Thoughts On: The Dollar Trilogy


The Dollar Trilogy

Inside a western series I took a look a Leone's style and then the overall message of his three films. This was all so I could explore the inspiration behind my western inspired fantasy Apologetic? Check that out...

That done. Let's go...

The Orchestrated Canvas

Thoughts On: A Fistful Of Dollars

Joe--The Man With No Name--plays two gangs fighting for control over a small Mexican town, walking a thinning line, eyes fixed on money.

I'm going to be covering Leone's whole Dollar Trilogy over the next few posts and each one is connected by themes of greed, need, want, desire and all surrounding money--hence 'Dollar Trilogy'. So, to start off, I won't be talking about themes much, but much rather Leone's style. Style can account for more or less everything with some films. We need only to look at Michael Bay here. His plots are convoluted at best - and not in a good way - his logic isn't always sound, his tone and humour isn't very mature, less so imaginative (offensive to some) and messages? Yeah, I don't know about that. But, his movies entertain and damn do they make money. This is because of his style. Everything explodes off of the screen with colour, flare, sound, movement, energy. I don't mean to compare Bay here too directly to Leone here, merely say he is an auteur. I said this before in comparing him to Fellini and, indeed, the same can be said in respect to Goddard, Herzog, Tarantino, von Trier, Ozu... the list goes on. It's because of these director's styles that we are drawn to their pictures. Style is so important in cinema because it is nuance. In a certain sense you could say that Hollywood is the biggest auteur of all. The classical Hollywood approach to film is what has almost always ruled over cinema. It's what made it great. It's what the whole world knows. To say that Hollywood is an auteur kind of defeats purpose the term - I completely get that. But, the point I'm trying to make here is that style is what sells. The Hollywood style is what audiences over time have come to understand as part of what Scorsese would call film language. Style is important as it lets an audience know where they stand. When you go into a Michael Bay movie you know the camera is going to swirl around the protagonist at a low angle as they look off into the distance, wind blowing, surrounded by rubble, drenched in fake sweat, music pounding--American flag making it's 40th cameo in the flitting background. As much as some people may criticise that, it's what brings the audience in - to be honest, we all enjoy it, just given the right context. The Lego Movie is a perfect example here. A Michael Bay-esque style works because it excites, but more than that, critics and audience members can't be mad when the camera swirls around a 1 1/2 inch plastic toy. What this all ultimately translates to is dialect. If camera movement, positioning, framing, is language, then style is dialect. In the same way German has a hard, authoritative sound or French can melt hearts, Bay gets teenage boys jumping out of their seats and Tarkovsky has you sat back in a trance, in utter awe.

Films, in this sense, talk to us. Hollywood is an auteur because it has a unique style that almost lends it's name to a film - making Hollywood a kind of ghost writer. The way in which this ghost writer talks, rather, whispers to us defines our conception of filmic language. We are comfortable knowing that in a 40s MGM picture before we go into any interior sets we get an exterior shot, a wide angle, some form of establishing shot. We then move to mids, doubles, close-ups, inserts and singles, with controlled reversed angling that you can almost tap out without watching the screen. This is the power of style. It's the magic of language. It's also why the French New Wave had the impact on cinema it did. In the same way each generation has it's slang, the different epochs of cinema have their different dictions. Leone represents a huge turn, a massive revitalisation, of the western. In short, The Dollars Trilogy gave us the Spaghetti Western. And this all comes down to a new dialect being mapped out. To explain this I think we must first accept that there's nothing new in cinema--despite the auteur. We can see this best in Griffith or even Welles. Both men took everything that was great, that was revolutionary, from their age of cinema and funnelled it into masterpieces. Leone's style (to my eye) comes from two types of classical filmic styles. There's obviously the massive influence that Howard Hawks or John Ford had on him. They are the reasons Leone made films - he loved the old Hollywood westerns. But, I also see a lot of Hitchcock in Leone's style. What I primarily see is Hitchcock's ethos concerning a cinematic orchestration. He talked about this extensively, going as far to use his own films as examples. Anyone, familiar with Hitchcock and his T.V shows surely knows of this. It's the use of images in the same way one uses notes to form a piece of music. A mid-shot of curiosity starting up the steps for a bit of strings as set up. A small figure in a bird's-eye cut away for beat of near silence - a bass line working below. And then--BAM--a huge close-up with a knife slashing across a face (Psycho) as a huge bellow from the trumpets.

