A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Monday, February 8, 2016

A Fistful of Dollars (Sergio Leone, 1964)

Clint Eastwood in A Fistful of Dollars
Joe: Clint Eastwood
Marisol: Marianne Koch
Ramón Rojo: Gian Maria Volontè
John Baxter: Wolfgang Lukschy
Esteban Rojo: Sieghardt Rupp
Piripero: Joseph Egger
Don Miguel Benito Rojo: Antonio Prieto

Director: Sergio Leone
Screenplay: Adriano Bolzoni, Victor Andrés Catena, Sergio Leone, Jaime Comas Gil
Cinematography: Massimo Dallamano, Federico G. Larraya
Music: Ennio Morricone

My father was a huge fan of Westerns, which meant that whenever one was on TV -- which in the 1950s and '60s was almost all the time -- the set was tuned to Gunsmoke or Bonanza or Laramie or Rawhide or whatever. And naturally, that meant my adolescent rebellion took its course into a distaste for the genre. Which is why the "spaghetti Western" phenomenon escaped my notice in its heyday. Having had my exposure to Clint Eastwood on Rawhide, I was certainly not going to pay money to see him in a theater. Perhaps if you had told me that A Fistful of Dollars was based on (or stolen from) Yojimbo (Akira Kurosawa, 1961), I might have been curious. But it was not until years later, when people began talking about Sergio Leone as an auteur, that my curiosity about the movie was piqued. By then I had overcome my indifference to Westerns, having learned that they were the essential American Myth, and having admired Stagecoach (John Ford, 1939) and Red River (Howard Hawks, 1948), so I was intrigued enough to check it out. I still think A Fistful of Dollars is a shade on the primitive side, and that Eastwood occasionally shows his discomfort at being directed by a man who doesn't speak English, but it holds up, not only as a precursor of the compelling violence of The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969) and as a landmark in Eastwood's extraordinary career, but also as a tour de force: a Western filmed in Spain by an Italian with a polyglot cast. Best of all, it established the career of Ennio Morricone as one of the great film composers.

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