The Influence of Sergio Leone on the Film Industry, Essay Example
It is important to start with a little background information of Sergio Leone in order to get the full audience acquainted with who he was, both as a child and a director. Sergio Leone was basically born in the film industry. He was the child of a famous film director, Roberto Roberti and his mother, Bice Valerian was a famous actress. Leone was born in Italy and dreamed of being a director. During his teen years, he worked as an assistant director for Italian and American directors that were working in Italy (“Biography for Sergio Leone” 1). Though he worked for others during this time, he dreamed of working without them and making a true, profound influence on the film industry and so he did. From The Unforgiven to Kill Bill, many see Sergio Leone’s influence all the time in today’s cinema. Whether it is using the most out of the frame’s composition, to editing the scene for enhanced anticipation, Sergio Leone’s films have left a mark on many viewers and this is known to be the case with many filmmakers as well. This essay will shed light on Sergio Leone’s positive and negative influences on filmmaking and on filmmakers in general. He made an impact on the industry and that is what matters most.
Leone made a positive and negative impact on the film industry as he grew older and learned from others. Leone gained a lot of his knowledge of the film industry from his father and the early directors he worked with as a teenager. He learned the fundamentals of film and directing. However, he did not want to be one to conform to the expectations of film. He wanted to be different. He wanted to provide influential aspects to his work. According to the article “The Spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone,” Leone is famous in the Western genre as he is the one that actually gave it its style. He set the pace and the tone of the genre and gave the world the “gift of Clint Eastwood” (1). According to John Byrne of the Irish Times, “film-makers such as Budd Boetticher, Robert Aldrich and Anthony Mann would help steer the genre into previously uncharted territory, imbuing their sophisticated works with a world-weary melancholy, moral ambiguity and fatalism. By the beginning of the following decade, however, much of this progressive vigor had drained away” (1). It appeared that the films that were left to be produced were “star-studded, big budget affairs that played it pretty safe thematically…or melancholic and elegiac works” (Bryne 1). This appeared to be the end of western film itself, at least, until Leone came along. It is stated that Leone was unheard of until he sent A Fistful of Dollars into the world of cinema. Leone’s reimagining of the Western genre represented something that was very different from what many others had done before. One of Leone’s greatest attributes to Western film was his ability to break away from tradition in order to make the films better. According to Kevin Grant, author of Any Gun Can Play: The Essential Guide to the Euro-Western, “Leone and his friends didn’t want to create facsimile, so they decided to break with tradition. They threw away the rules, or rewrote the rules, and reinterpreted western conventions” (Bryne 2). Most importantly, according to Timothy Sexton, “Leone looked to recreate the mythic western hero while at the same time revising him; to do this required creating a hero who carried the same stature as the classic ones from the past, while exuding a mystery as to his motive” (2). Leone had the capability of understanding filmmaking as a whole and his movies show his “keen awareness of the importance of combining an emotionally driving score with powerfully visceral cinematography” (Sexton 2).
Sergio Leone had an admirable style to his western films like no other. His style was so influential that many that came after him relied on his work in order to make great films. Leone’s style did not only include specific acts of violence and extravagant, radical pictures, but also attempted to explain social and human themes. He states “to clarify my thinking on the subject, I must say I agree with Chaplin’s proposal to present simple stories, almost fables, in order to touch on the most important social and human themes” (Connolly 2). Leone wanted to influence culture by using his films to show social and human themes. Maybe this is why most of his films were so violent. Only he knows that. According to the Harvard Film Archive, Sergio Leone revolutionized the Western “into deeply personal statements about history, memory, and cultural mythology” (1). He “exerted an immeasurable influence upon the American and world cinema, with his signature bravura style ceaselessly quoted by directors from around the world – from Tarantino and Scorsese to Kusturica, Miike and Woo” (Harvard Film Archives 1). A Fistful of Dollars gives viewers an idea of Leone’s key elements in reference to style – “stark, woodblock characters whose inscrutable faces tell us all we can know about them; explosive and darkly comic violence; and a dynamically plastic use of the widescreen to craft expressive and sculptural imagery” (Harvard Film Archive 2). Christopher Frayling wrote a massive biography about Sergio Leone and states that Leone had a personality where he was great at creating “an image, a myth, and placing the importance of it above everything else” (Ho 2). He had a specific desire to make fairytales for grown-ups which made him such an influential director. According to Frayling, Leone could bring enchantment to the cinema. Frayling says “what Leone was trying to do was to re-enact the cinema, while expressing his own disenchantment with the contemporary world and conveying the exhilaration he personally felt while watching and making movies” (Ho 2). This is important to state during this argument as this is what made him the director he was. He was able to influence his audience, his actors, his colleagues and others by making movies that he felt personally. Every great, influential director does this. His style, his passion for cinema, and his ability to work with others to make a great film are all ways in which he was an influential director during his time. Leone’s ahistorical approach may have irked certain purists, but it “created some of the forms most memorably outlandish characters” (Byrne 2).
