December 11, 2018
Rome, December 11, 2018 - Doppiozero, the online magazine of art and literature, presents a large article by Valentina Manchia on the exhibition on Sergio Leone, underway at the Cinémathèque in Paris
In one of the videos - writes 'Doppiozero' - that enrich the path of the great exhibition at, realized in collaboration with the Bologna Film Library (until January 27, 2019), a Sergio Leone already fat but without beard, and therefore less prototypical 'image of him that we usually recall, gives directions to the noise maker in charge of giving depth to the sound carpet of one of his films.
"Here, now also with the irons, good", he advises him as he sweeps away the crumbs of brioche from his table and drums on the table the exact rhythm of the horse race, intent as a conductor to make, and redo, even the smallest joke. For those who perform, with special bowls and quick and dry movements, eyes glued to the screen that projects the scene, it is more to translate than to interpret. The director listens and ponders, immersed at the same time in the film and in his cappuccino.
Also in the section "Laboratorio Leone", structured in video clips and photo galleries, here is the director, in workwear, now showing Clint Eastwood how to hold the weapon, now holding the beautiful Claudia Cardinale in life just like the patrons on duty would have to hold her to him in Once upon a time in the West.
A minimal diary of work, made up of almost insignificant details, yet emblematic - and magnetic for the audience that stops to look and comment, also noisily, the scenes and the photographs that run in loop (this exhibition, in effect, does not require it to be explored in religious silence, if anything the opposite).
In the head of Leone, a film is a matter of details - of many, many details.
In Lector in fabula, Umberto Eco spoke of the narrative text as a "machine to produce possible worlds" - making clear that a possible world is not at all an empty world, but a world filled with characters and contexts, objects and situations, each with its own characteristics.
A perfectly furnished universe in which to sit, wander with circumspection, and from which to listen to one of those "great fairy tales" of his cinema: this is the impression, more or less conscious, that you have walking through the exhibition halls and observing objects and images that we not only know, but we recognize very well.
And here is the poncho of Eastwood, of course, here is the dress of the Cardinali, and hear in the background the theme of the villain of the film (what was it called?), And then the phone Once Upon a Time in America - say the looks , accomplices, of the patrons of the exhibition. All of us, more or less, in the darkness of an old cinema or streaming on a screen, in the universe of Leo we have already settled a thousand times.
What is more this exhibition - titled, not by chance, Il était une fois Sergio Leone - is to accompany us, step by step, even in his imagination - to the discovery of the director and the man that of these "fairy tales for adults" its origin. Definition that, Leo confesses, carrying on the metaphor, "has, at times, made me affirm to have the impression of being, with respect to the cinema, as a puppeteer with his puppets". And the Cinémathèque exhibition holds together all this, the creator and his universe, the project and the details, the ideas and the technical realization.
A narrative text, as a descriptive one, never requires the same level of detail as an image, which is forced to ask how to show, and for what purpose, what it wants to show. If the image is not a solitary image, but it is the constellation of frames, ordered and invisible in its joints, which in cinema, things get complicated. And if the person behind the camera is someone who claims to have "neorealism syndrome", as he himself says, well, things get even more complicated.
Of all this, Leone is totally aware, concentrated in a way that many have defined manic on the consistency of every single detail of his films (in this sense it is "neorealist", even if not to De Sica or Rossellini) and that he himself loved to remark, over and over again.
In the dense interviews with Noël Simsolo, for example, in Once Upon a Time the Cinema (Il Saggiatore), published for the first time in Italian and recently in bookstores, his passion for well-furnished narrative worlds emerges in a tasty way through a myriad of anecdotes, like this one For a Few Dollars More (1965): "I could not invent imaginary objects, we needed great technical precision. So I documented. In Washington, in the largest library in the world, the Library of Congress, you can get a copy of any rare book. [??] So I requested all the available volumes that talked about the West and the War of Secession. I only read books of that kind. I must have consulted more works on that period than historians have done! Among other things, I found detailed descriptions of all types of weapons of the era. [??] And I discovered with great surprise that there was still a factory of those weapons, in Brescia, where the construction of pistols and revolvers of the last century was handed down. And it supplied the American market. [??] But the authenticity of those weapons was not enough for me, I wanted precise even when it concerned the ballistics, the firing range?? My story had to start from a documentary realism based on technique ".
Many of the weapons commissioned to the Uberti of Brescia starting from 1965 - that is, thanks to the much more conspicuous means obtained by the producers after the success of the first film of the Trilogy of the Follar, For a Fistful of Dollars (1964) - are on display, together with stage costumes by the Cardinali and Henry Fonda. Of other objects, apparently insignificant for the narration but for Leone necessary for the suspension of disbelief of his spectator - even better, to the unconditional surrender to the power of his imagination - we read between the interviews with Simsolo and in the rich catalog of the exhibition, La Révolution Sergio Leone, curated by Gian Luca Farinelli and Christopher Frayling, who collects essays, critical contributions, testimonies and interviews.
