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How I Reach To The Master

In the relentless pursuit of the art work of the master Leone

When one becomes so special for your feelings, emotions and about your entire life philosophy, then you feel like you owe something to that person like a whole notion. Leone has always been so special for me, much more than just a fistful of movies. I have watched all of his films several amounts of time, and over so many years, I still admire him well beyond the cinematic values. Then I decided that I jot down some words for The Master. I will try to summarize my deep feelings about him in English, the language not my own mother tongue. Please forgive some of the abruptness in words or sentences. They represent the whole life's accumulative thoughts.

It all started with my wonder to recap the reality beyond my foggy childhood memories. This gets me back early 70s, around when I was just a 4 or 5 years old boy. Eversince those days I always remember a record that we used to play at our old Swiss-made LP player. The record was the soundtrack of an Italian western, namely Sabata. The tune of the soundtrack was very popular in Turkey in those days. After many years of unconscious playing, I started to wonder who was Sabata, what sort of a movie was that and who played Sabata. In the course of many years, that relentless pursue has turned into a fixed idea in my mind. I have got to find the answers. Some day, after my insisting questions, my mother vaigly remembered that it was one American actor, who walked awkwardly, played Sabata. Then together with my father they remembered that it was a guy called Lee Van Cleef, who played Sabata. It was a strange feeling of getting close to your target step by step. Now I found my hero, so I had to watch the movie, I had to know how he (Van Cleef) looked like. In those days, we didn't have so much video players around. So, my only hope was the national TV channel (then was the only channel we could watch), if one day they play Sabata. I was hoping that may be I could at least see the picture of Van Cleef. I didn't know why I was so much plugged in to this pursue. May be it was because I have watched that movie during the best part of my life, during my childhood, when my parents and grandparents used to take me to Sunday afternoon movies. I remember that bright blue colour of sky in those days. The days when I was just a happy and irresponsible kid, playing around the green grasses of our spacious neighbourhood. I always associated the happiness of those days with the colour of sunny sky, bright blue. And, I vaigly remember the scene in that movie (Sabata) that the bright blue sky appeared. Maybe that was the most common scenery of all the westerns that I went with my parents in those days (late 60s, early 70s). May be I was also taken some to of Leone westerns, in which the blue sky that he shot during one of his best broad angle frames. Whatever the cause, may be I was trying to return to my childhood in the name of that movie. It was the target to find out who that bloody Sabata guy was.

Then one day, during a discussion with one of my friends at the neighbourhood, he mentioned me that his father had a record containing a lot of western movie soundtracks along with pictures from the movies. I urged him to lend that record to me, and, as soon as he brought that record to me, I showed it to my mother. I asked her if she can recognize Lee Van Cleef in any of the pictures on the cover of the LP. She told me that he also appeared on The Good The Bad and The Ugly. We looked the picture that goes underneath the name of that movie, but the picture belonged to Eli Wallach, during the final cemetary shootout scene. She said "no this is not Lee Van Cleef, he had a more noticable, kind of satanic face" This was the first time I was officially engaged with Leone movies, without even knowing who the hell he was. All I was trying to do is to find the face of Lee Van Cleef, may be even watch Sabata as well.

Days followed weeks, then months and years. Then in the late summer of 1982, one of nearby movie theatre was playing some old movies until people return back to Istanbul from their summer houses. I was walking inside the mall that the theatre was in. Gazing through the windows of the stores, I came down to the movie theatre and wanted to check what was playing. I was struck for a moment when I saw the name of the actors on the poster of the movie. Oh my god, I couldn't believe my eyes, it was Lee Van Cleef playing at For A Few Dollars More. I immediately went to the ticket office and bought the ticket. I watched the movie about three times at the same theatre with different friends. All of us liked the guy with eagle nose and deadly eyes. Oh by the way, we also liked the movie as well. Those soundtracks, inevitable confrontations, scenario. But at that time I was fixed with Van Cleef. I didn't even care who the director was.

Those were the rising days of video rentals in Istanbul. One after the other video rental companies were opened. I was diligently chasing the Van Cleef movies, especially Sabata. We were bunch friends gathering at our parents house every Friday or Saturday, whenever there wasn't anyone at home. We used drink some whisky, smoked some cigarillos that my father kept in his locker, and watch Van Cleef westerns, his gundowns, tricks, and so on. This went on for couple of years. After watching so many westerns, I had extensively discovered my Lee Van Cleef myth. He had some nice movies, as well as some worthless ones. In course of time that I watched so many of those westerns, I have also indulged myself with the inevitable Eastwood, some of Franko Nero's Django series, and various so called Spaghetti Westerns.

Looking at the real likeable ones, I and all of my buddies always kept watching the few selected ones over and over. Especially the ones where Eastwood and Van Cleef starred together. What was so special about them? There was something about those movies that kept me attached all the time I watched (actually I feel exactly the same even if I watch them today). It probably started from the soundtracks, and then the credits of the movie, where the excitement is setup with a part that has nothing to do with the original script. The gundowns were the most special parts, when the music reaches its climax, squinty eyes, hands reaching over the guns. Sometimes, we used to rewind the tape and watch some scenes over and over again. It was like living some of those moments together with the protagonists. Those were the days when I started getting more serious with the "making" of the movies. Who made them? Who directed? Who composed the soundtracks? And so on.