This is a broad piece of film theory that can be seen in all facets of cinema (obviously small images are juxtaposed with big ones) but with Hitchcock and Leone this idea is utilised knowingly and for direct effect. Hitchcock used it as a suspenseful device. Leone does something quite different. His films are very musical, they are drenched in operatic influence - we can see this in the acting, editing and use of score. Leone even went as far as to have Ennio Morricone pre-record the score to Once Upon A Time In The West to produce one of the most awe inspiring shots in all of cinema. I'm talking about the tracking shot following Jill away from the stopped train, bags in hand, over to the station where she disappears inside, music rising, rising, the camera staying exterior, rising, rising, everything coalescing with an almost euphoric release of the wide angle, capturing movement, life, the hustle and bustle of the town below from above the roof, of the growing industrialisation - that which Jill must wrestle with for the remainder of the movie. More on that in a few days though. This moment in film, a perfect example of Leone's style, went as far to baffle Kubrick. He was on the phone asking Leone (translators) how he managed it. This is the man who practically composed 2001: A Space Odyssey and struggled doing so for years previous to Leone's release. The foundations of this perfect piece of cinema can be traced back through Leone's previous three films from the, again, euphoric rise to the wide angle of the graveyard in The Good The Bad The Ugly, to the final shoot-out scene in For A Few Dollars More to that classic shot of the tiny figure stood between the huge pair of boots in A Fistful Of Dollars. What makes these images, these moments, so special is the way they almost sound, the way they talk to us. To have your dreaded advisory, the guy who's going to try and kill you, be a tiny figure between your huge boots says a lot. It says 'do you feel lucky? Well?... do ya'... PUNK!?'. Yeah, I know I just warped cinematic time and space with that one, but there's no better way to say it. However, Leone's cinema can be this boisterous not just because of Hitchcockian theory, but because of further incluences.

The loud and daring aspects of Leone's style can be compared to Bay's. A Michael Bay film is like a Leone picture smashed against The West Side Story (one of Bay's favorite films). There's Leone's bold imagery and the movement captured in West Side Story with little dance, CGI robots, and big explosions. Leone's style is, however, much more mature than Bay's. This comes with his influences stemming from the old Hollywood westerns, from directors such as Howard Hawks - but more importantly his (and his camera operators') love of Italian paintings. Now, I'm not going to pretend I know much about this. I'm not even going to paraphrase Google here. Suffice to say that Leone's influence from Italian artwork can be seen in his very own canvas. It's almost like Leone doesn't see film, but still images. You get this impression from his long shots of perfectly framed landscape. You see this also in his fascination with human features. Some of the greatest close-ups in all cinema come from the likes of Intermezzo, Notorious, Casablanca, Rear Window, Gone With The Wind, Lost In Translation and Whiplash. This is because of Melissa Benoist, Scarlett Johansson (opening shot anyone?--I joke--but only kind of) Grace Kelly, Vivien Leigh, Ingrid Bergman, Ingrid Bergman and, damn, Ingrid Bergman. Forgive me, but that opinion comes from the slightly lonely, slightly sad, slightly weird, cinema geek in me. The point is: beauty. But, Leone's close-ups defy this idea. I think it's safe to say that not all those extras Leone loves to push really close in on are much in the way of a Grace Kelly. He depicts the weird and wonderful in an almost elegant way though. This plays into his decisions to leave a wide shot on open desert linger, his inclination towards letting a horse come to the camera from what seems like miles out--in the same respect he'll watch them canter off just as far. He sets tone with his big notes and small notes - they are under and overtones that build atmosphere. He'll give us an almost blank canvas and then fill it with the trillion crevices of a crooked nose to control our depth perception. This is all about a physical communication between what's on screen and the audience. With the wide shot we sit back to marvel, peering into the distance, up at the sky. Cut to the close-up of the ugly guy and our eyes draw back--as might we in our seats. In the same respect, the tiny figure between the huge boots draws us to the edge of our seats. And then the flash to the extreme close-up of the gun being drawn has us jumping out of it with the B-B-B-BANG. When the dust and ourselves settle... the aftermath is revealed.

Leone's camera moves and cuts like a person feels--but not in a Spielberg/Saving Private Ryan way. In Spielberg's classic we are, of course, a soldier. We aren't so much in a Leone picture. We are an observer of little consequence. We literally are a camera, but held by someone with as much enthusiasm for what is happening on screen as we are. Leone's camera is almost mesmerized by what it sees. Its eyes flash wide, moving toward the gun belt, peeping over shoulders, past the big faces - just like we want to. This is the core difference between a Bay picture and a Leone picture in my opinion. Bay is trying to recreate joy for his audience of teenage boys--which is completely fine - admirable even (not to say he's a great influence, but, whatever). However,  Leone merely has to capture his own joy. We see this also in Tarantino pictures. When you think back to the things you love, say for instance, about samurai films, you think of the blood squirting, the low angles with slack shoulders, samurai sword hovering millimetres from the ground, waiting to bite. Maybe it wasn't filmed liked that - but that's how we like to remember them. To see this all we have to do here is compare the final battle of Seven Samurai to the Crazy 88 massacre in Kill Bill. Similar ideas. Different execution (no pun intended). This is because Kill Bill is supposed to be a fun exploitation-ish film, whilst Seven Samurai can be considered a mature look at Japanese tradition, culture and history. This idea of contortion manifests itself with A Fistful Of Dollars also--this being a remake of Kurosawa's Yojimbo. Yojimbo's plot concerning honour and deceit must have triggered memories and emotions in Leone linked to westerns. He then takes influences from Kurosawa's expert blocking, keeps his acting style (a bit over the top) and merges it with a teenage wet dream of what a western is. What is that? It's black figures, horses, hats, guns, coats. bandannas, backed by blood red, hooves thundering, then... B-BANG... PEW-PEW-PEW... B-BANG-B-BANG... figures twisted, already writhing, falling to the ground, gripping the bullet sized holes in their chests. That goddamn intro - that's what that is. Leone's style has its roots in this sensationalism and when coupled with Hitchcockian theory, the idea of paintings, atmosphere, music, we begin to have his style.

