My Week in Movies: Dec. 30 – Jan. 5

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) Sergio Leone’s greatest film. It works as a terrific story, natch, but most striking to me is how the film plays with sight and sound. The widescreen imagery is gorgeous stuff, Leone (one of the true masters of framing) making the most of its large scale epicness, yet every frame is soaking in the grit and grime of reality; the vast sets built on location serve to enhance this idea that everything we see is real. Compare that, then, to the broad strokes painted by the soundtrack, where the effects have a ghostly unreality to them. Leone cranks the sound in weird places – a drip here, a crunch there – as if to pull us out of the authenticity the visuals create. Charles Bronson’s harmonica never sounds natural; just where is that musical whine coming from? More than just the result of redubbing, the sounds in West feel intentionally unnatural, as if Leone is embracing the artificiality of cinema itself, a sense of film-as-fairy tale. (Hence the title, of course.) Morricone’s score (one of the finest pieces of music ever written) is used to great effect, almost becoming a Greek chorus of sorts as it toys with themes for each of the main characters, creating an audio shorthand that helps propel the story and its mood. The film works beautifully on many levels, but it wears its movie-ness on its sleeve in truly wondrous ways.

The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and The Towering Inferno (1974) It’s the darnedest thing: when I watch Poseidon (which I do often), I have to watch Inferno, too. I just can’t break up the set, that one-two punch of brilliant popcorn storytelling with honest-to-goodness practical effects and real sets and stuntmen unprotected by digital assistance. It’s the sort of impressively pure filmmaking that knocks me out with every frame. How’d they do that? Why’d they do that?! These are among my absolute favorite movies, my desert island picks.

The Longest Day (1962), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), and The Music Man (1962) I’ve set out to watch as many of the 1962 Academy Award nominees as possible, starting with the Best Picture contenders. I’ll have more to say about this journey and the films later in the week… which means until then, I get to cut today’s post short.

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