So we're looking at the first 14 minutes of the classic western, "Once Upon a Time in the West" (OUTWest for short), and when I left off from the previous blog post, 'A Sergio Leone Film' had just come onscreen. Still no music, and the only sounds are the wind blowing and the creaky seesaw sound that's been a constant in the background. This movie respects its audience; there is no obvious soundtrack trying to manipulate us with music. We see this:
Now the credits are appearing, zooming inward from the sides of the screen or falling from the top of it. Beautiful. And another lovely composition of a figure in the distance juxtaposed with a shadowy figure in the foreground; this is the Native American woman hotfooting it away from the train station while the black Yule Brenner lookalike bad guy watches her go.
We get the station interior again, and this time the gang leader appears in the far right doorway and takes a seat, waiting for something or someone.
Meanwhile, the black Yule Brenner lookalike has moved outside
And the camera beautifully follows him from the midrange shot into the distance
revealing the source of that disquieting creaky seesaw sound...a windmill. Ooh! And Jason Robards' credit!
The camera continues to follow Black Yule Brenner as he passes the gang leader, shown in silhouette. The camera lingers on the silhouette for a few more seconds, then moves on…
…continuing to follow the Black Yule Brenner in a distant shot as he walks toward the water tank. Now, besides the creak of the windmill, you hear the thwapata thwapata tickety tick of its wheel spinning, since we're up close to it.
The Black Yule arrives beneath the water tank…
…and we get this great shot of the third outlaw in the foreground, the water tank with Black Yule below it, and the silhouette of the gang leader sitting outside the station. Beautiful. The guy in the foreground looks up, and we see this:
They're waiting for a train, but we don't know why. We can be sure something baaaad's going to happen. The previous shot of the guy in the foreground returns; he runs his hand through the trough of water, and then the camera cuts to this:
Now we have the gang leader (who is indeed Jack Elam) in the foreground, and the third outlaw, the one at the water trough, is now in the background. Suddenly we hear a new noise, a tickety tickety clackety clack, and it catches the ticketmaster's attention. He's still shut up in that small room with the metal door.
Some kind of contraption. (Just look at that beautiful shot!)
Our friend the gang leader doesn't care for the noise much. Can't a guy get any sleep around here?
And we cut to a closer shot of the contraption. A telegraph!
Let's focus on his annoyance again, only even closer…
Problem solved. We get a closeup of the leader tilting his hat over his eyes. Interestingly, once the telegraph machine stops ticking, the windmill sound fades out, too.
We come back to The Black Yule at the water tank; he's now in the foreground, and the other two guys are in the background now.
A drop of water splots him on the head while he fans himself with his hat to cool off.
Looks like we have a bit of a leak. But—and I love this—instead of just stepping aside so the water drop doesn't hit him, he puts his hat on. Screw you, water, I move when I want to.
And he gives a slight smile as the water drops hit his hat instead of his bare head.
We cut to the third outlaw, who is still parked by the water trough, and a dog comes into the right side of the frame, giving a whimper.
He focuses on the dog, and for a second we think he's thinking about shooting it, but he just cracks his knuckles instead. Loudly.
Back to the gang leader. A friend has appeared in the form of a buzzing fly. He regards it, looking like a bullfrog. I half expected a long tongue to come shooting out of his mouth.
He also refuses to move. It's an exercise in frustration watching this guy try to shoo a fly away by only wiggling his face or trying to blow on the fly. For god's sake, man, just use your hand to shoo the thing off. Geez.
Cut to the water trough guy again, still cracking away on his knuckles.
...and back to The Vexation By The Fly again. We only hear the occasional buzzing of the fly and the man's huffing and puffing as he tries to get the fly off of his face.
Cut back to The Black Yule, still getting water tortured. The windmill sound is back, along with the sploiink of the water drops hitting his hat.
Cut back to The Fly, where the guy finally uses his hand to shoo the fly away. Huzzah.
The fly buzzes off, up and around and around, then stops buzzing as it lands...
…and is considered. He lets out a little hiss. Hmmm, wonder if…?
Surely not. Shoot a fly?
Why, no! Ye trap 'im in the gun barrel. With a loud thunk. And the fly starts buzzing again, only this time from inside the gun barrel.
This appears to give him great satisfaction. Why, it's music to his ears. And if the fly stops buzzing, he gives the gun a little shake to get the fly going again.
At this point the buzzing of the fly is melded seamlessly with the sound of an approaching steam train…
To be continued…