“The movie itself is a classic, and that greatness is evident right off the bat with one of the best opening scenes in film history. Clocking in at about fourteen minutes, it certainly is one of the longest (during which, less than 60 words are spoken). It can be roughly divided into two parts: The title sequence during which the suspense is slowly built up and then, finally, the inevitable showdown. And then there are the actors involved: One a legendary African American actor who also happened to play for the NFL and practice the art of SeishinDo Kenpo. One a memorable character actor whose character has a distinct way to deal with houseflies. One an actor who tragically committed suicide before filming of the scene was complete. And then there is our hero, who usually lets his gun or harmanica do his talking for him, yet manages to deliver one of the best badass boasts ever. The Film League offers a deconstruction of the scene. And here’s a look at all of the filming locations for the movie then and now, which starts chronologically with the opening scene.” —MetaFilter
Why did you decide to become a filmmaker?
Sergio Leone: My mother was an actress. My father was an actor and a director. I am the son of filmmakers. I was born with this bow tie made of celluloid on my collar.
And why did you decide to make westerns?
SL: I had never thought of making a western even as I was making it. I think that my films are westerns only in their exterior aspects. Within them are some of my truths, which happily, I see, belong to lots of parts of the world. Not just America. My discussion is one that has gone all the way from Fistful of Dollars through Once Upon a Time in America. But if you look closely at all these films, you find in them the same meanings, the same humor, the same point of view, and, also, the same pains.
Which filmmakers influenced you, and what were your favorite films?
SL: I must be honest and say that I was under the fascination of films. I was fascinated by all films, even the words of them. If I was to do a more-precise analysis of the situation, I have to admit that I was more entertained by the bad films than the good ones. Because when something is beautiful, it is there; it is finished; it is done. It doesn’t have to be touched or be worked upon. But if it is badly realized and not completely expressed, sometimes that is more provocative and interesting than when you see something that is perfectly and beautifully done. But if there is an auteur who influenced me—and there is only one—that is Charlie Chaplin. And he never won an Oscar. —Interview with Sergio Leone (1987)
Below: Henry Fonda talks about his casting in ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’: the funny reason Sergio Leone cast him as the villain in this rare 1975 interview.
- An eclectic methodological analysis: music from Once Upon a Time in the West
- ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ Suite — Ennio Morricone
- The Storytellers — Interview with Sergio Donati
- Western Italian Style: 1968 spaghetti western documentary
- The Spaghetti West (2005)
For more, see our archive under the tag, “Sergio Leone.”
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