Pozole Verde w/Pork
Okay, enough holiday - back to work. Hope you had a happy one and, like myself, looking forward to a good new year. And don't forget to include signing up for one my classes in the new year as one of your new year's resolutions.
So we're gonna start a "good/bad" double bill now, which will have the long-delayed part deux of the French double bill in between. Now you may ask, "Ron, you've done the first part of the 'Dollars Trilogy,' why are you skipping to the third? What's wrong with For A Few Dollars More?" Well, nothing's wrong with it. In fact, I'll say it's my favorite of the trio, but... I just wanted to do this double bill and I promise we'll get to it soon enough. Plus, pozole makes for a nice winter meal.
Okay. Years ago, when people used to talk to one another on airplanes, I was sitting across the aisle from an attractive young woman, who was sitting next to her boyfriend - one of those silent boyfriend types, and we struck up a conversation. Very soon into the conversation, the young woman told me I reminded her of another writer who lived in Los Angeles. I said, "Oh yeah, who?" She told me I wouldn't know him. I told her I bet I did. She said his name and I laughed. He was one of my best friends at the time who sadly I have no idea where he is or if he's alive now. She said I was lying. I ratted off his phone number from memory (this was also back in the day when people still memorized other people's phone numbers). Anyways, it turned out she was Eli Wallach's daughter. Then, the guy sitting behind her perked up. He was a film memorabilia collector and had met her mother, the actress Ann Jackson. And strangely enough - and also strangely enough that I remember all this from so long ago - all three of us had grown up within three blocks of each other in New York. I guess I remember it so vividly because soon after that people stopped talking to each other on planes.
Nostalgic. That's what I feel when watching this movie. There was a time which I guess is a long time ago now, when you got so excited when some repertory theater posted their monthly schedule and there was some movie you were going to get to see again. You might have the whole month to wait in anticipation for that screening. And generally, they would be showing as part of a double or triple bill. One day, maybe 1980, I felt this excitement because the Strand theater in San Francisco was going to have a triple bill of the "Dollars Trilogy." Oh boy. Man, you want to talk about being excited? Now you have to understand that the Strand was the best grindhouse theater in town (though some might say the Embassy, but it's debatable). You'd see cockroaches crawling around the rails on the balcony, guys having sex in the bathroom. I swear I've sat next to dead people. But you could spend all day there for under two bucks. I'd make a picnic out of it. Soda, popcorn, raisenets. Rinse, wash, repeat. Sometimes I'd go for days on end. Oh, it was dirty in there, for sure. But on that day at like 10am (it was cheaper before 10:30am), I walked in and planted myself down for a day of watching all three Clint Eastwood/Sergio Leone films at one time. And I came prepared. Because, you see in those days of yore, you could also smoke in theaters still - but only on the right hand side of the theater. So as A Fistful of Dollars began, and we see Clint Eastwood lighting his first cigarillo, I opened my pack and lit up my first. Smell-O-Vision. Though admittedly mixed with the smell of greasy cheap hot dogs slowly rotating in the lobby. Nevertheless, it was just like being there.
But then almost 30 years later, I was. If you follow this blog - and if not, please check out my post on A Fistful of Dollars - you might be aware of - that in 2008, "my friends Tim & Karrie, who run the Alamo Drafthouse theaters, decided instead of doing one of their Rolling Roadshows (where they show movies at the locations where they were shot) in the US, they'd do one overseas. And so that is how I spent a week in Almeria, Spain during which over three consecutive nights we watched all three of the Dollars Trilogy (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly) at the actual locations where they were shot. And it was one of the best vacations, I've ever had. I brought along my friend Neville from London (and it changed his world - check him out in this video - he's the lead singer), and we met so many people who have remained great friends ever since."
(click here for the larger version - it's quite a photo),
So, I guess you can say I'm a fan of this movie.
The Good, The Bad & The Ugly is not available for streaming online at this time, but is home rentable via Netflix and can be purchased at Amazon.
"There are two kinds of spurs, my friend. Those that come in by the door; those that come in by the window."
Let's start by again mentioning that I recommend going back to the A Fistful of Dollars post if you haven't read it where you'll learn a lot about the birth of the Spaghetti Western, director/writer Sergio Leone, and how Clint Eastwood got involved in these pictures.
