Wednesday, December 8, 2010
THE GREAT SILENCE! THE GREAT MIDDLE FINGER TO THE AUDIENCE!
THE GREAT SILENCE is a strange film to say the least. It embraces many of the cliches of its time. Most Italian westerns at the time (the late sixties) had the same kind of story with the same kind of characters. They usually had a stranger show up to a town run by a corrupt rich land owner and starts trouble intentionally or not and in the end has a showdown with the land owner's fastest meanest gun man. THE GREAT SILENCE has all of that and at first this movie is nothing new. You can see how everything is building up. You can see the foreshadowing. Everything is going fine and then the ending happens. If you have never seen this movie don't read anymore and just rent it if possible.
Everything comes together in this film. Even the stuff that should make this movie bad actually helps. The director, Sergio Corbucci is at times very sloppy with his camera. There are shaky zooms, poor framing, shaky cam, and at the beginning you can see the filter clearly covering the camera lens. But all of this helps not hinder the film. It gives the film it's own unique character. The film takes place in the snow which is unusual because most Italian Westerns are filmed in the desert. The cold, the snow, the wind through the mountains are all part of the film's character. It sets the roughness of the film's environment. There is a lot of imagery referencing death too. At one time there is a scythe rising above the hill carried by a "bandit", and another time in a graveyard there is a murder of crows flying above. All of it foreshadows what is to come. But not the way you expect. The music is perfect too. The theme music is Ennio Morricone's finest work.
The stranger's name is Silence (Jean-Louis Tringnant) because he can't speak. His throat was cut by bounty killers. That is what they call bounty hunters in Italy because they assumed they killed all their bounties. Silence spends his life killing bounty killers for a price. He shows up to a town called Boot Hill. There he takes a job to kill the local bounty killer Loco (Klaus Kinski) who is employed by a greedy Justice of the Peace who put unjust bounties on the local homesteaders in an attempt to steal their land. It is interesting to note that both Silence and Loco have a similar code of conduct. Both kill for a thousand gold pieces. Both kill for money only. Both will make the other draw first. But Klaus is more likely to break those rules because he is smart enough to know that Silence is far too fast for him. It is important to note that Silence never misses a shot. He always hits his target no matter what. He always shoots them in the head and if they surrender he shoots their thumbs off so they can't fire a gun anymore. The fact that he is so good with his gun indicates how much he hates bounty killers. He has done nothing with his life but shoot that gun.
What THE GREAT SILENCE is is a anti-western. I guess more specifically its an anti-Italian Western. All the conventions of the Italian western are present. Everything is pointing to the good guy overcoming overwhelming odds to save the day with the help of the goofy sheriff who rides in at the last moment. The last time we saw the sheriff he was taking a swim in a frozen lake supposedly dead but we never see his body. Silence's gun hand has been burned beyond use. He has to save the homesteaders from the bounty killers. Loco has challenged him to a one-on-one duel to the death. So Silence shows up to the saloon that Loco and his men are keeping the homesteaders. Loco stands at the door. Silence stands out in the open in the middle of the street. At anytime you just know the goofy sheriff will show up to help Silence kill the bad guys. Instead reality steps in. Before Silence can pull his gun to shoot, one of the bad guys shoots him dead from the saloon's window. As Silence is dying Loco puts a bullet into our hero's head. Then Loco shoots Silence's new girlfriend as she tries to shoot him. Then with all the heroes dead the bad guys massacre horribly all the homesteaders and ride off into the sunrise to collect their reward. Loco even steals Silence's cool pistol. How bleak and horrible. Its probably the darkest ending I have ever seen especially for an action western. It is a very ugly ending. Yet without this ending the movie would be nothing but another low budget Italian western. It's the ending that makes this movie stand out. I hate the ending but love it at the same time.
What Sergio Corbucci did was shatter the standard Leone western. Usually in the Leone westerns the hero and villain would have a fair fight where the two would stand out in the open and see who was faster. The hero is always faster by far. Corbucci opens our eyes to the reality. In real life if the hero stands out in the street in the open like a damn fool (but he looks cool, right?) the bad guys would just shoot him in his stupid face from the safety of the indoors. Not a pretty sight.
Watching THE GREAT SILENCE is a unique experience. It shows us what would happen in DIE HARD if John McClain died trying to save his wife. What would happen if Rambo died in RAMBO part 2 trying to save the P.O.W.'s? Now you know because you have seen THE GREAT SILENCE. This film should have made Sergio Corbucci as famous as Sergio Leone. Rumor has it that Clint Eastwood saw the film in Italy while promoting THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY. Apparently he wanted to remake it in the U.S.A. The film was not released over here because of that. The result was JOE KIDD a mediocre western that had nothing in common with THE GREAT SILENCE except for Silence's gun makes an appearance. I don't think that story is true. I think the film doesn't appeal to main stream American audiences. It's that plain and simple. Interestingly enough there is a "happy ending" that was filmed and played in certain parts of the world and it appears on the DVD without audio in the extras.
I have read from one review that THE GREAT SILENCE is about who is really good and bad. The idea is that Silence is really the bad guy and Loco is the good. Silence kills those who work for the law so he is bad. Loco kills bandits so that makes him good. This is probably the dumbest interpretation of the film and I feel that such an idea is created to come to terms with the film's dire ending. THE GREAT SILENCE is a film about evil triumphing over good. Loco is a liar. He bends the rules and has no problem killing in cold blood. He looks like the freakin Devil for crying out loud with those large bewildering eyes and dominant forehead. Silence on the other hand looks like an angel. He has a young handsome face that is heavily sympathetic. Silence sacrifices himself trying to save the homesteaders. He didn't have to. He could have left. There was no reason to return except he had to try. He knew he didn't have a chance but he tried anyway. He died a true hero's death.
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN is a similar film. It sets up a cat and mouse modern day western story where eventually the hero and villain meet for a final showdown. But that showdown never happens. Reality steps in and the hero is gunned down in his hotel room by a bunch of drug dealers trying to get their cash back. But that film is more about Tommy Lee Jones being too old for his job than evil defeating good. If you are really into film especially the ones that fall into the genre of "badass" then I highly recommend THE GREAT SILENCE. It puts a different perspective on every film you watch from then on.