This no happy ending though. There is no home, no family, waiting for Ethan. He is cursed, just as he cursed the dead Comanchee. He is a drifter, doomed to wander between the winds.
– Martin Scorsese
This no happy ending though. There is no home, no family, waiting for Ethan. He is cursed, just as he cursed the dead Comanchee. He is a drifter, doomed to wander between the winds.
– Martin Scorsese
I call him the Cartier-Bresson or Robert Frank of Hollywood. He wouldn’t allow the orchestrated P.R. photograph. He made authentically real photographs, and in the context of Hollywood, to make a real picture is odd.
– Los Angles photography gallery owner, David Fahey
My meeting with Jimmy Dean occurred in 1953, somewhere in the spring. I was aware of him of course. I was driving on Sunset Boulevard west towards Life Magazine’s offices….and passing through Crescent Heights Blvd, green light, coming down the other way, crossing the red light, was a crazy guy on a motorcycle. Anyway, he jammed n is brakes, I jammed on mine, I avoided killing him by a few inches. But anyway, he got up off the bike and he gave me a dopey grin. I was cursing him, using every expletive I could think of. And, that dope grin did it I guess. We became friends right there and we both went to breakfast at Schwab’s drugstore. By this time of course, I knew who he was.
There are some people who you don’t have to do anything with. And Jimmy was one of them: He was totally whimsical. There’s one shot where Dean peeks out of a sweater. I didn’t use a tripod or Strobe lights. I had a hand held Nikon. We broke all the rules that day.
I was a full decade older than Dean, but we hit it off. We were both a little nuts. I was a New York Jewish kid, from the Bronx; he was this Midwest eccentric. Neither of us was part of the Establishment. I feel his politics was only for the underdog.
Back in the Fifties, for me to photograph Marilyn Monroe, it was a catch-as-catch-can situation. I did not have her at my disposal the way some photographers did. So the only time I could get her was either surreptitiously or at a photo opportunity. And in that case, it was important for me to try to get a photograph that doesn’t look the same as the others. So I had to watch carefully and if she did anything unusual with her face or expression, I had to be alert enough to snap it.
I had an assignment from Look Magazine. The assignment was what Sam Goldwyn sees from his window. And I had telephoto cameras located at Sam Goldwyn’s office and it was setup in such a way there was no knowledge whatever of the people below and I was getting intimate pictures of them. And that’s where I was able to get those pictures of Marilyn Monroe walking with Paula Strassberg. At certain days, they were inseparable. And that was the time when she was pregnant during her marriage with Arthur Miller, At one point, her pregnancy was such that she was beginning to show.
And in one of those photos that made, she wore a dark kimono over a white outfit. And the wind blew open the kimono and it was very obvious that she was pregnant.
I believe and I’m not sure about it, that that is the only shot of her pregnant.
The pictures I most like are not necessarily pictures of Hollywood stars. I’m always looking for the perfect picture, and it does not matter who’s in it. And I can also add that I am more than 90 years old and have been holding a camera since age 14, and I have not yet found the perfect picture yet. But I will always keep looking for it.
[I shot] Sinatra literally in the position of Christ nailed to the cross. He choreographed it himself. This was a personal gag created for Mervyn Leroy, a director he had contempt for. He sent it along with a note that said, “O.K., you now have me where you want me. Frank.”
Bogart trusted me. [James] Dean trusted me. And Wayne. During the war, Wayne was never in the military. Bogart and Wayne may have seen themselves as a lot more macho than they actually were. I, in contrats, had been wounded. So my reputation in their eyes was as a tough guy.
But like I said before – the most important thing is access for the photographer. There are many good photographers but they are not appreciated for their work that they do not gain access to the appropriate places.
Sinatra especially for some reason liked the photos I made and he liked me. He didn’t love me but he liked me. He gave me access to the many things he did: his concerts, special events, television shows and when he worked in movies. I had many assignments with Sinatra, the most important one perhaps was the inauguration in 1961 of President Kennedy. And when Kennedy had a big gala, he appointed Sinatra to do all the entertainment. In that case, he asked me to be the resident photographer.
In my mind a photographer is like a carpenter. He can make a beautiful cabinet and you can exclaim `it’s a work of art,’ but it’s never going to be a Rembrandt.
Matisse I ain’t.
Sur·re·al·ism: the principles, ideals, or practice of producing fantastic or incongruous imagery or effects in art, literature, film, or theater by means of unnatural or irrational juxtapositions and combinations.
