Brow Beat

How Sergio Leone’s Westerns Changed Cinema

One of many Leone standoffs.

Still from Vimeo

Sergio Leone, a born-and-bred Italian, is the father of a distinctly American genre: the spaghetti Western. His Dollars trilogy is practically ingrained in the national consciousness, his characters like old, weary friends in our memory. Over at Movie Mezzanine, Michael Mirasol has an erudite video essay on Leone’s Westerns that explores how and why the director’s work has endured.

Mirasol starts by observing that the Western is “the only art form entirely specific to a time and place.” This may be true, but it’s not the trappings of the genre—the ten-gallon hats, panoramic vistas, and silent shootouts—that make it great. It’s the way Leone used it to interrogate the American spirit, wedding the existential themes of French and Italian cinema to characters who, as Mirasol notes, were “free from the clean-cut moralism” that defined early American films. Leone’s best films linger because they revealed not the good or the bad (or the ugly), but everything in between.