Cassidy Red is a Western fable chronicling the existential struggle of protagonist “Josephine Cassidy”. When her lover is killed by her scornful ex-fiancée, the corrupt sheriff of her hometown, a bloodthirsty Josephine returns, seeking retribution. Torn between love, hate, loyalty, and vengeance, Joe’s path to satisfaction widens out of her control.
Cassidy Red started as a love letter to the western, specifically the westerns of Sergio Leone- a personal hero of mine. Leone, a man of enormous ambition and ingenuity, loved the western with all of his heart. But, like so many filmgoers and filmmakers of the mid 20th century he had grown fatigued with the predictability, formula, and stylistic blandness characteristic to many American westerns of the 1950s and 60s. Leone was confident he could inject new life into a genre he felt still had plenty of fertile, unexplored territory left in it. So he created a new vision of an old genre. His creation, the tacky but evocatively-named “Spaghetti Western” changed the genre and filmmaking as a whole for better and for always.
Leone’s western was always my favorite take on the genre. There was a vitality, a stylistic confidence that seemed to open up the form and define what the iconography of the frontier was actually about at its core. I appreciated and enjoyed the films of John Ford, Sam Peckinpah, or John Sturges. But I loved and mythologized the films of Leone. It had always been a dream of mine to write a cinematic love letter to the man- a pastiche of reverence and reference. But as the script and conception for the film Cassidy Red began to take shape I realized that I wasn’t nearly as interested in the style or signposting that would define my film as a “neo-Spaghetti Western” as I was in the characters and, crucially, the film’s central love story. That’s when it became clear to me that this film didn’t need to be beholden to the visual or tonal expectations of films I had grown up loving. This film’s only responsibility was to itself.
Leone’s films instilled a deep, formative love for the western inside me and that love will last a lifetime. But the goal of Cassidy Red, changed from making a “Leone film” to making a film “like Leone did”. Leone looked at the genre and decided there were stories and characters and themes he didn’t feel were represented in his favorite genre. This is exactly the way I approached this film. The superstructure of Cassidy Red is forged from the familiar elements we all associate with the western- the untamed frontier, the constant threat of violence, outlaws, betrayal, corruption, saloons, jail cells, livestock, prostitution, and bloodshed. But, at its core, what the film is principally interested in, its raison d'etre, is to examine the elements underrepresented in the genre- strong, complex female characters, familial ties, heartbreak, sacrifice, and star-crossed love. Cassidy Red is a film about family. It’s a film that knows exactly who its spiritual ancestors are and ultimately wants nothing more than to make them proud.
-Matt Knudsen, 12/2015