Extended from the 161-minute American release to the 177-minute treatment it got in Italy, Sergio Leone’s trailblazing spaghetti Western shines as a classic now more than ever. Critics at the time of its 1967 release largely dismissed the pic and others of its ilk as shockingly violent schlock. But what once seemed violent now seems subtle and what once seemed schlocky now seems artful, the product of a time when landscape and pacing mattered more than effects and fast cuts.
The extras here provide useful context. Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach, along with producer Alberto Grimaldi, translator Mickey Knox and historian-critic Richard Schickel take part in two short docus that put viewers inside the making of the pic and the eccentric helmer’s head.
Latter, “The Leone Style” provides a good selection of clips animating points about his penchant for wide shots followed by tight close-ups, his focus on rugged faces and his inspiration by classic portraits. Captions help viewers appreciate just how long Leone drew out seemingly unimportant shots, such as “Blondie rolls down hill: 43 seconds.”
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“Leone’s West” tells the bizarre and fascinating story of Leone’s spaghetti trilogy, which started with “A Fistful of Dollars,” was followed by “For a Few Dollars More” and ended with “The Good.” Funded by German financiers, made by an Italian director, starring Americans and shot in Spain, pics were more diverse than most products of today’s multinational congloms, and docu brings home how Leone overcame barriers — financial and lingual — to make them.
Grimaldi tells how United Artists execs saw the first two pics in Rome and immediately bought them and asked to be involved in a third, kicking the budget up from about $200,000 on “A Fistful” to $1.4 million for “The Good.” Eastwood and Wallach remember working on a set where actors in a scene were often speaking different languages and the stars didn’t understand what the director said.
Schickel reminds viewers that while UA marketing execs played up the three films as a trilogy and called Eastwood “the man with no name” in promo material, he in fact played a different character in each film, all with their own names.
The DVDs also provide background on esoterica such as civil war history, print restoration and film scores that will appeal to only a small portion of the audience. Pic’s only commentary is by Schickel. It’s an extended essay, lacking the kind of behind-the-scenes details that Eastwood or Wallach might have provided.
What stands out most are the pacing and lensing. Leone’s patience and realism are a welcome relief from modern action films, which tend to dispense with setup and make the action scenes fast and furious. Of course, the stunning vistas in wide shots can never compare with their grandeur on a bigscreen. But the close-ups of grizzled faces seen from a TV just 10 feet away are probably far more vivid now than they would have been on grindhouse screens three decades ago.