09 April 2010

On the set of the Wild West

If film noir is all mood, westerns are all about the set. Far from being an indoor drama, the western is set in grand canyons and valleys of the North America. And of these, it is Monument Valley (Utah) where the majority of westerns were shot (among them also The Searchers and Stagecoach).
This was probably on its own a good enough reason for Americans to detest European westerns. European westerns – typically produced by Italians and for that reason popularly labeled as spaghetti westerns - were for the most part shot on the semi-desert locations in Spain.
Despite all that, it so happens that the best western made – judging by public polls worldwide – is in fact a European rather than an "authentic" western.
The film in question is Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), directed by Sergio Leone and starring Henry Fonda in the role of the steel-blue-eyed villain. Charles Bronson appeared in the role of the troubled and avenging hero.
Leone wanted to make a film that would be an ultimate reference – and hommage – to westerns as a genre. He enlisted help from Bertolucci and Argento to turn this idea into a film.
The film that came out of this idea - Once Upon a Time in the West - was a complete financial flop in the United States, and that despite the fact that the film was in part shot also in Monument Valley. In Europe, on the other hand, it immediately clicked with audiences to such a degree that "authentic" American westerns seemed like references to Once Upon a Time in the West rather than the other way around.
In the post above, the various sets of the film are revisited. Please beware of spoilers.

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