Wednesday, April 18, 2012

David Bowie, Gunslinger

Gunslinger’s Revenge is an Italian western released in 1998, a good thirty years after the genre was made fashionable by director Sergio Leone whose epics, 1968's The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and 1969's Once Upon a Time in the West, are now widely regarded as classics after being reviled by most critics at the time of their release. Leone’s films starred Clint Eastwood for whom they resulted in big-screen stardom. Gunslinger’s Revenge stars David Bowie.

David Bowie! In an Italian western?

In the mid-70s, when he was still known as the gender-bending, self-professed bisexual queen of “glitter rock,” Bowie was reportedly being courted for an Italian western which the Star tabloid suggested would make Tom Mix spin in his grave. Back then, only a western starring Elton John, whose image was even more gay than Bowie’s, or a remake of Patton with Liberace in George C. Scott’s role, would have been more preposterous. Bowie butched up in the ‘80s, however, got married, and began to distance himself from the sexually ambivalent image he had projected in his early days. By the ‘90s, hell, he was almost macho.

The star of Gunslinger’s Revenge is actually Harvey Keitel who plays Johnny Lowen, the fastest gun in the West, who returns home in the hope of making amends with his son, a doctor married to an Indian maiden. Their half-breed son narrates the story in which Bowie is Jack Sikora, a notorious killer eager for a showdown with Lowen. Since it’s Lowen’s reputation Sikora wants to acquire, he needs an audience to witness the duel, so he passes up several opportunities to kill his prey. In an example of an actor’s off-screen persona influencing his character, Bowie’s outlaw has the kind of entourage typical of a media-savvy celebrity. They include a female photographer who dresses in all black and captures Sikora’s dramatic entrances and nasty behavior on film.

Gunslinger’s Revenge, directed by Giovanni Veronesi, isn’t too concerned with historical accuracy. In addition to the dominatrix-style garb worn by the girl shutterbug and the interest in celebrity that was probably not quite as pronounced in the old West as it became in the media-saturated 20th century, Keitel identifies the Bowie character as a psychopath, a diagnosis that wouldn’t have been likely until the emergence of Sigmund Freud, who probably introduced the term to the public. Another bow to modern times occurs when Bowie’s photographer kidnaps the schoolmarm, a nasty old woman whose greeting of “hello” sounds accusatory, so Bowie can snatch Keitel’s grandson to use as bait to lure him into a showdown. Sitting behind the teacher’s desk, he explains to the class that their teacher has a sore throat. “I’m your substitute teacher,” he says, but back when a school was a one room in a small cabin, I doubt there was such a thing as a substitute teacher.

Gunslinger’s Revenge moves at a brisk pace with a running time of only 87 minutes. It’s well-done and enjoyable, certainly worthy of the theatrical release it was denied in the United States.

© 2012 Brian W. Fairbanks


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