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Mannerist westerns of Sergio Leone

Sergio Leone holds a special place in the history of Western. He reformed generic tradition from an outside point of view of a society that is not American, but European; that is to say, from a point of view that treats the American myth from a well-defined distance. Sergio Leone made movies in a time when classical in westerns had already reached its peak. Most of the important authors of the golden era of Hollywood westerns were making their last genre movies. Leone’s relation towards classical western tradition of American film was thoroughly — mannerist. Leone knew all the basic guidelines of genre and myth alike, he respected both traditions, however, he did not acknowledge them completely — in order to be able to transform them.

In Leone’s westerns, all the components of genre (the outside ones) were hypertrophied, while the ethical and metaphysical dimension, with which westerns usually ended, disappeared completely. The author achieved a high sense of style that became its own purpose, and for that reason, also defined the content. Where in classical westerns we had a situation when a hero had to make some moral decision, in Leone’s westerns we notice that there is ’no exaltation of any particular ideology, but rather of the ability and the skill of the hero to destroy his opponents’. The content of the myth ceased to matter, it became limited to the stylistic procedures among which mannerism prevailed.

Stylistic mannerism can be observed on all levels, from the choice of the setting (Mexico during the time of total uncertainty), shaping of protagonists (they are complete individuals, with no moral doubts), to the iconography of the genre (classical western iconography is utterly overemphasized and stylised). Although sometimes it may seem that Leone’s viewpoint was too cold, overly stylised, it was, nevertheless, necessary to show his mannerist view. With his personal handwriting, Leone shaped movies in which he was ’now lyrist, now dramatist, now epicist’.

Tomislav Čegir

Artificial inputs: Croatian film and literary generic criticism
Classical musical
Genres in film postmodernism

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