Starting from those days, I have been heavily involved with the Leone trademark. I started off with a wrong point, and finally reached the correct destination, The Leone school of thought. Back in 1984, a good friend of mine, who knows my hysteria on the spaghettis, told me that he saw a book at one of the movie theatre on the spaghetti westerns. I went and bought that book the next day. It was Christopher Frayling's unforgettable book. I read it for years, over and over. Every detail I got, I kept it my mind and tried to find the sources as much as I could in those days. At the same time, I was growing a wild dream of making a joint movie with Leone to commemorate Il Buono Il Brutto e Il Cattivo. I said to my self, may be one day this wild dream may come true. Even if it doesn't, I should go to Italy and meet him personally, and ask him what had he thought when making those movies. The same year, I wathced Once Upon A Time in America. Then later in 1989, on May 4th, I was glancing through the pages of the daily newspapers, I was struck by a column of news saying the death of Leone by a heart attack. The Master had died before I meet him and talk with him. The same year, I went to the US and the UK and bought several books on The Spagethhis, Leone and Clint Eastwood. My main intension was to gather as much data about Leone as possible. One book that I really enjoyed reading was Robert Cumbow's "Once Upon A Time The Films of Sergio Leone". Reading that book justified and enhanced my admiration to Leone. He truly was The Master.

Looking at his masterpieces, starting from the inevitable westerns, he redefined the norms of the classic westerns. He clearly redefined the genre of western entirely. Leone had his own image, may be not so much to do with the real west, but it was and still is very entertaining to watch his movies.

What interests me most are his creations - of heros, locations, those La Resa moments. He truly deserves the term The Master. I have realized later that even the most contemporary directors - Tarantino, Carpenter, Peckinpah - have been influenced by him. It is a pity that he died so early. There isn't any second person for whom I feel so sorry for his death. He must have lived at least for 2 or 3 more movies. May be some day he was about to come out with the re-union of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly if he lived more. Who knows, may be he would bring us such goods, bads and uglies in his movies if he lived more. It was certain that he was just about to begin his last work about the Leningrad Seige by the Germans in the Second World War. According to his own son, and Professor Frayling, the scenario wasn't even out, but he already had raised 100 million USD, half of which was provided by the Russian government. According to Professor Frayling, who wrote the splendid book of "from Karl May to Sergio Leone - The Spaghetti Westerns", there is not even a second example where a director manage to raise 100 million dollars for a project for which there isn't even a written and completed scenario. The Professor claims that, apart from the main line of story, Leone had the credit scene of the movie in his mind frame by frame. A scene that lasts about 6 minutes, a typical Leone trademark. This also proves how much of trust the art of cinema lovers had put in him. If anything coming from Leone, let it go. It certainly will be a masterpiece.

Looking at his works, I see monumental characters defined and created by his mastermind. Without him we wouldn't enjoy the figure of "The Man with No Name" - The Eastwood persona. Clint Eastwood has literally built his entire film persona on top of Leone's image. Without him, we wouldn't enjoy the man with The Angeleyes - Lee Van Cleef. The 1950s second rate baddy, with almost no screen image. He had this enormous ability to turn ordinary actors into internationally known stars. The inevitable "La resa dei conti" scenes, the corridas, the moments of destiny where protagonists share the last incredible moments of their lives. Like Professor Frayling says "Those about to die salute you". The concurrent moments extended by sequential scenes - eye to eye - guns to guns - hands to hands. Without him, we wouldn't be able to meet the most prolific and versatile soundtrack composer of the world - Ennio Morricone and his unforgettable tunes. He surely was an overly stylish director, but he made the audience to remember his films all the time. It could be that his Italian origin that brought about some operatic values into his films. It could be that his westerns may be called as "horse operas". Whatever the roots of his works, it surely was and still is a tremendous pleasure to watch any of his films because they are all monumental pieces of work. Just like you never get tired of listening a classic composer's concerto, I don't get tired of watching Leone's art of work.. Whenever I face a critical confrontation or whenever I am against a critical moment (of a decision, or things of this nature) I always remember Leone's La resa moments along with one of Morricone's tunes.

There are probably several dozens of articles and some pretty detailed books on Leone. In this article, there is no way I shall try to articulate the art quality of Leone like them. May be later, I shall try to write some articles on very specific parts of Leone's movies. If anyone wants to know more about Leone's works, I strongly recommend that he/she has to read two main books. First one would be the Professor Christopher Frayling's above mentioned book. The second one would be Robert C. Cumbow's tremendously articulated book, called "Once Upon A time: The Films of Sergio Leone". To the readers of this article, all I am trying to do in this article is to express how I came down to appreciate Leone's works. I have waited for about more than 14 years to write this. It took me to watch his films at least 30-40 times each of them. I have almost memorized every single moments of his films, the actors, the other contributors. And, believe it or not, I still enjoy watching his films now. Sometimes, I happen to realize an aspect of his art, which I hadn't realized by then, and it makes me very happy. And, I respect to The Master once more again. Now, for the moment, all I can say, he had to live at least for couple of more movies. He had to leave us some more of artwork. Then, it could have taken me another 10 years to write this article.

Long live Master - we shall always remember you and your art work as long as I and people like me live.

I have recently seen three of these dusters
Inside the dusters there were three men
and inside the men there were three bullets

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