By Kris Tronerud
Once Upon A Time In The West (C’era Una Volta il West) • 1968 • Directed by Sergio Leone
In 1966, after the commercial failure of his first two movies, (and well before the smash international success of The Conformist and Last Tango In Paris), fledgling director Bernardo Bertolucci found himself at a professional and personal dead end, and fled, as he often did, to repair to the movies and re-energize himself. He decided on a screening of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and, in one of those happy coincidences that seem to figure in the back stories of so many film classics, present in the projection room were, not only TGTBATU’s newly successful director Sergio Leone, but a young critic looking for an ‘in’ in the film industry, future horror great Dario Argento. When asked by Leone why he liked the film so much, Bertolucci blurted out that he admired the fact that Leone, like John Ford, rather than prettifying horses in profile, filmed ‘their arses from behind”. After a stunned silence, the Ford-worshipping Leone replied “We must make a film together sometime”. While this suggested partnership might have gone against the grain of the young Marxist’s usual filmic tendencies, Bertolucci was (like his entire generation of European directors) also an infatuated Hollywood film buff; and, as he later admitted, “I dreamed… of making a film that (simply) gave pleasure to everyone”. He succeeded beyond his wildest dreams, as the film which grew out of this chance meeting was arguably (with the possible exception of Ford’s The Searchers) the greatest Western ever made: the epic, astonishing and mesmerizing Once Upon A Time In The West.