Quentin Tarantino’s love for Sergio Leone and the spaghetti western genre is no secret (his upcoming “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” takes its name from Leone’s iconic “Once Upon a Time in the West”), but that doesn’t make a new essay (via The Spectator) the filmmaker has written on these subjects any less fascinating. Tarantino penned the forward to Christopher Frayling’s upcoming book “Once Upon a Time in the West: Shooting a Masterpiece” (on sale May 21) and refers to Leone’s epic as “the movie that made me consider filmmaking” and “showed me how a director does what he does.”
“It was almost like a film school in a movie,” Tarantino writes. “It really illustrated how to make an impact as a filmmaker. How to give your work a signature. I found myself completely fascinated, thinking: ‘That’s how you do it.’ It ended up creating an aesthetic in my mind.”
Tarantino explains that Leone’s use of realism and violence was groundbreaking. It was the way Leone presented violence that had a direct effect on Tarantino as a filmmaker. “The combination of the surreality and the violence,” he writes. “They don’t seem that violent now, but they seemed very violent then, because they didn’t take it that seriously: Italians laugh at violence, that special type of gallows humour. And there was the youth and energy.”
Just as influential on Tarantino was Leone’s use of music, particularly the way he cut music to more than just specific scenes. “Before him it just happened by accident where somebody thought it would be cool for a little sequence,” Tarantino writes, “but didn’t think they should do it for the rest of the movie. But the way we cut to music now: you pick some rock song and you cut your scene to that song. That all started with Leone and Morricone, and particularly with ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.'”
“For my money I think he is the greatest of all Italy’s filmmakers,” the director continues. “I would go even as far as to say that he is the greatest combination of a complete film stylist, where he creates his own world, and storyteller. Those two are almost never married. To be as great a stylist as he is and create this operatic world, and to do this inside a genre, and to pay attention to the rules of the genre, while breaking the rules all the time — he is delivering you a wonderful western.”
These elements of Leone’s films are the reason he “pointed the way towards modern filmmaking.” For this reason, “You don’t go past Leone, you start with Leone.” Read Tarantino’s entire essay on Leone on The Spectator’s official website.