Epic gunfights. Epic running times. Sweeping panoramas of the Wild West (often, in fact, Spain). Harmonicas on the soundtrack. Extreme close-ups and huge depth of field. Trains. Horses. Scowling hitmen with beards. Few cinematic languages are as distinct as that of Sergio Leone, the late Italian maestro of the Spaghetti Western.
Like Stanley Kubrick or David Lean, Leone was a perfectionist who obsessed over style in the manner of a master artisan. Consequently, like those two, he didn't complete many films in his career. The seven movies that he helmed in his forty-year career form a coherent set: centred as it is on the Spaghetti Western genre, an homage to the Hollywood Western which is itself founded on the shaky fables of the Wild West, his oeuvre is preoccupied with nostalgia and myth. Many of his works, such as the Eastwood-starring 'Man With No Name' trilogy, pay tribute to the tropes of early Hollywood cinema while subtly subverting them; his best film, 'Once Upon a Time in the West', threw its audience by casting erstwhile heartthrob Henry Fonda as a sadistic baddie.
The Cinémathèque Française will be screening all seven films directed by Leone, including his wayward four-hour masterpiece 'Once Upon a Time in America', as well as several films that he scripted. It runs 3–20 September. For more information, including a full programme, click here.