As a director, it is important to find the characters to fit a certain stage and Leone was great at this. He not only found the right characters, but influenced these characters to be something, both in his film and in their own lives. According to the Harvard Film Archive, Leone had a knack for turning to the “iconic myths of the American West, and of Hollywood cinema, to fashion a fever dream of masculinity and violence using studio and television actors Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef” (3). According to Timothy Sexton, Leone was one of those directors that was able to influence every part of his position as a director from the plot to the setting to the characters (2). In reference to Leone’s characters, Sexton states “they represent the first step toward the outright antihero that will follow later in the decade” (2). This goes to show that Leone influenced his characters and made an impact on them positively as these were the ones to learn from. According to Sexton, “The Man with No Name possesses an instinct for survival that places him at a considerable distance from those heroes of the past willing to sacrifice themselves in a good cause” (2). This is why Leone was influential during his lifetime. He made films that people wanted to see and that people would never forget. He used characters that were unforgettable based on their stature, their posture, their premise. He was good at what he did. His characters were everything to him and he knew they are what made the movies. Therefore, he was able to develop relationships with his characters and the individuals that played them such as Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef. His films not only created the stage for the Spaghetti Westerns of the 60’s, but were also responsible for the careers of the artists such as the composer Ennio Morricone and Clint Eastwood (Ho 1).
Just as many have mentors throughout their lives, Sergio Leone was a mentor to others within the film industry; he was able to influence others in positive ways in order to help them become better actors, directors, and filmmakers themselves. Clint Eastwood was one of many individuals that were influenced by Sergio Leone. As he played many of his characters, he learned a lot from him. He was given the opportunity to work with a great director and he knew that. He learned a lot about the industry, cinema, characters, and style through working with Leone. Eastwood uses history in his films just as Leone did in his. According to Vincent Traina, “Flags maintained a Leonean theme of realism, and applied it to the Pacific theater of WWII” (1). Traina also states that “considering that he dedicated his 1994 Western Unforgiven to Leone, there’s no doubt that his experience in working with him has influenced his creations as a director” (1). Flags and Once Upon a Time, directed by Eastwood, both convey specific moments in our history and this is exactly what Leone taught Eastwood as he was mentoring and guiding him to be a better actor and director. Quentin Tarantino was also another individual who was extremely influenced by Leone. He claims that Sergio Leone was his idol and that he wanted to follow in his footsteps. According to an article entitled “Kill Bill – Tarantino Wishes for a Sergio Leone-Style Career” Tarantino states “I think I’m pretty good – but my favorite director is Sergio Leone. Hands down, he’s the one who’s influenced me most. I think as time goes on I can keep raising the ceiling of my talent and I’m determined to do it to the end of my career, which isn’t the case with most directors” (1). You have seen it yourself. Leone is influential in many ways, but the ways in which he is influential for the current and future filmmakers will never be forgotten. Those going into the film industry and who are aware of Sergio Leone can benefit from his sense of style, passion, and charisma in the cinema. However, even though many believe Leone to be a great director and one who was extremely influential, there are others who believe quite the contrary.
