Tuesday, 16 August 2011

For A Few Dollars More

Do you know what Metallicas walk on music is? It’s not a classic metal song or any sought of anthem, it’s a piece from a film score. The lights dim, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly plays and “Ecstacy of Gold” by Enrico Morecombe plays. And do you know why this is such a good fit? Because the spaghetti westerns are manly, cool films steeped in myth and power. It doesn’t hurt that the song kicks ass. If you don’t recognise the name, you have heard it, along with all the other songs, because the Spaghetti westerns have forced their way into the collective pop culture, even if you haven’t seen them you’ll know the characters, setting and tone from elsewhere.
Inarguably the best of the Spaghetti westerns, so called because of the Italian directors and other European ties, are the “Dollars” trilogy. And of the “Dollars” trilogy it is “For A Few Dollars More” that is my favourite. “For A Few Dollars” is fantastic but just so damn straightforward while “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” is a beautiful bloated mess. Here though, the mix is spot on.
Clint Eastwood plays his famous “A man with no name character”, even if in this film he does have a name. None the less, he seems to have no backstory, no purpose, no anything, just a poncho, a gun and a grimace. Clint is a constant across all the films and manages to be effortlessly cool, but it is Lee Van Cleff who brings this film to life. He plays the good guy on a vendetta and while being unbelievably cool.  It is the play off between the two that is the best bit of the picture, the first act sees each character play a formidable game of one-up-manship with increasingly fun results.
This chemistry is catalysed by Sergio Leone, one of my personal favourite directors. He imbues the characters with cool flairs, like Eastwood flapping his poncho or Van Cleff having a rifle butt on his pistol. All round he draws personality and chic from every frame; the opening credits are pop art smears of action. This film shows a confident and capable director having great fun, the establishing shots are long and beautiful juxtaposed by super-super-close ups. The visual flair he brings to his film is one of a kind; if you want evidence to this just take the climactic stand-off. The back stories, personalities and a emotions of the three involved are laid out, ramping out the drama. The score becomes vital to the plot, as Enrico plays a haunting, mecurial vapour of a tune slowly. An American would ramp it up with something overblown, but Sergio knew in a film so bold the only way to shine the most important seen would be a delicate shot.
This film is packed with iconic scenes in much the way “The Godfather”, incidentally a screenplay written with Sergio in mind, is. Similarly every shot further contributes to the overall plot; a characterisation here, a foreshadowing there, but for all the arty stuff this film is as entertaining a picture as anyone is ever going to see. It isn’t a frantic thrill ride, it takes it sweet time, because, hell, it can, but when guns aren’t being fired it still packs a punch and when guns are being fired it is perfect.
Iconic, that’s the other word for this film. Y’know where else you’ve heard Enrico Morecambe? It’s Top Gear, whenever they reel out a “mythical” sports car, another manly thing’ the music evokes cool, timelessness and appearances. This film is art and entertainment, and if you like either then it will blow you away.

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