He gave back to the actors from the USA, the confidence that a western can be a great movie.
When I go to the cinema, I’m often frustrated because I can guess exactly what is going to happen about ten minutes into the screening. So, when I’m working on a subject, I’m always looking for the element of surprise.
A Sergio Leone film is an Ozu-esque journey into an arid, surreal land. The stories unfold at a pace that allows you to feel the passing of time like the best of post war Japanese cinema. The landscapes of the face, the expressions of the land, the scratchy gaze of taciturn men, Morricone’s wild, melodramatic score filling the dry air.
To watch a Leone film is to wait. The payoff will arrive, Sergio will always deliver, but you must wait and watch and wrap yourself in the languid pacing until the violence explodes in a flash. Then, it is time to wait again.
Leone was a big admirer of painters, especially the surrealists and Giorgio De Chirico in particular. You can see in De Chirico’s canvases that same bleak austerity that infuses Leone’s every frame. Leone shot many of his scenes on the same locations that Salvador Dali used in many of his nightmarish images from the 1930s. After filming the desert torture scene in The Good, the Bad, the Ugly, Leone later told cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli that it was shot “in a way that was worthy of the great surrealist painters.”
His slow hand is so far away from what is being show in theaters today with the emphasis on showing continual loud, explosive pay-offs, dispensing with the whole notion of earning a climax through suspense. Once Upon a Time in the West, the film I consider to be the height of Leone’s career, features about 15 pages of dialogue for a film that is well over three hours, following the maxim laid down by John Ford that true cinema is short on dialogue and long on action.
I’m a pessimist by nature. With John Ford, people look out of the window with hope. Me, I show people who are scared to even open the door. And if they do, they tend to get a bullet right between the eyes. But that’s how it is.
One of the best cinematic introductions of a character, Tuco makes his first appearance in the film, glass in his hair, mouth full of food, bottle of wine, leg of chicken, bursting through a window after having just killed three men that tried to ambush him.
Props like a simple mule-driven water wheel become gothic mechanisms in Sergio’s hands. Little details such as the need for the boy to duck twice during each rotation make a commonplace contraption into a bizarre device.
Designed and built by Carlo Simi, Leone’s interiors are substantial, heavy, and overbearing sometimes, with compositional motifs running throughout. There is a weighty permanence throughout the production design of all of his movies that differs from the clapboard, transient feel of Hollywood westerns.
The long torture scene in the desert is accessorized with Tuco’s pink parasol.
Shot like most Spaghetti Westerns in Almeria, Spain, Sergio, unlike other directors did not make the landscapes try to appear like the American West. He shot them as disturbing, alien terrains.
The ghost stagecoach appearing out of the desolation, carrying its cargo of the dead.
Each scene in a Leone film just feels slightly (sometimes overtly) bizarre, as if things real and recognizable, are just somehow, slightly, disturbingly off. His choice of props only help to build this tone. Here, Blondie plays with a kitten before he gets up to kill a man.
The iconic bathtub scene is one of the funniest moments in the film with Tuco telling the fallen assassin, “When you have to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk.” Eli Wallach, as he played the scene straight, said he never understood why everyone thought it was funny.
Leone’s attention to details and historical accuracy was famous but these elements were rendered so large and melodramatic, that they felt unreal in his hands, enough so that he had to show source photographs to some skeptics.
There was a degree of realism in his movies, as surrealistic as they were, that always seemed to be missing from the Hollywood westerns of the thirties, forties and the fifties.
The introductory shot to the Ecstasy of Gold sequence. It took two weeks and scores of men to make all of the graves.
The final showdown, a triangle of shooters in the circular plaza with the radiating spokes of graves.
The main motif of the movie, the hangman’s noose, frames Tuco’s transformation from joy to anger in a slow reveal as the camera cranes upwards, letting both the viewer and Tuco discover the rope.
What they [Leone, Dario Argento, Bernardo Bertolucci during the writing of Once Upon a Time in the West] were doing was something that is very common now but in 1967 was very uncommon, which is films about films. And in fact, the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard has called Leone the first postmodernist film director for this reason.
-Sir Christopher Frayling
One of the greatest opening sequences , the long languid set up of the arrival of Harmonica at the train station sets the pace for the rest of the film with exquisitely framed compositions, three legendary western character actors and a thick palpable tension as we wait. Almost no dialogue, Morricone’s natural ambient sounds score a’la John Cage; Jack Elam and the fly, Woody Strode and the dripping water, the sea of railroad ties. Sublime.
