Joshua Gizelt (swashbuckler332) wrote,
Joshua Gizelt

"Don't die until later."

What's better than seeing a visually compelling classic movie at the Ziegfield? How's about seeing two visually stunning classic movies at the Ziegfield? Even better, how's about seeing two classic movies that are your among your favorites?

Citizen Kane

I have seen Citizen Kane on the big screen several times (in fact, my introduction to it was a 16 millimeter print). While the film does indeed work reasonably on video, there are aspects of it, most obviously the cavernous interiors of Xanadu, that work best when projected. As stately and quintessentially American as ever, I never see it without discovering some new aspect of the film - thematically, cinematographically or dramatically, and this time was no different.

This time, a scene stood out to me as being one of the most effective in the film, a moment that is often overshadowed in discussions of this film but is nevertheless one of the tightest sequences. It is when Kane (Orson Welles) accompanies Emily (Ruth Warrick) to Susan's (Dorothy Comingore) apartment and Jim Gettys (Ray Collins) is there. Each line of Collins' is carefully measured, beautifully delivered, with poor insignificant Susan caught up in a dangerous power play between three people with so much more to lose.

I am, have been, and will be only one thing - an American.
- Charles Foster Kane

Il Buono, il brutto, il cattivo

The movie looked just like this, only much, much bigger.

Seeing this on the big screen for the first time is definitely one of the best moviegoing experiences I've ever had. Sergio Leone's films can not be appreciated at all when panned and scanned, but when given the gargantuan dimensions of the Ziegfield screen, this one was made truly astonishing. Not to mention that seeing it with an audience that broke into a round of applause at Ennio Morricone's credit appearing on the screen was intensely gratifying.

After the title sequence closes, a landscape fades in. Leone then obscures this by filling the frame with the most butt ugly motherfucker he could possibly find (Al Mulock, who would commit suicide during the production of Once Upon A Time in the West). In this moment, the stylistic extremes of the film are encapsulated, with great distance having an uncomfortable intimacy superimposed over it. This is true both visually and thematically in the film. It is also the most literal manifestation of the tendency within Leone's work to treat the human face as a landscape in its own right, which accounts for the prevalance of extreme close-ups in his films.

Eli Wallach doesn't walk away with this film, he grabs it, wrestles it into submission, throws it over his shoulder and saunters confidently off with it. It is no wonder that he would recommend Henry Fonda work on Once Upon a Time in the West despite the fact that he was nearly killed three times during the production of this film; he is clearly having a fantastic time playing this role. Tuco is such a fun character to watch, gleefully amoral (but crossing himself with every murder he commits), grossly ignorant (but rather sly and resourceful), ever victimized (but quite good at surviving), an entertaining but extremely dangerous personality.

The scope given to the film by the enlarged dimensions serves to further immerse the viewer in it. The film was shot by Tonino Delli Colli in Techniscope, which is a method of achieving a widescreen aspect ratio by halving the height of the frame, thus allowing half as much film to be used. While this naturally yields a grainier picture than something shot anamorphically, it doesn't require of the cinematographer the same sort of compositional compromises that makes me loathe the Super 35 format so much. In fact, Leone and Colli's compositions are textbook examples of effective widescreen photography. The restoration print looked excellent save for the shots that include the text "The Good," "The Bad" and "The Ugly," which were taken from American prints that were clearly many generations away from the original source material. Unfortunately, it also featured the rejiggered 5.1 soundtrack that also plagues the newer DVD release of the film (although it admittedly sounded better in the theater than it does on the disc).

This version contained the four scenes that were cut from the American prints of the film, consisting of Angel Eyes doing more detective work in pursuit of Bill Carson, Tuco enlisting the aid of his cronies as cannon fodder that he might sneak up on Blondie, Tuco in the wagon realizing how close he is to the San Antonio Mission, and Blondie encountering Angel Eyes' accomplices. These scenes all serve to clarify how the characters get from point a to point b, and it is a vast improvement over the familiar American cut. The new 2 disc DVD is the same cut, which recreated the English language soundtrack by having Clint Eastwood and Wallach come back in and record their dialogue (Angel Eyes is played by an uncredited imitator).

Leone's Westerns all deal with stoic masculinity, but this one also addresses the insanity of war, the madness that is necessary on the front lines to conduct one. This aspect of the film balances out the posturing, although it must be noted that Leone's dick-size contests (the most indelible of which is the challenge Monco (Clint Eastwood) presents the Colonel (Lee Van Cleef) in For a Few Dollars More and the tavern scene between Harmonica (Charles Bronson) and Cheyenne (Jason Robards) in Once Upon a Time in the West) are among the best in cinema history, and make John Milius' films look like the pretentious fascist macho bullshit they really are.

And the music... what more can one say about this amazing score, with its weird sounds, coyote howls, grunts, electric guitars and Edda Dell'Orso's angelic voice? If Once Upon a Time in the West is the artistic culmination of Morricone's Westerns, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is certainly the most iconic. Without a doubt one of the strangest and most appropriate musical accompaniments to any film.
Tags: cinema, ennio morricone, film music, orson welles, sergio leone
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