Robert Tanitch reviews books by Chris Frayling and Roy Strong.
Once Upon a Time in The West: Shooting a Masterpiece by Chris Frayling (Real Art Press £50). SergioLeone created the spaghetti western genre and took melodrama to new heights. The film, a requiem/homage to the classic western, an epic story of revenge, is deeply pessimistic and notable for the slow pace, the violent action and the reliance on faces in close-up rather than dialogue. The final shoot-out is magnificent.
Butchered by the producers on its release in 1968, it had a bad press and bombed at the box office; but, gradually, it won respect and is now acknowledged to be one of the great westerns. The ideal way to read this massive celebratory book would be to have Ennio Morricone’s score playing in the background. Leone and Morricone are inseparable. The surprise is that the score was completed before the shooting. The book will whet the appetite of fan and serious cinemagoer to watch the film again.
The Elizabethan Image: An Introduction to English Portraiture, 1558 to 1603 by Roy Strong (Thames & Hudson £35) Roy Strong’s fascination for the Elizabethan Age has never left him. This richly illustrated volume observes the Virgin Queen and her court, starting with The Great Procession and ending with an in-depth study of the iconography of the Rainbow Portrait.
The best-known artists are George Gower and Nicholas Hilliard. The Queen looks magnificent in ermine. There are many faces you will recognise: William Cecil, Walter Raleigh, Francis Drake, Henry Wrothesley, Christopher Marlowe (except Roy Strong says it’s not Marlowe!).
Two brothers, Edward and Francis Russell, stand out and so do two studies in melancholy. One is of an unnamed troubled young man and the other is of Robert Sidney mourning the death of his brother. But it is not just the handsome Elizabethan faces, and their suspicious, untrusting eyes, which have such a strong impact, it also the clothes and the jewellery. The wardrobe is sumptuous and often amazing.