Now the story on how The Good, The Bad & The Ugly (henceforth abbreviated as "GBU") came about is a somewhat humorous one. While Sergio Leone (as many other film directors) often liked to take credit for things that weren't truly his idea (in fact, Leone has claimed that the idea came to him when he recalled an old Roman song*), this one falls upon the shoulders of Luciano Vincenzoni who had co-written For A Few Dollars More. In addition to his scriptwriting role, Vincenzoni was also involved in securing the foreign distribution for that film. He had brought over the United Artists representatives from Paris for a screening of "For a Few" which very much impressed them.
(*=A Cardinal is dead, who did good and bad things. The bad he did well, and the good he did badly.)
"The United Artists people saw the film amid all the laughter and applause, and afterwards wanted to go the Grand Hotel to sign a contract - there and then," recalled Vincenzoni. "As is typical of the Americans when they are doing business, the first thing they said when the contract had been signed was 'now let's cross-collaterize, let's compensate profits and loss with the next film. Oh, by the way, what is the next film?' Well, we hadn't got any plans. So with the tacit agreement of Leone and [producer Alberto] Grimaldi, I began to invent things. 'It's a film,' I said, 'about three rogues who are looking for some treasure at the time of the American Civil War'.... And they immediately replied, 'Okay, we'll buy it.'" And that was that. (Though, I should note that in Patrick McGilligan's biography of Clint Eastwood, he writes that Vincenzoni tossed out the idea at the subsequent meeting when Grimaldi and Leone were both there, when neither knew what to say when asked about their "next" film.) Unfortunately, according to Vincenzoni, Leone felt "usurped" by having been committed to a story he had no input in and while they worked together on the screenplay, their relationship was never the same.
But nevertheless, Leone took to the idea which seemed a logical next step for his films. In A Fistful, there is just Eastwood. In For A Few, there is Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef. And so in GBU, there are three - Eastwood, Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach. Or as Eastwood complained to Leone when shown the script, "In the first film, I was alone. In the second, we were two. Here we are three. If it goes on this way, in the next one I will be starring with the American cavalry.”
“I had always thought that the 'good, the 'bad,' and the 'violent' did not exist in any absolute, essential sense," Leone said. "It seemed to me interesting to demystify these adjectives in the setting of a Western. An assassin can display a sublime altruism while a good man can kill with total indifference. A person who appears ugly may, when we get to know him better be more worthy than he seems – and capable of tenderness.... This was basically the moral I was interested in putting over in the film.”
“What interested me was on the one hand to demystify the adjectives, on the other to show the absurdity of war," he continued, "The Civil War which the characters encounter, in my frame of reference, is useless, stupid: it does not involve a 'good cause.' The key phrase of the film is the one where a character comments on the battle of the bridge: 'I've never seen so many men wasted so badly.' I show a Northern concentration camp, but was thinking partly about Nazi camps, with their Jewish orchestras.
“It was fascinating to demystify the archetypes and the adjectives. And I emphasized this principle in each situation of the film. Always a deceptive play on appearances, as in the scene where the dust covers the blue uniform of the Northerners to make them appear as grey as the uniform of the Southerners. It was a manipulation of the signs, which chimed with all the other ingredients in the film.”
Leone found particular inspiration in what is known as a "picaresque" story. Novelist William Giraldi described it thusly, "[M]ost picaresque novels incorporate several defining characteristics: satire, comedy, sarcasm, acerbic social criticism; first-person narration with an autobiographical ease of telling; an outsider protagonist-seeker on an episodic and often pointless quest for renewal or justice."
Leone said. "In films of adventure, and especially serious Westerns, directors are scared of letting the audience laugh - of allowing a picaresque spirit to intrude on tragic adventures." Elsewhere, he noted in terms of GBU, “I wanted to show human imbecility in a picaresque film where I would also show the reality of war."
Now Leone was not just a fan of American Western movies, but also American history. For this film, he traveled to Washington DC, where he spent time researching period detail and history at the Library of Congress. "American authors depend too much on other screenwriters and don't go back enough into their own history," he once stated.
