interested in this and following the movie as if it were a modern movie.
BLAKE: High Crime seemed so ahead of its time when it came out. It set off the entire Italian crime film movement of the 70’s. At what point did you know it was going to be such a success and landmark film?
ENZO G. CASTELLARI: My target as a director is to do a movie for the spectator and I am the first spectator for my movie, so I am doing the movie for myself as a spectator. I would like to see this [gestures with excitement], I would like to see that, I would like to see the story develop this way, I would like to see this kind of action, I would like to see this violence, I would like revenge revenge revenge REVENGE, so that it’s something that I like as a spectator. The target for me is to do a movie for the spectator.
If just one spectator can forget their daily problems while watching my movie, then I’ve resolved it and the target is that. I like to work for the spectator.
BLAKE: At what point did you know High Crimes had just taken off?
ENZO G. CASTELLARI: The opening of the film! I went to the cinema with my daughter. My daughter was Franco Nero’s daughter in the movie.
BLAKE: (Shocked) She gets run over in the film!
ENZO G. CASTELLARI: Yes she does. Anyway, it occurred to me that I should watch the movie, but I didn’t know it was forbidden for anyone under fourteen to see the movie. I didn’t know, so I took my daughter home.
I was a little late getting back to the movie and so I ran inside and up the stairs and opened the curtains to come into the cinema. Inside it was an explosion of people. There were people standing in all the corridors. There were two corridors in the cinema and they were full of people of people all standing. I even remember there were four people sitting down in front of the screen. At the end of the first chase everyone started cheering and clapping and even me too, “YEEEEAAHHHHH!” (Laughs). I was involved in all this.
BLAKE: Amazing. How did the great frenetic ending go over?
ENZO G. CASTELLARI: Yes everyone cheered then too.
BLAKE: I’m curious about the “to live or to die” scenario for Franco Nero at the end of the film.
ENZO G. CASTELLARI: One of the producers told me that he thought if the protagonist died at the end, the film would be a big hit. I then thought about me sitting in the chair in the cinema watching my leading character dying at the end and I said, “naaaahhhhhh,” but I did anyway and he was supposed to die.
The problem for all policemen is they are involved too much in their job. They’re too dangerous in a dangerous life. My leading character, I thought, though, must stay alive.
BLAKE: So originally he dies at the end?
ENZO G. CASTELLARI: Yes.
BLAKE: Was there a cut of the film made that has him dying?
ENZO G. CASTELLARI: I shot it and [you can still see it in the current version of the movie]. In the editing there is a shot of it, you think he has resolved everything and then POWWWW and he got shot! That’s how I did it. Then I changed it so it was like a dream of his, just to feel the future. So now he’s still alive and must still go back to work the next day. For me in the theater it would have been too much of a shock if he would have died at the end, he had to stay alive.
BLAKE: Where did the main story come from for High Crime?
ENZO G. CASTELLARI: A real story, there was a famous Italian policeman who got shot and died in front of the police station. He was very well known at the time. The story became, “who did it, who did it?” We took that basic story for our movie.
BLAKE: The music in High Crime was also way ahead of its time. Could you talk about coming up with the rocking score for it?
ENZO G. CASTELLARI: First of all, I’m editing every night I can. When I’m not shooting at night, I’m then in the editing room. I try to edit my movie night by night. When I’m editing the movie I need the music and its energy. The help that the music gives to the story is very, very important and I was using the record of musicians from other movies and their scores. I also use certain kinds of different music for whatever I think works best for the scene. Then when the music is perfect for my editing, my atmosphere and my feelings, then my musician can have the score made based on the music I’ve already used.
In one of my movies that I like the most, the western Keoma, I used the Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen songs for the whole movie. I took from the records of Cohen and Dylan and at the end the musicians; The Angelis brothers just followed that and did the same. It was a big success at the time. They said, “Oh, the music!” It was Leonard Cohen, it was Bob Dylan – just in the Italian way!
