I recently returned from a visit to the Almeria coastline in Spain where I found myself visiting the film set of ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’, my all time favourite film.
I was reminded of the day when my father came home and announced.
“I’ve just seen a film where Henry Fonda plays a baddie”. My father always thought Henry Fonda was a consummate actor and encouraged me to watch his films such as ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ and ‘Twelve Angry Men’ where he plays the hero overcoming great odds.
Once Upon a Time in the West is a film directed by Sergio Leone. It’s a film about a great project – the building of a railway across America. Why do I love this spaghetti western?
I love the stunning close ups of people’s faces, so close that you see the raw essence of the woman or man.
I love the amazing scenery that fills me with aspiration and expansiveness. I can feel and smell the heat and the dust as I watch – which is all so magically captured in the tension building opening sequence at the isolated rail stop. I’ll say no more – see it for yourself if you don’t know it!
I love the music, by Ennio Morricone, who I was delighted to see won an Oscar this week.
I love the juxtaposition of Italian and Western, which connects with my Italian parents and my father’s love of Westerns.
And most of all I love the four strong protagonists. No one individual is either all good or all bad and even the “baddie” Henry Fonda shows a moment of humanity.
The four protagonists Claudia Cardinale, Charles Bronson, Jason Robards and Henry Fonda each represent the complexity of human experience and emotion. Claudia conveys both softness and a steely determination to survive. Charles represents goodness at heart and yet is driven by revenge and is unable to form normal relationships. Jason, perhaps my favourite, represents the depth of compassion needed for redemption. Henry represents pure cruelty and yet has an awareness and curiosity about his own inhumanity.
The film ends with poignancy and hope. It inspires me to connect with the fullness of life. To me Sergio Leone has a profound connection to the truth and experience of human imperfection and the skill to convey it.
Is that what inspiring others comprises? ‘Connecting to what matters and having a compassion for people in all their complexity and imperfection?’
On the film set my friends and I entered the Sweetwater ranch house. There at the bar stood a lone soulful character who seemed as if to emerge from the film itself. He was playing Ennio Morricone music and made us coffee. He spoke no English and we spoke very little Spanish but we connected over the silent acknowledgement of a mutual love.