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Author Topic: From an IMDB poster  (Read 7839 times)
cigar joe
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« on: August 31, 2008, 06:18:46 AM »

I see people on here (IMDB) suggesting that this film is anti-revolutionary, anti-change and that its message states that people just keep to themselves. This was apparently also the initial reaction from film critics. What's really being said is a critique of revolutions from the left, as not being authentically populist or pro-poor enough, and are too often an excuse for people to seize power without actually believing in helping the poor. The film, in effect, criticizes Maoism from the left, suggesting that violence of the sort he propsed inevitably begets more violence, and the revolution and change must come through peace and friendship, as well as personal change and character reform, like that undergone by Juan, rather than generals and guns. Its sympathies obviously lie with the revolutionaries, and the army are clearly an allegory for the Italian fascists and the Nazis, under whose rise Leone spent his formative years. Even the very first scene of the film shows how the rich really do despise the poor, including members of the clergy, and we're obiviously meant to hold these carriage riders in contempt. This is one of the most left-wing films I've ever seen, critiquing Maoism and other authoritarian revolutionaries for not being sincere enough about making the world better. I think an appropriate analogy would be Martin Luther King talking with Malcolm X, contemplating whether violence can ever bring about true change and peace. Utterly brilliant.

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« Reply #1 on: August 31, 2008, 12:17:53 PM »

I don't think DYS is necessarily "anti-revolution" in the sense of being reactionary, as the poster you mention to seems to imply. Rather, I think it's primary point of view is cynicism/skepticism towards the idea that revolution is inherently a good, desirable or necessary thing. Perhaps Revolution is a good idea in theory, but when tainted by the corrosive hands of man, how likely is it to succeed? And at what cost?

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« Reply #2 on: August 31, 2008, 05:47:25 PM »

The poster doesn't account for the film's title. Who is doing the ducking? What is he ducking? Why is he being emphatically advised to duck?

The short answer to the questions: Joe Plebe, duck social interaction and opt out of the system, which is a mug's game. The status quo only allows for suckers and tyrants, and no one should aspire to either. Classes by their very nature distort individuality. The answer is not in group identification, but abjuring lemming-like behavior and seeking to be one's own self, beholden only to one's own self. The revolutionary and the reactionary are at heart the same person, controllers who see others as pawns. Put not your trust in princes, but neither in prince killers. Duck, sucker. Keep your head down whilst history is passing overhead or you're not likely to keep it. Don't choose sides, don't play their game. Leave it all behind.

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« Reply #3 on: August 31, 2008, 07:48:55 PM »

That's a fair reading, DJ, but I guess the problem is - what can (or perhaps do is the better word here) you do? What's the alternative? There has to be something. Leone's cynicism is well-articulated and well-taken, but its nihilism doesn't really offer a viable solution - unless he's endorsing Juan's life as a criminal as being his idea of Utopia.

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« Reply #4 on: August 31, 2008, 08:28:26 PM »

You've put your finger on Leone's limitations as a political philosopher, Groggy. But his films aren't really intended as prescriptions for social action anyway. The best he can do is celebrate the individual over the group (thus, his loner heroes, his "out-laws" who operate beyond the pale of civilization). In a sense, his Dollars films and OUATITW are set in a mythic, pre-civilized land where society has yet to take hold. The problems people in such a setting encounter are very different from those we in the modern West must deal with. DYS, probably, is less a critique of politics then a critique of political films, namely ZWs. SL is up to no more than deflating the pretentions of such films, whilst extolling his cult of individuality. The problems of modern political life he leaves to others.

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« Reply #5 on: August 31, 2008, 10:07:11 PM »

True, and Frayling, at least through his interviews with Leone's collaborators, indicates SL wasn't overly interested in or knowledgable about political issues. His movies do contain rather elementary political messages (DYS is the only one that has any real "depth"), but the focus I think is primarily on the entertainment or the art. This is probably Leone's strength as a film maker, in my view; while I enjoy "reading" and analyzing films, I tend to enjoy them on their own terms, politics aside. But then, like Juan, SL makes a profound statement on Revolution, that, even if flawed, hits the nail squarely on the head, and leaves you wondering... He does, interestingly, allow Villega some chance to justify what Juan criticizes: Where would a Revolution be without leaders or organizers? But, it all comes back to the basic question: Revolution? At what cost, and for what?

