I Can’t Believe I’ve Never Seen… Once Upon a Time in the West

As the only Trespasser to reside in the southern city of Melbourne, I am the only one with easy access to The Astor Theatre. Surely the greatest revival house in all of Australia, The Astor is a beautiful, classic, single screen cinema that’s over 70 years old and boasts an atmosphere unlike any other. The beauty of having such a cinema literally just up the road is the chance to see films like Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West on the big (and I mean BIG) screen. Having never seen this famous title – and, in fact, being shamefully unknowledgeable about Leone’s entire catalogue of classic films – this was not an opportunity to miss out on.

Gunslingers, one-road towns, horse and buggies… Once Upon a Time in the West has them all, and spread across a sprawling near three hour running time that is as punishing on the ol’ rickety knees as it is rewarding to the eyes. If you’re unfamiliar with the genre then this film is probably not the place to start, what with its long takes with little action and stylised techniques (due to its Spanish heritage), however, if you know what you’re getting into then Once Upon a Time in the West is a glorious experience to behold (and one that I cannot contemplate being replicated on the small screen, no matter what size your new smart TV is!)

The stunning Claudia Cardinale as Jill

It’s this very reason that I had never seen Leone’s film before. The idea of having to see films like this on the big screen was worked into my brain long ago and I’m glad my first experience with it was in this way. Those arresting vistas with rocks of red and skies of blue are about as gorgeous as scenery can get; the way Leone and his cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli utilise the widescreen is hypnotic. Ennio Morricone’s music score is one of the all time greats and it goes without saying that watching Claudia Cardinale (The Leopard) for three hours is hardly unbearable. They quite literally don’t make ‘em like this any more. Once Upon a Time in the West is definitely an epic of the classic variety, and it’s hard to picture a more spine-tingling, nerve-racking opening sequence being made as silent and uneventful as the one here.

The film’s famous opening sequence is regarded as one of cinema’s finest

I’d waited a good 25 years of my life to see Once Upon a Time in the West and I’m glad I did. I probably would have been one of those people claiming that “nothing happens” if I’d attempted it in my teenage years, when in actual fact there’s more going on here than Michael Bay’s entire discombobulating filmography. There is action, sure, but Leone is obviously far more interested in the build up towards violence, rather than the act itself. When there is action it is thrilling and inventively directed, but there’s even grander excitement to be found in exploring the tricky politics of the era, navigating the leathery faces of Charles Bronson (Death Wish), Henry Fonda (On Golden Pond) and Jason Robards (All the President’s Men) and within the way the camera lingers and roams about the frame. If you get the chance to witness this film on the big screen then do so. I doubt you’ll regret it.

Whether you’re a die-hard film fanatic, a wannabe critic or a casual cinema-goer, everyone has a to-do list of foreign films they haven’t seen. This November World Movies has the answer – dedicating an entire weekend to the most acclaimed and most loved films from around the world. See the modern masterpieces and cinematic classics you’ve always planned to, and participate by voting for your favourites on the World Movies website.

Covering nearly 100 years of cinema, the 25 Films You Must See Before You Die are the award-winning films and the cult favourites that every cinema-lover should see.

The countdown is set to include work from directors such as Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini and Pedro Almodovar, and acclaimed cult favourites such as AmelieBreathless and Cinema Paradiso. If you’ve never seen the likes of Metropolis8 ½, The Seven Samurai and other masterpieces – now is your chance.

Visit the World Movies website from 9am Monday 31st October to select your favourite film of all time, and your vote will help shape the countdown. Then tune in over the weekend, beginning Friday 18th November at 8:30pm, to see which films Australia have decided are the top world movies. The number 1 film will screen Sunday night after 8pm.

Every time you vote you go in the draw to win all 25 films on DVD – an essential addition to any collection – along with a brand new SONY Bravia 3D TV to watch them on. The ballot will be open for two weeks and closes Monday 14th November at 9am. Visit the World Movies website http://worldmovies.com.au/highlights/25-films-voting – to place your vote.

About Glenn Dunks

Glenn Dunks loves films, that we know for sure. As well as being a film critic for Trespass Magazine where his wildly unpredictable tastes you’ve grown accustomed to, Glenn is the creator and writer of film blog Stale Popcorn (http://stalepopcornau.blogspot.com) , film editor at Onya Magazine, has written for The Big Issue and Encore and has been heard on JOY 94.3. Glenn is based in Melbourne, is an active Twitterer (@stalepopcornau) and is and is particular fond of Australian, horror and queer cinema.