I have offered to help modern Hollywood with their problems several times. But I have not been willing to compromise my essential conservatism to do so. To me the Cowboy Way is a very real thing and I live it not just in writing and being in front of the camera—but off-camera as well. I am quite certain that John Wayne would not be able to make films in modern Hollywood—and because of that—I stopped worrying about contributing to the industry to make it better. Many fans of westerns think the many hundreds of Italian westerns called the “spaghetti western” were not a proper reflection of the American western because they often featured “anti-heroes.” It is that aspect that Quentin Tarantino seems particularly obsessed with. Spaghetti westerns often featured complex characters that didn’t always seem so bad or so good, but were sometimes blended together as a kind of gritty combo that made the viewer question the nature of morality. However, I disagree. I think Sergio Leone and his musical collaborator Ennio Morricone were reflections of Nietzsche’s “Übermensch” and that is the key to understanding the morality of the best spaghetti westerns. They aren’t just revenge pictures, they are about the characters overcoming their human limitations to rise above their competition—such as Clint Eastwood surviving gun shots to the heart to beat his rival in the climax of A Fistful of Dollars, or Charles Bronson facing down death and all its possibilities to kill the man who tortured and hung his brother in Once Upon a Time in the West—a wonderful movie. Tarantino understood the revenge, but he missed the “Übermensch” aspect of the characters.
At least at the end of Django Unchained the hero rode off into the sunset with his girl—and I thought that was good. Unfortunately the character succeeded not because he was an Übermensch” but because his rivals were stupid Southern slave holders which of course cheapened the essence of the story. That made Django Unchained a lot of fun and it was truly enjoyable to hear Ennio Morricone again in a western (or what looked like a western) but it lacked the punch of the classic Sergio Leone westerns which is sadly unfortunate, because obviously Tarantino was shooting for that. If I thought he had made an inspired picture uniquely produced by Quentin Tarantino motivated by Sergio Leone I’d go see The Hateful Eight in a second.
I love the spaghetti westerns because of what they represented as an export of American value. Italy was suffering a huge cultural emptiness after the failures of World War II, just as the Japanese had, and they turned to American cinema as a way to lift themselves out of the dust. The Japanese made samurai films based on American westerns and the Italians made westerns for the same reason—so it makes me feel good that America was able to help those two fascist cultures re-invent themselves after their failed insurrections during a colossal world war. Their interpretation of the American western involved a little bit of Nietzsche along with some very innovative music and to me that’s inspiring. America and its values were able to help the world heal after a terrible tragedy and allow them to contribute aspects of their society applied to an American invention and I think that was a very healthy thing for their nations. I love “spaghetti westerns” for that reason. That is my idea of culture—where America exports an idea based on freedom and other societies use that art to lift themselves up to a higher level of thought. The Good the Bad and the Ugly is one of those types of films, it yearns to define a confusing world where good guys and bad guys weren’t so obvious but in the end there was no question. Clint Eastwood could have taken all the gold at the end, but he didn’t. He left his partner with a fair share even though that partner had tried to betray him many times throughout the movie. The “ugly” represented in that classic film could have easily been Italy itself after the war with the old guard of fascism being the “bad.” The “good” was obviously the United States who won World War II and could have taken all the gold, but they didn’t. They took their share of the spoils, but left plenty for everyone else, which is the metaphorical reason that the Sergio Leone movies have so much meaning even now. The Ennio Morricone music simply captured that ambition with extremely creative endeavor that was very unique at the time induced from risk.
Quentin Tarantino missed a lot of these points and all the filmmakers studying him are also going to make the same failure. Tarantino would argue against it, but a movie audience requires a moral tapestry to hang their belief system against—and if that audience has lost that system, they require the filmmaker to give it to them. If neither the audience nor the filmmaker is offering that tapestry, then the project will fail. American westerns helped pull Italy out of the fascism of Mussolini—which was wonderful for their culture. The cinematic western was big enough to even allow other cultures to add their imprint, which Ennio Morricone and Sergio Leone was able to apply through art. Tarantino as a filmmaker is missing the essence of his favorite films. He makes movies that look and sound like his favorites, but they lack the punch of those classics because Quentin himself is still trying to figure out what they meant to him. His foundation philosophy is in conflict. He was raised by a guy who loved Burt Reynolds so much that the film director was named after the Gunsmoke character. Now, as a big time Hollywood director surrounded by leftist filmmakers and knuckle dragging slobs— Quentin thinks he’s the standard of filmmaking regarding modern art. Unfortunately, he’s not acquired the mentality of Sergio Leone or Akira Kurasawa yet—and based on his present trajectory, he won’t get there by age 60—and likely never will. So I’ll wait for The Hateful Eight to come out on video and I’ll watch it on my nice television. I may even buy it if Wal-Mart offers it in their $5 bargain bin. But that’s all it means to me, and that fault is Tarantino’s. I get the feeling it wouldn’t take much for Quentin Tarantino and I to be good friends—there is a lot that we both like in common. But he is stuck creatively by the Hollywood priority to have him remain a second-hander to the past instead of doing as a human being what Ennio Morricone did so many years ago—and that’s take a wild chance on a uniquely individual artistic endeavor built by a lifetime of experience.
Rich “Cliffhanger” Hoffman
Sign up for Second Call Defense here: http://www.secondcalldefense.org/?affiliate=20707 Use my name to get added benefits.