"I had read somewhere that 120,000 people died in Southern camps such as Andersonville. And I was not ignorant of the fact that there were camps in the North. You always hear about the shameful behavior of the losers, never the winners. So I decided to show extermination in a Northern camp. This did not please the Americans," Leone explained. "The American Civil War is almost a taboo subject, because its reality is insane and incredible. But the true history of the United States was constructed on a violence which neither literature nor the cinema had ever properly shown. As for me, I always tend to defy the official version of events – no doubt because I grew up under Fascism. I had seen first had how history can be manipulated. So I always question which is propagated. It has become a reflex with me.” (Though, interestingly, this week I just saw two American movies about the Civil War - Django Unchained and Lincoln.)
Leone also claimed to have taken inspiration for GBU from a seemingly unlikely source, Charlie Chaplin's post WWII film, Monsieur Verdoux. In GBU, as already mentioned above, Eastwood's character says, "I've never seen so many men wasted so badly" in response to seeing the devastation caused by the Civil War. Leone compared his "killer's" judgment to Verdoux's speech to the judge at his trial: "As for being a mass killer, does not the world encourage it? Is it not building weapons of destruction for the sole purpose of mass killing? Has it not blown unsuspecting women and little children to pieces? And done it very scientifically? As a mass killer, I am an amateur by comparison."
Now let's turn to the actors. If you do go back and read my post on A Fistful of Dollars, you'll know that the American release of what is known as "The Dollars Trilogy" was delayed for several years because of a copyright dispute with the Japanese over the fact that A Fistful is basically a reimagining of Akira Kurasawa's Yojimbo. So poor Clint Eastwood is becoming this huge international star, yet remains merely known for his television work on Rawhide in the US. Frustrated over this and the fact that Rawhide had been canceled by the time Leone approached him with GBU, Eastwood wasn't too excited about returning for another grueling several months in Italy and Spain working on another film no one in Hollywood knew or cared about. And when he saw himself now sharing top bill with now two other actors, especially a renowned Method actor like Eli Wallach, he initially balked. He felt he was being relegated to delivering straight lines to Wallach's Tuco. But Leone responded by telling him: "Even if Marlon Brando were to play that role, he would actually be working for you when you are not physically on the screen.” Eastwood wasn't buying that. At one point during their negotiations, Leone's wife remembered, the director laid down the law and said, "If he plays the part, I'm very glad about it. But if he doesn't - well, since I invented him, I'll just have to invent another one like him tomorrow." But even that threat wasn't enough to persuade Eastwood. What did finally persuade him was more cash, 10% of the profits (for the Western hemisphere distribution)... and a new Ferrari.
As for the character of Tuco, Leone first thought he'd give the role to Gian Maria Volonté, who had been the bad guy in the two previous films, but felt he needed a more comic actor for the role. He then recalled Eli Wallach in How the West Was Won and decided Tuco needed to be him. "People said to me, 'Keep away from him - he comes from the Actor's Studio' [the home of Method acting], but I wouldn't listen to them. I just knew he would be a great clown," Leone said.
Wallach recalled their first meeting. He didn't know what "Spaghetti Westerns" were, joking that "it sounds like Hawaiian pizza" and wasn't interested. Leone then urged him to watch even just the beginning of one of this films before turning him down. "And when I saw the way they shoot his name down as a director, in the credits for For A Few Dollars More, I thought, 'This guy has his tongue in his cheek, and he has a sense of what's right.' So I said, 'Where do you want me to go?' and he replied, 'I want you in Rome on such and such a date...."
Before heading to Rome, Wallach called upon director Henry Hathaway, who had gotten his start directing Randolph Scott Westerns in the 1930's, to go shopping at a Hollywood costume shop to help choose his wardrobe. "One of the things I loved about Sergio," Wallach said, "was that he was willing to gamble on what I wanted to do with this character Tuco. When I first met him in Rome, he was wearing suspenders and a belt, and I thought he must be afraid his pants are going to fall down." (According to Wallach, Leone weighed about 290 pounds at the time.) "And I said to him," he continued elsewhere, "'I'd like to use that for the character of Tuco.'" And Leone agreed. Also, Wallach has said that the eye patch and the crossing himself was his idea (though in another interview he said Leone had told him to cross himself the first time). Either way, he did it and Leone liked it but asked him where he, a Jew, learned to do that. Wallach told him, "We were the only Jewish family in an Italian neighborhood. I watched Italians make the sign of the cross 40 times a day and I learned how to do it.... My mind flipped all the way back to Brooklyn. I crossed myself the way Italians did, you know, the short hand way they did it."
