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How Sergio Leone’s Dollar trilogy reinvented the Western.

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With A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) Italian director Sergio Leone at once shook up and revitalized an ailing film genre: the western. At a time when audiences were getting bored with cowboys and Indians Leone’s westerns broke box office records worldwide. Over the years, the films also demonstrated an enduring influence with their utter lack of sentiment (Quentin Tarantino), unflinching violence (Brian DePalma) and unsavory characters (Martin Scorsese).

Initially, however, critics dubbed Leone’s films “spaghetti westerns,” implying that these films were less authentic than homegrown American westerns because they were directed by an Italian.

Well, the critics said one thing, and the audience another: theatergoers worldwide ate up Leone’s “Dollars” trilogy. In large part this was because the films were like no westerns before them. Leone and his screenwriters created cowboys that didn’t pick up guitars and sing by the campfire, fall in-love with bonneted frontierswomen or help townsfolk without there being something in it for them. These elements made the “Dollars” trilogy “revisionist westerns” — movies that shook up the way people looked back at the Wild West.

Sergio Leone For A Few Dollars More

For A Few Dollars More

The Man With No Name

Gone was the noble, moral cowboy of American movies. In his place was the wry-witted, quick-drawing Man with No Name played by Clint Eastwood. This cowboy was slow to anger, but once spurred, he took no prisoners. Somebody was going to get killed – and how! Both American- and European-produced revisionist westerns to follow would feature mounting body counts and a “hero” who was as cold-blooded as the “bad guys.”

Similarly Leone’s depiction of the Wild West was groundbreaking. Gone was the American myth that the Wild West symbolized the battle between civilisation (European-Americans and the city/town) versus savagery (the Native American and a nomadic/tribal life). Leone’s Wild West had no Indians, and his cast of gringos seemed more like mercenaries and thieves than, say, settlers or frontiersmen.

Since their release from 1964 to 1966, the “Dollars” trilogy has been pored over by film historians and critics who’ve cast an almost mythical aura to what in essence are three cowboy flicks. Leone has been called a genius, the films groundbreaking and their legacy is said to include debunking Manifest Destiny, the idea that America must expand to spread civilization across the continent. This begs the question: Did Leone and company set out to rewrite history and change filmmaking forever?

Sergio Leone - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Anti-Establishment views

That Leone had anti-establishment views is beyond question. He lived under the repressive Mussolini years, and like many Europeans was skeptical about the government line, including “official” accounts of history. To some extent, he did intend to challenge America’s story of how the West was won. However since Leone’s death in 1989, several of his collaborators, including screenwriter Luciano Vincenzoni, have implied that the success of the three westerns had as much to do with dumb luck as good filmmaking. Leone, Vincenzoni and others wanted to make money, and making an entertaining Western was one way of doing this. It is no secret that Leone adapted For a Few Dollars More almost scene for scene from Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961), about a stoic avenging samurai very similar in spirit to the Man with No Name. It does seem a stretch to say I intended to rewrite history and debunk myths by copying somebody else’s movie.

Whatever the truth, the “Dollars” trilogy has had a profound effect on film. Could there have been a Popeye Doyle, the rogue cop of The French Connection (1971) without Leone’s rogue cowboy, Clint Eastwood? Arguably not. And Leone was a technical pioneer – the haunting, absurd musical score of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, with its hoof beats and yodel-like vocalizations, remains perhaps the most recognized theme in film history. And freeze-frame credits and close-ups of actor’s gritty faces are just two of his stylistic signatures that filmmakers still emulate today.

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Classic Movie Quotes: Star Wars – May the Force be with you

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Star Wars May The Force Be With You

The Line: “May the Force be with you.”

Who Said It: Alec Guinness as Ben Kenobi–among others–in 1977’s Star Wars.

The Setup: George Lucas’ Star Wars franchise became a cinematic entity that made Hollywood history with with prequels, sequels and billions of dollars in licensed merchandise, ranging from miniature spaceships to vinyl wallpaper.

The Payoff: In 1978, a paper presented at the eighth annual convention of the Popular Culture Association reported 46 percent of Americans were baffled by the concept of “the Force,” a confusion widely shared by the organization’s 2,000 members. Some academics saw it as simple Manichaean dualism, others as Orthodox Christianity or Hollywood Zen. Fraser Snowden of Louisiana’s Northwestern State University argued with some passion that the Force derives from “the impersonal bipolar absolute of Chinese Taoism and the all encompassing ki energy field of the Japanese art of aikido.” He offered to teach how to experience the Force. Most conventioneers decided they had other engagements.

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Classic TV Revisited: Breakfast Time and TV-am

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In another of our Classic TV Revisited moments we take a look at the early days of breakfast TV in the UK with Breakfast Time and TV-am.

Channel: ITV, February 1983 and BBC1, January 17, 1983
Starring: Frank Bough, Selina Scott, David Frost, Angela Rippon, Michael Parkinson, Anna Ford, Robert Kee.

Age?
A long forgotten 30 odd years each.

Appearance?
Very, very dated morning news programmes.

Pedigree?
The first breakfast TV shows in British history.

