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In the short term, the YTC podcast can currently be found at http://www.chrisandphilpresent.co.uk/blogs/youtotalcult/
The blog below was under an older name of Hollyweird. I have kept the numbering the same so that I could keep track of my posts, but this is where it all begin back in the heyday of 2012…
Spaghetti is an indulgent meal- at least the way that I make it. Oh sure, I use Soya mince and whole wheat pasta, both of which hint towards a healthy diet. But then I load that bad boy with so much cheese it would make a Frenchmen weep with envy.
Now, via the wonder that is the ‘tenuous link’, I will now segue into how Spaghetti Westerns mirror my aforementioned cooking. Spaghetti Westerns can be seen as a sloppy, messy experience that are intended as a simple indulgence. They are not necessarily designed for a more discerning palette.
Yet to underestimate the Spaghetti Western as overly simple is to do it a great injustice. Such an injustice in fact, that Sergio Corbucci would hire a bounty hunter to track you down and kill you just for thinking such a foolhardy thought. You see, Corbucci’s 1968 movie, The Great Silence, is still a piece of schlocky fun but it also dares to be richer. The Great Silence dissects the evils of the law once it becomes just another product to be traded.
The narrative is fairly simplistic; A boy sees his parents killed by bounty hunters, all of whom are all disguised as officer saof the law. Although these bounty hunters are not quite cold enough to kill the boy, they sever his vocal chords to ensure he cannot report them. This boy is our mute protagonist, known forever more as simply ‘Silence’.
Now an adult, Silence has become a bounty hunter himself, and he has worked out a crafty loop hole to suit his profession. The law of the time states that Bounty Hunters can only kill in self defence. Consequently Silence goes out of his way to antagonise his prey into drawing first. he then relies on his tremendous speed and his imported, and highly unusual, semi-automatic pistol to beat the odds.
As the film gathers pace, Silence’s latest bounty takes him to a snow blanketed mountain town in Nevada. En route he finds himself sharing a stage coach with the newly appointed Sheriff Burnett, and a rival bounty hunter, Loco. Although from here on in the plot is fairly thin, it is this trio of characters that really bind the theme of The Great Silence together.
Once the trio have arrived at the town, Silence is hired by a grieving widow to kill Loco. Meanwhile, Loco is waiting in town for thieves hidden in the nearby mountains to come out of hiding so that he can claim their bounty. Simultaneously, Loco is also aware of Silence’s intent and so Loco outright refuses to be provoked into a gunfight. Meanwhile Sheriff Burnett wants them both out of town and begins to flex his legal muscles…. naturally being a Spaghetti Western everything comes to a head with some considerable bloodshed.
The twist though, is that it is only the ‘good’ guys that do any of said bleeding- Loco and most of his flunkies get away scot free. Not only that, but Loco doesn’t even break a sweat!
Barely midway through the film Loco easily dispatches the Sheriff with considerable ease. Loco simply tricks him into a frozen lake then breaks the ice. A murder of one of the three main characters with no fuss and no muss on Loco’s part shows just how in control of events he is.
Skipping ahead to the climax of the film and Silence has had his shooting hand crippled by Loco’s thugs. Left with only one hand, Silence is then blackmailed by Loco into a one-on-one confrontation. Loco has captured the wanted bounties from the mountains, all of whom are revealed to in fact be starving people forced to steal food to survive. Loco threatens to butcher them all if Silence does not face him one-on-one.Despite being crippled, Silence heads for the stand-off…
It is- of course- a trap. Loco’s men shoot Silence from a distance targeting his remaining hand. Struggling to even try to lift his Semi-automatic, Loco blows Silence away. Rather shockingly for a Western showdown, Silence doesn’t even get to draw his gun, he just stands there like a human target. Then to add insult to injury, Loco slaughters Silence’s new lover right before Loco decides to massacre of all of the hostages! Poor Silence is not much of a hero. To quote Spaceballs “Evil always triumphs because good is dumb”.
In fact, wait a minute… Silence is literally dumb!!!
As the film prepares to bow out, Loco remains as an un-flustered survivor surrounded by profitable bounties bleeding at his feet. Loco utters the final- and crucial- worlds of the film, “All according to the law”. Evidently there is no room for mercy when the Justice is for sale.
