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: The Leone Ranger  ( 3649 )
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« : May 31, 2008, 01:48:11 PM »

I was in the library and I came across a couple of interesting articles/interviews.  This one is a Sergio article from an Australian journal called Quadrant.  The article was written by Desmond O’Grady.  O’Grady is an Australian author and journalist that has lived in Italy since the early 1960's.  He’s contributed articles to many international publications and newspapers.  He’s also the author of over a dozen books.  Seems when he’s not writing about Italy, Italian culture and history,  he writes studies about the Church and the Vatican.  This particular article appeared in Quadrant in 2006.  I wish it included some background and details as to when and how the meeting with Leone took place.  As a reader, I would of found that background information interesting as well.  May very well have been just a journalist interviewing a popular film director for an arts and culture article.  That this article was published in 2006, not sure if the article appeared elsewhere in an earlier form.

The Leone Ranger
Desmond O'Grady
Quadrant Magazine Australia’s Independent Review Of Literature And Ideas
(a quarterly cultural journal)
Quadrant 50.5 (May 2006): p79(3).  COPYRIGHT 2006 Quadrant Magazine Company, Inc.

"I've ALWAYS BEEN fascinated," says Sergio by Sicilian puppeteers. Their puppets act out the drama of Orlando and other knights fighting the Muslims. But because the puppeteer know the village where he presents his show, he gives the puppets the characteristics of the mayor, the chemist, the police chief ... In other words, the archaic drama becomes topical. That's what I've always tried to do.

Leone spots archetypes, as is shown by his remark, "Homer wrote the best westerns". When he saw an early Kurosawa film, in which Dashiell Hammett's novel Red Harvest was transposed to the samurai era, Leone found parallels with Carlo Goldoni's play Harlequin, Servant of Two Masters and transposed it in turn to a western made in Spain. That almost completed the circumnavigation of the globe. He adapted the archetypal, updated the archaic, and transposed geography.

He did not try to portray contemporary Italy, he said, because "it's provincial whereas in America there's the whole world". Where Leone lives, between the walled city and the seafront, Rome could be part of America. Mussolini built there a futuristic city for what was to have been the 1942 World's Fair. The glass box buildings of banks, oil companies and airline offices which are excluded from central Rome here overshadow Fascist architecture which recalls the classic edifices in some De Chirico paintings. The residential zone consists of villas set in broad streets with lush vegetation: it is spacy suburbia, Anglo-Saxon style, which most Roman flat-dwellers see mainly in films.

Leone means lion. His house, at the end of a cul-desac, was the one with a lion's head on the gate set in high walls. Visitors were scanned by a telecamera before entering a pathway beneath a Parisian street sign: XIV arr. Rue Sergio Leone. A seventeen-metre swimming pool was set in lawn before a three-storey, unfaced cement building whose style was vaguely Frank Lloyd Wright. Underground, a projection room could seat thirty. The garage sheltered a Rolls-Royce. A chow, a cocker spaniel and a white maremma sheepdog made a poor showing as watchdogs.

Leone married a ballerina, Carla Ranalli, in 1960. Their eldest child, Raffaella, worked as an assistant costume designer on his films and those of Fellini; the other daughter, Francesca, studied architecture, while his son Andrea was a professional soccer player while still at high school.

The first-floor studio looked out on trees, grey skies and persistent autumn rain. It was furnished with two antique desks, a modern divan, oils and sketches by artists such as Ottone Rosai and Renato Guttuso, a framed title granted by King Balduin of Belgium, a Roberto De Niro photo in the ring in Raging Bull with his dedication and a painting of Leone looking almost as imperious as when he entered, portly and grey-bearded, in a brown caftan. His Eastern potentate air was belied by his white skin. He told me about the circumstances of his birth:

   My father Vincenzo, a director, was asked to
   replace Ernst Lubitsch when he went from
   Germany to Hollywood. My mother, an actress,
   was pregnant with me at the time. I'd have been
   born in Germany but for the fact that my mother
   didn't want to go there and wouldn't let my father
   leave--she'd been married for fourteen years
   without a child and she was not going to take any

As she was not able to have other children, little Sergio was spoilt and smothered even more than most Italian children. "To get any autonomy," he recalls, "I had to threaten to join the M [for Mussolini] battalion." It was the ultimate threat in an anti-Fascist household.

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« #1 : May 31, 2008, 01:51:22 PM »


Leone's father had acted under the name Roberto Roberti and continued to use it when he became a well known director. However, he was banned from filmmaking under Fascism and his frustration was the spur for his son's career, which began with him sometimes using an anglicised version of his father's pseudonym-Bob Robertson. Another Italian director renamed himself John Fordson and an actor Clint Westwood. They sound exotic to Italian ears and convinced local audiences that these indigenous products had something of Hollywood to them. In fact, however, by the mid-sixties the Italians were producing more westerns than Hollywood, and they were something else.