Another improvised scene was when Wallach puts together the gun at the general store. "Leone said, 'Well, go in and put the gun together,' and I didn't know how. But he left the camera on and let me toy with it and imagine what it would be like," he recalled. Elsewhere, he noted, "I seem to know what the hell I'm doing, but actually I knew nothing about any of it."
Wallach credits Eastwood with also coming up with bits of his character and showing him the ropes of being in a Spaghetti Western. "I was very grateful to Clint," he said, "He didn't talk much on the set, but he was very bright and observant." He also noted that, "Clint took me by the hand and led me through it all." In fact, they got very close. So close that at one location, the two had to share a room together... with just one bed. Wallach remembered, "So Clint said, 'Which side of the bed you want?' And I thought, 'I don't know.' I was very radical, so I said, 'I'll take the left side.'"
Another famous story is that Leone had the idea that Tuco should wear his gun on a rope around his neck. Wallach asked Leone to show him what he was talking about, and depending on the interview, according to Wallach, Leone either hit himself or shot himself in the cajones. That was that, and Leone gave Wallach a holster for the gun.
Wallach almost lost his life, or at least risked serious injury, several times during the shoot. If Eastwood hadn't suggested they move from where Leone had sent them to be when the bridge blew up, they would've gotten blown up; another time a blast charge which was to release the rope hanging around his neck didn't work exactly right, and when he was handcuffed to the train, he almost was decapitated. Regardless, of working with Leone, Wallach said, it was "one of the best times I've ever had in the movies.... Leone knew exactly each shot he wanted.... [He] is an all movie man. He sleeps it, he eats it.... He's tense, but he has some kind of magical touch. All I know is, as an instrumentalist I enjoyed having him wave the baton."
Now I know I haven't said anything about Lee Van Cleef until now, but I promise we'll get into his relationship with Leone more when I cover For A Few Dollars More. However, Leone didn't originally want to bring Van Cleef back for GBU because he felt he might not have the range to play such a villain (believe it or not!), and had his eyes on Charles Bronson. But Bronson was committed to be in The Dirty Dozen and wasn't available. For Van Cleef, the Spaghetti Westerns saved his career. He stated when Leone first approached him, "I couldn't even pay my phone bill." Now, he was driving a new Mercedes and had a second apartment in Rome.
Van Cleef said of his role in GBU that he "was strictly a heavy, just a mean son of a bitch - nasty because he could smile doing it." He noted that while the shooting took 13 weeks, "That's not preparation time; and all the post-production, which can take any length of time, six months or more to get all the little fine details of sound and editing in there they want. And Leone did all his own stuff in those days."
When the editing was done, Mickey Knox was brought in to write the English language version. Knox, himself, is a fascinating character - he appeared in films like White Heat and Knock on Any Door, but then was blacklisted for his politics in the 1950's by HUAC, and moved to Europe. Knox supervised most of the dubbing with Leone in New York, but Eastwood was refusing to come in to the studio. Eventually, United Artists laid down the law and set up a dubbing session in Los Angeles. Eastwood showed up but got all prima donna and UA executive Chris Mankiewicz literally threatened Eastwood that if he didn't cooperate and finish the dubbing, Eastwood "would never make any more movies in America," according to fellow Spaghetti Western director Sergio Donati.
Leone and Eastwood parted ways after this film and barely ever spoke again to each other. Leone was apparently angry over Eastwood's demands for money, Eastwood had enough of the grueling work and was ready to step up and direct his own films, and they both believed they single-handedly created the "man with no name" character (though in GBU, he is known as "Blondie"). Leone wanted Eastwood, Van Cleef, and Wallach to return in the opening sequence of Once Upon a Time in the West and have all three of them die, but Eastwood refused. "I wanted to say farewell to the three characters from GBU and to do so in style... and to the rules of the game, which I had imposed," Leone said. But Eastwood, "just couldn't see the funny side of it," he added.
