Monday, March 27, 2017
ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE MOVIES
When Sergio Leone perfected the Spaghetti Western, he was using his noodle.
The gunfighter movies he shot in Italy had no basis in history, but rather existed in a realm of pure imagination.
The documentary Sergio Leone: The Way I See Things primarily features Italian screenwriters and producers reflecting on their experiences with the visionary filmmaker who made Clint Eastwood a star.
"My films are basically silent films," according to Leone, who died in 1989 at sixty. "The dialogue just adds some weight."
His first feature film, Colossus of Rhodes, fell into the "sword and sandal" genre of the 1950s. His second feature, however, an un-credited re-make of Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo (1961), was an instant hit. Kurosawa successfully sued Leone for A Fistful of Dollars (1964), and made more money from that than he ever did from any of his own pictures.
Music proved instrumental to Leone's directorial success. He and his composer, Ennio Morricone, had been friends in grade school. Unlike other collaborators, Leone worked his films around Morricone's music, resulting in a seamless blend which left even A-list heavyweights such as Stanley Kubrick in awe.
Contrasting long background shots with close-ups on faces is part of Leone's extreme visual style. The documentary reveals particulars on the relationship between cutting production costs and subsequent techniques which inadvertently contributed to his trademark look. But what the documentary lacks is a sense of Leone himself. At no point do we ever even hear him speak.
That said, sundry other online sources merit perusal.
Few other directors create films as personal, artistic, and popular as Leone. Most film fans would probably agree that his greatest work is the "Dollars" trilogy. For a Few Dollars More (1965) exceeds Fistful, surpassed in turn by The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966). Most critics, however, generally cite Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) as his best Western.
Busted window shutters banging idly in a sullen breeze and sweaty outcasts in long dusters framed in doorways with faces lined like sunbaked slats provide the foreplay to the gunshots inevitably reverberating over the inhospitable landscapes of Leone's cinematic mythos.
The 2006 documentary and Leone's films are easily found online.