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What is a Spaghetti Western?

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Western movies are a significant part of filmmaking. From the moment the film industry was created until the classic Hollywood era of movies, it would be one of the most popular genres of film.

But did you know that there's a sub-genre called Spaghetti Western?

Let’s learn more about this specific type of movie theme, what makes it distinct, and how to use it in your videos.

Spaghetti Western style man on a horse

What is Spaghetti Western?

It may sound funny, but Spaghetti Western is a real term that was coined sometime in the 1960s. Movies were expensive to film so filmmakers have to find ways to shoot without breaking the bank. So they created western films in Italy, where costs were cheaper. 

They would hire Italian actors and then dubbing was used to add English dialogues. You’ve surely seen classic Clint Eastwood movies, right? Well, that’s how his western films were made.

The most common definition of Spaghetti Western, or European western, is that it’s a western movie filmed in Spain or Italy. Quite simple, but it was made popular by Italian film director Sergio Leone.

western movie village

Characteristics of a Spaghetti Western film

There are quite a few subgenres of western movies, including epic western, singing, cowboy, western, comedy western, and contemporary western. But what makes Spaghetti Western different?

The most distinct element in Spaghetti Westerns is its depiction of violence. There’s no sugarcoating and subtleness in these films. The stark portrayal of the Old West involved pushing the boundaries of violent scenes, making this subgenre non-family-friendly.

While American Westerns feature Native American characters as the enemies of heroic cowboys, Spaghetti Westerns didn’t. If they included Native Americans, they weren't antagonists at all. Also, some Spaghetti Westerns would feature a lead character that is both the hero and villain in the story.

To maintain the consistency of dry climate settings in western films, directors would film Spaghetti Westerns in dry and dusty locations in Spain and Southern Italy. Spain even turned some of those locations into tourist attractions.

Some of the most popular traits of Sergio Leone’s western films include actors popping to the scene, often from obscurity or turning to reveal their faces. This created an element of surprise and helps build suspense as the scenes lead to gunfights.

This director is also known for his close-ups, master shots, awesome dialogues, and great music. His films often feature innovative musical scores by Ennio Morricone, a popular Italian composer. The video below is a great example of Sergio Leone’s filming style.

Reception of Spaghetti Western films

Although it was first called Italian western, the popular Italian dish or pasta “spaghetti” was used to ridicule this subgenre of western films. Some critics think it was moronic to shoot western movies in a different country where cowboys don’t exist. Also, Spaghetti Westerns went against many conventions of traditional American westerns.

Despite its popularity among cowboy-themed movie enthusiasts, Spaghetti Westerns never received critical acclaim in the past because of its repetitive and predictable plots, low-budget production (which is evident in the films themselves), and poor dubbing.

But the filmmaking industry has become increasingly more appreciative of Spaghetti Westerns. Critics are accepting and applauding the raw and stylistic method of filming Italian-made cowboy movies.

One of Sergio Leone’s fans includes Quentin Tarantino, a popular American director, actor, producer, and screenwriter. The dark humor and stylized violence in his films are inspired by the harsh fight scenes of Spaghetti Westerns. He also often incorporates Ennio Morricone’s music into his works.

Popular Spaghetti Western films include The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), Once Upon a Time in the West (1967), The Great Silence (1968), A Fistful of Dollars (1964), The Big Gundown (1966), Django (1966), and For a Few Dollars More (1965), to name a few.

Ready for a plate of Spaghetti Western?

If you are a big fan of western movies, Spaghetti Westerns are definitely worth watching. Learn more about camera shots, filming techniques, and other video editing terms in Clipchamp’s video glossary.

When you're ready to recreate a Spaghetti Western-themed video, edit your video for free by signing up to Clipchamp.

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