Sergio Leone once said, “When I was younger, I believed in three things; Marxism, the redemptive power of cinema, and dynamite. Now I just believe in dynamite.” That is not only a quirky quote, but a line that could’ve quite easily came from a Quentin Tarantino script. Now it might be too much to say that even Leone’s renowned utterances have influenced Tarantino’s work, but there is no doubting that in many other ways, his idol has been a presiding force.
As Tarantino once said himself, “The one artist that I think has been the most influential to me in my work has got to be Sergio Leone.” Adding that he sees a stylistic kinship in many things that he does, “That kind of half-assed operatic quality, the way the music takes over, and his way of directing via set-pieces a lot of the time. I think he is the filmmaker who you can spot the most in my work.”
His influence comes from a place of profound admiration, and in many ways, it brings to mind the Jean-Luc Godard quote, “It’s not where you take things from, its where you take them to.” In his work, Tarantino has often directly transposed elements of Sergio Leone’s work and the Ennio Morricone scores that usually accompany them, and he has spun them into something that is now synonymous with him alone.
All that being said, Tarantino has had no problem illuminating the fact that Sergio Leone is the force that underpins his work, mostly because he knows his output still remains so singular that any notion of imitation would be like saying Apple ripped off Thomas Edison. He eulogised Leone when introducing A Fistful of Dollars at Cannes, he rallied: “Every action director, every direct who as oppose to using music as a score as background music put it upfront, any director who actually cut his movie to the music […], any director who ever took genre pieces and actually had the grandiose idea to present them as larger than life – that started fifty years ago!”
Sergio Leone’s influence has also stretched beyond the call of direct influence and offered Tarantino inspiration in terms of a continual quality to work towards. As he has said in an interview, “After you do the Dollars trilogy, how do you ever top that? And then he managed to top that with Once Upon a Time in America! And it’s almost like how far can you go!”
Likewise, Tarantino himself is always attempting to better himself and offer up nothing other than cinematic brilliance and a fresh new story, stating: “I like it when somebody tells me a story, and I actually really feel that that’s becoming like a lost art in American cinema.” It is an art that Sergio Leone forever propagated, and his unwavering quality while doing so has seeded with Tarantino a desire not to simply churn out new tales but to leave the industry with an unblemished filmography. This desire has often led Tarantino to say he would only do ten films before transitioning into novels and film criticism, which, with a new book on the way, doesn’t seem to be hot air.
As for his favourite Leone film, Tarantino proudly declared: “My favourite film of all time is The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Why? Because it’s the greatest achievement in the history of cinema.”
And he even told Jon Stewart that if he could’ve starred in any directors’ film as an actor then “I’d be digging on a Sergio Leone movie!”