Monday, June 13, 2005

June 12, 2005
Well, Kathy taped Into The West for me, but I can’t get up enough energy, or interest, to watch it. Credit a so-so review from Jim Hatzell and a scathing review in US Today last Friday: "Despite claims to the contrary, Into the West isn't really a history at all. Instead, it’s a ponderous effort to correct the often malicious myths of older films, with their brave pioneers and ignorant savages, by recasting a new myth out of modern guilt." Which leads to this conclusion: "Yes, it was pernicious of old movies to imply that Native American culture was worthy of extinction, but it’s equally ridiculous to elevate it above all others." Ouch!

So, I haven’t been able to find the energy to sit down and watch the damn thing. I guess I need to hear from someone who has seen it, and thinks it’s worth the investment.

On a related note, a couple weeks ago we got a new book in the office that makes the case for Once Upon A Time In The West as being the greatest Western, and to some degree, the greatest movie, ever made. The scholarly writer (the book's at home, I’ll give you his name tomorrow) goes on and on about the genius of Sergio Leone and how the movie works on so many levels. For example, water is a huge theme, from the name of the proposed train station Sweetwater, to the baths Claudia Cardinale takes to wash away her sins, to the water she carries at the end, to the evil railroad baron’s painting of the Pacific Ocean, to a bartender who snarls, "Around here, water is poison!" Every scene, every piece of dialogue, every set direction, every frame of film is taken apart and discussed at length.

Some interesting bits I learned from the book: Sergio Leone was offered The Godfather movie but turned it down because he said he wasn’t interested in gangsters once they "got behind a desk." Allegedly, Sergio wanted Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach to be the three gunfighters at the beginning of the movie waiting for the train, but Eastwood declined. Also, the title is not quite correct. The actual Italian title when translated correctly is, Once Upon A Time There Was A West, which gives the movie a more cynical spin and evidently the Hollywood bosses didn’t want that (the movie still bombed anyway).

My memory of seeing the movie when it came out was that it was overwrought, silly (Charles Bronson playing a harmonica and his name is Harmonica?!) and a rip-off of every Western ever made, especially John Ford (a foreigner using Monument Valley! Oh, the horror!). The book makes a clever case for all of that being true, but maintains it is a masterpiece none the less. My son Thomas got me the DVD for an early Father’s Day gift and I watched the documentaries on Saturday night, and I intend to watch the movie tonight. I’ll post my reactions now that I am steeped in every frame.

”Days off.”
—Spencer Tracy, when asked what he looks for in a script

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