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Wednesday, January 5, 2011


chance mosaic #2

Four hours today were absorbed by Sergio Leone's 1984 film Once Upon A Time In America. It felt like no more than 2 hours. The story itself was the relationships of the people in it. Told like an historical drama, it had suggestions the story might be a dream. Depression era gangsters seeming to be friends turned out to be enemies. Leone had the name of spaghetti westerns and violence. In the time the film was new, I paid it little mind. Was I ever fooled. I'm glad I missed it then, because this moment right now would not be so fresh after seeing it. About all I remember is it wasn't taken very seriously when it was new; it was also taken very seriously. Robert DeNiro wasn't a draw for me. Nothing was, really. Only that I'd never seen it and surmised it might be a good gangster movie along the line of Miller's Crossing and a few others.

The film surprised me from the beginning. It turned out I had some expectations and they were that it wouldn't be much, pop gangsterism. I saw right away there's something going on here, like in the Bob Dylan song, and you don't know what it is. The continuing mystery of it pulled my attention without resistance. I liked the way it jumped around in time. I was able to follow it chronologically. Instead of taking one time period to be the present and the others to be past and future, I saw them all as the past in the telling of the story. Unlike your usual movie characters whose motives make sense, these characters don't necessarily make sense. In several cases, decisions are put into action that don't make a great deal of sense. Testosterone rules.

Gangster molls of that period film are pretty much of a type. They were here too, but with lives of their own. You see the women have their lives before and after this period of time. When prohibition was undone, the speakeasy had a party where a speaker said, "Who would want to drink here if it was legal?" The characters were individual people with lives outside the frame of the camera and the story.

Leone's name often jerks the violence meter into motion, but if this film is horrific with violence, I wonder what you'd call the movies I see previews of with the mental notation that this film will not be seen here. I've seen so many movies, I don't even see violence any more. It's just a movie way of holding attention. We're a society that doesn't do well with mental exercises, so we go with eye candy. It's a movie, made on a set, blanks for bullets, play blood instead of real blood, actors and actresses with director, script writer and crew. Everyone is paid very well. The only people that get hurt are the stunt people and they like getting hurt.

I'm glad now to know what the name Sergio Leone means. I think I'd like to see some of his others. Were they the Good, Band & Ugly? I think so. I don't know. Clint Eastwood doesn't appeal to me. I'll give hm his due, good actor, good director, but he doesn't appeal to me. Not many of the Hollywood people do. Clint Eastwood has the same emotional range as Jane Fonda. I'm thinking this Leone, Once Upon A Time In America, is enough for now. Films don't get any better than this one. It has a number of equals, but few, if any, better. It struck me as a tour de force in film making. It's 27 years old and could have been made last year, except the actors are older.


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