Friday, January 30, 2009

Sergio Leone: Once Upon A Time...


Sergio Leone. When you say the name to a film fan they most commonly think of Spaghetti westerns. I went to the Music Box on January 22 to see what is personally my favorite western: Once Upon A Time In the West. The epic scope of the film is what did it for me. It revolves around 4 people: Jill, a woman who is coming into town to meet her soon to be husband, the other characters being Cheyenne, Harmonica, and Frank. The opening 15 minute are some of the best 15 minutes of cinema as 3 outlaws contracted by Frank are waiting in a train station for Harmonica. The score by Ennio Morricone is one of my favorites as well and ranks up there with his score for The Mission as one of his best. This is filmmaking at its finest and the images captured throughout the film depict that.


I recently watched Once Upon A Time In America for the first time. It is a 4 hour film but it had me completely drawn to the characters and story for that time. Very few director can accomplish that. The film has had a checkered past. It was originally to be released as a 4 hour film and debuted as such to tremendous praise at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival. Soon afterward it was completely butchered down to 2 hours. Home video and DVD have saved this film by restoring its original 4 hour running time. The director's cut which has not been released yet is said to 4 1/2 hours. I would love to see that version and compare the two.
The film follows five bunch of kids over the span of five decades. These types of films are among my favorites because you get to study the characters growth from childhood up through adulthood. The childhood friends become criminals but still attain a sense of loyalty to one another. Loyalty that will be strongly tested throughout their adult lives. The violence in Sergio's films is always sudden. Boom. Done. Out. The film itself opens with two very graphic images and pits the viewer right in the middle of the storm. Many have commented on the structure in it being akin to an opium dream. DeNiro starts off the film in an opium den and the film is bookended by it. In a sense it is. This is a dream of America gone awry.

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