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Once Upon A Time In America


Paradigm
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SPOILERS HEREIN.

I've watched a lot of 'gangster' movies, to use a poor sweeping generalisation, and this was next on my list. I love any film where it's got the "growing up on the streets" thing going on (hence why I prefer the second Godfather to the first), and some of the cinematography is absolutely beautiful: that shot of them walking along with Dominic dancing in front of them, the bridge in the background. Breathtaking. It's cringeworthy in the right places, intriguing, and I cannot tell you how angry I was when he raped Deborah.

And then the closing of the movie, which made the opening scene absolutely non-sensical. Why the fuck did they kill his missus if it was all a set-up? Eh? I could understand Fat Moe being beaten up because he was deadweight, but why all the "We're looking for him" when Max tells him that he left him with 35 years of heartache; surely if he really wanted to be killed by him he'd have said "I tried to kill you", had that been his motive? Really annoyed me, as did grown-up Deborah, who couldn't really act to save her life. It also dragged on a bit in the latter stages. Really unfortunate I think, as I was enjoying it a lot up to that point.

Can't forget the soundtrack either.

Oh! And bonus points for nude Jennifer Connelly :angry:

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I think after Goodfellas this probably one of my favourite "gangster films", the rape scene being rather hard to watch indeed, it is another film I really like where I don't really care for the ending too.

I'm not sure whether I'd have preffered it to have just finished when he met Deborah again, or something, the "twist" just didn't seem that necessary. :ph34r:

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I've only watched this once, and that was spread over three sittings due to the sheer length of it. I certainly need to watch it again to grasp the story better, as I too got a little confused over the last third of the film. However I totally agree with you regarding how well produced it seems.

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Guest StoneColdCrazy
Mullholland Falls gets bonus points for the same reason.

For more undressed Connolly, you might want to check out Requiem For A Dream, which is a great film in its own right.

SCC

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  • 3 years later...

I finally got around to watching this last night, after owning the DVD for about four years. I've always been put off by the length (3 hours 40 minutes), but it absolutely flew by once the first flashback started. Absolutely fantastic film. I realise this was made some time before The Untouchables, but Morricone's scores bear a lot of similarities.

Anyhow, I loved it. I share Paradigms view on the growing up on the streets thing, and also adore Godfather II. I thought it was great how Noodles had trouble transitioning to life now his gang were big time players, and was so disappointed in him when he raped Deborah. Gripping and completely engaging, definitely pick this up if you haven't seen it already.

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Yeah, or more properly (ruinous spoiler ahead)

an hallucination. The story's chronological end takes place more or less at the start of the film, in the opium den when Noodles is destroyed by the guilt of his having accidentally caused the deaths of his friends. He seeks solace in the trip, which is what is shown in the sections of the film dealing with 'modern' events; it's his comforting delusion, and we never actually see what happens afterwards. There are lots of visual and other clues to something being awry with what is told onscreen about these future times. Not all of the images and events add up if you think the chronology is how it's displayed on the surface. Having said that, the makeup thing (amongst other parts of the hallucination theory) has been described to me as a stretch by some people - but far more of the film makes sense from this perspective than the alternative. Or at least, it makes for a far more satisfying and interesting film.

Think about this: I first saw the uncut version not long after release as a big fan of Leone's, and felt very uncomfortable about some aspects of the story and the production which didn't seem like him at all (and seemed to make no sense). And then, I hit the last frame - the final scene decides to take us back to the opium den and the aftermath of the deaths of all but De Niro; the very last frame is of De Niro suddenly, in the face of this anguish and at the start of his trip, breaking into a massive grin. The credits play out over that image. Obviously, that means something fairly significant. I had to watch the film again almost straight afterwards as I felt I'd missed the point of it, and I did so with that image haunting me. Soon I hear again the phone ringing with the sound of betrayal, which only ends with that drug trip...and the rest of the film. That second time I watched the film was a revelation.

I know much of what is filmed is ambiguous, and I'm certain that's deliberate, but I'm pretty sure that despite all of the untidiness of the film (whichever way you cut it) it's supposed to make you feel the way I did. Otherwise it's just a Mona Lisa, that last frame, with all sorts of rubbish in the modern sections. One of the DVD versions has some sort of extra that suggests this was Leone's intention, too - but even if that's all horseshit, I know the way it made sense to me, and without this take on the film it's just a mundane film. I'd prefer to think of it as a work of chronomanipulative genius, and even if I'm just kidding myself at least I've got a great movie out of it. Or at least I did the second time around.