Why were they so good?
To be frank, they weren’t.

Why?
To say both had teething problems would be to underestimate the financial and personal wars that ensued.

They must have sounded like good ideas at the time?
Yes, they were top-class homages to American networked morning shows.

Soothing, a bit shallow and generally cheesy, then?
Exactly.

Who were the stars?
Selina Scott joined nice “uncle” Frank Bough on BBC1’s Breakfast Time from January 17, 1983.

And on ITV?
The Famous Five – Rippon, Parkinson, Frost, Kee and Ford.

So what happened?
The BBC kicked off with a mix of news, sport and funnies, introduced by Bough and Scott.

Brough Scott?
No, Bough. Scott was a smooth-as-silk Princess Diana clone who wore rather funny nanny-style dresses.

Wasn’t there a funny lady who looked like an enthusiastic cucumber?
I think you’re referring to Diana Moran, aka the Green Goddess. She became the real star even though Nick Ross was on hand to add gravitas.

Tell me more about the Goddess.
Diana Moran was our answer to Jane Fonda.

Except cheaper.
Of course. But we still felt those burns.

She wasn’t famous, then?
Not really. BBC bosses saw her working on HTV in her green gear and snapped her up.

TV-AM Original 5

The original big 5 heavyweight line for TV-Am showed they were taking a serious approach to early morning viewing. Peter Jay, David Frost, Michael Parkinson, Anna Ford and Angela Rippon.

What about TV-am?
Its first broadcast was in February 1983. David Frost promised viewers a bowl full of news and showbizz. Fellow TV-am man Peter Jay said he had a “mission to explain”.

But it all turned sour?
And bitter. The ratings went soggy.

What happened?
Peter Jay quit after only six weeks. By April, Anna Ford and Angela Rippon were sacked. Robert Kee and Michael Parkinson stuck around.

But didn’t TV-am survive?
Yes it did. A then little-known TV exec called Greg Dyke decided to introduce Roland Rat.

TV-AM Roland Rat

Roland, the rat that saved a sinking ship…

Don’t tell me it worked.
He was the rat’s whiskers. Anne Diamond arrived with that very pleasant chap Nick Owen.

Hey presto.
They had Selina and Frank trapped. When Roland and his pal Kevin the gerbil appeared in the school holidays in April 1983 ratings rose by a whopping 52%. Anne and Nick owe an awful lot to those puppets.

Didn’t Frank have a spot of bother in 1987?
Indeed he did, but you’ll have to do your own research on that.

Don’t say:
Want some coke with that rum, Frank? Mr Bough can’t talk to you now, he’s a bit tied up.

Do say:
That’s the first time a rat has joined a sinking ship.

Not to be confused with:
Breakfast with Frost, Today, Farming Today, The Rat Catchers.

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Movie Tens: James Dean

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Movie Tens James Dean

Even sixty years plus after his death actor James Dean continues to fascinate, here are ten facts you may not know about the iconic star.

James Dean was nominated for two posthumous Best Actor Oscars: In 1956, for East of Eden (he lost to Ernest Borgnine in Marty), and in 1957 for Giant (he lost to Yul Brynner in The King and I).

Jimmy was not speeding when he was killed on California’s Highway 466. (He was struck head-on by a Ford station wagon, driven by Donald Turnupseed, 23. ) Although Dean had received a speeding ticket an hour earlier, it has since been proven he was actually driving 60 to 65 mph when the accident occurred.

Movie Tens James Dean 1

Jimmy was set to star in two films at the time of his death: The Left-Handed Gun: Billy the Kid’s Story and Somebody Up There Likes Me, about the life of boxer Rocky Graziano. Both roles were filled by Dean competitor Paul Newman.

Jimmy often referred to himself as “the little bastard,” a name he had painted on the back of his Porsche Spyder days before his death.

In November 1951, struggling actor Dean worked as an offscreen stunt tester on the N.Y.-based TV game show Beat the Clock.

Before his three starring film roles, Jimmy had bit parts in Fixed Bayonets, Sailor Beware and Has Anybody Seen My Gal?

Rumors have always run rampant that Jimmy had homosexual relationships. When asked about it, he answered enigmatically, “Well, I’m certainly not going to go through life with one hand tied behind my back.”

Movie Tens James Dean

Jimmy’s famous red jacket from Rebel was purchased from Mattson’s department store on Hollywood Boulevard. Following his death, the store hiked the price on the jackets to a then exorbitant $22.95. Warner Bros. actually bought two of them for filming. Afterward, Jimmy gave one to his friend, composer Leonard Rosenman, who wore it until it fell apart. Nobody knows what happened to the other.

A week before his death, Jimmy ran into one of his favorite actors, Alec Guinness, at Hollywood’s Villa Capri. When an excited Dean showed Guinness his new Porsche Spyder, the British star begged him to get rid of it, saying Dean wouldn’t live long if he kept the car.

When Jimmy finally met his idol, Marlon Brando, at a party, he acted so strangely Brando told Leonard Rosenman that Jimmy needed to see a psychiatrist. Jimmy was already in therapy at the time.

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