BORN IN ROME in 1929, Leone was familiar with film sets from the age of twelve and began his career at sixteen while attending a Christian Brothers school. He was an assistant to Vittorio De Sica on Bicycle Thieves and acted in it, together with some schoolmates, as a German seminarian. "It was raining," he recounted, "so De Sica invented a scene in which the boy searching for his stolen bicycle momentarily forgets his worries when he seeks shelter from the rain along with German seminarians in red cassocks."

Leone was assistant director for fifty-eight films. Among directors he worked with were William Wyler, Mario Soldati and Fred Zinnemann. In 1960 he directed The Colossus of Rhodes then in 1964 came into his own with A Fistful of Dollars, "which was a runaway success". It had been preceded by a German western (or, rather, a West German western) Winnetou, but that did not catch on as did films such as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly which were dubbed "spaghetti westerns":

   When I first heard that term I thought it meant that
   the lassos were like spaghetti. It would have been
   witty but the Americans are witty only by chance.
   Then I realised that spaghetti, like pizza, is used as
   an equivalent for "Italian". What should we call
   Kubrick's fine Spartacus then--a Roman
   I'm interested in character types and situations
   which strike a chord everywhere--for instance, the
   desire to achieve justice by oneself. It's no
   coincidence that politicians such as Giulio
   Andreotti and Aldo Moro [former prime ministers]
   are among the keenest fans of my films. No,
   technical aspects such as slowing down when
   characters are enjoying fugitive moments, probably
   because they haven't long to live, are not the
   explanation of the films' success. The key is that
   they are thoroughly thought out: there's heart and
   brain in them.

From 1971 Leone was planning Once upon a Time in America but problems over the rights to the book on which it was based (The Hoods by Henry Grey), and then with the producer meant work on it began only in 1981. In the United States the finished product was not only cut, "like a salami" says Leone, from 220 minutes to 130 minutes, but also re-edited. Leone took the producer to court in France where the contract was signed and finally the full version was released at the New York Film Festival.

"It's not just about gangsters," said Leone, his fingers opening and closing nervously as if he was being grilled by a mobster;

   I was offered The Godfather--which eventually
   Coppola made very well--but declined because I
   felt I couldn't chronicle what occurred in a country
   which was not my own. But I was attracted to Once
   upon a Time in America because it's a gangster
   memory trip which allowed me in turn to make a
   memory trip. Italians of my generation were formed
   by American writers such as Chandler, Hammett,
   Fitzgerald, Hemingway--who were censored by
   Fascism--and by American films. Once Upon a
   Time in America was a tribute to that literature and
   cinema, to cinema as it was once, to our dream of
   America ... a fable for adults. The fact that the
   gangsters were Jewish, because it's based on the
   story of David "Noodles" Aaronson, wasn't
   important for me--I thought everyone already
   knew there'd been Jewish gangsters.

Was it difficult to work with De Niro?

   Because of the kind of films I'd made, I was used
   to actors who were, more or less and with all due
   respect, puppets. But it's impossible to be a
   puppeteer with De Niro. Instead you have to get on
   his wavelength and convince him. He's diffident
   but, once you win his confidence, he's very loyal
   and great to work with because he's such a
   perfectionist. After ten days we found our

At this point lanky Enrico Medioli, scriptwriter for several Luchino Visconti films before working with Leone, arrived, complaining about the traffic. I asked him if Leone was a tough taskmaster.

"A stone crusher."

"Ball breaker," Leone clarified.

"But," added Medioli, "the scriptwriter knows he's in the major league."

Which films did Leone admire?

   Those with epic-beautiful images, demanding roles
   for actors, fascinating stories ... just as the most
   committed communists come from Jesuit and
   Salesian schools, I suppose I'm reacting against the
   neo-realism in which I was trained. Cinema should
   be a great spectacle which speaks to everyone. For
   those capable of seeing them, there should also be
   psychological implications and socio-political ideas.

Favourite director? Leone pointed to a photo of himself with Chaplin--but which of the two was he indicating? "Many of us wouldn't exist without Chaplin --not only as director but also as author and actor. Try to think of Fellini without Chaplin."

Leone remembered the first film he saw, Chaplin in The Hour that Kills, and the impact of Griffith's Birth of a Nation. He contrasted cinema to television:

   television flattens everything, reducing all to the
   level of gossip--will he manage to lay his sister's
   wife? It makes us all voyeurs. And a lot of current
   cinema basically imitates TV. One element of Once
   upon a Time in America is a warning that the death
   of cinema could be near.

Can television be saved?

   I wouldn't want to save it ... I was offered the
   television Marco Polo and Craxi [the prime
   minister], a Garibaldi buff, wanted me to make a
   TV film on him but I turned both offers down.

Can cinema be saved?

   The future is forty by ten metre screens, stadiums
   with audiences of 10,000 and more, the same
   stadiums as for rock concerts and football
   matches. Making five or six cinemas out of what
   used to be one big cinema is only a temporary
   solution. Films will become more intimate or more

Desmond O'Grady's most recent book is a biography of Raffaello Carboni, Stages of the Revolution (Hardie Grant, 2004).

« : May 31, 2008, 02:01:41 PM Noodles_SlowStir »

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