Thursday, April 10, 2014

Ten Statements About....THE GREAT SILENCE (1968)

Yes, that's a Mauser, and it will screw your crap up...
“Once, my husband told me of this man. He avenges our wrongs. And the bounty killers sure do tremble when he appears. They call him "Silence." Because wherever he goes, the silence of death follows."

1) This film has one of the single grimmest endings in the history of cinema, even by spaghetti western standards.  And that ending is simply not set up, resulting in one of those rare things--a genuinely shocking finale.

2) Even though director Sergio Cabucci had wanted his regular go-to hero Franco Nero to star in this film, I can’t imagine him doing a better job than Jean-Louis Trintignant.  Something about Trintignant’s eyes and his stone face that makes Silence into a real force of nature more than your standard run of the mill gunslinger.  And since Italian cinema routinely shot silent, the soundtrack added in post, Trintignant makes his non-verbal role an advantage.

3) One of the most intriguing elements of the cast is the use of Vonetta McGee as romantic lead Pauline.  Outside of a line of dialogue spoken by Klaus Kinski’s Loco, nothing is made of the fact that she is a black woman in an all-white town.  She’s simply accepted for who she is, and her romance with Silence is treated as just that--a romance between two people, without any mention of the interracial element.

4) One of the most striking elements of the film is it’s one of the few westerns that take place in the middle of a snowy area.  Carbucci takes full advantage of the great expanses of white to create compositions where characters are alone in the middle of what amounts to negative space, emphasizing the isolation of the film’s setting and the dangerous nature of being left alone in this bleak landscape.
"Wanted...the one person who doesn't think I'm a creepy

5) I know that Frank Wolff is supposed to be something of a comic relief character, but I rather like how he has an element of bad assedness to him that makes him a much more formidable character than otherwise intended.  And the way he seems to bond with Silence in a weird way rather than stand in his way (something that is exploited in the absolutely weird alternate ending Cabucci had to film for North Africa) gives him an extra dimension other than ‘crazy incompetent sheriff type.

6) I don’t know how many times I can say this....when Klaus Kinski is the head of anything--an insane asylum, a pack of bounty hunters, a restaurant, a dry cleaning franchise--nothing good will come of it.

7) One of the more interesting quirks of this quirky film is the fact that Silence not only carries a Mauser machine pistol (which, to my surprise, is historically accurate given that Carbucci places the story as taking place in 1898), but a stock for it that doubles as its holster.  The shot of Silence practicing his shooting with the stock stand out as almost steampunk in their anachronistic aesthetic.
The use of the film's snowy setting makes it unique
amongst sphaghetti westerns.

8) Given Carbucci’s love of smash cut, the one flashback is extremely jarring, especially given that it’s the only sequence that takes place in a sunny, grassy clime.

9)   I find it fascinating how there’s really little difference between Silence and Loco, even though it’s obvious that Loco is meant to be the bad guy.  They even accept the same price for killing their targets.

10) The fairness of Carbucci’s script (written in collaboration with three other writers) extends to the treatment of the Mormon 'outlaws’ and Marissa Merlini’s cathouse manager Regina.  These people are approached as just...people doing what they have to do to survive, which makes their ultimate fate all the more shocking.

Overall...some great acting, striking cinematography and a truly dark ending makes for one of the best spaghetti westerns ever.  And if you get the DVD release by Fantoma, be sure to check out the brief discussion of the film by director (and spaghetti western enthusiast) Alex Cox and that bizarre ‘happy’ ending.

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