Spaghetti Westerns

Spaghetti Westerns Which is the cheesiest? The answer is pretty obvious, but lets take a close look. “Spaghetti Westerns,” as their called, are a genre of western films, that have been created or filmed in Italy and are meant to portray the “Wild West” of America. “Macaroni Westerns,” as Ill call them, make up the traditional western genre, made in the United States. Lets take a look at the similarities and differences of these genres, and at two films in particular that represent each genre; The Good the Bad and the Ugly(1966) and Rio Bravo(1959), which most critics will agree, are great examples of each genre. Lets start with the most obvious aspect that differs in the two genres.

“Macaroni Westerns” are the cheesiest. These films have are pure cheese. I can barely sit through one of them. They have the typical characters; the hero(s), the bad guy(s), the fair maiden, and the quirky sidekick(s). These characters spout out cheesy lines, demonstrating how good or how bad they are, but they language always remains basically clean. In the Spaghetti Westerns, the language is a lot more diverse(lots of cussing).

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This is because each of these genres play to a different audience. The “Macaroni Westerns” are family films. They present right, wrong, and have many morals played out, such as, “no matter how many bad people are trying to kill you, you can take them all on if you wear a badge and talk like John Wayne.” The “Macaroni Westerns” were typically family movies, because it was typical Hollywood(serving to the masses, whatever sells big). Violence, profanity, and not having blatantly evil and good characters, wasnt selling at the time, so we got “Macaroni.” The “Spaghetti Westerns,” on the other hand, were not trying to please everybody.(just the Italian roughnecks) Sure, these westerns took a lot from the traditional westerns, but they break away from the traditional “Macaroni Westerns” in many ways.(which we shall soon see) The “Spaghetti Westerns” play to a more liberal audience. They had a lot more creative liberty.

Lets take a look at the aforementioned films in terms of plot, framing, editing, sound and cinematography. The plot in Rio Bravo is your typical American western. It is a “conflict between civilized order and the lawless frontier.”(Bordwell/Thompson p.56) We have our heros and bad guys laid out before us in black and white. “Colorado” is the typical hero who tries to stay out of the conflict and then eventually sides with civilized order. “Dude” is another hero who fallows the same path.

Our bad guys are made obvious from the early moments of the film by means of a murder. There isnt much to wonder about. In The Good the Bad and the Ugly, everything isnt laid out for us from the beginning. Our “good guy” isnt revealed till quite a ways into the film. In this film, we get a pretty good idea who the worst guy is, but we are left to constantly wonder where one of the main characters stands, or if he will eventually become “good.” We are forced to study each character more as they develop, to know who they are.

In Rio Bravo, you dont give it a second thought. Rio Bravo introduces the plot motivation at the very beginning. The bad guy is in jail, and the heros have to keep him there till the marshal arrives. In The Good the Bad and the Ugly, the motivation is revealed as the 200,000 dollars, but most of the characters dont know about it for half the film. This film seems to stretch things out like that. Now lets take a look at the framing.

In Rio Bravo, the framing seems to be very simple. The main character is always in the center of the frame unless another character is coming into the frame. In The Good the Bad and the Ugly, there is much more use of set framing. Many scenes and sequences are framed through window, alleys and doorways. This type of framing seems to pull you into the film much more.

It creates framing in the same way that we frame things in the real world. Also, in The Good the Bad and the Ugly, there are many more close ups than Rio Bravo, as well as many extreme close ups that let you catch small eye and facial movements. Next lets discuss editing. The Good the Bad and the Ugly have, in general, much longer shots than Rio Bravo does. These extremely long shots are put together into extremely long scenes; again, much longer than Rio Bravo. Both of these films use great amounts of continuity editing. Thats about as far as Rio Bravo goes.

The Good the Bad and the Ugly, goes much further with its use of graphic editing. One sees graphic matches again and again in this film. One great use of graphic matching occurs when a character points his gun towards the camera, so that we stare down the barrel, then the film cuts to a cannons barrel facing us and firing directly at us. Another great example would be the match between the horses legs on the street and the thugs legs as they walk down the hall toward one of our main characters. When we hear the horses legs stop, we see the thugs legs stop. This helps the audience make the connection that the thugs only move when there is noise to cover the sound of their steps.

Another piece of editing that we should take a look at are the fades. Fade ins and Fad outs are very typical in westerns, and we see them in both of these western genres, although there are significantly less fades in The Good the Bad and The Ugly, than in Rio Bravo. Sound, and more specifically, music, is very important for the overall feel of the film. In Rio Bravo, we have traditional country cheese music, including the ol sing-a-long cliche. This is perfect for the cheese that we see and hear from the characters. The music in The Good the Bad and the Ugly is much different.

It is much more dramatic and orchestrated. It seems like more timeless music. An exception would be the theme music that appears when something “cool” is about to or currently happening. These eerie whistle-like sounds cut through everything and let us know when something important is happening. Lets now move to lighting. This is an area where we see more major differences between the two films. Rio Bravo uses the traditional three light system of character lighting.

There is the key light, the fill light and the back light. This creates full and soft features for the characters. The Good the Bad and The Ugly is a far throw from this style. In most of the scenes there is only one major light source.(key light) There is usually a strong key light, no back light, and very little, if any, fill light. This makes for dark shadows and sharp features.

This creates very dramatic lighting for the scenes. Everything seems more intense and powerful. Lets not forget Cinematography. How about some generalizations. Many of the shots from The Good the Bad and the Ugly have a very deep depth of focus compared to a much more shallow depth of focus in Rio Bravo.

There are also much deeper zooms in The Good the Bad and the Ugly than in Rio Bravo. There are also many cliches that we need to discuss. First of all, lets talk about the names and nick-names. In Rio Bravo, all of the heros have “clever” little names. We have Chance, Colorado, Dude, and Stumpy.

We see these type of names show up in The Good the Bad and the Ugly. In this film we have, Blondie, Angel Eyes, and Shorty(not present very long). Another cliche is the “bad guy gets shot and falls from high above the ground to his death.” In both films we see this play true as bad guys fall from rafters and buildings.


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