Gay Italy and Spaghetti Westerns.
Talo Segura for Imagine Magazine April 2021.
Django Kill… If You Live, Shoot! (1967).
As a unique way of looking at the Italian view on homosexuality in the seventies, which I was curious to discover more about after reading and editing Lost Inside My Life by Lenny Bruce (https://gayauthors.org/story/lenny-bruce/life-is-a-journey/), I came across an exposé of Spaghetti Westerns. It seemed interesting to look at life through the films of the era and an article by Jenna Bond for Off Screen magazine was the piece that made the connection.
She opens her examination of the Spaghetti Western genre with the line, “To say that homosexuality in Italy is a complicated issue would be an understatement.” Which pretty neatly sums things up, although without giving the in-depth analysis she goes on to write.
The sixties and seventies saw an explosion in the demands of homosexuals to be treated fairly as ordinary people and not mentally ill, suffering from an incurable disease, or criminals. The gay movement was born on the streets of San Francisco and spread slowly across the globe.
With the dawn of the new millennium as Richard Bourdreaux wrote in the Los Angeles Times (July 2000), “In a triumphant coming-out party that the Vatican tried to stop, tens of thousands of gay men and lesbians marched through this ancient capital to demand an end to bias against homosexuals in predominantly Roman Catholic Italy.” It was, he said, “Italy’s first gay mega-gathering–an unusual spectacle for a city that has seen almost everything in its 2,752-year history–and the main event of World Pride Roma 2000, a weeklong festival that drew gay activists from about 40 countries.”
I will get to those Spaghetti Westerns, but before I do, Jenna Bond made an informatIve explanation of male same sex relations. “…same-sex relationships that are not of a romantic and/or sexual nature, for example, a heterosexual male who prefers to socialize with men may be considered a homosocial heterosexual; homosociality implies neither heterosexuality nor homosexuality.” That is interesting, because I had never before thought about what would probably be labelled “male bonding,” in America.
The times they are a changing, to quote Bob Dylan, and they certainly were, and are still evolving. However, Italy is very influenced by the Catholic Church and therein lies a wealth of hypocrisy, manipulation, and outright inconsistency. Pope Francis declared homosexual tendencies are not a sin. He said, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” The history of the Catholic Church tells a somewhat different story, and that history is tied into the history of Italy.
Jenna Bond again, “…part of a long, complicated history in Italy characterized by the positioning between the classical and the Catholic, between ancient organizations of human sexual activity that left some space for same sex desire and Christian efforts to redefine and delimit. It is becoming increasingly accepted that the ancient practice of adolescent boy love flourished in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. One need only to look at the some of Sandro Bottecelli’s paintings or Michelangelo’s sculptures.”
So you get the rapid background on the burgeoning gay movement in the sixties and seventies, the historical context and the influence of the Catholic Church. Now to Spaghetti Westerns, Sergio Leone, the godfather (excuse the analogy, I couldn’t resist) of the genre started his career working on Ben Hur (1959), a film not without certain homoerotic undertones. “The first Spaghetti Western with an implication of homosexuality A Bullet for the General is a more obvious example of what Leone’s film hints at,” Jenna Bond tells us. She adds, “While The Good, The Bad and the Ugly and A Bullet for the General offer representations of the homosocial and the homoerotic, these representations are in the form of subtext. The relationships between the leading cowboys in both films warrant a discussion of the history of homosexuality in the Italian and Western tradition but can be and still are argued against. On the other hand, Giulio Questi’s Django Kill…If You Live, Shoot! is known for its blatant depiction of homosexuality.”
Maggie Günsberg in her book, The Man With No Name: Masculinity as Style in the Spaghetti Western, supports what Jenna Bond has told us, “The spaghetti western is notorious for its memorable iconography of masculinity involved in sadomasochistic violence taken to surreal excess and displayed in close-up detail. Its homosocial and predominantly homoerotic base allows little room, as a rule, for femininity and heterosexuality.”
I think Dan Hassler-Forest sums things up perfectly when he looks at Sergio Leone’s treatment of women in his film, “they (women) are neatly divided into two categories: total sluts and angelic virgins.” He ends by saying, “I don’t really know if this remarkable fascination with homosocial/homosexual relationships is grounded in Italian culture, derives from the director’s weird perspective on gender, or both.” Finally he wonders, as do I, if, “we might end up with a brilliant analysis of how Leone’s oeuvre features cowboys that are gayer than the tenderhearted couple from Brokeback Mountain…”