Loco is clearly the most heartless character in the film, but he is also the only character to achieve everything that he sets out to. More than that, Loco even thrives through his cut-throat actions. By the end of the film he is not just the sole survivor of the three main characters, he is now going to be a rich man. Loco is pure capitalism freed of any consequences. He lives a life of profit driven extremes via villainous actions.
Opposing Loco both narratively and figuratively, Sheriff Burnett exists at the opposite end of the moral spectrum. Sheriff Burnett is the sole character driven to uphold the law purely in the name of decency. At one point Burnett even turns down an impressive bribe from Loco. Yet honour aside, Sheriff Burnett is dispatched as bumbling fool. If Loco represents ruthless profit, then Burnett represents ineffectual idealism.
So where does that leave our protagonist, the titular ‘Great Silence’ himself? Well one of interesting tangents within this film is that Silence himself is not much of a hero at all.
Tellingly Silence has dedicated his life to become a bounty hunter, despite that being the very thing that he hates. Acting as a manhunter, Silence even accepts the job to kill Loco for $1000 which is the very same fee Loco was paid to kill the widow’s husband. Silence exists a walking contradiction.
Even more damning of his nature, not only has Silence become a bounty hunter but he has become a manipulative bounty hunter, at that.
In his own way Silence is as cruel and sly as those that killed his parents. He provokes outlaws to start fights then disables their shooting hands. In addition, he uses an imported gun that is faster to reload than any of his adversaries more localised revolvers. Silence ‘cheats’ in ways that a more traditional, John Wayne-esque, Cowboy would most likely sneer at. Like Loco, Silence is a character acting for his own gain through a profession of unfair murder.
Still, unlike Loco, Silence does display small pangs of conscience. In certain regards, Silence is more in line with Sheriff Burnett. After all, at the end of the film Silence does attempt to save the hostages despite having no chance of succeeding. His logic is certainly murky as to why he tries. (It could be for revenge or for the sheer hatred of Loco or to actually help the hostages). Yet the fact is that he does actually try to help, which seemingly puts him one step closer to having a social conscience. Silence has the option to escape but does not take it. Prior to his rescue attempt, Silence also stops a rape which is what costs him the use of his shooting hand.
So perhaps Silence represents the muddled marriage of cold economics trying to fit alongside altruistic humanity. He is neither one attitude nor the other. He is never truly at peace with his conflicted nature, and neither are we as the viewers.
So, if Loco is the cruel Right, Burnett is the soppy Left and Silence is the awkward mid-ground, then Both Burnett’s and Silence’s utter annihilation at the hands of the Loco says volumes about Corbucci’s film.There is an unhealthy link between the law as a concept and the law as a business, and when it is pushed too far the innocent will suffer.
The Great Silence services one key message throughout; The actions of the state and its law are controlled by capital. Conversely the state only protects said property.
Why in this very film the state even rewards the notion of the bounty instead of supporting the needs of people themselves. The expense of privatized justice over social services forces the townsfolk to steal to eat, but then they become wanted criminals. In turn bounty hunters are then used to bring in these ‘criminals’. Thus a vicious circle of the powerful few maintaining their status to the cost of the masses can be seen to take place.
This is an idea still topical in today’s 1% environment. Whilst the current British government keep one eye on Privatization options, clearly The Great Silence is a film still relevant for contemporary consideration.
Now, should today’s piece read as depressingly serious then please check out the Fantoma produced Special Edition DVD of The Great Silence.This version features a rare alternate ending that was designed for an certain Markets whose audience that would not accept such a bleak ending.
The alternate ending features the Sheriff mysteriously surviving his frozen bath, and Silence is inexplicably fitted with a metal hand! Between them, they out-gun Loco and all ends well for the good guys…. don’t you just love a happy ending?!?
So if the hidden depths of this Spaghetti Western have piqued your interest at all dear readers, then let me add three quick points as to why The Great Silence is undoubtedly worth a watch.
- The score is by Ennio Morricone. Although it may not be one of his most famous soundtracks, to my mind it is one of his strongest. This is less grandiose and more haunting than a lot of his Western work but still makes you reflect on those beautiful landscapes…..
- Speaking of which, a snow-covered Western is just an interesting visual change to the genre.
- And finally, Loco is played by professional-maniac, Klaus Kinski. ‘Nuff said.
OK, I need a break from exploitation films. As such, next time I’ll be looking at gentle indie-comedy from the Nineties that could have been a contender.
Thanks for reading.