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ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST
1968 - Sergio Leone
United States /
Italy
50
Opening Shot

Sergio Leone's sprawling "spaghetti western" epic Once Upon a Time In the West will certainly absorb the viewer from the very opening credits. A sequence which lasts over ten minutes and features very little dialogue. In a destered train station we see a door open and it is followed by a sequence of shots in which we see three meanancing outlaws. Leone is well known for his great opening sequences and this is probably the best of them all!

The Film

Like Sergio Leone's other epic westerns, Once Upon a Time In the West is a cinematic treat packed with originality and style to generate a truly fun experience. Leone's typical extended takes, and extreme close-ups are evident throughout. The strength of the films lies in the glorious use of wide-screen cinematography. Also, Leone's clever techniques and tension building setups a nothing short of masterful (be it the gritty visual settings or the inventive use of sounds). There are some really fascinating moments that are a joy to watch. Leone is also a master at dealing with irony and this film is no exception. Here he takes his playfulness and blends it with the vision of operatic grandeur as it re-imagines and furthers the mythical fundamentals of the old-fashioned American Western. The performances are all strong, and it's particularly interesting seeing the legendary Henry Fonda play against the normal as a villain. And of course the beautiful presence of the stunning Claudia Cardinale. Not to go without mentioning is the brilliant and critical music score of Ennio Moricone, which adds to the films tone and ultimately keeps it together. It definitely ranks among the all-time best scores in cinema history. Once Upon a Time In the West is just such a fun film to watch. Leone is a brilliant filmmaker who relies more on emotional feeling then historical accuracy. What results is an absolute epic pleasure!

The Filmmaker

Despite only directing eleven feature films, Sergio Leone stands as an incredibly influential filmmaker. The films he has made rate among the very best and most memorable of their kind. Leone's father was director Vincenzo Leone (also known as Roberto Roberti), who was an important innovator of early Italian cinema. Leone began working as a second unit director during the 1940s and 50s. In 1959, Leone had to take over the directing of The Last Days of Pompeii after Mario Bonnard became ill early in production. This led to Leone first solo debut feature (1961's The Colossus of Rhodes). It was his second solo feature 1964's Fistful of Dollars that would give Leone international attention. The film is flawed (and blatantly borrows from Akira Kurosawa's 1961 samurai film Yojimbo) but it remains a landmark film for both Italian cinema (and it's international impact on the 'spaghetti westerns') as well as the careers of Leone and star Clint Eastwood. Over the next two years Leone would greatly expand on this with the completion of his 'Dollar Trilogy' (or it is also referred to as 'The Man With No Name Trilogy'). It is these films (The Good The Bad and The Ugly as well as For a Few Dollars More) that would define Leone's cinematic style. Leone is a master of the widescreen and he likes to contrast the epic scope of landscape and space with extreme close-ups of characters faces. Leone also uses his visual style to build an emotional tension with long moments of silence followed by sudden moments of action. Leone uses his settings, landscapes, and style as his expression and his films tend to have an irony that makes them particularly special and ultimately very exciting. Of course not to go without mentioning is Leone's key collaborator, composer Ennio Morricone, who's music is critical to the overall expression, style, and emotions of the films. Leone and Morricone worked together on every film starting with Fistful of Dollars. Their best collaboration may have come in Leone's greatest achievement as a filmmaker, 1968's Once Upon a Time in the West. Leone's epic final film 1984's Once Upon a Time in America, took him years to complete and earned him the most acclaim of his career. He had started working on an epic World War 2 film but died of a heart attack in 1989. Leone's influence remains as evident as ever today and though he made only 11 features, many of them remain timeless classics.

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