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Once Upon a Time

I had to work through the Labor Day weekend, but I took the opportunity to check out some older movies which hadn’t seen in a long time. Remember C’era una volta il West which goes by the English title Once Upon a Time in West? I saw it first 1968 in Germany where it had the melodramatic title Spiel mir das Lied vom Tod. The title notwithstanding, this film was an epiphany – Western movies were never the same after Sergio Leone’s brutal wide-screen close-ups, Ennio Morricone’s famous score, and the script … were there any good guys? To top it all, Henry Fonda was the head-baddie!

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A couple of years later I saw another much lauded Leone Western named Il Mio nome è Nessuno which has the English title My Name is Nobody. I found the score irritating, the story patchy and confusing. But I was between continents then and thought I must have missed something. This weekend, thirty years later, I revisited the movie and have to say that my impression hasn’t changed. If it is a great film then I am missing something.

From my teenage years on I have been a Claude Lelouche fan, fully aware that his movies were (and perhaps still are) considered schmaltzy. But when revisiting films I remember fondly from those years I usually have been disappointed. Well, here is the good news. I watched again, after thirtysomething years, Un homme et une femme, and it is still a great movie! The title song is a bit annoying because I must have heard it several million times, but the movie itself is a pleasure to watch. It is impressive what Lelouche was able to do with a crew of 10, two cameras and virtually no budget in such a short time – and so well that it is holding up over time.

Which brings me to the last oldie of the weekend. I started early in life to see movies on a regular basis, and quite a few of them were what today would be considered art movies. I don’t recall why I made this selection or whether it was deliberate or coincidence, but it certainly informed my viewing habits for the rest of my life – so much so that we usually check out a movie for me (which nobody else will watch) and one for the rest of the family.

I saw a lot of French movies, and Jean-Luc Godard was no stranger to me. À bout de souffle hit the screen a bit before my movie going time, but as soon as I looked old enough pass for 16 (they took their ratings seriously in Germany then), I went to see what the alleged nude scenes were all about. Well, no nudity, but a heart wrenching story. It became, for a while, one of my favorite movies. My verdict after four decades: It didn’t hold up as well as other Godard movies, Alphaville for example, but then I am a sucker for dystopias – and schmaltzy love stories directed by Claude Lelouche.


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