Music is so important to me. When I’m shooting I’m thinking of what music to put in the scene. There could be a moment that is very quiet where I need a silence and then music, music, music! I need the music to help tell the story.
BLAKE: You mentioned to me earlier that you had signed to let Quentin Tarantino remake Inglorious Bastards and I was curious on your thoughts for him doing it?
ENZO G. CASTELLARI: I’m not happy… I’m SUPER HAPPY! A genius like Quentin who has millions of movies he could make, picks mine. You can understand what I feel. When I originally met him it was like meeting a son, to meet a relative or meeting a big friend! I told him, “I’m a fan of yours.” He said, “No, no, I’m a fan of yours.” (Laughs) Then I said, “No, no I’m a fan of yours!”
BLAKE: What are your favorite films of his?
ENZO G. CASTELLARI: The first one, Reservoir Dogs, and Kill Bill.
(Note: At the mention of Kill Bill, Mr. Castellari lights up even more. He starts talking about both films like a kid opening his first Christmas present)
I watch them both especially. I have their DVD’s right by my television and when I’m done watching Kill Bill, I watch it again I like it so much.
BLAKE: Now do you like Kill Bill 1 & 2 equally or do you have a preference for one over the other?
ENZO G. CASTELLARI: I like 2 because it’s different and in it I can find out how he likes the movies and how he likes to entertain the public.
One thing I told Quentin was, “You know the difference between you and me?” He asked (speaking in Quentin voice), “What, what, what, tell me!?!” I said, “Your blood is much more red than mine and your squibs shoot much farther and last longer than mine.” (Laughs)
BLAKE: Did you like Jackie Brown?
ENZO G. CASTELLARI: Yes, yes, especially because Pam Grier was fantastic!
BLAKE: What are you up to these days?
ENZO G. CASTELLARI: I’m teaching film now at schools in Italy and in Spain. To me just to give all my experience to the young people is something that gives me a big unbelievable emotion. I teach them shooting on the set and we do this everyday because this is the only way to learn. Right now for a young director it’s very difficult to learn because there are no movies where you can just go to learn, watch and just to be a thief in getting down the fundamentals. I say to all the students from the first moment, “We are in the studio, we are on the stage and we live in the stage all day long with the cameras.” We use digital cameras of course and we shoot, shoot and just invent the story and describe it visually, because you can write perfectly, but you must be able to write in the visual way. They must learn how to use images. I try to take out the mentality of each of the students to use their ideas and not mine. Maybe I explain to them several ways to shoot the scene, but each shot has a meaning. I explain to them that for each meaning to use your voice. It’s so great and I’m enjoying it. I still also love my movies and watching them as a spectator.
BLAKE: How was your experience at the 40th Sitges Film Festival where you were honored and they screened The Bronx Warriors?
ENZO G. CASTELLARI: I was very close to crying to see so many people there just for me and not just my movie. They were there not just for one movie, but for me and my career. I still feel emotional about it. To get back something like that, I feel so lucky, really lucky. I thank God for everything because he gave me too much. Death is a lady that will come and when she comes it’s always too late because I’ve already lived several lives; I’ve lived twenty lives.
I would like to tell all of my fans out there – thank you so much for your support, it means so much to me.
It was a huge honor to interview Mr. Castellari again and I do say he is an amazing storyteller with who knows how many great stories to tell. I’ll perhaps never have enough time to get them all down and recorded, but thankful for this rare chance to get some of them. It’s hard to say if he will get to direct another movie, but I certainly feel he still has several more good films in him if given the chance. Hell, he has twice as much energy as most filmmakers I meet that are in their 20’s and 30’s. To say he is one of the friendliest people and most kindred of cinephiles I’ve ever met in the film business would be a huge understatement.
Thanks to Peter Martin for helping proof this interview and to everyone at the Sitges Film Festival who helped me with this interview.