Monday, October 10, 2011

Blog 2: For a Few Dollars More (1965)

The final showdown between Colonel Mortimer (played by Lee Van Cleef) and Indio (played by Gian Maria Volonte) in Sergio Leone's For a Few Dollars More is a great example of editing contributing immensely to the feel of the film.  Those who worked with Leone say he was in love with music and it couldn't be more true in this film.  He was a very operatic director and it shows in the way he married music to images.  The sequence starts with Indio shooting Mortimer's gun out of his hand and then he walks towards Mortimer and we can even hear the spurs of his boots as he walks.  It's very detailed.  Both men own a watch with a portrait of a girl inside (it's Mortimer's sister and Indio's girl) which plays music when opened and Indio declares Mortimer pick up his gun when the chimes of the watch end.  It's a soft tune resembling a lullaby.  Leone probably had the writers write into the story about a watch that plays music.  When the lullaby starts, there's a close up of Mortimer looking down at his gun and then a shot of the gun.  Indio moves in towards the camera from a medium shot to a close up.  As the lullaby almost ends, there are extreme close ups of their faces along with a close up of Indio's hand going for his gun.  This is what Leone does really well.  As the film draws closer to a final moment (in this case the watch's song ending), he pushes us closer to the characters by his choice of shots.  Now when the chimes end, the lullaby starts up again and both men, in each a close up, are rattled.  We get a long shot of the two men and a hand, with a similar watch playing the same tune, comes into the frame.

Mortimer checks his locket chain and his watch isn't there (a close up).  In an extreme close up, he looks at the man holding his watch and the camera moves from the watch in this mysterious hand to an extreme close up of the man holding it, Monco (played by Clint Eastwood).  Now we get non-diegetic music by the great Ennio Morricone starting in an extreme close up of Indio's face.  It's a guitar and the lullaby still plays along with it, but the guitar heightens the tension because now there are two men against Indio.  After Monco gives Mortimer his gun belt, Monco declares "Now we start" and loud horns begin to play and we get a beautiful wide shot of the three men: Mortimer and Indio facing each other and Monco as he prepares to sit, a spectator for the final battle.  The camera slowly pushes in to Monco's face for a close up watching both men and in the background we still hear Morricone's music playing.

The images Leone uses are the guns or his characters' hands going for their guns, the watch, and his characters' faces and he cuts between them in a way to build suspense in this final gun battle.  It's a very long drawn out final battle, but the killing of Indio by Mortimer is very quick.  The set up of the battle is what takes a long time.  Leone organizes the shots in a way that he can hold us in suspense.  For example, there's a close up of Indio's hand slowly going for his gun.  Then we cut to an extreme close up of his face and back to his hand as it inches closer to his gun. We get a medium shot of Mortimer ready and then Monco's reaction in an extreme close up as he watches Indio do this and he looks at Mortimer.  Then a medium shot of Indio reaching for his gun.  In a medium shot, Mortimer rapidly fires his gun at Indio.  Before Mortimer fires his gun, we get six shots where Leone holds our attention.  We know how this is going to end because it's a Western.  One bandit usually kills another.  But Leone takes his time and makes his signature trademark in not just the selection of his shots, but the extreme close ups of his characters' reactions.

The shots aren't seamless where you don't notice them.  They're obvious but it's a good thing because that's the way they were intended to be.  This kind of film, especially a Western like this, wasn't intended to have the kind of invisible editing traditional Hollywood is known for.  Leone assembles the shots in a way that he wants you to notice Indio reaching for his gun because he'll cut to Monco's reaction in an extreme close up to let us know what Indio is doing is important.