There's one more thing to add though and that is sound design. This is the utmost craziest thing about what we consider some of the greatest films of all time. The dialogue track. The filming of Leone's pictures occurred in multiple languages. When you start squinting, trying to figure out why the words and mouth movement don't match up, it's because you're watching English come past lips speaking German, Italian, Spanish and other languages. Everything was synced in post-production (as was the way of the time in Italy). But, Leone didn't work from a script. He just knew his stories. He knew them so well that he only really needed a few takes per scene - most of the time only one. He'd only shoot multiple takes for the studio - just in case the film was lost or damaged. This is where his films where imbued with nuance. This is probably where his style flourished. He worked from instinct and the pictures he envisioned. This translated to one huge movement, an orchestrated, close to chaotic, recital of a song gone over and over in the head of an impassioned director. This starts to wrap everything back up. Nuance and style are intrinsically linked. This is why it's fine for you to scoff when I say that Hollywood is an 'auteur'. The term was coined to object to the lack of nuance in the pictures produced by mainstream production companies. Films being made by committee funnels all vision through a plan - such being standards of practice. Without a universal key to making movies, but a creative mind (the auteur) we get something new, true nuance - the closest thing we can have to originality. Style is an interpretation of what we love in the guise of what we are capable of. This is why Hitchcock, Italian artists, opera, Hawks and Ford are in a Spaghetti Western. Because Leone put them there.

For A Few Dollars More - Death's Price

Thoughts On: For A Few Dollars More

For A Few Dollars More follows two bounty hunters butting heads as they close in on a gang of criminals worth nearly $30,000.

To me, For A Few Dollars More is title that really doesn't do this film justice. The film is best surmised by it's opening text:

Where life had no value,
death, sometimes, had its price.
That is why the bounty killers appeared.

That is, in short, the crux of the film. But, before that, it has to be said that this film is the one to prove that Leone truly is a masterful story teller. The plotting of this film is immense--a true masterclass if ever you need one. In terms of technical plotting this film is probably Leone's best, and despite this For A Few Dollars usually falls to fourth place when Leone's filmography is ranked. The Good The Bad The Ugly comes first, Once Upon A Time In The West second, (usually) A Fistful Of Dollars third and For A Few Dollars more fourth. This comes down to The Good The Bad The Ugly being so iconic with its score and riveting (yet simple) narrative. Once Upon A Time In The West is the best directed of Leone's western pictures - in my opinion - but it hasn't the star power, loveable characters or iconic imagery The Good The Bad The Ugly has. A Fistful Of Dollars is what made him and Spaghetti Westerns famous. And so, that kind of explains why For A Few Dollars More comes fourth in ranking. However, I'd say that For A Few Dollars more needs to go up at least one place. It's a rare example of the sequel being better than the original. This is because it's not really a sequel. It's a film of its own. Leone had more money and a similar story to tell. Usually this leads to a relaxed director, just mailing it in - and is why sequels are rarely better than the original. But, Leone was holding out on us with A Fistful Of Dollars. For A Few Dollars more has more flare, spice, grit and bite. Leone took quite a few chances in this film. The most obvious will be the increase of violence especially that of a sexual nature. Marisol was probably raped in A Fistful Of Dollars, but this was never expressed in the same manner it was with Mortimer's sister - we even see the gun wound that ended her life. Also, women are shot down quite brutally in Fistful, but a woman and child--a baby--are murdered (off-screen) in For A Few Dollars More. Leone definitely grew braver with this film. But we can see this most clearly in his plotting and decision to make as pure of a narrative as possible. The first time I saw this picture (I was quite--probably too--young) it confused the hell out of me. I didn't know who was good, why who was doing what or even what was going on some of the time. This is because of Leone's refusal to explain anything with more than images. This is pure cinema, it's what makes the likes of The Godfather, Psycho, most things by Chaplin, Keaton, Murnau, great. Cinema is used as designed; stories are told frame by frame - not with dialogue. This is what makes Leone's cinema great.

