Once Upon a Time in the West, Region 2. Reliance Home Video, R599
This double-disc edition of Sergio Leone’s Western Once Upon a Time in the West updates the single-disc version that Saregama released in 2008. The new DVD contains the movie along with an audio commentary as a set of documentaries about the impact of the film and about its maverick director. There is some repetition since the same people have been interviewed in both places, but don’t let that prevent you from buying the new DVD if you don’t already own it.
According to information from the documentaries on the second disc, Leone worshipped Westerns but took issue with their ideology. In his spaghetti Westerns (chiefly the Dollars trilogy) and in this extravagant homage to the Western, Leone gave a welcome European arthouse veneer to a quintessentially American genre, used actors and locations daringly, and introduced the world to Ennio Morricone’s catchy compositions. His films careened between high and low art, often within the same composition. Leone’s stock-in-trade (extreme close-ups and wide shots, laconic dialogue, iconoclastic heroes, unusual sound effects, the Morricone score) seems ripe for parody, but it’s very accomplished in its own way. The commentators on his filmmaking style, including Leone biographer Christopher Frayling, directors John Milius and John Carpenter, the film’s writer Bernardo Bertolucci and its female star, Claudia Cardinale, attest to the fact that Leone planned every single element in his frames to the last detail. The slow-moving story comprises a series of striking tableaux that are somewhat lost on a television set but are begging to be played on a hometheatre system.
Although the plot – about a businessman trying to finish off his rivals in a bid to grab lucrative land – is cobbled together from several Western classics, Leone’s treatment of the subject is singular. He makes the upright Henry Fonda play a dastardly villain (one of the inspirations for Sholay’s Gabbar Singh), gives the woman (played by Claudia Cardinale) an unusual pride of place in the story, and imagines crooked cowboys rather than Native Americans as villains. Without Once Upon a Time in the West, Sholay wouldn’t have existed, Clint Eastwood may never have scaled the heights he did and pastiche artists Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez would have been at a distinct disadvantage.
By Malli Ray on July 21 2011 6.30pm