LEONE, Sergio

(1929–1989)
   Born in 1929 in Rome, the son of a film director from the silent era, Sergio Leone superseded John Ford as the dominant maker of Westerns in the 1960s. His rise to fame and influence was completely unexpected. In Italy in the 1950s, Leone was making what were known as “sword and sandal epics,” films like The Last Days of Pompeii (1959) and The Colossus of Rhodes(1961). Aturning point in his creative life evidently occurred when he discovered the Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa and decided to adapt Yojimbo(1961) as a Western. His first Western, Per un pugno di dollari(1964) —released in the United States as A Fistful of Dollars (1967) —owes not only its plot to Kurosawa but much of its cinematic style as well. But with this film as well as the others of the Dollars Trilogy, Leone gave the spaghetti Western respectability and started the trend in which Westerns question the underlying myths upon which John Ford, Howard Hawks, and others had based their classic Westerns.
   Perhaps Leone’s most doctrinaire Western questioning classic values is Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), filmed partly in the United States, featured Henry Fonda in the lead, a star associated with John Ford and classic Westerns. In this film, Fonda, who had played Wyatt Earpin My Darling Clementine(1946), played an enraged, cruel killer who takes pleasure at one point in killing a child. Much of the appeal of Leone’s Westerns came from his new style of filmmaking adapted for Westerns. First, he collaborated with Ennio Morricone to combine music and visuals in revolutionary ways to emphasize dramatic camera movements, extreme close-ups of the eyes of characters, and slow-building tension that increases to intense emotional peaks. Some of Leone’s techniques had not been used since the days of silent films.
   Perhaps the single element of Westerns that Leone changed most was the concept of violence and its purpose in relation to the Western myth. When Lee Van Cleef’s character inBuono,il brutto,il cattivo, Il (1966) —released in the United States as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly(1967) —kills, he enjoys it. When we look into his eyes through the extreme camera close-up at the moment of the killing, we see no questioning, no thought that killing is necessary but distasteful. Instead, we see pleasure and we see evil. Though the other characters do not have the same evil look while killing, there is little distinction between the way Van Cleef kills and the way Eli Wallach (the Ugly) or the way Clint Eastwood (the Good) kills. Violence serves no social purpose in Leone. It is only an assertion of the existential self. There are no heroes in Leone Westerns because for there to be a hero there would have to be some concept of external good and external evil based on its value to society. For Leone, only the existential self matters. Good may differ from evil but only in relation to self. Whether for this reason or others, it is notable that the French existentialist Simone de Beauvoir may have been a fan of Leone’s Westerns. Writing in Tout compte fait, (1972), she said, “Some adventure films have kept me in suspense—some westerns, for example, including films made by the Italians such as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (Frayling 1981, 129).

Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema. . 2012.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Leone, Sergio — (1929–1989)    The inventor of the “spaghetti Western,” Sergio Leone was uniquely able to make films that were both a critical and a box office success. Born in Rome, Leone was what Italians call a figlio d’arte insofar as both his father and… …   Historical Dictionary of modern Italy

  • Leone, Sergio — (1929 1989)    Director, screenwriter, producer. The son of silent film director Roberto Roberti (Vincenzo Leone) and actress Bice Walerian, Leone entered the film industry at a very young age, serving as an unpaid assistant and appearing in a… …   Guide to cinema

  • Leone, Sergio — (1929 1989)    Director, screenwriter, producer. The son of silent film director Roberto Roberti (Vincenzo Leone) and actress Bice Walerian, Leone entered the film industry at a very young age, serving as an unpaid assistant and appearing in a… …   Historical dictionary of Italian cinema

  • Leone, Sergio — born Jan. 3, 1929?, Rome, Italy died April 30, 1989, Rome Italian film director. After working as an assistant to Italian and U.S. directors, he made his directing debut with The Colossus of Rhodes (1961). He won a wide audience with A Fistful of …   Universalium

  • Leone, Sergio — (3 ene. ¿1929?, Roma, Italia–30 abr. 1989, Roma). Director de cine italiano. Después de trabajar como asistente de dirección con realizadores italianos y estadounidenses, debutó como director con El coloso de Rodas (1961). Captó un extenso… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Leone, Sergio — • ЛЕО НЕ (Leone) Серджо (р. 3.1.1929, по др. данным, 1921)    итал. режиссёр. С сер. 40 х гг. работал ассистентом реж. У. Уайлера, Р. Уайза, Ф. Циннемана и др. Писал сц. псевдоисторич. ф. и ф. на мифологич. сюжеты. Как режиссёр завершил съёмки ф …   Кино: Энциклопедический словарь

  • LEONE (S.) — LEONE SERGIO (1921 1989) Né à Rome, Sergio Leone est le fils du metteur en scène du cinéma muet Roberto Leone Roberti et de l’actrice Bice Waleran. Son nom apparaît d’abord au générique de quelques «péplums» (qui ne sont pas parmi les meilleurs… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • leone — ● leone nom masculin Unité monétaire principale de la Sierra Leone. Leone (Sergio) (1929 1989) cinéaste italien; créateur du western spaghetti (Pour une poignée de dollars, 1964; Il était une fois dans l Ouest, 1969) …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Sergio Leone — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Leone. Sergio Leone Données clés Naissance 3 janvier 1929 Rome, Italie Nationalité …   Wikipédia en Français

  • leone — /lee ohn /, n. a paper money, cupronickel or silver coin, and monetary unit of Sierra Leone, equal to 100 cents. [1960 65; (SIERRA) LEONE] * * * (as used in expressions) Leone Sergio Sierra Leone Republic of Sierra Leone * * * …   Universalium

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