There's one more thing to add about the plotting - this also comes back to the title of the film. It should have been called... drum roll... The God The Bad The Ugly. Why? The opening few scenes. First there's Mortimer, the hard-ass bounty hunter. He is the Good. Then comes the chilled Man With No Name. The Ugly. This is a beautiful opening. It sets up a key conflict of the film whilst perfectly demonstrating just who the two main characters are. There's the no bullshit, efficient and calculated colonel. Then there's the relaxed, talented, but sloppy kid. They're both after money, and so in comes the $10,000 - right above it - the face of El Indio. The Bad. This dynamic of the good guy, the bad guy and the questionable one (the ugly) isn't a mind blowing revelation though. It's obvious in both this, The Good The Bad The Ugly (duh) and Once Upon A Time In The West. This is because Leone is, in short, telling very similar stories. He does this to bridge away from the westerns that came beforehand--it's what let him revitalise the genre. Classic westerns have your good guy and your bad guy - the black hat and the white hat. Simple. Leone adds into the mix his iconic antihero - often The Man With No Name. (For more on antiheroes click here by the way). This is what allowed cinema as a whole to really open up. With antiheroes new themes and ideas can be explored that you can't with black and white story telling. Antiheroes obviously gave us A Clockwork Orange, Taxi Driver, Goodfellas (all talked about in the link above). However, the opposite could also be argued here. Maybe antiheroes dumbed cinema down. As a blanket statement, obviously that's wrong. But, look at all the 'dumb, fun' movies that come out today--look at the majority of Seth Rogan's filmography. They all contain antiheroes of a sort, just look at The Interview, Superbad or Pineapple Express. This movement toward the stoner comedy (everything Seth Rogan) coincided with move into the 80s - Cheech and Chong, Up In Smoke anyone? By saying this I mean to make clear that antiheroes aren't just artistic and profound devices used to explore the depths of human nature in all its contradictions. Sometimes antiheroes just entertain (Ferris Bueller's Day Off). You can see this also in For A Few Dollars More. Some of the 'bad' or 'ugly' parts of the film are supposed to entertain with the camaraderie, almost playful deception and dark humor - just think of the act Indio almost gets away with after killing two of his own men. Comical, right?

What this all feeds into is the narrative purpose of the film. Whilst this is a fun, popcorn movie, it does say something quite bold about the dynamic between the questionable and the good. In short, this film is a perfect example of both the use of an antihero to entertain and explore. All the way throughout this film there are blatant religious images that are almost desecrated. One of the opening shots is the Bible and then Mortimer as priest bounty hunter. Huh? And then there's shooting at church bells, the constant cross image (especially when shot into the stolen safe), also Indio posing as a kind of Jesus preaching to his men, surrounded by, what I assume to be, religious statues. Again, this is bold, but, it also cites a loss of religion - with that, a loss moral guidance. From Leone to 21 Jump Street and Korean Jesus, we can also see the 'evolution' of the antihero in respect to disrespect - even if it is for the sake of comedy. Not that I criticise anything here--I have very little stake in the way of religion. Anyhow, what Leone is trying to demonstrate is a progression in time. Westerns are always about change whether it be with the image of war or the train. It's change that cowboys often fight against, but in For A Few Dollars More, they embrace it. The cowboys essentially become criminals and bounty hunters/killers. This is where the good and ugly come back in. Mortimer represents the good mainly because he's from a time before The Man With No Name. He's a bounty killer for similar reason as 'Manco', but with one key difference--the watch on his hip. The Man With No Name is, in spirit, ugly because he does what he does 'for a few dollars more'. With that idea we can see the double meaning in the opening lines of the film (at the top of the essay). Death having a price sounds ominous and dark. It implies anyone can be killed - just for the right amount of money. And whilst this is true in the film, it's not the only price willing to be paid. Mortimer is willing to pay for the death of Indio with not only his own life, but his own half of the bounty. This is why the title isn't entirely apt, and brings the film above the rank of 'dumb and fun'.

For A Few Dollars More centers around a question of bounty hunting. Is it good? Is it bad? Who is right? The question of course isn't asked explicitly, but comes with a question of character. How can we root for Manco and Mortimer if we don't first assume Indio is worth killing? That bounty hunting is right? How can Leone create tension without us too wanting The Man With No Name to get away with thousands of dollars for killing someone? What this reveals in the audience is our intangible, ineffectual, but present nonetheless, acceptance of this idea of murder for personal gain. Of course the posters say dead or alive, but we're all thinking 'just shoot him'. This period of cinema is reflected on by Eastwood himself with Unforgiven. His character, Will, is The Man With No Name, but old and constantly tortured by what he used to do. What this cites is the self-destruction in destruction. That killing someone else can haunt you. I know we're going off on quite a tangent here, but the point I'm trying to make centers on this idea of right and wrong. We assume that the ending is happy because Manco gets away with tens of thousands of dollars which will let him lead a comfortable and quiet life. But is that the end all and be all? Is the end supposed to be of consequence? You could argue here that I'm thinking too much into things, but GOONIES NEVER SAY DIE!! I don't know exactly what that meant--but it's true. Anyway, what the horizon Manco trots toward has to do with is the horizon Mortimer travels for. This is why thinking of beyond the film is a relevant point and also comes back to the price of a death. Mortimer killed Indio to avenge his sister - he was willing to risk his life for peace, but only because his life maybe had no value. The implied undertones of this movie as given by the opening text are very existential. Essentially, we have two suicidal characters. They don't see their lives as having any worth and neither those of the people around them. Their lives are worthless, yet death can have a price because, through death, these two characters can almost start living again. Mortimer, once avenging his sister's forced suicide can go on with his life. Manco, with money in his back pocket can begin living. This is why bounty killers exists and it also hits a lot closer to home than we probably realise.