The greatest scene he ever directed was the opening sequence to Once Upon a Time in the West. It’s like a haiku poem, it’s flawless. I mean it’s extraordinary filmmaking.
The famous mittens in Monument Valley filmed over and over again by John Ford. Shot by Leone, the landscape has never felt so enormous while at the same time, so much less majestic and picturesque than Ford’s treatments.
The way station is part stable, part saloon, part inn and is a baroque space, massively constructed. The alternating light and dark spots within the crowded heavy space gives this long scene a continual sense of unease.
The slaughtered family laid out on gingham picnic tables with wildflower garnish.
Jill (Claudia Cardinale) in front of Sweetwater Ranch. Designed and built by Carlo Simi, the massive structure, which still stands today in Almeria was made using lumber from Orson Welle’s failed Falstaff production. The formidable ranch does not even resemble a home at all. A Leone film is no place for a comforting, inviting homestead as in a typical western.
Jill shot through the lattice of the lace canopy which was a very unusual and original framing. Shots like this lent credence to the school that called Leone’s films ‘art westerns.’
Figures either appear magically out of landscapes like apparitions or are swallowed up by them.
The fight sequence in the unfinished town has the most obvious Dali references with the painted clocks and the cheeky High Noon reference.
The hanging bed in the pueblo for the lovemaking/rape scene is bizarre and to Leone’s credit, it somehow makes sense and the viewer never questions why anyone would construct such a thing.
One of the best sight gags in all of his movies, Jason Robard’s revolver in a boot.
We’d have wonderful long lunches. Charlie Bronson would say ‘Wait, wait a minute, what is this? Why don’t we get back on the set and get working.’ Hank Fonda and I would say, ‘Relax, Charlie. Relax. You’ll never get it like this again.’ It was a great atmosphere there.
Crippled and stuck in his self-imposed prison inside a luxury train car, a gothic gold cage descends from the ceiling, allowing Morton (Gabriele Ferzetti) to move around.
The arresting, out of focus image of the ghostly figure appearing out of the haze of the desert is repeated throughout the three hour film. Teasing the viewer, the mystery of the lone haunting figure is finally revealed during the final duel between Harmonica and Frank as the image finally comes into focus. One of the best pay-offs in the history of cinema, Leone takes the ultimate western cliche, that of revenge, and makes it as melodramatic and as epic as only he can.
The function of the flashback is Freudian…[Y]ou have to let them wander like the imagination or like a dream.
There is a zoom shot into Charles Bronson’s eyes at the moment, the flashback of why he’s there on his mission, is told. That may be the biggest close-up of an actor’s eyes I have ever seen in my life. They completely fill the screen.
When I say give me a ‘Sergio Leone’, I’m implying the feel that I want. It’s not just an extreme close-up. It’s not just a frame.
…the eyes are the most important element to me. Everything can be read in them…
You can’t shoot a film as if you were putting a salami into its skin. From a project like [Kurosawa’s] Ran or Once Upon a Time in America, you come away dry in the mouth, with your head in flames and your soul in shreds.
The Clergy, American Big Business and Italian Upper Class rolling in the mud of a pig sty.
He had a huge canvas on which he worked, psychologically, historically, even in terms of the economic understanding of the development of America because you know that triptych, starting with Once Upon A Time in America, Duck, You Sucker, Once Upon A Time in The West…I mean there’s sort of the European- Marxist view of the founding of America at the hands of robber barons and organized crime. It’s not far from wrong by the way, if at all.
A little al fresco dining between Rod Steiger and James Coburn.
At one point, James Coburn slips away from Steiger, leaving only his mule and hat behind as a taunt.
These humorous and surreal moments come effortlessly and often in Duck, You Sucker.
I think a case can easily be made that Morricone and Leone may be the greatest composer-director collaboration in the history of film. Even as wonderful as the Hitchcock- Bernard Herrman collaboration was, it almost even isn’t comparable to how important Morricone was to Leone and Leone was to Morricone. You can’t even imagine the movies without Morricone’s music.
James Coburn’s Irish partisan Sean tends to exit scenes with big bangs.
The [John] Ford film I like most of all…is also the least sentimental, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance…Ford finally, at the age of almost sixty-five, finally understood what pessimism is all about. In fact, with that film Ford succeeded in eating up all his previous words about the West…Because Liberty Valance shows the conflict between political forces and the single, solitary hero of the West…He loved the West and with that film at last he understood it.
