Notes on a film
September 12, 2011 § Leave a comment
- There is, in my estimation, no better presentation of a film’s opening credits than those in Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Tarantino might try. but he just can’t top this:
- Some movies you’re convinced you’ve seen, if only due to the shame of having to admit you never have. Maybe you’d caught bits and pieces as a child on basic cable. Maybe, as with The Good . . ., the soundtrack is so iconic that the film has become embedded in your memory, no matter how false that memory might be, and you refuse for a long time to view it out of a misguided fear of cinematic redundancy.
- Tuco, the titular “Ugly,” is almost certainly symbolic of humanity. Eli Wallach manically bounces between ridiculousness and desperation–his performance is dizzingly inebriant, if that makes sense. He never transcends cliché, really, but by this same token transforms it into pathos. What is more pathetic than the inability to die? Hanging from a noose while standing on a rickety cross, only to be “rescued” by the one who put him there (i.e., Blondie, aka “the Good”)–this, I think, is both the stuff of theodicy and anti-theodicy.
- “The good, the bad, & the ugly” is now a commonplace phrase that indicates a sort of universality & totality. What’s more, it is is probably as good as the most technical expressions of the Hegelian Absolute available to us. The English translation switched the original title, “The Good, the Ugly, and the Bad,” but the change is more dialetically reasonable. What else could Spirit be but Ugly?
- The Good/Blondie (Eastwood) clearly is a physical force to be reckoned with, but he is not so much omnipotent as he is incredibly lucky–the most notable exception to this is the climactic showdown, which is nothing but the imposition of his seemingly omnipotent will. He is rescued from the brink of death a couple of times in the movie, but each time his salvation is the stuff of happenstance and deus ex machina, the most notable being a runaway stagecoach in the middle of the desert, filled with death and the promises of wealth. There is perhaps something metaphysically plausible about the Good mostly being an observer–primarily of suffering. We might charcterize this as an active observtion, though. For example, while it is a con, he repeatedly rescues Tuco right at the moment of his hanging; furthermore, though it is self-serving, he brings final solace to a dying Union captain by blowing up the bridge that was his damnation. The pinnacle of his self-sacrifical action is when he does the least, offering a few puffs from his cigar and giving his coat as a blanket to a dying Confederate soldier.
- Angel Eyes/”the Bad” is clearly not an observer. He is schemer, uses pawns, and will unload a gun into your gut with the vaguest of provocations. He enjoys it all. But even then, there seems a strange distance from his activity. It’s not that he rationalizes his murders by calling them a “a job,” thus removing himself in some sense from blame, as one sees in other movies. Rather, he insists that he is merely single-minded when it comes to finishing what he’s been commissioned to start–and he starts nothing that does not end in death (even if, as in the very beginning of the movie, killing is not technically part of “the job”). This also has a metaphysical dimension, but I cannot or dare not at the moment place it.