What this film is essentially about is risking one's life for material gain. It's about putting everything on the line in hope of some return. What this film talks to is an idea of capitalism, of getting rich or dying whilst you try. This idea is encompassed by The Man With No Name--comfort at any cost. He is nameless for the same reason we use zombies to comment on consumerism. There's a contradiction in risking life and death now for what could be comfort later on down the line when you live in the old, slow west. Instead of being almost mindless like a zombie though, The Man With No Name is entirely emotionally disconnected. But, what Mortimer represents is the heart of a capitalist. He wants it all not 'just because', but for someone, some purpose. He wants to almost take back what he's lost. This idea is deeply engrained into Leone's westerns. They aren't just about the old west, the wild west, simpler times. They aren't even about refusing change, or at least not wanting to accept it - as most westerns are. Leone's Spaghetti Westerns embrace change - as do his characters. The Man With No Name doesn't care about the train, he's got his mind on his money and... you fill the rest. Overall, bounty hunting is tantamount to capitalism in For A Few Dollars More - in a western - so the individualist rise in cinema and culture could be perfectly exemplified. This isn't to say that all westerns previous to this were communists--John Wayne would probably turn in his grave if I dared say that. But, what I mean to say is that knights of the desert primarily cared for communities, morals, respect... not so much money. Look at High Noon, Rio Bravo, The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Stagecoach. All prime westerns and none really about making money or dying to get it. You can even look at The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre. All about gold and how it can destroy people. Juxtapose this with Leone's Dollar Trilogy and then take a look at yourself. What does Trilogy say about us?

I'm going to leave you in suspense here, but only with the promise for conclusion in The Good The Bad The Ugly. Before I go and to wrap up For A Few Dollars More, what we have here is a preemptive to The Good The Bad The Ugly. It pushes the bar on what audiences will sympathise with or will root for. All in all, with For A Few Dollars More I see stunning technical craft in the way of story telling, Leone's style strengthening and, most importantly, a commentary on the audience brewing.

The Good The Bad And The Ugly - The Moral Trichotomy

Thoughts On: The Good The Bad And The Ugly

The legend. Arguably the best western of all time. Quite obviously the most popular, the most iconic. During Civil War time, three figures risk life and limb in search of a grave holding hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Leading on nicely from the talk on For A Few Dollars More we can jump right into the themes of greed. Money as motive in a narrative is often approached in two or three ways. There's the It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World or The Wolf Of Wall Street approach where money is shown to truly posses characters - and to destructive or absurd lengths. Then there's the Pursuit Of Happyness or Bicycle Thieves approach where money is in dire need by the good guys with poverty being the looming threat. On top of that there's the third (and quite similar) narrative you can see in Spiderman 3 or Oceans 11. In these films money is in dire need too, but by what we can assume to be bad guys. So, to summarise, there's the money as incentive approach and then there's the money as conflict approach. It's either a need or want. We see the first approach applied in comedies and crime pictures. These are films in which morals and belief are suspended slightly. The second approach comes largely in drama, or in the more dramatic segments of a film. They rely on moral investment - which is often fueled by verisimilitude. The best two examples are probably The Wolf Of Wall Street and Bicycle Thieves here. With these as representatives of the two categories I ask: where does The Good The Bad The Ugly Sit? (P.S we'll call it The Good from now on). At first thought The Good sits well with The Wolf Of Wall Street, but, whilst you may not care as much for Blondie or Tuco finding their money as you would do the Riccis finding their bike, it has at least a foot in the other category - we care for these characters. The same could be said for It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and could be put down to good character work, but, in It's A Mad World as in Wolf Of Wall Street, Home Alone, Goodfellas, Citizen Kane there's an element of excess. This manifests itself in the form of comedy or literal excess in the way of hundreds of nude women, drugs, money, possessions. In all such films there is a downfall. In Citizen Kane we have a man dying with words of his childhood making clear the waste the majority of his life has been. In Home Alone cops come take the beaten, bruised, burnt, bricked (Home Alone 2) criminals away. In Scorsese's gangster pictures someone always oversteps the mark, people end up dead and others in ruins. There is always moral confirmation (the bad guys losing) and/or moral levity (the money hungry idiots being beaten down and left with nothing). The Good is one of a few good films that gets away with not doing either. There are enough serious moments in this film for it not to be considered a comedy, and the bad guys kind of get away with the money in the end. I can hear you stirring already about 'bad guys', so what this takes us to is the characters themselves.

