On this day in 1929, the great film director Sergio Leone was born. It’s rare that a filmmaker like Leone comes along. I wouldn’t call him a complete filmmaker like Akira Kurosawa — from whom Leone learned a great deal. Leone was a highly idiosyncratic filmmaker. There are a lot of fetishistic elements to his films — and I’m not just talking about his vaguely creepy sexual interests. There is something extremely sensual about the way he told stories. His films have a fascination with point of view. I think that is where his interest in extreme close-ups and long takes comes from.
There is one thing that I think we really need to clarify, however. I’m very fond of A Fistful of Dollars. But it is nowhere near as good a film as Yojimbo. There simply isn’t a single thing that Leone did better in remaking the film. And mostly, he did worse. But given that Yojimbo is both a great and a perfect film, that maybe doesn’t say much. But if you have never seen Yojimbo, you really should.
The Leone film that I like best is A Fistful of Dynamite. Most of Leone’s films are more about style than about substance. But this one is about something. Set during the Mexican Revolution, it turns a very cynical eye toward revolution as a means of progress. War means death — whatever the cause. And usually, the cause is just an excuse. Of course, personally, I have mixed feelings about the Mexican Revolution. I certainly admire a lot of the people involved in it, but in the end it didn’t come to much. And even today when Mexico is nominally a democracy, look who leads the country.
Here is the whole movie online. Watch it while it is available:
Happy birthday Sergio Leone!