When GBU was finally released in the US a year later, the distributors, "took away 20 minutes to make people go and buy more popcorn," Leone noted angrily, though now a restored version is available. (In the restored version, because the scenes taken out were done before the US dubbing, Eastwood and Wallach went back into the dubbing studio and did those scenes. Van Cleef had already passed, so they had a voice actor do his part.) And during its initial US release, while audiences flocked to it, the critics in the US mostly panned it.
BACKGROUND & CONTEXT:
I'm giving myself a bit of a writing break for this section and instead offer up a 1995 British documentary on Ennio Morricone. While Morricone will forever be thought of as the composer of the Sergio Leone Westerns, he has written between 400-500 scores for motion pictures.
Some of my favorite of his non-Spaghetti Western soundtracks include Cinema Paradiso (a Chef du Cinema pick), Days of Heaven, 1900, and The Mission. So, sit back and learn about this great musical master who has been nominated 5 times for an Oscar, and only received an honorary one in 2007.
Below is Part I.
This summer, I was contacted by Claire Dixsaut, who also writes about food and film in Paris, and she asked me to come up with a list of my favorite food sequences for her website. One of them was GBU. As I wrote to her: "Early on Lee Van Cleef goes to see a man who he has been paid to extract some information and then kill. He arrives at the home just as the man's wife is bringing dinner to the table. The man sees Lee Van Cleef at the door and knows that his life is over. His son sits at the table, oblivious to what is going on and starts to dig in, but the wife stops him and leads the boy out of the room with her. Van Cleef comes in, sits down and the two men begin to eat what looks like pozole. They don't talk, in Leone fashion, but silently eye each other as they eat. The man tries to draw, but Van Cleef is faster. It's just awesome to watch and makes me want to make a bowl of pozole and join them."
Now I'm not 100% sure it is pozole, but it looks like there's hominy in some kind of green sauce. I think it's good enough. And it's a perfect dish as it has both American West roots and Spanish roots, so it plays nicely into the locations (I'll never get over how amazing it is that parts of Spain look exactly like West Texas).
Now to make this perfectly clear - you can spell "posole" with an "s" or "pozole" with a "z" or even "posolli" and it'll still get you here.
The dish itself dates back to pre-Hispanic times in Mexico. The word either means "foamy" or "frothy" or perhaps "boiling" in Aztec. It was served on special ocassions and, of course, the Aztecs's preferred ingredient in it was human meat. As Montezuma himself reportedly once remarked, "Era la mejor manera de comerse a un tlaxcalteca" (It's the best way to eat a Tlaxcalteca (a local tribe of people)). According to Wikipedia: "After the prisoners were killed by having their hearts torn out in a ritual sacrifice, the rest of the body was chopped and cooked with corn." Corn was sacred to them, but not human life.
It was the Spaniards who introduced pigs to Mesoamerica and used them (and by "them" I mean the pigs, not the locals) for their own take on pozole, whilst conning, I mean converting, the locals to Christianity and thus getting them off the "human diet," as well. If you want you can also substitute chicken or turkey for the pork, both of which are traditional proteins for pozole. But the hardcore traditionalist will make it with pig's head and feet. According to Chef Rick Bayless, "The head adds inimitably delicious flavor and rich texture to the pot.... If you can't manage pig's feet, you'll be settling for a broth without that beautiful silkiness." As a typical American, heads and feet are not traditionally part of my diet. But I promise the recipe below will be quite tasty, if not silky.
And speaking of the traditional, New Mexicans have made pozole part of their annual Christmas celebration, along with chili pepper wreaths and luminarias. Yet, somewhat reassuring, I suppose, the true pre-Hispanic traditional pozole hasn't completely died out. In 2009, one Mexican drug cartel gained a reputation by using lye to disintegrate the bodies of their rivals. The guy in charge of the operation was reverently known as "El Pozolero del Teo" aka "The Pozole-maker of Teo" (Teo, being the drug kingpin). According to the Los Angeles Times, "Many of the disintegrated remains left in barrels on busy streets have been attributed to El Teo, and have included messages addressed to reputed rivals threatening to make their henchmen into pozole....." Ah, traditions. They are important.
