Once Upon A Time in Cannes

This year was special for India at Cannes as GOW, Peddlers, Miss Lovely were shown. There was also a film called Kalpana in Cannes classic section. And there was another film in the same program, though not Indian, but definately a special one

I always hated Sergio Leone for imitating Yojimbo into A Fistful of Dollars. And even transforming Sanjuro Kuwabatake into Man with No name. Somehow I watched his films chronologically and it was without any conscious thought. It just happened. The third one of Dollar Triology is a very special film. It was a surprise for me. My hate had already turned beyond admiration.

In my  independent and guerrilla film making days, I always thought that I should be “shooting” and not talking. Watch-out for  Tuco Benedicto Pacífico Juan María Ramírez aka The Ugly

Thats why Tuco is one of my favorite character from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. I am sure Shriram Raghavan thinks the same. In the opening of the film “Agent Vinod”, he quotes Tuco’s as well.  Btw if you get any mail from me, it will have Tuco’s line as signature.

After this one Sergio Leone made another classic “Once Upon A Time In West“.

Slow pace of edit is a trademark style of Spaghetti western. Above opening scene is marked by excessive use of close-up’s and then cutting them to long shots. This is very contrast when compared to Ran , adaptation of King Lear by Akira Kurosawa, where you will hardly find any close-up. And with this film my admiration towards Sergio Leone really tuned into awe. And then he came out with a completely out of the world film. Here he speaks about that special film.

My first film “Dvandva” a 110 minutes film was shortened to 89 minutes by my producers and that too without my knowledge. I was in tears when i saw murder of my creativity. But it was just nothing compared to what happened with “Once Upon A Time In America” . It was originally a six hour film, and was supposed to be released in two parts. But then the studio made Leone to cut down to 229 minutes and adding insult to injury was a 139 minute version which was given an American theatrical release; of course against the wishes of Leone. Add to that film was edited in chronological order and by that time Sergio Leone was already considered as America’s great. For me this film is simply one of the best stories ever told.  Noodles played by Robert De Niro is epic. The film has a sexually explicit rape scene of Deborah which is very crude. How can somebody rape his lover? I will always hate Noodle for that and Leone made me do that just like that chauffeur who stops the car and asks noodle to get out. But then it portrays  life of prohibition era and it does it, like no other film. Personally for me this film is better than “Godfather” any day, which Leone turned down to make this one.

Assistant Director’s, who are right now slogging their asses and their patience is almost on the brink should take some inspiration from Mr. Leone. He worked as an assistant director/second unit director on 32 films right from Vittorio De Sica’s –Ladri di biciclette. And for half those films he was not even credited. He worked under studio pressure all his life and it is not that he worked on his grand film right from the start. He earned it film by film, budget by budget. Here Clint Eastwood speaks about how Fistful of Dollars were made in literally “Fistful of Dollars”.

Once upon time in America was his last film …and he was still manipulated by large studio’s. Even though today rarely anybody watches that 139 minutes version but this year at Cannes further 25 minutes were added to 229 minute version of the film and presented what Leone has envisioned. Martin Scorsese who headed the restoration process quotes

“It is always a challenge, whether you’re making your first film or your 21st. There’s often a conflict between the need to make a commercially viable film and the artistic intent of the filmmaker, and it can become more pronounced the more expensive and complex the project,” he said.

“Unfortunately, Leone was never able to present this film as he originally envisioned and spent his remaining years trying to put it back together. This restoration gets us as close as possible and is a tribute to Leone and a gift to audiences, who can now glimpse the epic he wanted them to see originally”

Sergio Leone might have been forced to copy Yojimbo or may be it was conscious choice  just to woo investors on a safe project as the documentary below mentions that the film was a “Recovery” film. Once upon a time in Bollywood so many new filmmakers made the same kind of debut. May be they were forced like Leone or left with no other option or may be it was conscious choice too. Who knows? But then thousand copies of adapted “Yojimbo” can be forgiven for a “Once upon a time in America“. He is definitely an inspiration for filmmakers like me who had their creativity murdered.

When I started writing this post, i just wanted to mention the influence “Once upon a time in America” had on me and in the process I discovered Sergio Leone, whom  i never considered my inspiration till date. Now that’s another reason for blogging.

Documentary- Once upon A Time: Sergio Leone

… but the morning after he again left as great hero !

Lets Go for Lunch

“I was inspired by the movie but he was inspired by the Music”


“west wasn’t that grand enough for him. so he created his own”

“he invested 12 years … it must have been longest script writing”


“It begins in opium den.may be the movie is a kind of …”

“Ohh you fools I am not talking about me … I am talking about people visiting my grave”

I wish to catch the 245 minutes version soon.

Note- This post was originally written in 2011 but now has been re-edited and published again.

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