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Sergio Leone: Once Upon a Time in Italy [Paperback]

Christopher Frayling
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
Price: 16.95 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

21 April 2008
In the mid-1960s, an unknown Italian film director, Sergio Leone, made A Fistful of Dollars, the first in a trilogy of films that came to define the spaghetti western. The films that complete the trilogy, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, are, like the first film, violent, cynical and visually stunning, and together they form the backbone of an important film genre that has influenced many contemporary filmmakers. This book, newly available in paperback, is an authoritative, in-depth study of Leone and the ItalianWestern by film expert and cultural historian Sir Christopher Frayling. Featuring analyses of and interviews with all the key players, including Leone himself, it forms a wonderful tribute to one of the master filmmakers of the 20th century.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Thames and Hudson Ltd (21 April 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0500287430
  • ISBN-13: 978-0500287439
  • Product Dimensions: 1.7 x 21.8 x 26.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 376,059 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

They were "ersatz Westerns" to American critics. Umberto Eco compared them to the "godless nostalgia" of Renaissance writing, and the director himself described them as about "picaresque people placed in epic situations". The films of Sergio Leone have inspired generations of directors, from Steven Spielberg, George Lucas (whose film Star Wars was effectively a Western in space) and John Carpenter to Quentin Tarantino. Christopher Frayling certainly needs no convincing of the man's talent. Already the author of Spaghetti Westerns, his first full-length biography is a cinéaste's delight, a detailed and rewarding survey of the career of the man of whom Bernardo Bertolucci said, "I like the way he filmed horses' arses".

Leone was born into film: his father directed the first Italian Western in 1913 and his mother was an actress. Beset by a formative tangle of influences, such as Neapolitan marionette shows and a love of John Ford and Charlie Chaplin, he moved from "toga flicks" to the landscape of his dreams, the American mid-West (actually Almeria in Spain). The 1960s Dollars trilogy, with their fledgling star Clint Eastwood as The Man With No Name (actually Joe in the first, then Blondie) and their lingering camerawork allied to Ennio Morricone's haunting scores, defined a genre from which he fought to escape. Once Upon the Time in the West followed, with its dizzying stillness but there would be a decade of relative inertia before the epic Once Upon a Time in America, the gangster film he reputedly turned down The Godfather to direct. The film is a mosaic of reference to film noir and America, the genre and country that continued to inform and delight him. Frayling's cultured prose focuses less on the man than the movie-maker, yet his study, which also doubles as a general history of Italian cinema, splendidly feeds off the numerous legends and bitching that sprung up around the history of Leone's productions. Drawing on conversations with the director himself before his death in 1989, as well as dialogues with old acquaintances--and, most essentially, a first-class knowledge of the films themselves--Frayling has written a comprehensive homage to one of the trademark directors of 20th-century cinema. --David Vincent --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


"Luxuriously illustrated...Sir Christopher Frayling is an expert in the genre" -- The Sunday Telegraph

