Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Leone as road sign

I took issue earlier, in The Proposition, with the lazy comparison of The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada and The Proposition to the works of Sergio Leone.

I've got nothing against drawing unlikely comparisons. If you have a reason to compare The Texas Chain Saw Massacre to Mary Poppins then I want to hear every detail, but you're only setting me up to be confused if you merely throw out the comparison offhand, assuming I'll follow.

The comparison of Sam Raimi's The Quick and the Dead to Leone is simple. Both are substantively about the elements that lead up to violence, in both cases greed and personal revenge are important. Both protract the time of the action as violent acts approach. The qualitative difference is substantial, but as a shorthand way to describe what one should expect from The Quick and the Dead, the Leone comparison is effective.

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada and The Proposition, on the other hand, are substantively about the results of violence and how it affects everyone surrounding it. Both move at a somewhat leisurely pace, but nothing leads one to believe the action itself takes place in a time frame that differs from the time it takes to happen on screen.

In most cases, the elements that people seem to be using as comparisons are either the incredibly simplistic, Western style movies made with dusty unshaven actors who don't appear to have been barbered in 1956, or else they are referring to elements that don't belong in any particular way to Leone. The lyrical view of the desert frontier, both cinematically and dramatically, which belongs much more to John Ford, from whom Leone himself, as well as dozens of other filmmakers, was borrowing. That comparison is, as such, dull and evokes nothing specific.

Bringing in a name to draw a comparison should be to bring out those things they best represent. Throwing out the most famous name is lazy. If one needs, one can constrict down to the more famous, "The kind of Western lyricism John Ford brought to the screen or, if you like, Leone utilized in his movies...", if you think your readers won't follow. And if you can't come up with John Ford on your own then reviewing movies isn't something you're by any means qualified to do.

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