When you think about the western genre, your mind I'm sure travels to those stunning vistas. My brain immediately goes to shots of cowboys in canyons, riding past red rocks and into huge, blistering sunsets. But the genre has evolved so much over the years, that when we look at it with a critical lens, it might actually be the close-ups displayed in the spaghetti westerns that set the genre free.
These creative camera angles, coupled with movement, helped stories embark on new territory.
Sergio Leone was an Italian director who made some of—if not the—best westerns of all time. When the genre was dying in America, actors like Clint Eastwood headed to Europe to make classics like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, as well as A Fist Full of Dollars and Once Upon a Time in the West. These movies took what were American tales and broadened their horizons. Infused with another culture's point of view and even some cynicism in a post-World War II world, we got deep, introspective looks at heroes, villains, greed, anger, and a much more complicated stance on living than just black and white hats.
The way all this was unlocked was not through wide shots but through the close-up.
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How Did the Close-Up Change the Way We View Westerns?
Leone was a fan of American westerns, and he knew the tropes people expected to see. But one of the things I absolutely love about genres is that once you know all the "rules," you also know how to break them. Leone approached his westerns and made them much more personal, using the visual language of the close-up shot to deepen character, create suspense, and even to unlock clues along each character's journey.
These close-up shots are such a welcome addition to all these movies. Not only do they make them feel more nuanced, but they also humanize these revered characters who were once held back from us. This humanity brought the hard choices and brutal reality of the West to the forefront. It somehow made the west feel more palpable, and it even made the location feel like more of a character. We only got to know the west in wide shots, but as we closed in on people's faces, we felt the pressure-cooker of the lawless land, the dirtiness, sweat, strife, and determination.
This new way to see westerns helped redefine the genre and enter it into new territory. The way he did it was slick. All the spaghetti westerns have those sweeping vistas, those cowboys on horses. They embraced tradition so clearly that they also were able to slip in new things. This is not reinventing the wheel. It's putting your stamp on the body of the car. Or wagon, as it were.
Agree, disagree? Let me know in the comments.
Source: Entertain the Elk