Once Upon a Time in America

For years, this film has grown in stature after being a passing failure in 1984. The reason is simple, the version that played in the U.S. was a butchered cut of the original vision of Director Sergio Leone. The widely hailed original cut that played in Cannes that year was also a truncated version since Leone had originally seen this as being two films of nearly three hours each. Very much like “Blade Runner”, “Once Upon a Time in America” actually has several variations that people have seen and commented on. There is apparently a version that was assembled and released in Italy two years ago that includes at least one scene with Louise Fletcher who is nowhere to be seen in any of the versions publicly shown prior to 2012.

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In 1984, for some reason, I never saw the 139 minute version that the American studio distributed. It was originally released June 1 in the U.S. , and I would be preoccupied by Star Trek, Streets of Fire and the next week, Ghostbusters and Gremlins. I was also in the process of applying for a teaching position and interviewing [I did not get the job until the second time I applied the next year], so I was pretty busy. By the fall however, things were more calm and I saw in my hometown paper that the acclaimed version of this movie that had received rapturous reviews at Cannes before the disastrous opening in the U.S. , would be playing at the Century City  Fox Theater for two weeks. I can’t remember all of the people who went but I had a distinct memory of my pal Steve Holland and a guy who had been on the USC Speech team when Steve and I were coaching as graduate students, Matt Chappa, both being there. I also know that it was the original version because the only way I have ever seen this film is in the non-sequential manner in which Leone had planned it.

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Racing With the Moon

 

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[I recommended this film on the Forgotten Film Podcast when I was a guest. It looks like Todd never got any coverage for it in the blogathon, so I am offering it to you to fill in that gap. Be sure to visit as many of the Bloggers participating in the Blogathon as you can, they are doing a great job covering 1984]

 

Once upon a time, movies were made about adult subjects and were serious about how they told their stories. While the stories were not always great, the actors and directors and the whole crew seemed to take the notion seriously, as if they were doing a play that would run forever on the screen. These stories featured everyday people dealing with unusual or slightly odd situations rather than end of the world scenarios and villains with superpowers. The term “middle of the road drama” would probably be appropriate to describe those films. Maybe in the indie world you still see these occasionally, but mostly they have been banished to cable movie hell. Today’s film fits this category completely.

racing_with_the_moon_ver1The film was written by Steve Kloves, who is best known for writing every Harry Potter movie except “Order of the Phoenix”. He has a real feel for the characters in the movie. All of them could have been a cliche but they have enough to say and emotions so real that they transcend what might have been mundane and it is more lifelike than you might have hoped. Continue reading