Exploring the Artefacts #13: Main Title Inspirations No. 3 Once Upon a Time in the West
Exploring The Artefacts is a series in which I examine some unique and significant components, or by-products, of cinema storytelling that are often under-appreciated.
This is the third in a series celebrating the creative artists who contribute to a work's formal introduction. Occasionally this display of inspirational energy can be sustained throughout a film's running time. Often it can't, but this shouldn't diminish one's appreciation for the tremendous talent behind some wildly captivating title credits that could have otherwise been a dull, distracting way of simply identifying those responsible for what we are experiencing. (The first instalment in the series, Main Title Inspirations No. 1 can be found here).
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
Director: Sergio Leone
Unlike the previous examples in this series, there is no music for these opening credits to Top Ten Western #9. Much of the music was already composed by director Leone's favoured composer Ennio Morricone even as principal photography began on this, his epic western with the director actually filming to his precious composer's score! There was, in addition, music created for these beginning opening scenes, but it didn't seem to fit properly. So the decision was made to drop the music from the train station sequence and instead, accentuate the distinctive ambient sounds. The resulting effect is a highly descriptive soundtrack in and of its own, depicting a solemn and mysterious atmosphere as three hired gunmen await the arrival of an incoming train (Leone's homage to High Noon). The trio's personalities are effectively enhanced as well throughout this long (over 10 minutes) but fascinating introduction featuring the driest of humorous anecdotes individually ascribed to all three. This is creative storytelling at its wittiest and most inspired, served up by our western connoisseur Leone "spaghetti style!"
Here are the opening credits to Once Upon a Time in the West: