Wednesday, November 26, 2014

CANON OF FILM: "THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY"

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1968)

Director: Sergio Leone
Screenplay: Age-Scarpelli, Luciano Vincenzoni and Sergio Leone from the story by Luciano Vincenzoni and Sergio Leone. English version by Mickey Knox



The highest ranked foreign language movie on imdb.com, is not a work by Kurasawa, Fellini, Bergman, Truffaut, Godard, or even Miyazaki, Ang Lee, Ozu, and it’s not even Cuaron, Innuritu or Del Toro. In fact, most people who’ve seen the movie are probably not even aware it’s a foreign language film. Directed by Sergio Leone, made in Italy where sound isn’t recorded until later (So everybody said the lines in the languages they spoke) and then dubbed into English and other languages later, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” is far and away the most popular of the revisionist westerns, and the quintessential spaghetti western. Spaghetti westerns are these  highly stylized Westerns made in Europe, and led by fired Fellini assistant Leone; they revised and revitalized the ailing western genre, creating worlds different from the American southwest desert landscapes that popularized the John Ford/John Wayne world.

Naturally, as with almost all of Leone’s work, despite Quentin Tarantino’s notion that “TGTB&TU” is the best directed movie of all-time, I continually admire his work mostly from afar. The talent and storytelling through cinematic images of Leone, is never in doubt, from the opening frame of any of his films, he’s clearly a master director, yet as an auteur, he’s shares eccentricities one might expect from a Coppola or a P.T. Anderson. His movies are slow moving, and sometimes exuberantly long, often allowing for images, edits and music to take over seemingly in place of an actual story for sometimes hours. In Roger Ebert’s Great Movie review of “TGTB&TU”, he notes that Leone had two undeniable masterpieces are “Once Upon a Time in the West,” and “Once Upon a Time in America,” which is ironic because Ebert actually gave a negative review originally to “…in the West.” I originally did too, as it takes two full hours before anything happens. Now, just like my original negative review of “TGTB&TU,” I recognize how both movies are brilliant works of art. I used to go claim that “…In the West” was the better work of art, but and maybe it is, but “TGTB&TU” is the better movie. ( I still haven’t seen “…In America,” yet, so I’m withholding judgment) This is also clearly the audience consensus, probably mostly because of its connection to Clint Eastwood’s “Man With No Name,” archetype Leone created originally with his two previous films, “A Fistful of Dollars,” and “For a Few Dollars More,” the former of which was a direct remake of Akira Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo”, (and together, they make up, what's been called "The Dollars Trilogy", although I always called it The Man With No Name Trilogy). The plot of the movie is too simple: three men, looking for a grave full of money. In it’s current extended version, it clocks in at 2 hours, 45 minutes, and now really feels long, and yet, the movie is basically about the ending shootout scene, the famous last one with Ennio Morricone’s score blasting, following the long shot of the Good, Blondie (Clint Eastwood, which is what his character’s called.), Bad, Sentenza or Angel Eyes, (Lee Van Cleef) and Ugly, Tuco (Eli Wallach) walking away from each other, and literally dozens of close-ups and extreme close-ups. Even the appearance of the Civil War has no significance other than getting us closer to the shootout. Once one looks over the stretch of storytelling logic, geographical impossibilities, and all the other storytelling absurdities, it becomes clear one watches Leone for the iconographic images on screen, and the way he manipulates them to tell his story however way he chooses; the look, the tone, the images, all his own, all the signs of a truly great auteur. 
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