My first book for I.B. Tauris was published in the UK 10 years ago today. ‘Once Upon a Time in the Italian West: The Filmgoers’ Guide to Spaghetti Westerns’ was the first of what has become a series of volumes looking at genres through ‘great’ (or at least, in my opinion, very good) films.
I began writing the book in the late 1990s, as a project that would discuss 20 key spaghetti western films. This format hadn’t been done before for spaghettis and I thought it was an interesting way of approaching the subject, as the 20 films acted as a ‘narrative’, telling the story of the genre’s development from the early days of ‘A Fistful of Dollars’ to the ‘end of the west’ western ‘My Name is Nobody’. It was the first book I had ever tried to write, outside of individual films reviews. But by starting with a defined structure – 20 films, in chronological order – it was easy to be aware of the ‘shape’ of the book from an early stage. The working title at this time was ‘The Good, The Bad: Once Upon a Time in the Italian West’. This was in the age before DVDs and all the films discussed were only available on videotape – and sometimes only in English language versions cut, dubbed or with Greek or Dutch subtitles.
While I was writing it, I had a book commissioned by Paul Duncan at ‘Pocket Essentials’, also about spaghetti westerns. I wrote this – a look at 33 key spaghettis – over four months in late 2000 and it was published in paperback in May 2001. It ran about 36,000 words and was text only. The book sold well and is now out-of-print. It was subsequently reissued in a slightly expanded version – 40,000 words, with a colour section of posters – by Kamera Books in 2010 and is still available. The first version has ratings for each film discussed. The second version only has ratings for films mentioned in the appendix. I added reviews for ‘Adios Sabata’, ‘Today it’s Me…Tomorrow You!’ and ‘Cemetery Without Crosses’ to the Kamera edition and completely updated the resource section on books, websites and DVDs. Technology has changed a lot since 2001. By 2010, DVDs of most of the main spaghetti westerns had been released – though some key titles were still absent. In 2014 all the films discussed in my book are out, often in ‘special editions’, on DVD and several on Blu-ray.
Immediately after my ‘Pocket Essential Guide to Spaghetti Westerns’, I had another ‘Pocket Essential’ book published – a history guide to ‘The American Indian Wars’, which was issued in September 2001 (this is out-of-print now too). After that I began approaching publishers with an outline and two complete chapters of my spaghetti westerns project. Philippa Brewster, editor for visual culture at I.B. Tauris, expressed an interest in the book and commissioned it. Tauris had already had success with a reprint of Christopher Frayling’s seminal ‘Spaghetti Westerns: Cowboys and Europeans from Karl May to Sergio Leone’. Tauris came up with the ‘Filmgoers’ Guide’ subtitle and we ditched ‘The Good, the Bad’ and the project became known as ‘Once Upon a Time in the West: The Filmgoers Guide to Spaghetti Westerns’. The original text ran to about 150,000, but after rigorous editing, the published version is around 110,000. The book was published in hardback today in 2004. The dust jacket was designed by Chris Bromley Design and featured Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, blue sky and the Almeria desert. The book was well received – garnering several positive reviews, including in ‘The Times’, ‘Empire’ and an endorsement from Sir Christopher Frayling – and was published in a paperback edition in 2006.
The Filmgoers’ Guide format – pick a bunch of great films that tell the story of a genre – has served me well. I followed ‘Once Upon a Time in the Italian West’ with ‘Crime Wave: The Filmgoers’ Guide to the Great Crime Movies’ in May 2006. This was published in collaboration with movie channel TCM and was released to accompany the channel’s ‘Crime Wave’ thriller season that July. In 2008 ‘Stagecoach to Tombstone: The Filmgoers’ Guide to the Great Westerns’ was published. I think this is my personal favourite of the series so far. I like the way the title mentions the two films that bookend the narrative and it’s had by far my best feedback from readers. For ‘When Eagles Dared: The Filmgoers’ History of World War II’ in 2011 the format was altered slightly – I still look at key films from the genre, in this case war films, but they are discussed in the chronological order of the historical events featured in each film, rather than in theatre release order. The latest edition to the series in April 2014 is ‘Outer Limits: The Filmgoers’ Guide to the Great Science-Fiction Films’. This looks at films from silent classic ‘Metropolis’ to 3D blockbuster ‘Avatar’. There will be more Filmgoers’ Guides to come in the future, but today the series is a decade old.
Here’s a rundown of the films I’ve covered in the FILMGOERS’ GUIDES so far:
ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE ITALIAN WEST A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, A PISTOL FOR RINGO, THE RETURN OF RINGO, FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, DJANGO, THE HILLS RUN RED, NAVAJO JOE, THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY, A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL, DJANGO KILL!, THE HELLBENDERS, THE BIG GUNDOWN, DEATH RIDES A HORSE, FACE TO FACE, DAY OF ANGER, THE BIG SILENCE, A PROFESSIONAL GUN, SABATA, THEY CALL ME TRINITY, MY NAME IS NOBODY
CRIME WAVE THE PUBLIC ENEMY, HIGH SIERRA, THE MALTESE FALCON, WHITE HEAT, THE ASPHALT JUNGLE, KISS ME DEADLY, THE BIG COMBO, POINT BLANK, BONNIE AND CLYDE, ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE, GET CARTER, SHAFT, DIRTY HARRY, THE GODFATHER, CHINATOWN, THE GODFATHER PART II, ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, LETHAL WEAPON, GOODFELLAS, PULP FICTION, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, OCEAN’S ELEVEN
STAGECOACH TO TOMBSTONE STAGECOACH, MY DARLING CLEMENTINE, RED RIVER, SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON, HIGH NOON, SHANE, JOHNNY GUITAR, VERA CRUZ, THE MAN FROM LARAMIE, THE SEARCHERS, GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL, FORTY GUNS, RIDE LONESOME, RIO BRAVO, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, ONE-EYED JACKS, RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY, THE SONS OF KATIE ELDER, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF!, THE WILD BUNCH, BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, McCABE & MRS MILLER, ULZANA’S RAID, THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES, UNFORGIVEN, TOMBSTONE
WHEN EAGLES DARED DUNKIRK, BATTLE OF BRITAIN, SINK THE BISMARCK!, TORA! TORA! TORA!, DAS BOOT, THE GUNS OF NAVARONE, THE BATTLE OF EL ALAMEIN, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, STALINGRAD, ANZIO, THE DIRTY DOZEN, WHERE EAGLES DARE, THE LONGEST DAY, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, A BRIDGE TOO FAR, SANDS OF IWO JIMA, BATTLE OF THE BULGE
OUTER LIMITS METROPOLIS, WAR OF THE WORLDS, GOJIRA, TARANTULA, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, FORBIDDEN PLANET, THE TIME MACHINE, PLANET OF THE APES, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, BARBARELLA, THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH, STAR WARS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, ALIEN, MAD MAX 2, BLADE RUNNER, THE THING, BACK TO THE FUTURE, TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY, APOLLO 13, INDEPENDENCE DAY, THE MATRIX, GALAXY QUEST, MINORITY REPORT, STAR TREK, AVATAR
All five Filmgoers’ Guides are available directly from I.B. Tauris, from booksellers and online, in hardback, paperback and ebook.