Thursday, January 3, 2013
Sergio Leone and the Anti-hero Epic
Many were tired of the preachy moralizing white hat and black hat messages that worked in simpler times. Leone's subversion struck a chord and before long many other low budget film makers saw the possibilities in his approach, spawning a large number of "Spaghetti Westerns" which showed a very different side of the old west and created a new and gritty mythology, populated by characters like "Django," "Trinity," and "Sartana." The public appetite for this new brand of anti hero seemed to mirror the popularity of gangster pictures years earlier, giving the public a character that seemed to fit the times by admitting that the illusion of the old morality in the Westerns didn't suit the growing cynicism they felt about the world. Leone's outlook was largely due to the fact that his outlook on the cowboys was that of an outsider, a European examining the American gunslinger. While a certain admiration comes through, so does a feeling of brutality, an astonishment at the level of violence, happening in a very recent (to Europeans) time.
Leone found himself a winning formula, inexpensive Spanish settings, Clint Eastwood, and the scores of Ennio Morricone. "A Fistful of Dollars" paved the way for "A Few Dollars More," and then "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" each doing better than the last. Each element was in it's place and they all worked beautifully together. Each film became a classic in it's own right and together they make up the best Western trilogy ever made and and a cornerstone in the evolution of the film anti hero. Eastwood himself hasn't shed that image yet, his later westerns, Dirty Harry, and even the Clint Eastwood of "Gran Torino" still recall the "Man With No Name."
Leone wasn't done working of course, but he died in 1989 while planning another epic, this time a World War II epic about the siege of Leningrad. I think it's safe to say that cinema today would be a very different thing without Leone's contribution. He was quoted as saying “When I was young, I believed in three things: Marxism, the redemptive power of cinema, and dynamite. Now I just believe in dynamite.” a sentiment unsurprising from such a champion of the anti hero, although I'm sure that many film lovers would disagree with it, particularly when it comes to the impact of Leone's work. Judging by the abundance of anti heroes in our modern movies and top tier television, Leone's "Man With No Name" is still needed. Happy Birthday Sergio. I'm glad you were here.