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Once Upon a Time in America (1984)


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Variety: 'Once Upon a Time' to be restored
 

Sergio Leone's New York gangster epic "Once Upon a Time in America" is getting the redux treatment. The 1984 classic starring Robert De Niro and James Woods will be fully restored by Italy's Bologna Cinemetheque L'Immagine Ritrovata lab, using digital techniques and adding 40 minutes of original footage to its 229-minute running time.

Leone's children, Andrea and Raffaella Leone, have acquired Italian rights to "Once Upon a Time in America," from Arnon Milchan's New Regency, and now aim to bow their redux version, which is being supervised by the pic's original sound editor, Fausto Ancillai, at either the Cannes or Venice fests in 2012.

The Bologna Cinematheque is a world leader in film preservation which, besides restoring the Spaghetti Western maestro's previous works, is also in charge of the Charlie Chaplin archives.

Warner Bros. rereleased the 229-minute cut of the pic in January re-remastered on Blu-ray.

That cut is how "Once Upon a Time in America" world premiered in Cannes in 1984. The pic was subsequently cut to 139 minutes, excluding several flash-back sequences, for its U.S. release, which angered many critics at the time.

A rep for Rome-based Leone Films said they are in advanced talks with News Corp.'s Sky Italia for the redux version to air on the paybox and are also considering a theatrical release in Italy.

 

I've been wondering when we might see an even longer ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA. Leone reportedly shot somewhere around eight to ten hours of footage, and if I remember correctly, his original cut actually sat at six hours. If so, this extra forty minutes they're intending to add back into the film just scratches the surface.

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This had to be 229 minutes when originally released on tape. I clearly remember watching a double VHS and describing the film as close to four hours long. Feels like that was even before 1990. Tell me I'm nutter butters, but I swear that's how I remember it.

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Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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This had to be 229 minutes when originally released on tape. I clearly remember watching a double VHS and describing the film as close to four hours long. Feels like that was even before 1990. Tell me I'm nutter butters, but I swear that's how I remember it.

The 229 min. cut has been around for a while. Not sure when it was first released, but it's not impossible that that is the only version you would have seen.

What this article is saying is that we're going to get a new 270 minute cut.

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This had to be 229 minutes when originally released on tape. I clearly remember watching a double VHS and describing the film as close to four hours long. Feels like that was even before 1990. Tell me I'm nutter butters, but I swear that's how I remember it.

The 229 min. cut has been around for a while. Not sure when it was first released, but it's not impossible that that is the only version you would have seen.

What this article is saying is that we're going to get a new 270 minute cut.

No, no -- I gotcha about that. But it also says it was cut to 139 minutes for US release after Cannes, 1984. I guess I'm saying that the video version couldn't have been. That's the only available way I would have seen it at the time.

As far as adding the additional 40 minutes goes, I am not usually a fan of this. I've made the comment around here before that a "Director's Cut" is rarely the cut the audience wants to see. It was the Apocalypse Now Redux that cemented this notion in me.

Edited by Persona

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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I've made the comment around here before that a "Director's Cut" is rarely the cut the audience wants to see. It was the Apocalypse Now Redux that cemented this notion in me.

Well, REDUX is overblown and gratuitous, even if it is an interesting alternate vision of the film.

But I've seen a fair amount of Director's Cuts that do, in fact, improve on the original, if only marginally. See, for example, sci-fi films like BLADE RUNNER or DARK CITY. I daresay it would be hard to make a rule about Director's Cuts being good or bad.

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Adding any additional minutes onto Blade Runner should be a crime in and of itself. What, more cartwheels from the killer clown?

Dark City I might want to see. That and the Donnie Darko extended version I never got to...

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Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Persona wrote:

: As far as adding the additional 40 minutes goes, I am not usually a fan of this. I've made the comment around here before that a "Director's Cut" is rarely the cut the audience wants to see. It was the Apocalypse Now Redux that cemented this notion in me.

Yeah, I would tend to agree if the extra footage had simply been retrieved from the cutting-room floor. Sometimes, though -- especially with European films -- the extra footage comes from a longer version of the film that was originally shown in theatres or on television in its native country. Das Boot was originally released in North American theatres at a length of about two hours -- in the early 1980s, just a couple years before the short version of Once upon a Time in America came out, IIRC -- but then the three-hour "director's cut" of Das Boot came out in the mid-1990s, and all the extra footage was taken from the original German mini-series (which is even LONGER than three hours), and to this day the "director's cut" is the only version of that film that I have seen, but it was so good that I couldn't even begin to imagine how they cut an extra hour out of it back in the early 1980s. And of course, we just saw Carlos get squeezed down from 5.5 hours on the festival circuit to 2.5 hours in regular theatres. So, a cut of this film that adds over half an hour of extra footage is not necessarily a bad thing.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Adding any additional minutes onto Blade Runner should be a crime in and of itself. What, more cartwheels from the killer clown?

