Rocky Landscapes and the Motif of Bullfighting in Boetticher

Physiognomy of the hillocks in Budd Boetticher’s Westerns

One of the recurrent and distinctive motifs in Budd Boetticher’s Ranown Westerns is its rocky landscapes. Unlike many others where a vast wide open space–such as prairie and desert–provides a stage for a linear, traversing, and/or epic movement, Boetticher’s Westerns frequently take as a central stage of action huge and massive hillocks and boulders which, abruptly rising out of the flatlands and formed with a variety of small ridges, gorges, furrows, crevices, caves and bluffs,  induce complicated movements of characters situated in the milieus. In a way, the complex scenography seems congenial to the convoluted internal landscapes of Boetticher characters (which frequently turn out to have been scarred  by past traumas). In other words, in Boetticher’s Westerns, the distinction between exterior and interior is blurred and the external turns into the internal and vice versa.  The geological is profoundly expressionistic.

The austere and rigid look of the hillocks and boulders → the external stoicism, cynicism, and callousness of Randolph Scott.

Furrows, crevices and grottos built in the rocky landscape → past traumas and angers enveloped in his dogged, taciturn, impervious posture.

The circular pans which “sometimes describes the arenas in which Boetticher’s trapped heroes must outwit their opponents” – an influence from his former profession, bullfighter.

– Even though the climatic confrontation in Boetticher’s films are more traditional, that is, linear, the use of the circular pans perhaps inspired Leone into the use of the corrida motif, that is, the obsession with circular motions evoked by close-ups and cross cuttings in the final shootout sequences as, above all, in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Christopher Frayling, Spaghetti Westerns (New York: I.B. Tauris, 2007), 158.

– In Leone’s Westerns, “Gunfighters no longer stride towards each other down the main streets of Lordsburg, or during the Last Sunset, but instead face their destiny in a corrida, set within a vast graveyard: the linear confrontation has been redefined as the circular. And the duel is filmed as if it is part of the lithurgy”

Christopher Frayling, Spaghetti Westerns (New York: I.B. Tauris, 2007), 188.

This entry was posted in Film Theory, Movement/Action, N. American Cinema, The Western and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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