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The American cinema as it was then was composed of a gallery of actors' faces unparalleled either before or after (at least as I see it), and the plots were simple devices (amorous, character-based, generic) for bringing these faces together in ever changing combinations. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
The enormous strength of this book for me is Frayling's succinct and detailed analysis of Leones films. He takes key scenes from all of Leones films backing them up with excellent anecdotes, to point out either a technical point to Leones directing, or as an excuse to show Leone's emotional sometimes bullying and overbearing manner when directing. The biography does get a little too bogged down in minor detail sometimes. This can be distracting but its better to be slightly over detailed than under detailed in a biography. The only other minor quibble I would have with the book is the start of it, which confusingly starts with Leone as a young teenager or so, before going back to when he was born. Although this shift in time was a common gimmick in Leone's films, Frayling's idea although nice in theory, disjoints the start of the book to no great purpose and does become a minor irritation. On the otherhand the anecdotes Frayling uses are of a superb quality, and are very well used to reflect different aspects of Leones character. This book will I suspect be a key work for those interested in spaghetti westerns and the making of them. It will also be a marvellous insight into the background of the film 'once upon a time in America'. A film that is a far deeper and more powerful experience than the Godfather or 'Goodfellas', rightly acknowledged classics of the 'gangster' genre.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful 27 April 2000
Prof. Frayling has written the first - and most likely definitive - account of Leone's life. It is everything that a fan could want, casting light on the conception and gestation of his films and offering generous insight into them.
This is no hagiography; Frayling (very gently) deflates the myth that Leone created about himself to produce a book which informs, enlightens and entertains.
It goes without saying that this is an essential purchase for anyone who loves Spaghetti Westerns and the work of Il Maestro.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Definitive Biography But.... 14 Feb 2001
By A Customer
This is the definitive Leone biography. Meticulously researched with access to the key players either directly or through secondary sources. Particularly worthy of mention is the way the author brings the subject back to life by weaving quotes from Leone skilfully into the narrative. This book has the goods on the movies, how they were made and the source material that inspired them. However, and this is the only serious quibble with this book, one wonders if it is necessary to go into such detail regarding the plot outline particularly of Once Upon A Time In America which is repeated a couple of times through the book. Perhaps the author wishes to convey the agonizing lengths to which Leone had to go to bring this epic project into being but this over-detailing tends to interrupt the flow of an otherwise well paced narrative and leave one with a lingering suspicion that this is so much padding. However, this quibble aside this book is the definitive Sergio Leone biography hardly likely to be surpassed. Would love to see a second edition minus the redundant information.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
This book, the first biography of Leone, features at its core the connection between Leone's life and career with that of the Italian film industry and Italian society. Leone was born and raised within showbusiness and here Frayling documents how this informed Leone and vice versa. Frayling also makes us reconsider the popular misconception that people have about Leone's personality; he was not the larger than life character most thought but instead deeply uncertain of himself and his talent. It becomes apparent as one reads that much of Leone's legendary ferocity and meaness stemmed from him trying to overcompensate for his own self-doubt.
Frayling manages to celebrate the great man's achievements without ever resorting to writing a hagiography. To sum up this is one the finest modern film biographies and absolute essential for any fan of Leone.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Leone's western legacy 29 April 2009
By Mr. A. Whiteside TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
For all of us fans of the western movies of Sergio Leone,this book is a treat and pretty much essential. Christopher Frayling concentrates on the movies that Leone made in Italy and he has done a terrific job. The most well known of the spaghetti westerns are featured in great detail and there are very interesting interviews with Clint Eastwood,Lee Van Cleef,Eli Wallach,Claudia Cardinale and Martin Scorcese. People behind the scenes are included also with further interviews with Leone himself,Ennio Morricone,various writers and visualizers. One disappointment is that a major perfromer in the first two dollar movies, Gian Maria Volonte, barely warrants a mention which is puzzling.

The book features dozens of excellent photos and many original posters from the various movies. It should be noted that this isn't a book for fans of all of Leone's movies though as 'Once Upon In America' is mentioned a few times but only briefly. 'Once Upon A Time In Italy' is chiefly for aficianados of the westerns that changed the way so many people in the industry worked in the future. Quentin Tarantino has stated many times just how influential Sergio Leone's films have been and you gain a real insight into the world of the spaghetti western with this fine book.

This may not be the ultimate book on Sergio Leone but it could well be the definitive effort on the films that were to cement his legend...the western. It is a worthwhile purchase and Frayling deserves credit for a good and addictive book.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative, Controversial, Wistful...
This 2000 account of the life and work of legendary Italian film-maker Sergio Leone by British academic, art and film historian(now Sir) Christopher Frayling is (at around 500... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Keith M
5.0 out of 5 stars A gift for a frend
This was a gift for my friend he enjoyed it, I saw the book in the library at University and bought it for my friend.
Published 8 months ago by Ms. J. E. Ainsworth
5.0 out of 5 stars bought this 2nd copy as a gift
For anyone who loves a good spag westerns and all of Leone's films. i studied film and originally read this at university. this is a gift for a friend who also loves them. Read more
Published 10 months ago by hackneypony
4.0 out of 5 stars A short term treat
I bought this for myself and all the interviews and articles as well as the great images were fascinating for a fan of italian westerns and sergio leone. Read more
Published on 3 Aug 2011 by jackreed
5.0 out of 5 stars Feet of Clay, Who Cares.
One working associate of Sergio Leone describes him as "a brilliant film maker, but as a human being a complete turd". Read more
Published on 19 Jan 2011 by Bob Salter
3.0 out of 5 stars brilliant but missing the essential ingredient
This book is an excellent introduction to the Sergio Leone westerns of the 1960s, however, I felt it could have included a little bit more relating to Once Upon A Time In America. Read more
Published on 21 Feb 2009 by Stewart Fryer
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