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Just got around to watching it and it was okay. Being a Leone film I was expecting and hoping for a particular style of movie yet OUaTiA didn't deliver that. That isn't really the fault of the film but rather my own preconceived idea of what it was going to be but it did hinder my enjoyment.

I agree with Gorf King in that

the '60s scenes are opium induced hallucinations. Well I hope that is the case because it does elevate it greatly. There are certain details in the '60s section which sit at odds with the idea it is all in his head but these touches seem to deteriate as the film progresses and then you are left with a future world which blends and is warped into the films present - such as Deborah's agelessnss and the dumptruck section. Only really by the end did it deliver the mythic quality I was expecting from a Leone picture.

It is still too long for my liking though. The childhood section dragged far too much for me and I didn't really see the need for almost half the film to be dedicated to it. Even though it was too long you can still tell that big chunks of story had been cut so certain elements don't gel as well as you'd expect. With the exception of the child who played Noodles none of the other kids seemed to match their adult versions. Knowing the ending though I wonder if that was deliberate or just iffy casting.

I'm glad I've seen it (it has been in my collection far too long unwatched) but I doubt it will be a film I return to in a hurry unlike Leone's Westerns.

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I'd return to it again and again for the soundtrack alone. It's one of Morricone's finest, which makes it pretty much one of the best scores of the 20th century.

The film itself has always greatly divided opinion, though. I'm just a sucker for flawed romantic epics with clever twists.

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  • 4 years later...

Just read the recent thread of 1920's films and remembered that the full 269 minute version still hasn't been realised. For those who found Leone's cut too long this probably isn't greatly wanted, but given that Scorsese is also involved I'd love to watch it in full, especially as it's years since I last watched it. Anyone have any news on progress and if this is still happening?

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A 246 min version was released on blu-ray by Warner Bros in Italy, quite recently.

They did a 4K scan of the negative and then restored it.

However, for some odd reason, it suffers from compression issues, such as blocking. Can it be blamed on putting over 4hrs of HD video and three lossless audio tracks onto the one disc? Possibly, except that there are films of similar length on a single BD-50 disc, with no issues. so who knows?. I believe that the Leone estate aren't happy with this release and are seeking to have it re-released properly.

cap_america_1_full.png

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  • 9 years later...

And bump.  There's a 229 minute long version of this on Netflix which I've finally got around to watching and having been aware of this film for probably 30 years (and intending to watch it for most of that time) I'm really glad I did.   I've been thinking about the ending all day, I'd avoided taking in other people's viewpoints for most of the morning because I wouldn't want them to cloud my thoughts but having dived in now I think I have to agree with the opium hallucination theory.  Everything in this film was deliberate and there for a reason, I'm sure there was a lot of symbolism which would only get picked up on repeat viewings but the fact that Max's body was unidentifiable seemed important, the fact that you saw them switch ID tags on newborn babies looked like a big signpost to where the film was headed once Max started to dominate the group. Some of it was really heavy handed (the throne?) and some of the acting was really wooden, but god damn what a movie.  It definitely feels like a few people involved in it were doing most of the heavy lifting but when those people include Robert De Nero and Sergio Leone then what ends up on screen is still magnificent.  The cinematography and the soundtrack are on a whole over level, the costume design was outstanding too.   Is it a masterpiece?  Probably.  

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I watched a 230 ish minute version on Prime a couple of days ago and it most certainly is a masterpiece, but it does feel like it’s been edited to shreds, particularly towards the back end. I would have liked to have seen the original idea of a pair of three hour epics realised. Christ knows how badly cut up the even shorter US cinema release was. There’s plenty to criticise if you want to pick and choose, pull apart particular scenes or moments of acting but god damn, when viewed as a whole, it’s a hell of an achievement.

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From imdb:

Quote

Runtime3 hr 49 min (229 min)
2 hr 19 min (139 min) (re-cut) (USA)
4 hr 10 min (250 min) (extended cut)
4 hr 29 min (269 min) (uncut)

 

That is a hell of a reduction on the US one

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