Once Upon a Time in the West (Transcontinental Railroad Film Series: Images of the West)
The events surrounding the building and completion of the Transcontinental Railroad are woven in the history and lore of the American West. Over the course of six weeks, the Stanford Historical Society will present a series of films, each introduced by historians, film scholars, and researchers, that will attempt to put these historical events in perspective. A discussion will follow each screening.
About the film:
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) 158 minutes
Hollywood’s story-telling machine, especially when it came to the American West, ignited imaginations around the planet. By the 1960s, international filmmakers were reformulating Hollywood’s plots and creating their own versions of the Western. This, in part, was the genesis of the "Spaghetti Western," a genre Italian writer-director Sergio Leone rode to fame. In Once Upon a Time in the West, Leone takes the conventions of a Hollywood movie on the Transcontinental Railroad--construction of the railroad; obstacles presented by Indians, terrain, politics, natural disasters--and adds a heavy dose of violence and implied violence to create an homage to the Hollywood western. There are many cinematic references to Hollywood railroad westerns in the film, including two to John Ford’s The Iron Horse.
Disclaimer: There is no way to get around it. Some portrayals of immigrants, native people, women and people of color in this film represent stereotyping and are downright offensive. They may make some viewers uncomfortable; we apologize, that is not our intention. These characterizations, viewed through the historical prism of the time the films were made can provide a window into how prejudices are created and often reinforced through popular culture. As part of our film series, we hope that these images will spark conversation and positive dialog, while providing a variety of perspectives about how, over a century of filmmaking, history has sometimes been misrepresented.