The Essential Movie Library #43: Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) - The Culture Files Blog - Los Angeles magazine
 
 

The Essential Movie Library #43: Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

Sergio Leone deconstructs the Western before anyone knew what that meant

So great was the mythic resonance of the West and so subversive were the 1960s that American directors felt obligated to deconstruct the Western before anyone knew what that meant. A cowboy-besotted Italian like Sergio Leone, however, wondered why any filmmaker would want to do such a thing, and so seized the opportunity to create the West of his imagination, which in the case of this picture is some fantasia of Monument Valley blended with Spain. Not utterly without justification Leone believed he already made his Western magnum opus—1966’s Civil War blockbuster The Good, the Bad and Ugly—and was ready to move onto gangsters, as he finally would two decades later with Once Upon a Time in America; Hollywood, however, wanted one last cowboy picture from someone still cowboy-besotted enough to know how to make one (and how to make a star in the process, as Leone had done with Clint Eastwood, dismissed as a second-rate TV actor before Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars proved otherwise). 

Leone, as it happened, also knew something about subversion, radicalizing the Western not by overthrowing its motifs but archetypifying them nearly beyond recognition (to the point, for some, of parody) in a three-hour epic. Thus the so-called “techniscope” of cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli, which isn’t merely radiant but day-glo; the score of Ennio Morricone, with operatic choirs and surf guitars no louder than a crack of thunder in your head (composed not to the footage but Bernardo Bertolucci’s script, so that it was played while the movie was shot); Claudia Cardinale as a former madam turned homesteader luscious enough to leave men profoundly unsettled both onscreen and in the audience; and a shootout verging on the psychedelic between Charles Bronson and the most righteous of screen stars, Henry Fonda, cast as the villain who blows away small children in the movie’s opening moments. This picture intended to be nothing less than the Western to end all Westerns.

Read them all:  
The Essential Movie Library #42: Belle de Jour
The Essential Movie Library #41: Apocalypse Now
The Essential Movie Library #40: Out of the Past
The Essential Movie Library #39: Branded to Kill
The Essential Movie Library #38: The General
The Essential Movie Library #37: Lord of the Rings
The Essential Movie Library #36: Aguirre, the Wrath of God
The Essential Movie Library #35: Raging Bull
The Essential Movie Library #34: The Rules of the Game
The Essential Movie Library #33: Chinatown 
The Essential Movie Library #32: Stalker
The Essential Movie Library #31: Weekend
The Essential Movie Library #30: Some Like It Hot 
The Essential Movie Library #29: Red River
The Essential Movie Library #28: The Passenger
The Essential Movie Library #27: Singin' in the Rain
The Essential Movie Library #26: Heat
The Essential Movie Library #25: L'Atalante
The Essential Movie Library #24: Sunrise
The Essential Movie Library #23: His Girl Friday
The Essential Movie Library #22: Black Narcissus
The Essential Movie Library #21: Blade Runner
The Essential Movie Library #20: Persona
The Essential Movie Library #19: The Shop Around the Corner
The Essential Movie Library #18: Lost Highway
The Essential Movie Library #17: Tokyo Story
The Essential Movie Library #16: 8 1/2

The Essential Movie Library #15: City Lights
The Essential Movie Library #14: Seven Samurai
The Essential Movie Library #13: Lawrence of Arabia
The Essential Movie Library #12: Citizen Kane
The Essential Movie Library #11: Jules and Jim
The Essential Movie Library #10: My Darling Clementine 
The Essential Movie Library #9: Double Indemnity 
The Essential Movie Library #8: That Obscure Object of Desire 
The Essential Movie Library #7: 2001: A Space Odyssey 
The Essential Movie Library #6: Casablanca
The Essential Movie Library #5: The Lady Eve
The Essential Movie Library #4: The Third Man 
The Essential Movie Library #3: The Passion of Joan of Arc 
The Essential Movie Library #2: Vertigo 
The Essential Movie Library #1: The Godfather Trilogy

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