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« Reply #6 on: August 31, 2008, 10:40:20 PM »

He does, interestingly, allow Villega some chance to justify what Juan criticizes: Where would a Revolution be without leaders or organizers?
Interestingly, the movie provides an answer. Professional revolutionaries like Villega, arguably, cause more harm than good. Juan, an amateur agitator, if you will, is more effective, and acts without betrayal (even though there are sometimes fatal consequences for those around him). The irony is that Juan becomes a "grand, glorious hero of the revolution" inadvertently. On his way to rob a bank one day he liberates political prisoners who are then able to spread insurrection. But he cares nothing for the cause he is promoting. And if he were to become suddenly politically conscious, he no doubt would become like Villega or the other professionals, using people to achieve political ends. Juan can only be effective by maintaining his naivete; the spell would be broken if he tried to dictate events. Better to be true to yourself and allow events to take care fo themselves.

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« Reply #7 on: August 31, 2008, 11:15:09 PM »

But, a Revolution without a leader is doomed to fail. A Revolution with a leader, is merely likely to fail.

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« Reply #8 on: September 01, 2008, 06:51:22 AM »

It depends on how you define "revolution" and "failure." Did the Russians have a "successful" revolution?

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« Reply #9 on: September 01, 2008, 09:18:24 AM »

It depends on how you define "revolution" and "failure." Did the Russians have a "successful" revolution?

I said "likely" to fail, not "always successful". The Polish indepedence movement against the USSR in the '80s, for instance, had a leader (Lech Walesa), and it succeeded in achieving its goals. Hell, I would argue that the Russian Revolution was a success too; I disagree strongly with the leftist school-of-thought that Stalin somehow perverted the Revolutionary dream, which would have resulted in a Utopia with gum-drops raining down and chocolate streams and free bread and candy for everyone. Pretty much everything I've read on the subject indicates that Lenin and Trotsky would likely not have been significantly different than Stalin turned out to be.

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« Reply #10 on: September 01, 2008, 10:04:11 AM »

But Poland wasn't an example of a top-down shift in power; it was getting rid of oppressive overseers who were beholden to Moscow. At the end of the day, the factory workers were still factory workers, not suddenly a new cadre of rulers. Even Lech Walesa had to be elected to office, and then, when he proved not entirely competent, was turned out and more able men put in his place. The American Revolution was similar: George Washington was a wealthy land owner under the British, and after independence he was still a wealthy landowner. The top of the pyramid had been lopped off, but the base of the structure was still in place. Not so with the Russian Revolution: it was truly a "revolution" with top and bottom changing places. And what happened was that those on the bottom who were now suddenly on top began acting like those who had been on top before--and then some. All that bloodshed merely produced a new class of oppressors; the faces changed, the oppression went on.

Which is why SL can't be considered a man of the left. He knew that the Mexican Revolution wasn't much of a success: the years of suffering that went into making it produced more years of suffering. Mexico today is a basket case, a country that couldn't exist without leaning on its northern neighbor. All talk of revolution in DYS has to be viewed ironically. Even Juan, the representative peasant, wants nothing more than to be able to go to the US. He wants to escape from the whole worthless revolutionary project.

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« Reply #11 on: September 01, 2008, 10:56:47 AM »

Your point about Russia is well-taken, but how does that negate what I said? I don't think the Bolsheviks had any intention of creating a free, democratic and equalitarian society - any readings of the time period should dissuade from this notion. Maybe the people who supported them wished for it, but Lenin, Stalin, and Trotsky made no bones about the fact that they wanted a dictatorship in place. The only difference, as you say, is that they would be on top rather than the Tsar.

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« Reply #12 on: September 01, 2008, 12:47:42 PM »

We're not arguing, Groggy, I'm just attempting to broaden the discussion. The term "revolution" means different things in different contexts. The only thing the American Revolution and the Russian Revolution have in common is that they were both accomplished by violence. In the former case, the revolution having been accomplished, relative tranquility ensued; in the case of the latter, violent revolution gave way to a violent civil war followed by a more systematized violence visited upon the general populace (liquidation of the kulaks, orchestrated famines, purges, et. al.) So "revolution" can have radically different connotations.

Juan Miranda isn't much of a political philosopher, but he instinctively knows how to achieve his personal economic goals. He's a born capitalist, and he's (one of) Leone's heroes in DYS. Mallory is a man of the left, a man of revolution, but his efforts come to naught. He achieves a kind of redemption at the end of the film, but of a *personal* kind. He leaves no lasting mark on Mexico itself or the international revolutionary movement. And Juan, the man of self interest, although chastened at film's end, is Leone's last man standing on the field of battle, the very definition of a victor.

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« Reply #13 on: January 15, 2009, 11:28:02 AM »

All this (film) can be summarized in one word: disillusion.








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« Reply #14 on: January 15, 2009, 01:30:30 PM »

I respectfully disagree. I think the words "betrayal" and "friendship" must be put in play as well.

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