The Gift of Inspiration

Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone, 1968)

There is a distinct difference between copy-paste and re-inventing a genre. Many of the films that are coming out nowadays represent a cinema that is becoming lazy and borrowing the tired and archaic tropes that have been established and beaten to death throughout the history of cinema. There very nary comes a film, or a filmmaker, who manages to mold a genre into something completely fresh and bold while still remaining true to it’s eminent charm. Sergio Leone is one of those masterful filmmakers who dared to analyze and criticize the inner workings of the American western. A rebellious and visionary Italian filmmaker, who fell in love with the cinema of John Ford and Akira Kurosawa, redefined what the American Western could be and in turn, created his own signature genre (The Spaghetti Western) which infleunced the likes of Clint Eastwood, Quentin Tarantino, Ramesh Sippy and Takashi Miike. His films embodied an almost ‘parodic’ dimension where he flipped the script on tropes from the genre and in turn made the ideas behind them that much more provocative and interesting. The most famous case was in his Once Upon a Time in the West where the opening scene featured long actionless takes with various diagetic sounds as 3 villains waited for the hero to arrive at a train station… this scene is taken from Fred Zinneman’s High Noon where the action is quick and fast edited and the hero is waiting for the villain. These silently mocking gestures ensured Leone got a lot of flack from those traditionalist critics and analysts who believed he was making a tasteless mockery of an American tradition, but in reality, his analysis through camera work turned the Western into a more artistic statement on American culture. Why, when the Western hero was always known to be a brash, mysogenist with no patience, Leone turned the hero into a silent and deadly warrior a la Kurosawa’s Sanjuro character. Leone’s Western cowboy was a patient, noble and vengeful samurai, a man of utmost respect and charming chivalry, but also a fearless ninja who showed no mercy to those who showed none to him. Leone’s transformation of the American hero resonates even today, and it was a case of hard work and true brilliance of a man who really understood what cinema was about, because to Leone, homage and tribute did not mean theft and forgery but revision and decoration… it was not a case of laziness, but one of dedication and selfless ambition.

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