Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Once Upon a Time In America 1984

         It’s inconceivable to me, how anyone viewing this great film would not be moved, excited & ultimately overwhelmed by it. For starters the film has had a very rocky road, but there is now on dvd the most complete and restored version of the film with 22 minutes of missing footage added including the sequence with Louise Fletcher, making this version the one that Sergio Leone wanted the world to see.
            The missing footage adds some clarity to the film, but the scenes are grainy and washed out because they had to work with scrapes of take-outs and you can tell by the poor quality that this is the missing footage. Overall I prefer the previous 229 minute digital dvd version of the film which is the one shown at Cannes Film Festival in 1984, and I would recommend this one if you can get your hands on it. The transfer is nicer, the colors crisper and richer in tone and quality than the complete directors cut and for me I would sacrifice the more complete version for the more beautiful version, but that’s just me.
                 From the opening with that Goddamn ringing phone, to the last shot of a smiling stoned out DeNiro (this ending always makes me cry) this film is a true work of art. Complicated & personal, Leone weaves an epic tale about a bunch of Jewish gangster-friends from their criminal childhood on New York's lower eastside in the 1900's to the1960's. And like many films of the genre, Once Upon touches on the themes of friendship, loyalty & betrayal but does so in what some find an unsettling structure.
           The film constantly weaves from past to present and back again and I think that this form of filmmaking makes some American moviegoers uneasy. They like their films with beginnings, middles & hopefully happy endings. This is a film that is all over the place, a demanding film with characters that come & go impolitely & age without aging. Leone the artist takes a sacred genre and does marvelous tricks & turns to it. Its also a very violent & sexy film, a little too "European" for a mainstream American film, so the film was butched down to a 2 hour version that got bombed by critics, and hated by audiences who came expecting another Godfather sequel, because hey after all DeNiro is in it.

I saw it in its restored 1984 version one Sunday afternoon at the now gone 8th street playhouse because a close friend told me I have to see this film. I went and was knocked out by it, but when I expressed my wild enthusiasm for it to others, we got into heated arguments because they had seen only the butched 2 hour version and of course hated it, and would have nothing to do with seeing the complete film. Their loss. This is a movie, for people who love movies who want to be challenged and wowed.
The cast is terrific with memorable work by all including DeNiro, James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern, a very young Jennifer Connelly in her first film and the great Tuesday Weld, and is also doted by a wonderful supporting cast. The music by Ennio Morricone is one of his best scores and the beautiful cinematography is by Tonino Delli Colli. The look of the film is rich and detailed with influences from art including Reginald Marsh and Edward Hopper. Filmed all over the place including Williamsburg and Dumbo before these Brooklyn neighborhoods were gentrified. The best film of 1984 and possibly the best film of the decade.


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