The landscape is a key convention of any western and Leone makes good use of it, almost as if it itself were a character. The film begins establishing both the landscape and the protagonist, the Man with no Name. The camera looks down at the ground, showing rocks and dirt both harsh and dry. The land has little to no vegetation, which suggests that there is little to no love or nutriment to be found out in the wilderness, and that life, like the terrain, is rough. This is soon to be reinforced as Jesus, Marisol’s son, is pitifully shot at by Rojo’s cruel goons. In the first scene alone, both The Man with no Name and Jesus are shown to be a part of the landscape. The boy is dressed in all white, blending into the walls of the two houses he is caught between.
The Man with no Name is shown in close-up, against a backdrop of brown mountains, his brown face under his brown hat and above his brownish poncho. This could be an effort to suggest a few things. One thing being that both MWNN and Jesus are in their natural surroundings. The MWNN is a wanderer and presumably does a lot of traveling through the desert, it is only natural he would become a part of the landscape.
Jesus, on the other hand, stands out against the brown of the desert, but blends in with the houses, possibly to suggest that he is not suited for the life outside of the house, at least, not yet. In white, he represents innocence and because he matches the house, he represents family and roots. The MWNN has neither.
The landscape is usually shown to be vastly immense and overwhelming, dehumanizing in WS and LS. In these kinds of shots, it is made most important, reducing humans into small, indistinguishable figures. This may cause confusion over which faction we are observing, or at least realize that, on such a grand scale, they all look the same.
While the Rojos and the Baxters have their shootout in the desert, near the graveyard, the men all become part of the landscape as they are obscured in darkness and become faceless. But even in the landscape, there are idyllic images to be found, including a shot through a window that shows a trail of soldiers on horseback among two bushy trees and a two leveled white and blue sky. This shot is both simple and stunning.
Landscape of the Face – CloseUps
Perhaps as to counter the dehumanization of the immense and unavoidable landscape, Leone utilizes a TON of close-ups. In the initial shootout between the Man with no Name and the Baxter thugs, shots are at a distance, WS or MS, but as the tension begins to mount, close-ups become much more frequent. First, there is a MCU on one of the Baxter thugs, the one who stands alone. Then, there is a CU of another thug, as he begins to look worried. Then, there is a CU of the Man with no Name. He looks up with determination in his fierce eyes, a crease between his eyebrows, and his grimacing squint. He talks through the grit of his teeth, still clamped on his cigar, this thin lips moving quick and furious. There is another CU back to thug#1, who is static, but clearly feels the imminent danger. There is another CU to thug#2, who was grinning, but now his smile is shown to falter. Then, there are the onlookers. There is a CU of the coffin-maker, looking worried, and another of Silvanito, who is terribly fretful. Cut back to the Man with no Name, cut to thug#1, who just spits, back to the Man with no Name. His eyes drift down and then back up. Then, this chain is broken by two shots that show the thugs at a distance and then subsequently drawing their pistols, but then there is a CU of the Man with no Name shooting, and then a WS of the men falling. The sequence ends with a CU of the coffin-maker smiling. Close-ups not only provide the characters with a face, but also allow the audience to see what the other characters cannot from their distance. The audience is allowed into the character’s private world and able to study their face and read into their emotions. These close-ups provide visual character development in the absence of dialogue to where even characters with limited screen time are shown to be three-dimensional.
Ramon is the only character who the audience actually shares a point of view with. First, in his introduction, he guns down soldiers and we, the audience, are allowed to look down the barrel of his gun with him. This alternates between the CUs of his sweaty, rugged face as he sadistically smiles.
Later, the audience shares Ramon’s perspective as he dies. The camera “woozes” and sways into the bright white light of the sun, spinning and swirling until he falls over defeated. This is a curious element, why are we allowed to see and possibly sympathize with the villain, but not the supposed hero? Perhaps if we could see through his eyes, his hero mystique would be ruined. Or, maybe, it would have killed chances of a sequel.
A Fistful of Dollars at Rotten Tomatoes:
A Fistful of Dollars at Clint Eastwood’s tribute website: