Wednesday, 13 September 2017

The Great Silence (1968)

Hey Tarantino, I haven't seen The Hateful Eight but I'm guessing that even with a Morricone score, a snowbound landscape, characters of dubious morality, and plenty of bloodshed, you've still made a film that is nowhere near as good as this, probably because you simply don't have the personal politics that Sergio Corbucci had - and that's a key ingredient in The Great Silence. As Donato Totaro said of the film, and in particular the meaning to be found in its title, it is "suggestive not only of the great white expansive snow, the lead character's muteness, but the late 1960s political defeats that impacted Corbucci's mood that led him to make one of the grimmest Westerns ever made". Whereas Tarantino is led to make films simply because he wants to replicate something of those he has seen and admired, in the same way that a kid with his toys might set out to recreate what he has seen for his own amusement.

In setting his film during a severe blizzard in Utah (in reality the snowcapped Italian Dolomites) Corbucci delivers a bleak and unforgiving setting that compliments the tone of his tale. An Italian left wing radical, he was inspired by the deaths of Che Guevara and Malcolm X to tell a story that condemns corrupt and authoritarian capitalism, using the bounty hunters of the old West as a means of exploring our unequal society. As personified by Klaus Kinski's cold hearted Loco, bounty hunters are greedy, ruthless murderers for the state, who use the flimsy excuse of the law to sate their natural bloodlust and monetary avarice. The banker Pollicutt (Luigi Pistilli) is also a clear example of the wholly amoral nature of authority figures who may otherwise be sainted in several Hollywood productions. 

The sympathy here is for the outlaws, those disenfranchised people who turn to crime because society is simply too far stacked against them to allow them a fair deal, and turn to a mute gunslinger known as Silence (Jean-Louis Trintignant) to fight their corner. Equally, Corbucci must be praised for his use of strong female protagonists among his heroic and sympathetic outlaws, in particular black actress Vonetta McGee's memorable turn as the vengeful Pauline, who is depicted as someone whose pain and loneliness is on a par with our central male hero with whom she shares an love scene which is progressive for the time given its interracial status. Tellingly, it was the only love scene Corbucci ever included in his work in the genre. 

The Great Silence may be deeply nihilistic but the film's closing title card suggests what occurred brought about a change in society. The great Alex Cox argues that the film's moral coda is that there's a great nobility in doing the right thing, even though you know you will personally fail, and therefore, pay the highest price for the cause. Whilst Corbucci ends his tale on such a small crumb of comfort we perhaps only need to look at the world we live in today to see, as Stewart Lee (who I'm off to see in Liverpool again tomorrow night, woohoo!) is often want to remind us in his columns for The Guardian, that parallels can be drawn between the divisive here and now and the moral repugnance at the heart of many politically charged spaghetti westerns. Our society hasn't received that change hinted at as the credits roll here; capitalism still exists, sadly.


  1. Good review, my friend. You've made me now want to watch it.