How Sergio Leone Used Editing To Create Great Cinema

By Aditya Savnal. Posted on May 27, 2015

Westerns are one of the most enduring genres in Hollywood. Filmmakers like John Sturges, Howard Hawks & John Ford have made brilliant use of the wild west & its grim yet awe-inspiring landscape.

But if there's one name that's most strongly associated with the genre, it is that of Sergio Leone. His spaghetti westerns left an indelible mark on cinema and influenced several filmmakers including Tarantino

His 'Dollars trilogy' of A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) altered the narrative style of genre and spawned many imitations the world over, including in India. The most famous of these is of course, Sholay.

But what makes these films so great?

One of filmmaking's biggest advantages is the ability it gives to filmmakers to narrate their stories in several ways through different techniques. Leone understood this well and besides the dialogues & narration, he used cinematography & editing to create great cinema.

A video by Max Tohline talks about the editing pattern used in the final scene of The Good, The Bad And The Ugly.

When you look at it, nothing much seems to be happening in this scene. But the way Leone shot and edited it, makes it a finale like no other.

The scene which lasts for two and a half minutes sees the characters exchange only silent glances before the scene ends in a few gunshots that barely last a second or two. Yet the entire scene holds your attention and leaves you spellbound. The finale demands a high amount of your attention and the manner in which the scene is executed makes it unforgettable. It would be unfair not to credit the editors Eugenio Alabiso and Nino Baragli and cinematographer Tonini Delli Colli for the scene.

Sergio Leone uses as many as 65 shots to set up this scene. The video also examines various permutations used by Leone to highlight the reactions and movements of all the characters.

Robert Bresson once said 'To me, Cinema is the art of having each thing in its place'. And this statement holds true for Leone, who creates an unforgettable piece of cinema by using several visual cues.

Also check out this wonderful animated tribute to Leone's iconic Once Upon A Time In The West.

Max Tohine's Vimeo Channel has some amazing videos where he analyzes the works of several filmmakers including Wes Anderson and is an insightful resource that you must check out.


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