Il Regista Italiano, Sergio Leone Posted by Serena on Jan 5, 2009 in Culture
Last Saturday, the 3rd of January, was the 80th anniversary of the birth of the legendary Italian regista (director) Sergio Leone, an event that has been commemorated here in Italy by the many journalists and individuals who have payed tribute to his genius.
According to an article in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Serra (3rd Jan 2009) entitled ‘Leo Mania, Il regista rivive in Rete’ ( ‘Leo Mania, the director lives again on the Internet’) Leone, who died nearly 20 years ago has become a myth even for the younger generation many of whom are able to recite from memory entire dialogues from his films. Apparently at the time of writing the Facebook page for Sergio Leone registers 21,534 fans, a huge amount for a dead Italian director who made relatively few films.
Leone is probably best known for his so called ‘Spaghetti Westerns’, especially the ‘trilogia del dollaro’ (dollar trilogy): Per un pugno di dollari (A Fistful of Dollars), Per qualche dollaro in piu (A Few Dollars More), and Il Buono il Brutto e il Cattivo (The Good the Bad and the Ugly). (see my previous blog here: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly)
Born in Rome the son of cinema pioneer Vincenzo Leone and Edvige Valcarenghi, Leone began working in the film industry at the age of 18. From writing screenplays in the 1950’s he progressed to directing low budget ‘Hollywood’ style epics such as ‘The Colossus of Rhodes’ in the 60’s.
When the market for epic productions collapsed at the end of the 60’s Leone was fortunate enough to be involved in the genre that took their place, namely the revival of the Western.
With the ‘Spaghetti Western’ Leone developed a gritty realistic style quite unlike that of earlier Hollywood Westerns in which the characters looked like they had walked straight out of a fashion show. In Leone’s productions the lines between the ‘Goodies’ and the ‘Baddies’ become blurred as he introduces greater moral ambiguity, a style which continues to influence filmmaking today, not only within the Western genre. It seems rather ironic that an Italian who spoke no English and had never experienced the ‘Old West’ should have almost singlehandedly redefined the vision of the American Cowboy.
In 1967, due to the success of his ‘Dollar Trilogy’ (also known as ‘The Man With No Name trilogy’) Leone was invited to America by Paramount Studios to make the film C’Era Una Volta il West (Once upon a time in the West). The film, which many regard as Leon’s greatest, was shot mainly in Almeria, Spain and Cinecitta’ (Cinema City), in Rome, and was released to great acclaim in Europe. However, probably due to drastic editing by Paramount Studios, the film was not a success in America, a fate which also awaited his later production ‘Once Upon a Time in America’ starring Robert De Niro and James Woods. Originally running for the best part of four hours ‘Once Upon a Time in America’, a project that occupied Leone for ten years, was an epic tale of the lives of a group of New York gangsters from the early 1900’s through to the late 1960’s. Unfortunately the film was hacked down by Paramount to just over two hours and was a flop in America. In the rest of the world, however, where the full version was released, it was received with great appreciation by both the public and critics. It wasn’t until the release of the uncut version on DVD that the film finally received the critical acclaim it deserved in the USA.
Well known for his compulsive eating and consequent obesity Leone was struck down at the age of sixty on the 30th April 1989 by a heart attack. Amongst unrealized projects was the outline for an epic based on the siege of Leningrad entitled ‘Leningrad: The 900 Days’. Shooting of the film was due to begin in 1990 but was cancelled due to Leone’s untimely death.
For more information about Sergio Leone including a full filmography visit imdb.com Sergio Leone
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