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This monumental volume is one of the best books ever to be devoted to a single film. Its author had all the necessary references to conduct incredibly rigourous research on one of two indisputable pieces of art (alongside “Once Upon a Time in America” (1984)) by Sergio Leone. Christopher Frayling has already given us a crucial biography on the filmmaker, as well as a reference book on Italian Westerns accompanying the exhibition at the museum of cinema in Turin, “Once Upon a Time in Italy” (2014). The preface by Quentin Tarantino takes up no less than twelve large-format pages, in which he declares that if there had been a time where Hawks, Scorcese and De Palma were his favourite filmmakers, today it is the one who happens to be the biggest filmmaker on the Italian scene… his brilliant text is as much about his own films, and the way in which he borrowed elements from the music of Ennio Morricone, than on the ones by Leone who “created something new based on an old genre”. Tarantino, who had his reservations about John Ford, does not hold back when praising his usual cohort of Italian Western filmmakers. Frayling also offers us a wealth of testimonies from the co-authors of the original story: Argento and Bertolucci; the screenwriter (with Leone) Sergio Donati; the chief operator Tonino Delli Colli; Ennio Morricone and the indispensable production and costume designer Carlo Simi; to the actors Henry Fonda, Claudia Cardinale, Jason Robards, Charles Bronson and Gabriele Ferzetti. Further pieces from John Carpenter, Joe Dante, John Milius and Martin Scorsese pay homage to their peers. Frayling also meticulously retraces the genesis and the production of the film, and brings into account the negative reception of the Italian as well as Anglo-Saxon critiques, and pays homage to the French critiques, in particular the Cahier du Cinema and Positif, who recognised the importance of the work that brought together ten million spectators in the Hexagone. A couple of hundred illustrations add to the enjoyment - particularly good are the numerous photos of the filming, surprisingly full of life, where we see Leone at work - shot by Angelo Novi, the set photographer chosen by the filmmaker. Frayling also manages to show the extent in which this film is a personal work, fed by a love for American cinema that entertained a young Leone during the fascism and violence of the war years, and his collaborations as an assistant with Walsh, Wise, Aldrich and Zinnemann, making the conscious decision not to repeat but to innovate. The book is affectionately dedicated to Philip French, famous British critic and Western specialist.  

 

Positif

18 Sep, 2019

Michel Ciment