A hundred years from now, Leone will be one of the great, you know, he’ll be unequivocally up there with the greatest of them all.
On my deathbed, when someone says, ‘What was the greatest artistic experience you’ve ever had?’, it was working with Sergio Leone. There’s no doubt about it. It was the Everest of my life, you know. I never got a chance to tell him that because I was too young or confused or too shy to call him up and sort of say it. One of the reasons I wanted to do this interview was to say it so someone could hear it.
Kurosawa was one of the 20th century’s master auteurs and perhaps my favorite director. His pairing with Toshiro Mifune over 16 films constitute one of the, if not the, most productive actor-director collaboration in the history of cinema. And the greatest of these is Seven Samurai, one of the best films ever made and one that I continually revisit.
Kurosawa said he studied the master as often as he could, meaning John Ford. And though he said this in reference to Ford’s composition and framing, I believe that he far surpassed Ford in this respect. Kurosawa’s compositions imbue his stories with such power and dynamism that even his noirs or domestic scenes seem gigantic.
All of his films contain his usual bravura compositions, but it is with his ensemble films like Seven Samurai and High and Low that you get to see Kurosawa craft such classic fluid group compositions, sometimes composed of dozens of actors, never crowded or confusing, always clear and focused, the menagerie acting like a visual chorus.
Though he was more known for his telephoto lens work, Seven Samurai marks the transition point where Kurosawa moves away from the wide angle lens in favor of the foreshortening and flattening effect of the long lens. This film then has some amazing cinematography by the great Asakazu Nakai using both lenses. Kurosawa and Nakai show their complete mastery of the dynamic wide-angle compositions as the camera is not locked down but moves from one composition to another, all so breathtaking that they form a dynamic texture that propels the narrative over three hours.
If you’ve never seen this movie, watch as each character progresses and reacts and moves in the scene as individuals choreographed in these organic group portraits. This is throwaway virtuoso filmmaking at it’s best. Throwaway because the point of a scene or a shot is never the camera or the composition but always the characters and the drama. Everything is controlled, deliberate and manufactured to be in service of the story.
The term ‘giant’ is used too often to describe artists. But in the case of Akira Kurosawa, we have one of the rare instances where the term fits.
In this three image sequence below, the still frames are taken from the scene where the samurai meet the village patriarch for the first time. There were three shots of incredibly complexity. Pans and dolly moves around the room were blocked so skillfully that no actor’s face was ever occluded, the camera moving from perfect composition to perfect composition, each actor facing a different direction, each face and pose in character, each character processing the conversation a different way.
This is what makes Kurosawa a master. These complex, staged moves are barely noticeable to the viewer, the camera never intrudes on the story, the virtuoso hand never makes itself felt.
You see an absolutely brilliant film later, as an adult, and you walk out thinking about what to have for dinner. Whereas something like Jaws winds up having a huge effect on me. If only my parents had been taking me to Kurosawa films when I was eight, but no.
Good Westerns are liked by everyone. Since humans are weak, they want to see good people and great heroes. Westerns have been done over and over again, and in the process a kind of grammar has evolved. I have learned much from this grammar of the Western.
Being a kid growing up with Kurosawa films and watching Sergio Leone movies just made me love what it could do to you, and how it could influence you – make you dream.
Man is a genius when he is dreaming.
In a mad world, only the mad are sane.
Movie directors, or should I say people who create things, are very greedy and they can never be satisfied, … That’s why they can keep on working. I’ve been able to work for so long because I think next time, I’ll make something good.
With a good script, a good director can produce a masterpiece. With the same script, a mediocre director can produce a passable film. But with a bad script even a good director can’t possibly make a good film. For truly cinematic expression, the camera and the microphone must be able to cross both fire and water. The script must be something that has the power to do this.
In all my films, there`s three or maybe four minutes of real cinema.
Human beings share the same common problems. A film can only be understood if it depicts these properly.
Being a huge fan of John Ford’s “The Quiet Man” since I was a kid, I could not wait to visit the village of Cong in County Mayo where they filmed much of the movie. The tiny village is dominated by tourist traps for fans of the film but off the main strip, things settle down and the quaintness of life in western Ireland takes over.
Drive about an hour north of Galway on Route 334 on the Circular Road and just enjoy the scenery.
Shot with a Nikon F5, 35-70mm Nikkor, and Kodak Tri-X 400.