Dark City I might want to see. That and the Donnie Darko extended version I never got to...

Likely, unless you saw it in the 80s or early 90s, you've only seen the Director's Cut of BLADE RUNNER, which isn't just adding extra minutes exactly. If you come hang out sometime we can watch all the different versions I've got on DVD. Same goes for BRAZIL.

The DONNIE DARKO Director's Cut is definitely a step down IMHO.

"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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Anders, with you I could only watch ONE film, and you already know what it is. And I pray there's an extended version somewhere, ANYWHERE! I just don't think Day-Lewis and Madeleine Stowe are ready for us as a tag team yet...

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Ryan H. wrote:

: But the Director's Cut [of Dark City] is an improvement on the Theatrical Cut.

I'm ambivalent on that point, myself. I felt the LENGTH of Dark City when I saw the "director's cut" in a way that I don't recall feeling it before. On the other hand, the "director's cut" does play up some of the film's darker implications.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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For the record, Ryan, I'm somewhat a fan of the film but haven't seen the extended version.

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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The more I watch Leone, the more I notice areas that could be tightened up. I grew up reveling in the length of his films, and I think it was because the moods and tones I encountered in Leone were great novelties. I really didn't want them to end, so watching these films at such great length was the equivalent of buying a album and playing it over and over and over.

I don't think I would want to a longer cut of this film. I already have a hard time continuing to watch it, as I know I am going to find a stretch or two that should have been cut in the first place. I was a bit shocked when this happened while watching The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly the other night. There is at least 30 mins or so in there that I think could vanish without having any affect on the film overall.

This is not to say I don't like long cinema, but that the Leone charm is starting to wear off for me. If, as in the case of The New World, extra footage contributes to a momentum that lends additional gravity to an important scene or to the conclusion, I am all for it. Otherwise, don't bother.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

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I'm a huge fan of the original Dark City, but others have warned me away from the Director's Cut. This is the first good report about it I've heard.

Really? Reviews when it debuted seemed positive. And while I'm not a big fan of DARK CITY, I have plenty of friends who swear by it, and they all think the Director's Cut is a substantial improvement, as well. I don't see what's not to like.

I was a bit shocked when this happened while watching The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly the other night. There is at least 30 mins or so in there that I think could vanish without having any affect on the film overall.

With a narrative as decidedly episodic as THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY's, I don't think that's surprising. But the joy of that film is kinda being taken along for the ride. You could cut sequences without harming the film, but whenever I've watched it, I've never felt like complaining, either. All of the episodes in that film are clever and entertaining.

Edited by Ryan H.
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With a narrative as decidedly episodic as THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY's, I don't think that's surprising. But the joy of that film is kinda being taken along for the ride. You could cut sequences without harming the film, but whenever I've watched it, I've never felt like complaining, either. All of the episodes in that film are clever and entertaining.

I don't need to be schooled in the joy of this film. It is a key part of my aesthetic consciousness.

But it is not an episodic film at all, even if the length sometimes lulls people into thinking that is the case. The flux of narrative from spaghetti western tropes to the metaphysical horrors of the Civil war back to the Bergmanesque abstraction of life and death is an intense historiography. To distill the film into episodes is to misunderstand the profound encounter with America as an idea that Leone groped for through several films. He outdid Baudrillard before he even had the chance.

The film may lend itself to this episodic ethos at first glimpse. But I am fine living within the paradox posed by Leone's grander vision. Our attempts at perceiving life as a seamless garment are often stymied by the seduction that we occupy discrete, sequential narratives. What we learn from Leone is that our attempts to defy thick descriptions of life are always ineffective. This is the grand idea Leone discovered within the western genre.

Edited by M. Leary

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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I don't need to be schooled in the joy of this film. It is a key part of my aesthetic consciousness.

I meant no offense.

At any rate, you clearly appreciate THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY on a deeper level than I do. But my appreciation for Leone has often been more grounded in the entertainment value of his films, and their unique aesthetic qualities, than their ideas. But, for what it's worth, I didn't mean to suggest that just because the narrative has an episodic quality that there is no significant throughline or progression in the film.

Edited by Ryan H.
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I don't need to be schooled in the joy of this film. It is a key part of my aesthetic consciousness.

I meant no offense.