Once upon a time in America, for example: the "cathedral", as the collaborators of Leone called it - released in 1984, thirteen years after Giù la testa, but in gestation many years before - is a delicate and complex narrative object , in which nothing is left to chance. The documentation by Tonino Delli Colli, director of photography, exhibited in the exhibition tells it well, from the collage of old photos to reconstruct a wider panorama possible to the meticulous processing steps.
More than the authentic, Leone wants the exact, adherence to the reality of New York at the time, and, if the reality no longer exists, to its original idea.
"Let's say it all: in a dream like this you need realism," he tells Simsolo. "It must be credible! And that's why all places are real. I went to look for them. [??] New York Central Station of that era no longer exists, it has been destroyed. But I knew it was only a replica of the Gare du Nord in Paris, and so I filmed those scenes at the Gare du Nord in Paris. The same windows, the same columns of cement and stone: the same materials. Same for the Long Island hotel, where Noodles brings Deborah. That place no longer existed, but it looked very much like some buildings in Venice. [??] Following my intuition, I turned inside original models. [??] Everything is lost, forgotten, destroyed ?? And I, to make a film about memories and memory, I had to find the remains of reality ".
And, of course, to be furnished, rebuilt, redesigned are not only objects and places, but also the actors - dusty and beaded with sweat for the Dollar Trilogy, for example. ("I put a hat and a poncho to make it a little bigger," says Eastwood, and at the Cinémathèque you can touch this transformation, with the faces of its actors before and after the "treatment" Leone).
Details, details, details, that never ends in themselves. Details, but always at the service of a precise universe. The reverberation - the one we see shimmering, and that instinctively attracts us - of a thought through images, to which we arrive only a moment later.
It is thanks to this key that what could have become a backstage exhibition of Leone's films becomes an exhibition on the imagination of Leone, even better on Sergio Leone as a great machine of the imaginary, as well as on his presence in our imaginary collective, on its mythology. This is why Leone himself is the first protagonist of the exhibition, starting from the large hall that proclaims him directly as "citizen of the cinema" by birth right, brought up right away in a celluloid manger, with a silent actress mother (Bice Waleran, at the age Edvige Valcarenghi) and a father director (Vincenzo Leone, but in the headlines always Roberto Roberti).
Child first and teenager then always on the set, to peek behind the camera of his father, little Leone can only look for his way into the world of cinema, and here he is assistant director, very young, for De Sica in bicycle thieves but also for Aldrich and Wise: "in 1945 I had been the youngest assistant director of Italy", he recalls, and for more than ten years will continue to be disputed for his ability to direct actors and workers on set, to fulfill requests more unlikely, and to stay if necessary, and very well, even behind the camera.
When finally, in 1964, he dedicated himself to the project of the Magnificent Stranger, who would then become For a Fistful of Dollars and the first film of his first Trilogy (another symptom of a very conscious imaginary is this telling in perspective, unraveling its own stage path for stage) behind the lens of Leone have already rolled out - and sedimented - meters and meters of peplum, adventure films, costumes, and westerns.
The imaginary machine is set in motion even before the camera, and grasped the story firmly - the man between two warring bands who both ends up beating them both, just like the Harlequin servant of two owners of Goldoni - Kurosawa's Samurai Challenge makes the decision to make it a western, but in its own way, sui generis and out of the genre. No folklore, no Indians, but Homer and the comedy of art as a reference. "Through the Goldoni filter, I intended to work on the game of masks": and so it proceeds, also with the help of Ennio Morricone's musical accompaniment, whose themes also run after the Cinémathèque, between one room and another.
(In one of the most successful video montages of the show, judging by the amount of people who stood in front of us, the character Leone tells A Fistful of Dollars between a forkful of fettuccine and the other, immediately following the interview in which he defines Homer the first and greatest western writer, and Achilles, Ettore and the others - dirty, sweaty and straight to their goal - as the first models of his cinema).
Film after film, and room after room, the imaginary Leone takes more and more body and awareness: cross references between cinema and painting are revealed, from Goya to De Chirico passing through Hopper, which show a wide and courageous visual culture, not to say bold; after the first trilogy, a second one is opened, the Trilogy of Time, with Once Upon a Time the West (1968), Giù la testa (1971) and Once Upon a Time in America (1984); the collaboration with Morricone becomes so close and fundamental to ask him to write the soundtrack starting from the solo subject and to have the actors play on the set with the music playing - and so it is also for the exhibition, counterpointed and also built from the musical accompaniment, which from one room often reverberates in the others. To complete the imaginary, to weld the story in a mythology, the explicit fusion between adherence to reality and anti-realism that is becoming stronger.
Leo wants a credible, plausible, dirty and dusty world, but also highly symbolic: a world continually on the verge of anachronism, in which the massacres of the Mexican civil war can bring to mind the Fosse Ardeatine, with the mediation of Goya; a world in which behind the Good, the Ugly and the Ugly of the genre can see the archetypes that they carry.
At the Cinémathèque, an entire wall by Il était une fois Sergio Leone is dedicated to summing up the culmination of the final scene, the famous three-piece duel of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
In front of the wall, when I had the opportunity to visit the exhibition, at the end of October, a father played with his three sons, two boys and a girl, to embody the expressions of those huge faces, cut so tightly, that they could see for first time. Once upon a time Sergio Leone, and here he is still there.