The opening of the film has a stark simplicity to it: three gunfighters arrive at a railway station that appears to be under construction. There they await the arrival of a train, a train which should be carrying the man whom they have been hired to kill. For most directors this sequence would be about the gunslinger’s purpose – to murder their target – but for Leone, a director obsessed by vast and grand images, unusual soundscapes and a sly sense of both humour and genre, transforms this basic premise into an eloquent and protracted sequence concerned with only one thing: waiting. Having entered the railway station and locked the station master in the cupboard, the gunslingers position themselves along the length of the platform. The apparent leader, Snaky (Jack Elam), big, imposing and with a lazy eye, sits on the bench and is annoyed by a fly. He catches it in the barrel of his pistol and, with it held against his forehead, listens to its angry buzzing as he sleeps. The second, a tall and muscular black man, Stony (Woody Strode), stands beneath a dripping girder. The water collects in his wide brimmed hat. When it is full, he slowly takes it off and drinks the water. The third gunslinger, Knuckles (Al Mulock), sits on a water trough and repeatedly cracks his knuckles.
Thursday, 6 September 2012
My article, Bullet by Bullet, a shot by shot analysis of the opening sequence to Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West, has just been published in the September 2012 edition of MediaMagazine. Here is a brief extract:
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