One month in and it is spreading up into my neck from my right arm. Dictated reviews will be continuing until I know more about what I am dealing with.
Since I have all the time in the world (well not quite, but you know) it makes sense for me to continue crossing off some of the longer films on the list. So far there has been Shoah, Jeanne Dielman and La belle noiseuse and now an English film of epic length.
Clocking in at 3 hours 49 minutes I can see why distributers in the US would have been cagey about this film. I can also see why they would have wanted to have it edited down, but by the sounds of it they should have just left well enough alone… apart from that scene in the car with Noodles and Deborah. Once I saw the way that was going I just had to fast-forward through that. That was just horrible and how dare Sergio Leone play such a sorrowful music afterwards as Noodles walks away. One of those rare times I actually took time out for an Intermission despite this being a DVD.
It was this scene (and maybe 20 other minutes that could have been cut) and the general misogyny of the film that prevented me from giving this film a perfect score. So let’s start with the positives.
The score. I think we can all agree that Ennio Morricone should have won an Oscar way before his win in February for The Hateful Eight. The score for Once Upon A Time in America is not as good those he wrote for Once Upon A Time In The West or The Good, The Bad & The Ugly but then again how many are? Exactly. The music is what holds this entire film together across the five decades of Noodles’ life. He actually finds a way to use panpipes effectively in the score for a Prohibition-era gangster movie. That’s the level of talent Morricone is working with.
Now performances. Obviously Robert DeNiro knocks it out of the park as he always seemed to do in the 70s and 80s, so I’m going to focus on two other great performances: James Woods as Max and Tuesday Weld as Carol. Also, a fantastic job by the child actors in the first hour of the movie. Usually a section that is predominantly child actors can feel incredibly stilted, but some of these scenes were amongst my favourite of the movie. A massive well done to Sergio Leone for that and for this movie in general.
Finally, there is the opium smoking scenes and the interpretaions that this has led a number of cinema goers to have with regards to the 1960s parts of the film. How it may be possible that nothing we see of the older Noodles is real and is just a drug-induced fantasy. A way for Noodles to cope with all of his loses and as a way for him to make up for all the mistakes he has made. I don’t know how much I would go for this, but it’s a nice talking point.
Overall this stands as my favourite of his films and, barring a re-watch and a reevalation of his other films, will likely remain so.
Again I am pairing up one of the longest films with one of the shortest films. Of the nine Luis Buñuel films on the 1001 list this is the fifth that I have seen (after Un Chien Andelou, Las Hurdes, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and Los olvidados) and it is probably the one that I got the least. As much as I hated some of the scenes in Las Hurdes at least I understood some of the meaning without resorting to Wikipedia.
L’Age D’Or still managed to get some laughs out of me. It is meant to be a surrealist comedy after all and the idea of something that is nonsensical but funny does appeal to me a great deal. For example, the cow standing on the bed that is then escorted out of the bedroom to the noise of a very loud cowbell – this really tickled me and I guess that was because of the absurdity of it all.
On the opposite side of that is the soldiers right at the beginning or the couple “wrestling” in mud. I am still not entirely sure what the point of those were. My best guess is that they somehow fit into the surrealist aesthetic that Buñuel was constructing.
One thing that is clear about L’Age D’Or is how the director uses this film to mock the upper classes. I now know that the last sequence is meant to liken Jesus to a character from a Marquis de Sade novel, but I didn’t get that allusion at the time of watching… which means he is also attacking the Church. I guess that would explain why the producers of the film were threatened with ex-communication. Or not. If anything the outrage and the banning that followed just cemented this film’s place in cinematic history.
It’s one of those films that anyone who is interested in cinema should see as it offers a crash course in surrialism. It’s not exactly my cup of tea, but then again I am not turned on by the toes of marble statues.