That sounded harsh, which was really not my intention. My apologies. No more posting in the Friday evening end-of-week brain fog.

These days a certain segment of critics prize the whole contemplative/glacial thing as true cinema, or at least the purest form of cinema. Time was, a certain segment of critics thought this same thing about the Western genre. I really have a sympathy for that idea. I have a sympathy for both ideas, actually.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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That sounded harsh, which was really not my intention. My apologies. No more posting in the Friday evening end-of-week brain fog.

It's all good.

These days a certain segment of critics prize the whole contemplative/glacial thing as true cinema, or at least the purest form of cinema. Time was, a certain segment of critics thought this same thing about the Western genre. I really have a sympathy for that idea. I have a sympathy for both ideas, actually.

So would a contemplative/glacial Western, ala THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES, then be The Cinematic Ideal? ;)

Edited by Ryan H.
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So would a contemplative/glacial Western, ala THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES, then be The Cinematic Ideal? ;)

In theory, but I am not the biggest fan of the film, so I am not sure how this syllogism actually plays out. One thing I do like about the Western genre is its cavalier attitude towards melodrama and caricature, which is something Jesse James does not indulge in.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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  • 1 year later...

The new cut has premiered. Here's the word from Simon Abrams at IndieWire:

If nothing else, the new 4K restoration of the late
Once Upon a Time in America
proves the necessity of film preservation. This essential new cut of Sergio Leone’s last film was re-assembled from newly rediscovered footage long thought lost. At last night’s packed screening, actor James Woods insisted that Leone “died of a broken heart” because he could never release the cut of the film he really wanted to. So the mandate to restore the film was clear, once the footage was recovered and cleaned up by a number of people, including Gucci, the Leone estate, and the Film Foundation. And while though Leone couldn’t supervise the restoration of his last masterpiece, the new footage that debuted yesterday is every bit as essential as one could hope.

Rest assured, the new scenes, including a new final confrontation between Max (Woods) and the head of the union, are definitely not extraneous. Some new scenes serve as crucial juxtapositions against relatively canonical ones, like a previously missing sequence after Noodles (Robert De Niro, also in attendance last night) drives his gang’s car off of a short pier and (more on this in a moment). Others remind us of characters’ limited agency and inability to totally remake/self-fashion themselves, as when Noodles talks to a chauffeur who disapproves of the fact that he’s both Jewish
and
a gangster (“Everyone knows what you are.”). When viewed holistically, the new cut is revelatory. Its restoration has only served to make this masterpiece that much more fulfilling.

I can't wait.

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  • 4 months later...

As I mentioned in the "What are you watching this weekend?" thread, the wife and I finally got around to tackling the nearly four-hour cut of ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA. Not my favourite Leone after a single viewing (that would be ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST), but still a masterful, ambitious film that really examines the gangster life without glamour.

Something like BOARDWALK EMPIRE, which I enjoy, really fairs poorly next to this in its failure to really carry moral weight. We don't really root for "Noodles" the same way we do for, say, Michael Corleone in the GODFATHER films, who has a more dramatic "fall" arc. Rather, Noodles commits acts from a young age that are straight out evil and his is a moral awakening to his fallen nature (to an extent in realizing what he loses in Deborah.

The film also reminds me how much I love DeNiro. His face can express an inner-turmoil, and the processing of something so well without resorting to over-acting.

Edited by Anders

"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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It's hard to choose between ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST and ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA. My preference shifted toward the latter after reading up a bit on Leone and his ideas about cinema and memory, but WEST still knocks me out every time I see it. I find WEST considerably easier to watch. AMERICA is emotionally devastating in a way that WEST isn't, even if both films share the sense of melancholy that pervades Leone's "Once Upon a Time" trilogy.

The ending of AMERICA is so crushing, with Leone's unforgettable images (the garbage truck, Noodles' final, haunted grin) playing over Morricone's sorrowful score.

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  • 2 months later...
  • 3 months later...

From Christopher Frayling's SERGIO LEONE: SOMETHING TO DO WITH DEATH:

To the end of his life, it was very rare for Leone to discuss his films without introducing Charlie Chaplin into the conversation at least once, and to talk of Chaplin's perception that "America itself is a world of children." Leone often implied that, for him, Chaplin was a key influence. This cinematic love affair--which had lasted since the late 1930s--reached its consummation in
Once Upon a Time in America
: "Like the scene of the child and the charlotte Russe on the stairs. It is a homage to Charles Chaplin. Not imitated from one of his films, you understand, not citing a sequence that he shot. But simple evidence of a love for him. And I dare to think that he might have filmed that situation in exactly that way."

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