by Sam Juliano
The following is the full content of a term paper handed in to a Professor Renaldo Ovest Spaghetti for a graduate course in Italian Cinema offered during the fall semester of 2007 at Montclair State University. Spaghetti asked all the students in his class to adhere to a rigid scholarship and demanded a formal presentation. He specifically asked that there be a minimum of five major references, all of which of course must be documented at the conclusion of the paper. He strongly encouraged quotes and passages. The veteran educator also made it clear that he was less interested in the gossipy aspects of Leone and his work with his actors and craftsmen, than he was with a probing analysis of the work, its themes and focus and the specifics as to why it has been held in such high regard since the time it was released 45 years ago. Spaghetti also made it clear that anyone hell bent on denigrating the film, or even slighting it in direct comparison to its celebrated American contemporaries, would risk a lower grade. The esteemed Professor asked that the word count for all papers fall between 4000 and 4300 words. He also made it clear that the paper would be weighted to represent 50% of the final grade. Class participation and a final exam would constitute the remainder of the criteria.
There are a good many of us who cannot get enough of Sergio Leone’s epic Western ‘Once Upon A Time in the West. We play the highly choreographed showpiece sequences in the film over and over again as though they were favorite musical recordings. We memorize the film’s concise, aphoristic dialogue. And we find that the film stands up quite well to repeated viewings because, with its solemn, majestic gestures and allusive script, it never quite yields its full meaning. -John Fawell
There is indeed a sense of mystery ingrained in the visuals of one of cinema’s crowning glories, a film that has both grown in stature, and has repeatedly attracted the full range of hyperbolic overload from the critical establishment and the audiences who embrace the genres of the western and the epic. Once Upon A Time in the West has furthermore maintained cross-over appeal to those who normally resist the western and its constricted trappings, and has long perceived the category as one with substantial limitations. Yet the film, says Robert Cumbow in his seminal study The Films of Sergio Leone is more about the “country” than it is about the “west.” As such we can confidently conclude that as a result of its employment of cinematic poetry and expressiveness it represents Leone’s most personal vision, and the film above all others in his canon that bears his personal stamp: it is rooted in the conventions of western melodrama and includes the implacable black-clad villain, the struggling landowner being menaced by the businessman out to gain for a lark, but yet defended to the death by the strong and silent type. In addition, the oldest revenge motive in the genre – “You killed my brother” is amplified in an epic that within the genre parameters can safely be posed as all-encompassing. (more…)