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Author Topic: Stanley Kauffmann's contemporary review  (Read 1763 times)
titoli
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« on: December 12, 2015, 05:46:46 PM »

I'm currently reading a collection of his reviews. It seems some consider him the best of the american film critics. I don't know if that is true, he's surely better than old farts like Crowther and Kael but it doesn't take much. Anyway he's not as good as, say, Dwight MacDonald. Still sometime he makes some acute observation: almost inevitable. Anyway, here's his review I picked here: https://newrepublic.com/article/102692/tnr-film-classics-once-upon-time-in-the-west-june-21-1969


TNR Film Classics: ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ (June 21, 1969)
By Stanley Kauffmann


The Hollywood Western, as a genre, is a realm of fantasy. Once Upon a Time in the West is, in its pseudo-realistic way a fantasy superimposed on that general fantasy.

Sergio Leone is the best-known of the European makers of Westerns that we’ve been getting lately, mostly from Italy. I haven’t seen his previous films, but veteran Leonists tell me that this new one is like them, only very much more so. On the basis of past success, he has been empowered to make a big expensive picture, and he has used that power to revel in his memory and daydreams, which are evidently drenched with American Westerns. When Orson Welles first arrived in Hollywood and was shown around the RKO studios where he was to have carte blanche, he said, “This is the best set of electric trains that any boy ever had.” I can hear Leone saying, when he got the green light on this film, “You mean there really is a Henry Fonda, and a Lionel Stander and a Keenan Wynn and a Jason Robards, and I can have them?”

There is something touching and maniacal about the two-and-three-quarter- hour result. Leone’s adoration of all the standard props and décor—the horses, the saloons, the guns, the clenched jaws, the histrionic taciturnities—has a childlike wonder about it. I almost felt that I was sitting next to little Sergio, aged 10, watching him gape wide-eyed at his own film. But only a fanatic could have taken such a stale Western plot and lavished all this bated-breath, minutely detailed attention on it. His picture is fictitious from Moment One, reminiscent of hundreds of films and dozens of directors, but it is made with such fervor, such conviction of its importance, that in some crazy way it holds the interest. Well, for the first half or so, anyway. Then I felt myself grinning at Leone’s persistent, cornily talented infatuation with the patently incredible.

The underlying cheerful insanity is that, although many of the actors are American and some of the exteriors were shot in Utah and Arizona, the picture is really Italian. Some of the leading actors are Italians who are dubbed into English. Gabriele Ferzetti, the architect of L’Avventura, camps away as a villainous crippled tycoon. Paolo Stoppa, of Miracle in Milan, is a livery driver with Chic Sale chin whiskers and accent. Claudia Cardinale, whose decollete adds more hills to the Utah landscape, has been dubbed, too—which is a bit of a puzzle since she is supposed to be from New Orleans, the usual cop-out for a Western character with a foreign accent. Even Charles Bronson, the American who plays the Silent Stranger, can be called an Italian phenomenon: one more subsidiary American actor who became an Italian star.

That’s not all. The whole huge panorama is seen through foreign eyes. No matter what time of day it’s supposed to be in a scene—morning, noon, or dusk—the light is Mediterranean gold. Tonino Delli Colli, the cinematographer, has covered everything with melted parmigiana. Every setting, no matter how stark it is supposed to be, finds a way to be ornately stark. For instance, in an isolated railroad station at the opening, the telegraph wires on the agent’s battered desk are fixed in rococo curlicues. The score by Ennio Morricone suggests how Puccini would have written his Western, La Fanciulla del West, if he had done it about 1935. Broad lyric themes, right out of La Scala, accompany violent gunplay and dusty confrontations. This Western has the first shootout in which I expected the duellists to burst into bel canto.

The story could have been told, as it often has been, in 80 minutes or so. But, in his editing, Leone anatomizes every scene into its components, expanding small incidents into small dramas: for example, a sequence in which water drips on Woody Strode’s head, then his hat, is made into a little pantomine of stolid humor. It’s Leone’s intensity with these details of editing, his concentration on small stuff, that gives the picture what interest it has. When it gets into the plot lines and personal relations, when it gets figuratively off the movieola and on to its feet, the picture reveals how thin it is. But for the first hour or so, the loving care that Leone gives it is so tender—even in the many killings—that it is almost breathtaking. I was wonderstruck at it, not by it.

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« Reply #1 on: December 12, 2015, 06:35:28 PM »

Nice review.

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« Reply #2 on: December 13, 2015, 04:19:34 AM »

Actually a very good review.

It also may give a hint how much recognition the SW had found then by the Americans:

"Sergio Leone is the best-known of the European makers of Westerns that we’ve been getting lately, mostly from Italy. I haven’t seen his previous films,"

The condescendence to watch this one SW may only be explained by the well known US actors in this one, but he ultimately identifies Leone's film as an Italian film through and through.

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« Reply #3 on: December 13, 2015, 04:20:48 AM »

I'm currently reading a collection of his reviews. It seems some consider him the best of the american film critics. I don't know if that is true, he's surely better than old farts like Crowther and Kael but it doesn't take much. [/color]

Actually Crowther was the old fart, and Kael the new fart to replace him at the New Yorker.

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« Reply #4 on: December 13, 2015, 09:45:56 AM »

When I asked my film class instructor at college (in 1974) about Leone's films, he responded that they were junk.  But he admitted that he had never seen any of them.

Understand this instructor was gay and "loved" Judy Garland....

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« Reply #5 on: December 13, 2015, 06:32:26 PM »

Actually Crowther was the old fart, and Kael the new fart to replace him at the New Yorker.

To be an "old fart" you don't have to be necessarily old. The operative word is the substantive.   

He seems to be appreciative of italian movies, even admitting that in the '50's and 60's the best movies were made outside of Hollywood. He personally came to Italy and interviewed Fellini and De Sica. He was absolutely sold on Antonioni. Still he can't help to kid around with the english pronunciation of De Sica and Loren. That's quite a childish ruse, especially by one who admitted being unable to speak a foreign language.


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« Reply #6 on: December 13, 2015, 06:33:43 PM »

When I asked my film class instructor at college (in 1974) about Leone's films, he responded that they were junk.  But he admitted that he had never seen any of them.

Understand this instructor was gay and "loved" Judy Garland....

And died of AIDS in the '80's.

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