Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Once Upon a Time in The West (1968) Opening Scene Analysis

 Once Upon a Time in The West's opening sequence is renowned as one of the most impressive film beginnings due to the simple effectiveness of it and its demonstration of a variety of shots and it's use of sound throughout.

 In this sequence, we are firstly introduced to three main characters; this helps to create context for the audience. The first is a man with a stern exterior who appears to be not to be bothered about a sticky residue falling from a height onto his boot. The shot to evoke his least fazed expression is a close up onto his face (shown in the picture below) which is dismissive.


  The second character we are introduced to is a sleeping man who is awoken by a fly settled on his face. He is slumped on a chair and blows the fly away proceeding to catch it in the barrel of his gun. This introduces the audience to the characters persona  a cowboy, which seems fitting for the genre of the film. The audience also can infer from the previous character that he also is a cowboy due to his costume. The first credits appear with the action of catching the fly into the gun. This particular character appears a little strange as well, with his lazy eye and his intrigue in listening to the buzzing of the fly in his gun.
The third character we are only briefly introduced to alone, however nearing the end of the sequence we see him in relation to the previous characters as almost a 'gang' of cowboys, all who have status through owning a gun. This particular character is awaiting the arrival of a train, which is significant to the following events in the opening as it brings a foe of there's to invade the local area. 

All the shots to introduce the characters are close up shots which are highly effective because it allows the audience to see the persona reflected in their facial expressions, which increases the audience’s anticipation to see what relation they have to one another and what the following scenes will behold that involve them.


 From the beginning to the end there is continuous sound coming from a simple wind turbine which sets the pace for the scene and adds fluency throughout to show the location is the same and that each scene follows on from one another in a certain space of time; giving a sense of fluency throughout. Other sound effects are also put in place; the buzzing of the fly, dripping from the residue on the ceiling, the train and cocking of the guns. Because there is no dialogue until the end, these particular sounds are emphasised building the atmosphere and tension of what is to come; this tension is also built by the slow pace and the characters waiting for the trains arrival. Because of the slow pace of the sequence, the audiences attention is held as we know something is to come but are unsure when. The cocking of the guns and loading the barrel also indicates that something is to happen, and most likely, a gun showdown. Dialogue is only introduced on the foes arrival, who also introduces music with the playing of a harmonica. This adds an eeriness and represents his confidence and power, as he knows he has time to play the harmonica without defending himself. The playing of the harmonica also draws the audiences attention to him. The power of this particular character is emphasised as he takes the turn of the events in his favour; one of the opposing gang says, 'Looks like we're shy of one horse' with which their lone foe replies, 'You brought two to many'. This signals the start of the gun showdown which has been anticipated by the audience until then. The sounds really makes this sequence so impressionable because it adds tension, emphasis, atmosphere and pace in a simple way that makes it so effective.

 Through the opening sequence, we see a variety of shots used from the close up shots to create context of the characters at the beginning to the low angle shot of the train passing over the tracks. We also see demonstrations of long shots, two/three shots, medium close ups, medium long shots. extreme close ups and more. These variety of shots create interest for the audience as it gives different perspectives and emphasises reaction or expressions of characters and context. These shots are also really interesting and compositional reflecting the exceptional cinematography of the film.
 Examples of shot types:
 Low Angled Shot
 Two/Three shot
Extreme Close Up

Overall, this is worthy of being famous for being one of the most impressionable opening sequences as the pace throughout creates a dramatic build-up which ends with a quick, effective gun showdown which leaves the audience questioning if anyone survived; resulting in the survival of the foe. The audiences attention is held throughout  with the slow pace, the emphasis and tension created by the soundtrack and the impressionable characters who leave the audience wanting to know how they relate and what is their role in the film; ending with their possible deaths in the showdown. The opening also establishes the genre right away, and the shot types used create excitement and interest. 

See the opening sequence here:



2 comments:

  1. Woody Strode takes off his duster before the train arrives. Only two of the 3 gunmen are wearing dusters when they confront Harmonica. So the classic line he delivers to Cheyenne at the roadhouse about seeing 3 dusters (inside them 3 men, inside the men 3 bullets) doesn’t make sense.

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  2. Woody Strode takes off his duster before the train arrives. Only two of the 3 gunmen are wearing dusters when they confront Harmonica. So the classic line he delivers to Cheyenne at the roadhouse about seeing 3 dusters (inside them 3 men, inside the men 3 bullets) doesn’t make sense.

    ReplyDelete