www.chimai.comThis Week's Special 13/12/2002

Patrick Ehresmann

Western, Italian Style

Translated from French by Didier Thunus for www.chimai.com

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For this vast project, Leone asked from Morricone a more important contribution. He wanted a complex score drawing at the same time from humour, lyricism, tragedy and baroque. Hard to be more contradictory! And yet, Morricone succeeded brilliantly, composing a score joining together all these characteristics at the same time, and even much more, going beyond the hopes of the director. Morricone knew it was the most ambitious subject he had to face, the final exam to be allowed in the yard of the big composers of film music. Scheduled just before to compose the music of John Huston's impressive The Bible, he had been unfortunately set aside for some dark disagreements about rights between RCA and the film production. Therefore, this time, Morricone didn't want to miss his chance. He wrote almost two hours and a half of music, with sumptuous main themes and a multitude of secondary ones.

The main theme re-used a logic adopted previously, namely a short musical cell interpreted by a flute for Clint Eastwood's character, identified here as "the good". However, the two other characters from the title had as much importance, if not more, since Leone didn't hide his affection for the character of Tuco played by Eli Wallach, certainly the most picaresque one from all his movies. Leone explained to Morricone that these three characters were actually one. The good wasn't really better than the two others. All three were motivated by the same goal, to get the dollars, by all means. They were three facets of one same character who was in turn good, bad or ugly according to the circumstances. Therefore, Morricone decided to use for the three characters the same musical theme, this time limited to two notes - A-D-A-D-Aaaaa - but giving it a different tone for each of them.
The good preserved his recorder naturally. For the character of the bad played by Lee Van Cleef, whose black costume revealed dark intentions, Morricone chose an instrument from the serious register, the arghilofono - the low-key version of the ocarina, a wind instrument in terra cotta from the region of the Abruzzi. Once more, the composer introduced a folk instrument having a priori nothing to do with the western tradition and which however functioned very well in the context of the Leonian universe. As for Tuco the ugly, his picaresque character, almost animal, he was underlined by human voices imitating the cry of a coyote.

The musical tune was in fact a half-sentence, a question asked for which the answer came in the form another half-sentence, F-G-D. For one of them, Leone insisted that it used the whistle sound he liked so much. It became the response to the arghilofono for the theme of the Bad.
Morricone on the other hand preferred to privilege the effects of the voice and used them for the half-sentences associated with the Good and the Ugly. In the case of the Ugly, the first half-sentence was played by Gianna Spagnulo and Enzo Gioieni, called by Morricone the "astonished voices", because this passage was often heard when Tuco's character had a nasty surprise. The answer or second half-sentence was given by the falsetto voice of Franco Cosacchi, doubled by the harmonica of Franco de Gemini.

This combination was of a disarming simplicity and yet, it had an astounding cinematographic efficiency. The impact of the opening scene of the movie says enough. Three gangsters enter a ghost saloon in a city lost in the middle of the desert, shots are heard, and Tuco suddenly jumps through the window, completely hirsute, a gun in a hand and a chicken leg in the other. Frozen frame, "urlo" of the coyote, while the bottom of the screen shows the letters "the Ugly".

Consequently, the audience kept engraved in memory the association of the character and his musical theme. The magic of the Leone-Morricone marriage could be summarized in that moment where image and music were as one. This movie would not be same without the music; it would miss something in the atmosphere and in the identity of the characters. Morricone gave preference to the music that revealed the deep soul of the characters at the expense of one that would only have underlined the events pictured on screen. He really gave an additional dimension to the movie. Moreover, Leone declared that Morricone was his best dialogist since the characters didn't speak much, and the music often replaced the dialogues. Leone had a great admiration for the cinema of Chaplin who was able to transmit all the emotions at the time of the silent movies. The music had played a great role in the absence of dialogues, and Chaplin's artistic approach has without a doubt influenced the steps of Leone for his own films.

Leone allowed himself more time and more means for the preparation of Il Buono Il Brutto Il Cattivo. Therefore, he could for the first time use a new process he had not been able to apply to the preceding films, due to the lack of time. He asked Morricone to record the main musical themes BEFORE shooting the scenes, so that they could be played on the set and could contribute to create the ambience in which the characters were to evolve. This process would be systematically applied to all the following movies, and would allow a perfect synchronization between the movements of the characters, those of the camera and the rhythm of the music. Disturbing at the beginning for some of the actors, this working method ended up convincing them all, Clint Eastwood being the first one to appreciate it much. In the end, a coherent body was obtained, which could almost be called a cinematographic ballet.

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©2002 Patrick Ehresmann