Sunday, August 30, 2009
Once Upon A Time in the West
I think the reason I've put off watching this movie for forty years is because of a misunderstanding about what the term "spaghetti western" meant. I was under the impression that the term implied a sort of cheap tribute made by foreign directors who really didn't understand the American west. Don't ask me where I got this idea-probably dating from a time when any western was looked upon as cheesy. There was a time, my young friends, that westerns, sports and war movies were looked upon as militaristic war mongering. Okay, it was the sixties and I was caught up in it.
How wrong I was and how glad I am I finally watched this great, great movie. It is pointless for me to sum it up here because I know everyone has seen it. But a few impressions. So much of this movie is conveyed through close-ups of faces and especially eyes. I wonder if Leone didn't hire actors on the basis of unusual eyes. The bright blue of Fonda's eyes, the indeterminate color of Bronson's, the deep pools of brown rimmed with black of Cardinale's.
Every shot is a masterpiece of lighting, shadow, choreography, texture, music. I think you could watch this movie without dialog and still come away satisfied. The swishing of the dusters' as the men strode around was artful in itself. The cinematography is thrilling. I have never seen that landscape look more gorgeous yet arduous, barren.
A few more impressions: Henry Fonda's walk, Cardinale's tumbling hair, the hints that Robards has been wounded, the scenes of the railroad going up as almost a background chorus to the action, the Chinese workers, the significance, finally revealed, of a harmonica, the slow, slow pacing, the willingness to linger, Cardinale's hands going through the drawers, the pilings of wood taking shape. Couldn't you smell that freshly cut wood? Couldn't you see the sweat on the faces of the men swinging iron.
These are all the directorial decisions of a master film-maker. And I could listen to Morricone's music forever.
Is this the best western of them all--or just the most artful one? What Western do you rank#1?