C’era una Volta il West
Director: Sergio Leone
“With striking widescreen compositions and epic running time, this is truly a Western that wins points for both length and width.” (475, Kim Newman, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)
Ok so it’s now official – I cannot abide films in the Western genre! They are so turgid and now horribly cliché. Nothing very much even happens in them, narratively speaking, which just irritates me. They wouldn’t be so tedious to watch if something even remotely interesting were to happen but every Western I have watched is so formulaic you can predict the outcome from the first 20 minutes.
Once Upon a Time in the West is considered one of the best films within the Western genre but it did nothing for me. It’s such a long film considering how little action takes place. I completely disagree with everything Kim Newman says about Sergio Leone’s ‘masterpiece’. “The opening – Woody Strode, Al Mulock, and Jack Elam waiting for a train and bothered by a fly and dripping water – is masterful bravura, homing in on tiny details for the shoot-out that gets the film going.” (475) The opening is almost painfully boring in its attention to the minutia of everyday life that takes up the first half hour or so of the film, without any dialogue.
The music takes on a number of identifying motifs in terms of characters – the insufferable strain of the harmonica for Charles Bronson’s ‘hero’ and the particularly feminine motif that signals any scene involving Claudia Cardinale’s, Jill McBain. While this device starts out well it quickly becomes annoying, almost battering the audience over the head with the soundtrack. I think it has the side effect of underestimating the audience; those watching should be intelligent enough to follow the narrative and characters without the aid of musical directions.
There are all the typical stereotypes that have become synonymous with the Western genre – there’s the corrupt ‘man’ taking the country and its people for all its worth; the unsavory ‘black hat’ cowboy with absolutely no regard for human life; the ‘white hat’ seeking vengeance and retribution for the wrongs he has suffered and of course, the female of slightly dubious moral standing.
However they never become anything more than those stereotypes. Leone doesn’t develop them into something deeper which resulted in me failing to connect to any of the characters and not really caring about their outcomes or subsequent demise.
There wasn’t a single thing about Once Upon a Time in the West that remotely captured my attention and I found it somewhat of a chore to watch but then I have yet to find a Western that I have enjoyed.