Yesterday night I got the news of the death of Carlo Pedersoli, better known as Bud Spencer.
He was born in Naples in 1929, and had started out as an Olympic swimmer and water polo player.
He was also a car racer and a songwriter – but his CV included a lot of odd-jobs.
Then, after a number of bit parts in Cinecittà, he was offered a role in Dio perdona… io no – a seminal spaghetti western in which he teamed up with Mario Girotti, also known as Terence Hill.
It was 1967.
The year I was born.
Now, it is complicated to explain what the Spencer & Hill team meant for Italian kids in my generation.
This connects with the post I did two days ago, about needing heroes when we grow up.
So, if you don’t mind, I’ll digress…
When I was working on my PhD in Urbino, I would arrive in Pesaro by train, and then board a bus that would climb up the Apennines to drop me on the Mercatale square in Urbino proper. It was a long, boring part of a long, tiresome journey I did not like making.
On one of my last trips, I sat on the bus behind two twenty-something guys, that were discussing movies. I’m a writer, and as all writers I’m used at eavesdroppig.
Anyway, these two young gentlemen were post-grad students in the Arts department at Urbino. And they were talking Bud Spencer and Terence Hill.
I could relate to that! Or so I thought.
The movies by the duo, one of them contended, with a very sophisticate use of complicated technical terms, had made violence acceptable to the kids in a whole generation – heralding an era of violent, brainless entertainment. From They Called Him Trinity to the Doom videogame to mass shootouts and terrorism, it was all one long sad, unavoidable path.
The idea that problems can be solved with two well-placed punches, the macho attitude, the simpleminded belief in simple, easily actionable solutions… the kids that had grown up with Spencer & Hill movies were bent and crippled from a tender age, and grew up to be brutes. His pal agreed – that had been when our civilization had started going to seed.
And considering that my first impulse was to slap the two nincompoops in the face, repeatedly, maybe they were not completely wrong.
But because they were wrong, I just butted in (so rude of me), and pointed out
we were smart enough to know those movies were fiction, you know?
They did not seem to appreciate my critical approach to the subject. They would have appreciated it even less had I slapped them in the face. Repeatedly.
Because if they started out as straight spaghetti western heroes, inhabiting the same moral twilight world in which the Good, the Bad and the Ugly roamed, Spencer and Hill soon moved to a more humorous, funny sort of western.
Lo chiamavano Trinità (They called him Trinity in English) features some pretty fun gunplay, but the violence is played for laughs.
Later still, Spencer & Hill moved to a broader action comedy genre, usually with a contemporary setting. Their first movie I remember actually seeing in a cinema was Altrimenti ci arrabbiamo: a story about a truck driver and a mechanic that team up to take on a crime syndicate boss and his hordes of stupid minions, in order to save a carnival and get back their lost car.
It must have been 1975 – the movie came out in 1974 but when I got to see it was a second vision, most certainly.
Some of the scenes, like the joust with motorbikes or the duel using beer and sausages became all-time favorites, for me and for my school pals.
I was eight years old – and I did not grow up to be a bully, a violent individual or a cinema criticism major… and I’m pretty cool with it.
In a rough, farcical, sometimes ramshackle way, Spencer and Hill did in European B cinema what Jackie Chan did with martial arts movies – they lightened up the show, making violence fun but still not “acceptable” as a means of solving problems.
Theplots were simplistic, often the direction was slapdash, but there was always a hard core of integrity in the movies, and the two actors portrayed decent characters willing to go out of their way to do some modicum of good.
Did they slap a lot of faces? Yes, and they did it in a very funny way, especially from the point of view of a kid of seven or eight.
Was it the seed of evil at the heart of my generation? But please…
And mind you, I’m not saying the Spencer & Hill movies are the axis around which my world revolves – but they are a fond memory, and contributed to kindle my love for movies, and for adventure stories, and decent if flawed heroes.
I can’t complain about the end result.
When they parted company to follow separate careers, Spencer starred in a number of action comedies, and them moved to other interests.
He went into politics too – with a right-wing ticket, a choice that shocked me.
But, he said, the only three jobs he never had were ballet dancer, jockey and politician. Politician was the only viable one.
And I found this quote of his, as I looked up bits for this post…
I’m not afraid of death. We don’t get out alive of this life, as that guy said: we are all destined to die. As a Catholic, I’m rather curious: the curiosity of peeping beyond, like the kid that breaks up his toy to see how it works. It is naturally a curiosity I’m in no hurry to satisfy, but I don’t leave waiting for it or in fear. There’s a song of mine that sums up my philosophy: “Futtetenne”, as to say, don’t give a damn.
Bud Spencer, the athlete, songwriter, actor, car racer, jet pilot, charity spokesperson and sui generis politician died yesterday, at the age of 86 – for me, and for many kids from my generation, it feels like losing an old, slightly disreputable but ultimately kind-hearted uncle.
Apart from those original spaghetti western, my favorite Bud Spencer movie is probably his solo outing Charleston an unusual caper movie about a two-fisted con-man in 1970s London clubland.
It can’t get pulpier than that. I guess I’ll have to re-watch it, and then do a post about it.