Be honest and ask yourself if Blondie really is The Good. He exploits the law for thousands of dollars at a time, impersonates officers and probably doesn't pay taxes. He's not too great of a person. But, what makes him good is relative. He is the Good because Tuco is the Ugly, but also because he won't cross the line and kill him for his own gain. It's that moral boundary that can allow him to abandon Tuco 70 miles from town in the desert, but not shoot him as he hangs or just leave him. His boundaries even allow him walk through the desert as Tuco's hostage. Blondie has transparent principals. This is what makes him Good. What comes into question here is why Angel Eyes in then The Bad. He too has principals. He always finishes a job he's been paid to do. Is it just that he kills? Possibly. But, to complicate the films ideas of Good, Bad and Ugly further, let's reintroduce For A Few Dollars More. In this film we also have a Good, Bad and Ugly element. It is much more clear cut in this film however. The Man With No Name is the ugly because he does what's right (takes in criminals where the law can't), but only for money. Mortimer is the Good because he was forced into becoming a bounty hunter both by the changing society and his sister's assisted suicide/murder and rape. El Indio is the Bad for obvious reasons. Compare this with The Good. Blondie has not been wronged. Tuco has his past, and so why he is who he is, explained. Lee Van Cleef is playing the same character, the only difference being a lack of back story. There is almost no tangible justifications for their titles - Good, Bad and Ugly. You could say this is down to bad writing, but, would Leone really be so audacious as to name his film and then book-end it with 'The Good, The Bad, The Ugly' when it made no sense? I think not. As I've said before Leone's westerns (especially his famous four) are very similar in how they blend this idea of good and bad. With this in mind we can begin to take them a little more seriously, accepting that he has intentions toward a message of sorts. Furthermore, Once Upon A Time In America, the full directors cut, is one of the most overlooked gangster pictures of all time. This has a lot to do with how it was hacked down for original release. But, in this film Leone demonstrates a complex moral understanding of his characters. I'll stay on this film shortly as we are amidst a western series, but, I only need to point to one of the most shocking scenes in the film. This is the one in which Noodles rapes the girl who never gave him a chance. I won't delve deep into character motivations, but through a complex and rich narrative, Noodles' reasoning for doing this is very clear. That doesn't justify anything, but it is a very hard task to make a rapist anything more than a one-dimensional piece of filth. Other attempts toward this come with A Streetcar Named Desire and The Woodsman. Both films deal with equally heavy ideas, Streetcar being rape and The Woodsman pedophilia. Both are very mature films and like Once Upon A Time In America show a shade of humanity in what are so easily dismissed as monsters. A director of this calibre, comparable to works such as Streetcar and The Woodsman, is someone I believe deserves to be taken seriously - especially when his forte is morals.

That said, we can begin to pull apart the complex mesh of good and bad in Leone's Dollar Trilogy. To do this we'll have to make clear that these films are largely about greed and revitalise a good old adage of mine: selflessness doesn't exist therefor selfishness isn't all that bad. To explain real quick, all we do is to survive, to fit in, to live as apart of, in line with, despite of, society. This means that when you save a kid from an oncoming car you may be risking your own life, but only because the term 'hero' is so revered, is so imperative to the part of us that wants to fit in, be of significance in a huge society. Everything we do is for selfish gain. This may make people frumpy, huffy, depressed and all 'what's the point?', but this idea doesn't reduce the world to pointless desolation. For the same reason, it's ok if God doesn't exist. This is all because one cannot deny reality, they may merely accept it. You may hate the idea of taxes, but, come on, what are you going to do about it? You carry on. You tell yourself taxes aren't so bad or just moan about them. Moreover, the norm, to a healthily mind, should never be considered bad. What you are essentially doing is denying reality. By saying that it's bad for us all to be selfish when (as I think) we quite obviously are, you are saying we are all capable of better. People love to say this kind of thing, but such statements are empty. There is good and bad, suffering and levity, in everything. I mean, pure world peace isn't just unachievable, but would just be boring (just like complete equality). You couldn't punch your friend in the arm, bully the fat kid, shout 'you fucking limey cunt' once in a while (I'm British so that one's fine). Sure these things are a little nasty, but so is Jerry Springer, NASCAR, action movies, fail videos. But, we all love them. Without aggression, without wanting to see worse situations, cars crashing. people dying (even pretending to) or just getting hammered by their own stupidity, we're not human - not people recognisable as such. This is why selfishness isn't bad. But we also have the element of God to discuss. Before proceeding, I only mean to discuss present ideas of what God is in the form of religion (Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism...). God as a creator is a valid and interesting idea, beyond that, with the dress-up of religion, I lose interest. And so, it's fine that God, heaven, hell, karma, fate, prayer don't exist because meaninglessness is ultimately bliss. The main argument against disbelief is the lack of morals, justice and meaning. However, (as in all likelihood) the reality of there not being a man in the sky but just a big empty universe is something we shouldn't try and refute. We shouldn't try to fabricate our own reality but try to come to terms with it. This is just like trying to take blame for a tragedy or something going seriously wrong. It's not our fault that the universe is empty and pointless, we don't need to take the burden onto our shoulders. If we accept that idea as an inevitability (like taxes) we can just get on, or, as is probably put best by Samuel Becket (under my interpretation), we should all be 'Waiting For Godot'.

