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THE BURNING – OUT NOW – Inspiration Behind the Film: A Look into Spaghetti Westerns


19 June 2015

With its silently explosive scores and creeping camera movements, film critics have already begun to draw comparisons between Pablo Fendrik’s The Burning Man and the works of Italian director, Sergio Leone. Known as the father of the “Spaghetti Western”, Leone infused an Italo-European perspective into the classic American genre, sparking a revolution that would then flourish between the 1960’s and 1980’s. These newer films imbued a greater sense of moral complexity and realism into its heroes and storylines, often parodying the more traditional elements of the American Western.

As opposed to the idealistic cowboys of its American predecessors, the characters of “Spaghetti Westerns” were often caked with mud and clad in the tattered rags of a weathered rogue. With them, came an air of aloofness and mystery that was a stark contrast to the typically-seen John Wayne trope. This was all a reflection, too, of their equally rugged, on-location sets. Thus, the “Spaghetti Westerns” spawned a movement where the traditional Western was revitalised and reimagined.

Though directed by a Latin American, The Burning has echoes of the themes and style of these “Spaghetti Westerns”. Take a look below to see five of the most famous films in the genre...

 

 

 

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, Sergio Leone (1966)
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is considered a cinematic classic and one of film’s greatest Westerns. It tells the story of three morally corrupt bandits – whose moniker’s are the movie’s namesake – on the search for gold. When their quest turns awry after the death of their informant, the unlikely trio are forced to band together for the sake of realizing their desired fortunes. Each one possesses a knowledge that the other lacks, and it is only through their reluctant cooperation that they can achieve success – and wealth.
With its gun-slinging violence and complex anti-heroes, Ugly was likely an inspiration for Fendrik’s own film. The Burning’s final showdown – with its drawn-out close-ups and slow-building music – is particularly reminiscent of Ugly’s cinematographic style. There’s a subtle playfulness there, too, that pays homage to Leone’s style of Western, whereupon the audience is given a “wink” in reference to the parodic nature of the scene. It is a tongue-in-cheek take on the traditional American Western finale.

 

 

 

The Great Silence, Sergio Corbucci (1968)
Directed by Sergio Corbucci and sometimes lauded as his magnum opus, The Great Silence revolves around the adventures of one mute gunfighter and his outlaw employers. Together, they join forces under the pretense of a shared hatred for the bounty hunters unlawfully antagonizing the poor. As a team, they seek to avenge the death of one of the outlaws’ husbands.

Perhaps the most striking parallel between The Great Silence and The Burning is the presence of a silent protagonist. Though Burning’s Kai is not a mute, he is a man of few words – quiet but cunning, like the leopard that prowls the jungle as his shadow. This kind of loner hero is unique to the “Spagehtti Westerns”. What the films share, too, is an unabashed glimpse into the often violent and desperate world of the poor. Essentially unheard of in the American Western genre, this reimagining of the Western hero and his tale is one of the many factors that distinguishes “Spaghetti’s” from their U.S. counterparts.

 

 

 

The Savage Guns, Michael Carreras (1961)
The Savage Guns is one of the first “Spaghetti Westerns”. On an Arizona ranch, a dog-tired Steve Fallon is taken in by the pacifist Mr. and Mrs. Summer. During his recovery, Fallon learns of the turmoil plaguing the region. A man named Ortega has his eye on the Summers’ property, though the couple’s only source of protection is a gang of bandits demanding payment for their services. Having forsworn all violence, the Summers are helpless when these ruthless antagonists come knocking at their door. With the help of Fallon, however, and a last-minute change of heart in the name of friendship, the couple manages to defend itself and maintain possession of their home and lands.

As with The Burning, The Savage Guns fearlessly portrays the consequences of environmental exploitation upon the locals. Despite being produced by a Spaniard and a Brit, the overall style of the film can still be classified as “Spaghetti Western”. Most notably, The Savage Guns was the first of many films in the sub-genre to use Spain as an alternative filming location to Southwestern America. Such revolutionary change inspired other European directors to keep production of their own Westerns in their home territory. Thus, the “Eurowestern” – a greater extension of the “Spaghetti” – was born.

 

 

 

The Big Gundown, Sergio Sollima (1966)
Made in collaboration with Sergio Leone, The Big Gundown follows the cat-and-mouse game between an aspiring Senator and a cunning Mexican bandit. Funded by a wealthy tycoon and emboldened by the promise of financial support in his political campaign, Jonathan Corbett sets out on his quest to capture Cuchillo, suspected murder and rapist. Guns, knife-play, and an epic finale follow suit that mark The Big Gundown as one of the most memorable “Spaghetti Westerns” of the time.

The Big Gundown falls more formally under the subgenre, “Zapata Western”. Though differing very little from their “Spaghetti” counterparts, “Zapatas” are unique in their concern with early 20th century Mexican politics. The Big Gundown was Sollima’s attempt at a realistic portrayal of the injustices inflicted upon the poor by the wealthy. Furthermore, the film’s music – some of Ennio Morricone’s most evocative work – is not unlike The Burning’s own score. Both soundtracks transport its listeners straight into the heart of the films’ turmoil, whether that be the teeming Parana jungle or the American Southwest.

 

 

 

Once Upon A Time in the West, Sergio Leone (1968)
Yet another of Leone’s great Western masterpieces, Once Upon A Time in the West is about a killer, Frank, who has been hired by a railroad big-wig to murder any who jeopardize the completion of his new railroad project. When Frank kills the husband of a beautiful widow, she enlists the help of a stolid harmonica player and the outlaw falsely accused of the crime to get her revenge. As the yarn unwinds, betrayals unfold and hidden agendas are ultimately revealed.

As with The Burning, the opening scene in Once Upon A Time in the West is filled with an unnerving and suffocating ominousness. Camera movements follow those of the main characters and the eerie rhythms of the film give viewers the sense that all is on the very brink of explosion. “Spaghetti Westerns” are known for their extended close-ups, wide shots, and haunting melodies – all of which are in abundance in the two films. Hailed as one of the finest pieces of Western cinema, Once Upon A Time in the West is a must-see for any “Spaghetti Western” fan. It’s even among Tarantino’s favourites!

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