Once Upon a Time in America (Italian title C'era una volta in America) (1984) is the last film by director Sergio Leone, and features Robert De Niro and James Woods as Jewish ghetto youths who rise to prominence in New York City's world of organized crime.
Once Upon a Time in America and the beautiful soundtrack by Morricone's film music has been recorded by other artists on a number of occasions: Hugo Montenegro had a hit with a version of the theme from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly in both the UK and the US and followed it up with an album of Morricone's music in 1968, and John Zorn recorded an album of Morricone's music, The Big Gundown, in the mid-1980s. More recently Morricone collaborated with world music artists, like Portuguese fado singer Dulce Pontes (in 2003) and virtuoso cellist Yo-Yo Ma (in 2004), who both recorded albums of Morricone classics with the Roma Sinfonietta Orchestra and Morricone himself conducting. Metallica uses Morricone's Ecstasy of Gold as an intro at their concerts (shock jocks Opie and Anthony also use the song at the start of their XM Satellite Radio and CBS Radio shows.) The San Francisco Symphony Orchestra also played it on Metallica's Symphonic Rock album S&M. Ramones used the theme from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly as a concert intro. The theme from A Fistful Of Dollars is also used as a concert intro by The Mars Volta.
Leone had turned down the opportunity to direct The Godfather, but spent the ten years developing a new epic project, this time focusing on a quartet of New York City Jewish gangsters of the 1920s and 1930s who had been friends since childhood. This work, Once Upon a Time in America (1984), was a project he had conceived before Once Upon a Time in the West, and it was for this very reason he turned down the offer to direct The Godfather. Based on the novel The Hoods by Harry Grey, starring Robert De Niro and James Woods, Once Upon a Time in America was a meditation on another aspect of popular American mythology, the role of greed and violence and their uneasy coexistence with the meaning of ethnicity and friendship, and like the earlier film, it was too long and stately for the studio to stomach. The studio cut (only for the American market) its four-hour running time drastically, losing much of the sense of the complex narrative. The recut version flopped and received much criticism.
De Niro, whose paternal great-grandparents emigrated from Italy (they were from Ferrazzano, in the region of Molise), was due to be bestowed with honorary Italian citizenship at the Venice Film Festival in September 2004. However, the Sons of Italy lodged a protest with Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, claiming that De Niro had damaged the image of Italians and Italian-Americans by constantly portraying them in criminal roles. Culture Minister Giuliano Urbani dismissed the objections and the ceremony was rescheduled to go forward in Rome in October. Controversy flared once again when De Niro failed to show for two media appearances in Italy that October. This fueled speculation that he had snubbed the country over the citizenship imbroglio. De Niro denied this, blaming the non-appearances on serious communication problems that weren't handled properly on his end and stating, The last thing I would want to do is offend anyone. I love Italy.The citizenship was then conferred to De Niro on October 21, 2006, during the Rome Film Festival finale. Although De Niro is also part Irish, German, Dutch, French and English, he has stated that he identifies more with Italian side than with other parts.
Woods repeated the anecdote when he appeared again on The Tonight Show on September 11, 2006, adding that Seymour Hersh, when writing about the incident in The New Yorker magazine, informed Woods that the FAA did not investigate the incident at the time because they considered it an act of racial profiling. Woods learned that he positively identified two of the 19 hijackers involved in the actual attacks weeks later, one of whom was on United Airlines Flight 175, and another of whom was on American Airlines Flight 77. Woods observed that this contradicts the testimony of 20th hijacker Zacarias Moussaoui, who asserted that members of different cells did not ever have contact with one another. Woods believes that the flight was a test run for the hijackers impending plot.
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Sergio Leone's ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA
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Noodles (Robert De Niro) in a Chinatown opium den in New York's Lower East Side, circa 1933. A scene from "Once Upon a Time in America," directed by Sergio Leone
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James Wood, Robert De Niro, Larry Rapp and James Hayden
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The way the movie was cut is also the reason why a lot of Americans don't think this movie is very special. There are three versions, but only the European version is how the director imagined it to be. He didn't want his movie to be shown in chronological order (1910's - 1930's - 1960's), but wanted to mix these three periods of time. The studio cut the movie in chronological order, loosing a lot of its originality and therefor getting a lot of bad critics. If you want to see this film the way Sergio Leone saw it, you have to make sure you get the director's cut.
The second reason why this movie is so great is the music. Ennio Morricone, who is seen as the greatest writer of film music ever, did an excellent job. Together with the images, the music speaks for itself in this movie. From time to time there isn't said a word, but the music and the images on their own tell the story. He understood perfectly what Sergio Leone wanted and composed most of the music even before the movie was shot.
Video: Once Upon a Time in America
Noodles: You see, I have a story too, Mr. Bailey. I had a friend once. A dear friend. I turned him in to save his life. He died. But he wanted it that way. Things went bad for my friend, and they went bad for me too.
Video: Once Upon a Time in America
Leone turned down the opportunity to direct The Godfather, in favor of working on another gangster story he had conceived earlier. He devoted ten years to this project, based on the novel The Hoods by former mobster Harry Grey, which focused on a quartet of New York City Jewish gangsters of the 1920s and 1930s who had been friends since childhood. The four-hour finished film, Once Upon a Time in America (1984), featured Robert De Niro and James Woods. It was a meditation on another aspect of popular American mythology, the role of greed and violence and their uneasy coexistence with the meaning of ethnicity and friendship. Feeling the final cut was too long, Warner Bros. recut it drastically for the American market, abandoning its flashback structure for a linear narrative. Lasting just over two hours, the recut version shown in North America received much criticism and flopped. The original version, released in the rest of the world, achieved somewhat better box office returns and a mixed critical response. When the original version of the film was released on home video in the US, it finally gained major critical acclaim, with some critics hailing the film as a masterpiece.