You can divide my life into two parts. ‘Before Clint’ and ‘After Clint’. In the ‘Before Clint’ years I was a loser kid trying to find my way in the world. But ‘After Clint’ … well, uh … I was still a loser kid trying to find my way in the world, but now I understood what cool meant. Cool was ‘the man with no name’. The anti-hero. The cheroot-chewing, poncho-wearing gunslinger. Cool was a world far removed from mine and I was hooked. I devoured the other Sergio Leone directed Spaghetti Westerns: A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More and the brilliant The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. All of them sublime, but for me Once Upon a Time in the West was seminal. Ennio Morricone’s haunting, iconic score is never far away. And Leone’s style – typified by extreme close-ups and long shots – allows scenes to expand and contract. They breathe. Slow, beautiful and powerful. Followed by rapid-fire action.
In Pale Rider (1985) a man on a pale horse (Death) is called up by a god-fearing teenage girl to take on the Big Corporation. The opening scene, with Riders thundering across a savage land intent on bad things – like riders of the apocalypse – is rich with biblical imagery, which gives it a primal feel. A theme carried over from High Plains Drifter, where Eastwood depicts a spirit from beyond the grave come back to haunt a morally corrupt town. Eastwood – ah, what the hell, Clint – directed both films and brought a new sensibility, learned from Leone, to the American Western, typified at that time (1973) by the sweeping vistas of director, John Ford. Clint swept aside romantic notions and depicted something more mythic and allegorical. The avenging spirit, Riders materialising through warping heat waves and close-up shots of faces hidden in shadow are typical of his style.
‘Who are those guys?’ This line from Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kidreally sums up the story for me. Two outlaws on the run … not only from the Law (represented by the unbendable, relentless posse of Pinkertons) but also from modernisation. Butch and Sundance, played by Paul Newman and Robert Redford, are old-school cowboys from the Wild Bunch days who face an uncertain future heralded by the steam engine. The modern world is about to kill them off. They represent has-beens, players of a bygone era, and they are doomed from the start. It’s a compelling narrative and one of the best screenplays ever written. Perhaps the first buddy movie. The quips between Butch and Sundance are clever and quick. The scene where they jump in the river to escape the Pinkertons is pure gold.
A future-world in crisis is the brittle foundation of this epic dystopian story. Energy stores are depleted. People live hand-to-mouth, and in fear of berserk motorcycle gangs who run roughshod over the small towns and communities of the Aussie Outback. It’s up to a handful of policemen to patrol the lands and uphold the law. Mel Gibson – back when he was still credible and vaguely sane – explodes onto the screen as the eponymous ‘mad’ Max Rockatanski. When his wife and young son are killed, Max takes up his iconic black leathers and his Pursuit Bike and lays into the bad guys with furious vengeance. Mad Max is raw and pure and pounding. The sound and fury of the machines tearing across the harsh landscape is unreal and alien. And the follow-up Fury Road is a more than worthy successor. I thought the feminist angle of Furiosa was excellent.
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