Wednesday02 September 2015

Top 50 films for architects: Once upon a time in the West

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6: Once upon a time in the West

Director: Sergio Leone, 1968

Music dictates the action in this metaphysical or post-modern western

Once Upon a Time in the West

Leone: sudden resolution.

It has been called an opera. The director is Italian and the words aren’t important. Apparently, in places Leone made a rewritten narrative fit music composed for an earlier script, so music dictated the action.

This metaphysical or post-modern western is operatic in other ways too. The plot is simple, mesmerising and practically incomprehensible. It involves old rivalries, a single newcomer and the continual challenge of trying to read int-ention in expressionless male faces which fill the giant screen.

The opening scene follows three gunmen in long leather coats waiting for a train. One spends ages trying to get a fly to leave his face without using his hands. The train arrives and their prey isn’t on board, or so they think. He got off on the other side and is revealed when the train pulls out. In a minute all three are dead.

This pattern of long preamble and sudden resolution fits many episodes and the whole epic too. There’s a series of cavernous interiors that spread sideways to match the widescreen format; they’re dim spaces full of intricate gear with no use but to complicate our view. The enigmatic exchanges, sometimes mumbled looking away from camera, dare us to make them out.

A certain clarity comes at the end: the mystery man’s quest was simple revenge, nothing else. He returns his signature harmonica to the man who stuffed it in his mouth all those years ago. It’s a return to earth after wild inarticulate flights.

Once Upon a Time in the West

Top 50 Films for Architects

  1. An Actor’s Revenge — Director: Kon Ichikawa, 1963
  2. Shoeshine — Director: Vittorio De Sica, 1946
  3. Pixote — Director: Hector Babenco, 1981
  4. Man With a Movie Camera — Director: Dziga Vertov, 1929
  5. The Saragossa Manuscript —  Director: Wojciech Has, 1965
  6. Once Upon a Time in the West —  Director: Sergio Leone, 1968
  7. Late Spring —  Director: Yasujiro Ozu, 1949
  8. Nil by Mouth —  Director: Gary Oldman, 1997
  9. The Iron Gate (Cairo Station) — Director: Youssef Chahine, 1958
  10. Apocalypse Now — Director: Francis Ford Coppola, 1979
  11. Spirited Away — Director: Hayao Miyazaki, 2001
  12. Cry of the City — Director: Robert Siodmak, 1948
  13. Faust — Director: Murnau, 1926
  14. The Mill and the Cross — Director: Lech Majewski, 2011
  15. My Childhood; My Ain Folk; My Way Home — director: BIll Douglas, 1972, 1973, 1978
  16. Madame de... — director: Max Ophuls, 1953




Readers' comments (1)

  • Almost anything directed by Sergio Leone is instructive for architects. All his films seem to be excercises communication via the media of colour, texture, composition and atmosphere.

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