Tuesday, 30 October 2007

DVD: The Good the Bad and the Ugly

Lowdown: Well cooked spaghetti.
A recent discussion helped me realized that I am yet to watch The Good, the Bad and the Ugly at home where the good sound and picture are, so I went up and did something about it. And I’m glad I did.
To be honest, I don’t know what the differences are between GBU’s special edition and the original cut are; the last three times I have watched the film I was watching the newer cut: In 2001 I watched it on cable back in Israel, not long before leaving for Australia, and back in 2003 Jo & I went to a special screening at the Astor Theatre, a proper old style cinema with a huge screen that befits a film like GBU.
As the title hints, GBU follows the adventures of three characters: the ugly, Tuco (Eli Wallach), a petty criminal but a very successful criminal at that who is pretty good as the film’s comic relief; the bad, Angle Eyes (Lee Van Cliff), who is as cold hearted as a person can be and then some; and the good, who is unnamed but regularly referred to as Blondie (Clint Eastwood). GBU’s plot is quite unique in the sense that we never hear much about the main characters; all we know about them comes from what they do on the screen with dialog very much limited to minor characters. Thing is, when you watch the film you realize they are all good, bad and ugly; goodness suffers big time here, in fact, as there’s hardly any of it. GBU is, indeed, a story about treachery and treason under harsh circumstances.
Times could not be harsher. Set in the Wild West during the days of the American Civil War, this three hours long film tells the story of how our three heroes will not stop at anything - including the worst acts imaginable - to put their hands on a treasure of two hundred thousand dollars in gold. On their way they meet lots of interesting characters, but the main event in GBU is not the plot or the supporting acts but rather the way it is done; as befits an Italian made film, it's all about the style.
And style it has aplenty. The cinematography/direction puts most if not all other films to shame when it comes to having a go at making original shots: extreme closeups, shots from unusual angles that reveal more than meets the eye, and just plain creativeness (and all without a hint of the CGI plague that has infected contemporary cinema). The famous score is exquisite and exhilarating, and the three main actors match their roles like fish in water. Special kudos goes to Wallach, whose Tuco is by far the most interesting character in the film.
True, GBU is a rather slow film, as Jo has pointed out while we were watching it; but she also added that it's deliberately slow. It's all a part of the presentation, and if you've got the patience you'll be rewarded. In short, GBU is a film that needs to be watched rather than talked about.
Best scene: GBU provides many a candidate for the role of best scene but one clear overall winner.
First, I like the scene in which Tuco runs around the graveyard looking for the grave hiding the treasure: it’s a lovely work of acting, direction and cinematography to watch him running about.
Second, the line uttered by Tuco when someone explains to him how he is going to kill him while Tuco is having a bath, only to have Tuco shoot him with a gun hidden between the bubbles, is one of those immortal lines that is often quoted by my brother for a laugh: “When you have to shoot, shoot, don’t talk”. Say no more.
But the clear winner is obviously the scene of the final duel between Tuco, Angel Eyes and Blondie. Again, the direction and cinematography there are astounding, especially the close-ups on the faces and on the gun hands; music properly builds the tensions up; and this time around, editing plays a significant role. What a masterpiece of a scene!
Picture quality: GBU is 40 years of age or so and it shows every second. The DVD’s picture is not substantially better to what you would get on VHS, with lots of analog noise of varying intensities and often washed up picture. That said, one thing the DVD does provide is a cinemascope like aspect ratio of around 2.35:1, which is essential in order to properly enjoy GBU; more than any other film, GBU uses the entire width of the screen so effectively you cannot be said to have watched the film if you were to watch it in a cropped pan & scan version.
Sound quality: Like the picture, it shows its age. Although the DVD supplies a 5.1 mix, the film feels like it is essentially a mono production that was later modified for 5.1. Most of everything comes in through the center channel, with the occasional dialog from a character at the side of the screen coming in from the left/right speakers (in a very artificial manner) and the surrounds limited to limited reverberation effects.
Dialog is worth its own mentioning as everything is obviously dubbed and as it is obvious that many of the actors were not speaking English. I guess you can say things are pretty bad in the sound department.
Overall: It’s a rare pleasure to watch such a well made film. 5 out of 5 stars.

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