Though it is proven by many critics that Sergio Leone was a great, influential director of Western films, many critics believe the contrary. These critics do not see Leone as a director with stamina, with precision, or with directing potential in general. According to the article entitled “The Spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone,” there were many U.S. critics that hated Fistful of Dollars due to its “highly stylized feel and extreme violence” (1). Many critics did not like the way in which Leone increased the kill count in his films. They disliked his use of gruesome beatings and grotesquely disturbing massacres. But, he did this because he wanted to add more action and less talk. According to the article, “Leone was bored of all the talk in American westerns and wanted to speed things up” (1). It is very likely that many individuals did not like this about him as they were perfectly fine with the way in which westerns were being made. Leone was a person who thought outside the box and wanted more action when he directed a film. Leone pushed the lines a little bit when directing his films and went a little beyond what other directors and filmmakers would have done at this time. According to Tony McKibbin (n.d.), the films that came before Sergio Leone had a “moral authoritativeness that nevertheless contained within it a degree of ethical ambiguity” (1). McKibbin (n.d.) states that while many American filmmakers in the sixties and seventies wanted to push towards a sense of verisimilitude, Leone and other Italian directors were looking more towards “absurdly iconographic” (2). Leone was also criticized to some extent in reference to his characters. John Wayne and Clint Eastwood were completely different individuals who played completely different parts in the Western film industry. According to Bumpy Johnson (2011), John Wayne “is the wholesome Western hero, Eastwood is the meaner more contemporary version, free of the old idealism of the white hat” (1). Wayne plays these larger than life heroes where Eastwood is perfectly happy playing characters that really hurt and really hurt back (Johnson 1). Wayne always seemed to have to be the good guy where Eastwood found pleasure in taking another man out (McKibbin, n.d., 3). In all honesty, one could really say that Wayne was the “good” western hero where Eastwood was the bad. Eastwood was never afraid of a challenge and found pleasure in shooting individuals in the back; Wayne, on the other hand, would not do so. Jamie Simpson (2011) states the difference in Eastwood and Wayne quite clearly. Simpson (2011) states “Eastwood and Wayne are clearly at opposite ends of the spectrum; the former famed for playing a secretive loner in slow paced and gritty films which blur the lines between good and evil, right and wrong; the second finding fame through roles as a trailblazer, fighting predominantly for good with quick quips and an ever quicker draw” (3). Eastwood played in those films that were grittier with more attitude than did Wayne and this is what made them so unique as well as such good actors in the western genre According to William McClain in his article “Western, Go Home! Sergio Leone and the ‘Death of the Western’ in American Film Criticism,” many critics disliked Leone’s use of the relationship to “historical and generic ‘realism,’ and their relationship to the history of the Western genre as a whole” (52). Many critics felt that the films were violent, of course; however, that was not the real problem for them. The real problem was that they believed the violence in the film to be illegitimate and this caused the films to be “bad films” (McClain 55). Finally, Leone was challenged by critics on the authenticity of his films. One writer specifically states that “a Dollars film never quite looks like the American West” (McClain 55). However, that was the importance of Leone’s films. He wasn’t there to make them look exactly as they were. He wanted to change things. He wanted to make a difference in the world of cinema. “Leone’s films were never liked by critics but the public thoroughly enjoyed them. He is the man responsible for perfecting the Spaghetti style and his contribution to the Spaghetti Western and Western in general is comparable to Orson Welles to film noir” no matter what many other critics think of his ability to be influential (“The Spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone 3).
In conclusion, Sergio Leone was not just an influential director of his time. He made impacts on the film industry, gave lead parts to now famous stars, and still continues to inspire film students all over. Though his films were filled with violence and some controversy, he became the “king” of the Western film genre and gave us all a path to follow. One thing to really think about is how he is inspiring others even after his death. Film students all over the world admire him and his work. This has to mean something. As a director, he went against the grain of what should be and fulfilled his dreams of creating something new and unique and literally saved the Western film genre. This, in itself, makes Sergio Leone a very influential artist within the film industry.
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Connolly, William. “Sergio Leone on Influences.” Spaghetti Cinema. N.p., 14 May 2009. Web. 12 Jun. 2012. <http://wconnolly.blogspot.com/2009/05/sergio-leone-on-influences.html>.
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Ho, Oliver. “Sergio Leone: Something to Do With Death.” Popmatters.com. Pop Matters Media, 2010. Web. 20 Jun 2012. <http://www.popmatters.com/pm/column/157817-sergio-leone
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McKibbin, T. (n.d.). The western. Retrieved from http://tonymckibbin.com/film/the-western
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Simpson, J. (2011, November 23). [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://whatculture.com/film/cinema-standoff-john-wayne-vs-clint-eastwood-‘the-man-with-no-name’-vs-‘the-duke’.php
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Traina, Vincent. “The Influence of Sergio Leone on the Film Industry.” Helium. N.p., 28 Nov. 2007. Web. 12 Jun. 2012. <http://www.helium.com/items/721716-the-influence-of-sergio-leone-on-the-film-industry>.
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