What all of that should make clear is that I'm only really writing essays because I firstly love writing them, but mainly because I used to get in trouble for taking huge tangents in my English Literature classes. Who's going to stop me or tell me I shouldn't here? (Shout-out to all the teachers that put up with me). Anyway, this is all of relevance. With themes of greed and religion put forth in the Dollar Trilogy coupled with the last paragraph, the trichotomy (3 categories) of morality becomes all the clearer. Morals are right and wrong - a left and right of sorts - two extremes in short. This is where our Good and Bad come from. The Ugly originates from a grey area. Now, this scale of Good then Ugly then Bad is shown to be relative by Leone. This calls back to the fact that the Dollar Trilogy is not a traditional western. Traditional westerns are quite civilised. Leone drops civilisation to reflect present day. In my books, 'civilised' is a tradition, it's an idea of knights, princesses, kings, queens, chivalry, fearing God and knowing your place in society. Note, I said idea. This fantasy probably never existed. It did however have gravitas, it did have appeal back in 'the good old days' (when, I won't try to specify (I'm no historian and won't use Google to pretend to be)). Before we get lost again, Leone's idea of Good then Ugly then Bad is relative. So, in the wild west, Blondie is good when the others in question are a ruthless bounty hunter with principals (Angel Eyes) and a worm without many (Tuco). In a civil context, like in most traditional westerns, High Noon for example, the good is clearly the hero who makes the right decisions. The bad is the black hat criminal and the ugly are those without a spine who sit on a fence when maybe they shouldn't. Leone knows this, and so, The Good The Bad The Ugly reflects a lot about its audience. We live in a dog eat dog, follow back or I unfollow, world. The internet is our wild west and it is not very civilised. Of course, 'The Good' predates such an invention, but it is still relevant and very popular. Moreover, the film is about the same morality or mindset behind the shit-storm that can be the internet, that was also present in what we think of as the wild west. So, what this film represents is a change in cinema, a move in the world toward individualism and today in short. With this idea we can see that on the internet the good are responsible content creators, the decent human beings, the ugly are the trolls and propagators of the bad, which are those who just want to watch it all burn. If you zoom in here, let's say to a negative comments section, the good becomes those who say one or two nasty things that are quite funny, the ugly are the viewers who indulge them, adding to the mess and then the bad are those who take it a step to far and mean for death threats to seriously affect. Am I making a clear point here?

What I am trying to make clear here is Leone's expression of relative morals, and the idea that all situations can be understood by his good, bad and ugly trichotomy. This is all noteworthy because the film almost comments on itself. Morally, this film, as a western, is pretty ugly. It's not as ugly as Wolf Of Wall Street, but it isn't Bicycles Thieves. What we can, however, consider 'bad' is the likes of Cannibal Holocaust or The Human Centipede. However, Cannibal Holocaust is in a league of its own. All I can say is animals being killed, stabbed in the neck over and over, is nothing I want to watch - especially in the respect of an exploitation picture. Suffice to say I have no interest in getting through that film. On that point, we come to the truly interesting aspect of this film and its idea. Who decides what is good, what is bad, what is ugly? Us. Me, you, the audience. Why can Leone's stories be so simple, so entertaining, but be so morally complex (not necessarily in a good way)? The same can be asked of most blockbusters. Heck, we can bring Michael Bay back up again. Good in Transformers is the Autobots defending us Earthlings. Bad is the Deceptacons trying to kill us. And the ugly is a lot of the Bayisms like casual racism, sexism and childishness. What Michael Bay represents is the growing prevalence of the ugly in modern cinema. It started with the antihero's popularisation (I direct you here and here for more on that). This evolved into individualist teen cinema that flourished in the 80s (a must read) and with that came the loss of the clear-cut. The ugly weren't always gangsters, idiots or guys with a problem - they started to become us in our worst lights. I draw your attention here to Michael Bay's characters, those in Twilight or even those in Spring Breakers. As 'ugly' characters, the likes of a Mikaela Banes, Sam Witwicky, Cotty, Brit, Candy, Bella, Jacob, Edward aren't treated as such by director and writer. The same could be said for a Ferris Bueller, Gary Wallace (Weird Science), Chris Parker (Adventures In Babysitting - P.S '87 Elisabeth Shue, the proposal still stands). You can find these ugly characters in mainstream cinema before The Good The Bad The Ugly most notably those in screwball comedies. But, that pulls back to the top of the essay. The comedy aspects justify the ugliness. That said, there's still Scarlett O'Hara in one of the most successful films of all time. Well, again, she's not dealt with in the same respect a Man With No Name or Ferris Bueller is. Through writing and direction she is clearly very ugly. The fact that an attempt toward black and white right and wrong is being lost with the likes of a Twilight, Transformer or even Breaking Bad if you want to bring T.V into this, and they are all so immensely popular, shows that the growing individualism in cinema is something to watch.

