Dead For A Dollar: Walter Hill Talks Evolution Of The Western  Venice

Ahead of accepting the Venice Film Festival’s Glory to the Filmmaker Award this evening, legendary filmmaker Walter Hill met with the press corps here on the Lido to talk about his new western, Dead For A Dollar.

Screening out of competition at Venice, Dead for a Dollar follows a famed bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) who, while on a mission to find and return the wife (Rachel Brosnahan) of a successful businessman, runs into his sworn enemy (Willem Dafoe), a professional gambler and outlaw whom he had sent to prison years before. Standing in the way is an infamous gangster (Benjamin Bratt) who gets a piece of any action that happens along the Mexican border.

Asked about his fondness for the genre, the Long Riders, Geronimo and Wild Bill director offered, “I’m tempted to say I don’t know. You have to know yourself, and does anybody ever? I’m fond of the period, I like making the films, I like going out there with the cast and the horses.” It also comes down to “nostalgia for a certain period in American history that we all share, the world shares, there’s a mythopoetic idea about the western.”

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On the evolution of the western, Hill said, “Clearly the attitudes about the feminine position in society and racial attitudes are different than the traditional tropes of the western. At the same time, the movie tries to valorize the tradition of the western.” But he didn’t want to make a film that was “frozen in amber just like the 1950s or 1930s. I thought it should have some modern relevance, so it was kind of bifurcated or self-contradictory if you will.”

Is a showdown between good guys and bad guys always a necessary element to a western? Replied Hill, “One of the things about westerns is that the endings are foretold… They deal with dramatic inevitability, therefore the drama demands a final confrontation between these two people… Every good story ends with a tear, even a comedy, and I’d like to think this is a positive story but it has a very melancholy ending.”

Asked if there is any concern making a western in today’s era of gun and racial violence, Hill responded, “Gun violence and random violence is a terrible thing. I don’t think any film I’ve ever done advocates anything like that.” However, he added, “It’s easy to condemn the use of force, but it was the use of guns and the use of force that freed the slaves, that liberated the Nazi camps. It’s about purpose and the idea behind it.”

Key members of the cast were also on hand today as well, praising Hill for his method of working with actors. Said Waltz, “Im 100% convinced that discipline is the starting point for everything, in thinking, in action and in emoting — especially if you do it at the spur of the moment and request of a film script. It’s kind of considered now old style. I don’t think it’s old style, I think it’s the very foundation of our discourse, our everyday communicating to each other, and why would it be different on a movie set? The idea that a movie set is there to make us feel good is erroneous to be polite. Walter is of the same conviction and that’s what was absolutely fabulous.”

Given we are in the land of Sergio Leone, Hill was also asked about any influence the Italian maestro may have had on him. His films are “terribly important in, not only the history of the western, but in the history of cinema… Leone is a classic example of what he gave has been picked up and used by many. We all are on each other shoulders, all connected. You can’t separate your work totally from work that came before.”

Dafoe recounted an amusing anecdote about Leone, saying that when The Last Temptation of Christ had played in Venice, the director “came out in the press and said, ‘This is not the face of our Lord, this is the face of satan.’ I liked his movies, but after that I don’t know,” he laughed.

Quiver releases Dead for a Dollar on September 30 in North America.

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