The other key ingredient in pozole is hominy. What is hominy, you ask? "The foundation of all pozole is hominy or nixtamal, dried corn which is treated with an alkali like lime," (or lye) it is written at Wisegeeks. "The corn is traditionally soaked in water and lime to loosen the outer shell and germ, and then it is repeatedly rinsed and ground to varying degrees of fineness, depending on the intended use. This process frees up useful vitamins and minerals in the corn so that they can be digested, and it is has been practiced in Latin America for thousands of years by native people." It's called "nixtamalization."
This hominy was also known north of Mexico as grits, and with some butter, two eggs over easy, bacon, and some corn muffins, makes for a nice breakfast. The Cherokee Indians were grit makers, though the word "grits" comes from old English. Hominy is actually the word the Algonquian Indians, who lived in what would be Virginia, used for corn. I've seen grits often served as a substitute for polenta, but hominy grits are made from hominy. Regular grits or polenta's just boiled cornmeal.
Now we're done. Don't forget to put on a little music while you're cooking, for as Tuco says to Angel Eyes, "It's good for the digestion." And in an earlier scene, as they leave the monastery, Blondie tells Tuco, "After a good meal, there's nothing like a good cigar." So light up....
As always.... cook, eat, watch & enjoy!
Pozole Verde w/Pork
Click Here for Printer-Friendly Version
For the meat:
1 1/2 pounds boneless pork shoulder or butt
1/2 pound country style or baby back ribs
1 large celery stalk
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon salt
3-4 epazote leaves (or 1 sprig oregano or 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano)
2 sprigs cilantro
1 teaspoon whole cumin seed
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
For the sauce:
1 lb. tomatillos, husked and quartered
1 poblano pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
1-2 jalapeño or Serrano peppers, roughly chopped and optionally seeded
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves
1/2 bunch cilantro
4-6 epazote leaves (or 3 sprigs oregano or 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano)
a handful of radish leaves (when you buy the radishes, they should have the leaves attached)
1/2 cup pepitas (unsalted roasted pumpkin seeds)
1 30-ounce can white hominy, drained and rinsed
for the garnish:
chopped cilantro and/or epazote
Place meat, onion, celery, garlic, salt, and herbs/spices in a soup pot. Cover meat with 3 quarts water and bring to boil, then reduce to medium for an hour. Skim fat and foam off the top as it cook with ladle.
Remove meat from broth. Strain broth and reserve. When meat has cooled, pull off meat from bones and discard the bones. (This can be done the day before and refrigerate meat and broth until ready to use.)
Place all the sauce ingredients in a blender or food processor (you may need to do in batches) and blend (you can puree or have it somewhat chunky - as you wish).
Heat a little oil in a soup pot (just clean the first one and reuse), then pour in sauce. Sauté for about 5 minutes, until its bright-greenness disappears (it will still be green but not that bright). Then add reserved broth (more or less depending on how soupy you want it - but remember the hominy will absorb some of it), the meat, and hominy to the sauce, bring to boil, then simmer for about 15-20 minutes. Salt and pepper, to taste.
Serve in bowls and with garnishes on the side.
The Lee Van Cleef Blog
For a Few Euros More, Spaghetti Western Documentary @ YouTube
The Spaghetti Western Database
A Fistful of (Sergio) Leone Page
10,000 Ways to Die: A Director's Take on the Spaghetti Western, by Alex Cox (FREE BOOK PDF download)
Once Upon a Time in Italy, interview with Spaghetti Western historian Christopher Frayling @ NPR
Ennio Morricone Official Site
Ennio Morricone Interview @ NPR
The Good, the Bad & the Ugly (Two-Disc Collector's Edition) DVD/Blu-Ray
The Good, The Bad & The Ugly OST CD/MP3
Sergio Leone: Something to Do with Death, by Christopher Frayling
Spaghetti Westerns: Cowboys and Europeans from Karl May to Sergio Leone (Cinema and Society), by Christopher Frayling
Once Upon a Time in Italy: The Westerns of Sergio Leone, by Christopher Frayling
Clint: The Life and Legend, by Patrick McGilligan
Bad at the Bijou, by William R. Horner
Ennio Morricone Store @ Amazon