This all raises very interesting ideas in respect to the audience. Is it because of modern individualist cinema that we are being better represented and that characters are becoming more and more ugly? The main criticism of The Wolf Of Wall Street is that fact that it didn't condemn Jordan Belfort. I don't agree with this, but only because I like the film so much. I would however say that Twilight is kind of fucked up in the way everyone treats each other. But, don't think I don't see my own bullshit. here Jordan and Bella are both ugly, but huge masses of us are willing to overlook that. That's the paradigm I'm trying to make clear. Condemnation is a huge aspect of older pictures. I cite Citizen Kane as an example. Moving forward we have The Good The Bad The Ugly where of course the bad guys get away in the end - and we support them all the way through. This deepened with the likes of Taxi Driver, more so with Ferris Bueller and even further with Transformers. There's little consequence to being a bit of a dick in these pictures. And of course that 'bit of a dick' quotient is increasing from Travis to Ferris to Sam. An interesting paradigm, no? It's now that I'll try to take this all full circle with the idea of the helpless and the ruthless to explain why Leone's spectrum exists. Firstly, this idea of the helpless and ruthless is expressed through the following iconic lines:

There's two kinds of people in this world: those who have a rope around their neck, and those who do the cutting.

There's two kinds of people in this world: those who come through the door, and those who come through the window.

There's two kind of people in this world: those with loaded guns, and those who dig.

Poetry, huh? What each of these lines make clear is the weak and the strong. But what they don't account for is:

Those who miss.

That cannon that blasts through the wall.

Angel Eyes, who also has a loaded gun.

Each of these are visual responses to the quotes up top. Yes, Blondie may be the one who shoots the rope around Tuco's neck, but only until he chooses to miss. Just like Tuco may be able to sneak in the window, but Blondie gets away when that cannon hits the house. Just like Angel Eyes had to complicate the discovery of the money. To reiterate, we have two extremes and then a complication. Leone uses these to create conflict, such as Blondie standing on a stool, Tuco shooting at the legs, the noose around Blondie's neck tightening. He then breaks it up (with the cannon) so his story can continue, taking us to the ending of the epic - resolution. Extremes nullify each other for the sake of narrative flow. So, there can be good and bad, but things figure themselves out. Here, we come back to the ideas that selfishness isn't bad and neither is it such a disaster if God doesn't exist. Each of these men are outwardly selfish, but, only in context, in their little circles. Their fight for the money doesn't cause any one else much harm. This is why their selfishness is acceptable by the standards of the audience. Moreover, this is why films like Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Taxi Driver, Twilight and Transformers are successful. They deal with context. All ugly characters stay in situations where they don't make the jump to bad - they don't let us label them as such because: 'but look what she did'. The religious elements of this film are also there to show this same kind of leniency. We see this with Tuco's interaction with his brother. Tuco is the way he is because that's how he survives. He lives in a harsh, ungodly world. But that's ok because he still finds joy, he still finds purpose in the material and equally meaningless - money. This is why Leone satirises religious imagery throughout the Dollar Trilogy. First it shows a lack of religion in the characters, but secondly it shows that they get on despite that. Leone's lasting image is an idea of an automated process. His narrative contains conflict and aversion (the italicised bits up there) for resolution - so that The Good The Bad and The Ugly can sort each other out. In Leone's universe there is always moral complication, but, it always fixes itself. There seems to be an underlying mechanism by which evil is conquered and the sustainable live on. This is why The Ugly is left to his loot, but the relative Good is the focus in the end of the film. His journey, where he goes next, matters. Similar could be said for For A Few Dollars More. The Ugly, The Man With No Name again, has won his loot and is going to use it to live the life he wishes - the sense given is that he'll stop bounty hunting becoming more moral. Tuco on the other hand might not. Either way, in all narratives, the bad guys get it. That is what matters.

All in all, the Dollar Trilogy is about inevitability. It's about the acceptance of the negative aspects of the world, but also seeing things in context, the small victories, the human tenancy to quash the bad - whether it be accepting them as ugly, being able to indulge in the mischief or laugh off the absurdity. Morals are relative. This is what Leone makes clear through the idea of Good Bad and Ugly. And... wow, that's the dollar trilogy done. Thanks for reading.

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