Friday, September 7, 2007
Fistful of Dollars is great entertainment. From the first scene to the last, it’s hard to take you eyes off the screen. It contains the simplest of plots – one man plays two rival gangs off of one another until, with his aid, they destroy each other. Eastwood carries the film, delivering one liners with what would become his characteristic aplomb. A sort of avenging angel, his apparent amorality masks a profound understanding of the consequences of violence and its ultimate unfolding when a conflict reaches the point of no return. He’s the only one who understands the necessary outcome of this feud. He simply speeds up the process of destruction. If he has a moral position, and I think he does, it’s that by forcing the bloody conclusion of this feud, he will perhaps reduce the "collateral damage" it causes.
Yojimbo is also great entertainment, with that added little intangible that leads us to call it art. There are several elements Yojimbo contains that make it rise to that level where Fistful does not. First, the cinematography of the original is far superior. While the claustrophobic feel of Fistful brings its own rewards, it contains nothing that compares to the scene of giant sake barrels cut open and pouring sake out over the frantically flailing sake maker and his stooges. As their livelihood pours out over their leaping bodies, we learn that fate has made its decision. One striking image conveys the meaning of this entire segment of the film.
Neither does Fistful contain a final sequence like the one that ends Yojimbo, where the man who prays for victory (and thus peace) by banging a drum comes rushing out into the street, seemingly oblivious to all others, banging that drum while turning in a frantic circle. We’re not sure what he’s praying for now that the feud has ended, and neither, apparently, is he. Kurosawa risks moral uncertainty in order to achieve some other level of poetic meaning with his film. The result is brilliant.