Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Movie: The Great Silence (1969)

IFC’s SPAGHETTI WEST documentary certainly did its job. I’m hooked on these movies now.

This entry is revered by aficionados of the Italian western as perhaps its greatest achievement. It’s certainly among the most political examples of the form; director Sergio Corbucci describes it as a Vietnam allegory, although as is often the case with allegories I’m not entirely sure what the parallels are supposed to be.

Jean-Louis Trintignant plays a mute gunman who serves as avenger of the downtrodden. He heads deep into the mountains to square off against a brutal bounty hunter (Klaus Kinski) who always stays within the letter of the law. The action unfolds in a town that makes DEADWOOD look like the Harper Valley P.T.A. (Your choice of novelty song, low-budget movie or short-lived TV series.)

I have to admit that while I liked the movie, it didn’t bowl me over, largely due to the political content. Spaghetti westerns are a stylized genre to begin with, so amping up the symbolism threatens to push SILENCE to the brink of abstraction. Trintignant’s character never shoots first and only acts in self-defense; to put his technique in SEINFELD terms, he’s a goader. It’s an indication of the tenor of the then-times that behavior that made Audie Murphy such a contemptible villain in NO NAME ON THE BULLET is acceptable for a hero a mere ten years later.

The physical production of the film is impressive, exploiting bleak wintry landscapes in a way that prefigures Robert Altman’s McCABE & MRS. MILLER. The ending may be the darkest, visually and philosophically, that I’ve ever seen, and is more powerful for being of a piece with the rest of the movie. It doesn’t come from cynical nihilism, but a cohesive worldview borne of a turbulent era. All of it set to one of Ennio Morricone’s most haunting scores.

So far I’ve worked my way through two of the genre’s three stages as cited in the IFC doc: the films that revitalized the western (the Leone/Eastwood collaborations), then the ones that politicized it. All I have left are the parodies starring Terence Hill. These include movies with titles like FOUR GUNMEN OF AVE MARIA and GOD FORGIVES ... I DON’T, in which Hill plays a desperado named ... Cat Stevens?

The ‘Huh?’ Moment of the Day

From Timothy Egan’s New York Times article on the perils of hiking in Montana in the late summer and early fall:

“... the temperature can plummet 50 degrees in a few hours, and it can snow on a dime.”

I hope that’s a local expression. Stopping on a dime is an extraordinary demonstration of motor skills. The heavens opening up on some pocket change? Not really that big a deal.