Clint Eastwood and Violence, in Roughly that Order at PFA

This Sergio Leone retrospective is sordid and thrilling.


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Clint Eastwood plots and plugs in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Courtesy of BAMPFA

Westerns, with their veneration of hard-won heroism, lethal weaponry, mythic morality, and wide-open spaces, are the quintessential American film genre. In the ’60s, Italian filmmakers gave Hollywood a run for its gold bullion with a slew of “spaghetti Westerns.” The best known and best loved were directed in glorious widescreen by Sergio Leone; projected on the immense screens of aging downtown movie palaces, they were sordid and thrilling. The lure? Clint Eastwood and violence, in roughly that order.

Marketed as action movies, they nonetheless marked Leone as an artist. The Pacific Film Archive retrospective, Something To Do With Death: Sergio Leone, confirms his mastery of composition, tone, pacing, and sound design. The series opens with the 1967 post-Civil War epic The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Sept. 2 and 11), with Eastwood, Eli Wallach, and Lee van Cleef plotting and plugging each other over a fortune in Confederate coins. The Man With No Name, Eastwood’s taciturn sharpshooter, had debuted three years earlier in A Fistful of Dollars (Sept. 4 and 23), a punchy remake of Kurosawa’s samurai saga Yojimbo. A classic antihero, he has seen and done terrible things that we can only imagine yet hasn’t given up the ghost of his humanity. The same might be said of the menacing van Cleef, who entered the picture as a bounty hunter in 1965’s For a Few Dollars More (Sept. 10).

Leone’s pinnacle, Once Upon a Time in the West (Sept. 16 and 18), casts Charles Bronson and Jason Robards as Claudia Cardinale’s grimy guardian angels and the eternally decent Henry Fonda as the heavy. Let’s not forget Ennio Morricone, whose scores for all four films inextricably link him with Leone, and with the West.

Something To Do With Death: Sergio Leone, Sept. 2-23. Pacific Film Archive, 2155 Center St., Berkeley, 510-642-0808, BAMPFA.org.

This report appears in the September edition of our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly.

Published online on Aug. 31, 2016 at 8 a.m.

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