(Just a single rule: mix-tape-style, no more than one film per director. You know, because otherwise the whole thing would be pointless.)
(#9) Once Upon a Time in the West
Western • dir. Sergio Leone • 1968 • USA/Italy
Ambition – who needs it? Looking over your shoulder all the time… and always waiting for that big break that might just never come. But to what end? What final destination is even worth years of hard work and toil? Me, I like what the great radio host Danny Baker once said on the subject: sure, I like my work and I like being good at it, but what difference does it really make to my life if more strangers hear me on the radio? If you dream of making movies, how many strangers do you want to see them? And why? I asked myself the same question about writing a novel once and finally figured the only worthwhile reason to put the necessary hours in is wanting to. Meantime, isn’t there something to be said, simply, for sitting back and enjoying the inspiration – and hard work – of others?
In all of pop culture, there can’t be many things more inspirational than Ennio Morricone’s score for Once Upon a Time in the West. Never mind how epic and visceral the film as a whole is, its soundtrack alone is one of the great high points in the history of cinema. How did Morricone ever pull it off? Listen closely to it and wonder: what compelled him to combine lush, romantic orchestration with folk tunes, blues harmonica, surf guitar, and a soprano singing a wordless melody? When it all someone worked, surely Morricone allowed himself at least a moment’s pride. But afterwards, I’d wager, the kind of ambition that made it possible in the first place would once again have asserted its restless authority. Maybe the pleasure of it all lingers longer for us. How about that! And in Once Upon a Time in the West, of course, we get so many other pleasures too. Sergio Leone at the top of his considerable game, turning history into myth… Henry Fonda playing against type as an irresistible bad guy… A luminous Claudia Cardinale… Lucky us, the list goes on and on.