Autumn just got more expensive

oatw1.jpgOh God, look at this. I have to stop browsing on Amazon. This looks brilliant- 366 pages, large-format, previously unseen photographs and documents, shot-by-shot guide to the making of this classic. I have Frayling’s Leone biography Something To Do With Death which I seem to pick up and browse through every month, so this new book by him concentrating on the incredible Once Upon a Time in the West should be indispensable. What is it with this time of year and big expensive book and disc releases? I know, I know, its that long shadow of Christmas looming over all. I only wish he could one day give the same attention to Once Upon a Time in America,  but hey, you never know, maybe one day.. .

Amazon just told me that I bought that Frayling book on Leone back in 2000. Ye Gods.

Morricone Magic

tendaI’ve been listening to some of Ennio Morricone’s great soundtracks on the commute to work of late. Started with his score for La Tenda Rossa (The Red Tent) which features one of the most gorgeous love themes you’ll ever hear, progressed to Once Upon a Time in America and then onto Once Upon a Time in the West and then the psychedelic kitsch of the bizarre but achingly beautiful score for Veruschka.

I remember buying the Once Upon A Time in America soundtrack on CD way back when CD was pretty new, in the Virgin Megastore up Brum. The assistant at the counter commented “great movie, that,” when I handed him the disc to buy it. Back then the film was still pretty unknown following its failure at the box office, and I had bought it on VHS in London a few months before (horrible pan and scan, and likely an ex-rental). We chatted a little while about the film. Funny the things you remember. It was great just to meet someone who had even seen it, let alone loved it.

gssBooklet.inddLast, so far, listened to in the car is Morricone’s Guns for San Sebastian, which was a western from 1968 starring Anthony Quinn and Charles Bronson. I’d watched the film many years ago and the score always stayed with me (even when a kid great scores had a profound impact on me when watching films). When the FSM edition was released some ten years ago I ordered it instantly, but hadn’t listened to it for some years since, somehow lost in the piles of CDs I have. What a phenomenal score it is- huge, thunderous with a heartfelt and stirring main theme/love theme as only Morricone could manage. I’ve read that the score is widely considered a rehearsal for his more popular score for Once Upon A Time In the West, and you can hear that, particularly in the use of frequent Morricone muse  Edda Dell’Orso. But it’s a great score albeit inevitably lost in the long shadow of Once Upon A Time In the West. They just don’t make films, or film scores, anything like this anymoreHell of a thing, listening to such rousing music prior to walking into the office and then finding reality hit you in the face. It’s just not decent.

12 Angry Men (1957)

12 angryAh, 12 Angry Men– a review here seems largely redundant- a sensational film; one of the very greats. As powerful and important now as it was when it was made, more than fifty years ago, and likely to be just as powerful when its a hundred years old.  One for the ages, as they say, only here in this case at least its very true. I’ve seen the film several times over the years (and now in HD on a fine Blu ray) and it rewards every time.

Filmed in stark black and white,  its ostensibly a courtroom drama but really its something else entirely- yes, its set almost wholly in a jury room as the twelve jurors debate the guilt of a young boy accused of murder , but its much more than that. Its a study of twelve characters, twelve Everymen, strangers to each other, each from wildly different lives and backgrounds. Its a study of how they behave, what they believe, how they interact with each other, and how personal prejudices affect their behaviour and attitude towards the case.

As they assemble in the juror room, referring to each other as Juror One, Juror Two etc, the faultless casting and tight screenplay give the viewer immediate insight. Its in how they move, their mannerisms, their speech, as if with the briefest of brush-strokes the film paints us a complex picture. The camera relentlessly fixes its eye (and therefore the viewers eye) in tightly framed close-ups of each of the 12 jurors. An initial count reveals that all but one of the jury believes the boy is guilty. The one holdout is Juror Eight (Henry Fonda in his usual all-American wholesome character that reminds me how much of a shock/master-stroke was his later casting as the villain in Once Upon A Time In The West); Juror Eight doesn’t believe the boy is necessarily innocent, just that he has his doubts that he is guilty. He isn’t sure, he felt the case for the defence was poor, and that he wants them all to discuss and review the facts once more.  What follows for the next near-ninety minutes is a riveting examination of the characters and how it affects over the course of their deliberations their final decision.

12 angry2The cast is to die for- mostly unknowns at the time, with backgrounds in television, the actors would generally have great success in the years ahead- actors like Martin Balsam, John Fiedler, Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall, Jack Klugman, and Jack Warden. If those names little to you, consider yourself slapped on the wrist.

12 Angry Men reminds me of Glengarry Glenn Ross; both films are studies of the human condition, and both are master classes of acting. Both are fine studies of their Americas, separated by the decades; Glengarry is a study of greed, of a cut-throat world where morals suffer under the weight of ambition and sales are gained at any cost – 12 Angry Men is a study of society and the justice system, where 12 strangers from widely different backgrounds bring all their beliefs and prejudices into play when in the jury room. The stories both films tell are almost incidental to the incredible character acting demonstrated in both. Its remarkable stuff. Every budding actor in drama school must surely have a copy of each of these films at hand. Maybe every budding screenplay writer should too though, for although the acting is incredible and at the fore, in both films the scripts are razor-sharp, brimming over with a sense of reality and truth. Magnificent films.