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Visconti, Iranian Cinema, Brackett and Wilder, More

"Senso (1954) has long been the least seen of Luchino Visconti's masterworks, mainly because the original three-strip Technicolor negative has shrunk, making it impossible to render Visconti's painterly hues with any measure of accuracy," writes Dave Kehr in the New York Times. "But now, the miracle of digital restoration, as financed by the Film Foundation and performed by the Cineteca di Bologna, has brought this great, cold, morbid film back to life for a new high-definition transfer released in the United States by the Criterion Collection."

"The standard line on the career of Luchino Visconti is that he went from being one of the founding fathers of Italian neorealism to a master orchestrator of sumptuous historical melodramas," writes Dennis Lim in the Los Angeles Times. "This shift is often viewed as a contradiction — one of several that defined Visconti, a bisexual Marxist aristocrat — and some even called it a betrayal, a turn from the present-day, working-class environments in which such early films as La Terra Trema were set to the titled, moneyed world of the past from which he came. To the extent that Visconti's filmography can be said to have a turning point, it would be Senso (1954), the heady story of a tortured romance set during the Risorgimento, the long struggle toward unification that convulsed the Italian peninsula in the 19th century."

"Even though an American star, Farley Granger, and a European star, Alida Valli, familiar to international audiences for her role in the very successful The Third Man (1949), were cast specifically to help guarantee the expensive production's success in the States, it was shown only at the Italian-language cinemas of the day, which catered to immigrant audiences." Mark Rappaport, whose films will be screening at Anthology Film Archives in March, for Criterion: "It wasn't until 1968, five years after the disastrous release of The Leopard — shortened by a good half hour, in a mangled, clumsily dubbed English-language version, and printed on inferior De Luxe rather than the proper Technicolor stock, and in CinemaScope instead of Technirama — that Senso got a very limited run of nine days at the repertory Elgin Theater (now the renowned dance theater the Joyce) in New York's Chelsea neighborhood. In the interest of full disclosure, I went to see it five times during that period. I thought it was the most beautiful movie ever made, and have had no reason during the intervening years and after many subsequent viewings to change my mind."

Gary W Tooze: "On Blu-ray it looks quite marvelous — reasonably consistent — except in a few parts (like the conclusion which shows some wear). We've compared a few captures from the Studio Canal Blu-ray version (that offers no English subtitles)… At times I like the look of the Studio Canal and other times the Criterion… David Hare tells us: 'It looked ideal to me, especially after every single other previous version, and indeed every single 35 or 16 screening I've ever seen over three continents and decades."





In the San Francisco Chronicle, G Allen Johnson notes that on Saturday, "the Castro brings back Visconti's restored three-hour masterpiece, 1963's The Leopard, for three days, and though Criterion released it on Blu-ray last year, it's a film that should be seen on the big screen, if for no other reason to see one of the greatest set pieces in cinema history, a nearly hourlong ballroom sequence that says everything about the passing of an era and the total reorganization of Italian society through a series of looks, expressions and movement that is deep, rich and emotional."

DVD roundups. Ed Gonzalez (House Next Door), Mark Kermode (Observer), Harley W Lond and Peter Martin (Cinematical), Paul Matwychuk and Heather Noel, PopMatters, Stephen Saito (IFC), Slant, Nigel M Smith (indieWIRE) and Michael Tully (Hammer to Nail).

 

BLOGATHONS


The For the Love of Film (Noir) Blogathon may be winding down, but you can still contribute towards the restoration of Cy Endfield's The Sound of Fury; Marilyn Ferdinand, Greg Ferrara and/or the Siren will show you how.

Meantime, an Iranian Film Blogathon is on through Sunday, hosted by The Sheila Variations partly as a reaction to the arrest, sentencing and incarceration of Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof. From Friday through March 11, New York's Asia Society will present its Tribute to Iranian Filmmaker Jafar Panahi, a series that also includes Rasoulof's The White Meadows. Joe Bendel's been previewing the series with pieces on Meadows and Panahi's Offside.

At indieWIRE, Shane Danielsen calls into question gestures like these: "[F]or Cannes or Berlin to say something makes a certain sense — their standing in the industry, their history of premiering new Iranian work, practically demands a response. But the sight of B and C-grade festivals lining up, one by one, to shake their little fists, seemed to me, and a number of others, faddish and vaguely superficial. If a trade embargo by the White House had not halted Iran's nuclear program, the realist in me found it difficult to imagine that howls of outrage from a couple of dozen film buffs would do anything to secure two filmmakers' release from prison — beyond, of course, giving said buffs the satisfaction that they had, at least for a moment, been on the side of the angels."

Thing is, it's precisely these "B and C-grade festivals" that are located in areas where it's less likely that films by Panahi and Rasoulof, or for that matter, other Iranian filmmakers, have been screened recently — or, in some cases, perhaps ever. There are people around the world, well off the "A-grade" festival circuit, who are probably unaware of the outrageous injustice of banning Panahi and Rasoulof from working for the next 20 years. I consider myself a realist, too, and expect no immediate consequence from blogathons and hastily organized film series. Nevertheless, I do hope, however naively, for a cumulative effect. As we've been seeing just now in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, protests can only have an impact when the number of raised voices is very, very large.

 

IN OTHER NEWS


"Over half a century after they parted ways, Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder's combined output stands as one of the most inspired and fruitful screenwriting collaborations in Hollywood history," writes Cullen Gallagher, introducing a series that'll be running at Not Coming to a Theater Near You for the next two weeks.

 

"Between 1938 and 1950, Brackett and Wilder co-scripted fourteen movies together; helped elevate the role of the screenwriter in the eyes of both the public and the industry; and, in the process, gave the world some of the most admired and best loved films of their day. Bluebeard's Eighth Wife. Midnight. Ninotchka. Ball of Fire. The Lost Weekend. Sunset Boulevard. On the strength of these remarkable efforts, Brackett and Wilder became known for their wildly inventive plots and crackerjack dialogue, and stories which could be intoxicatingly romantic or bitterly cynical… Coinciding with this feature will be a screening of Five Graves to Cairo, the second picture to feature Wilder as Director and Brackett as Producer, as part of our monthly series at 92YTribeca on Saturday, February 26th."

Brent Green is taking his stop-motion feature Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then on the road, primarily in New England and the Midwest over the next couple of weeks; here's an itinerary. Filmmaker's running a piece from its Spring 2010 issue in which "he talks of the daunting, obsessive production of his new film."

Cinéma des femmes: Perspectives on Women Filmmakers, a series running Tuesdays at the French Institute Alliance Française in New York, screens Golden Eighties this evening. The New Yorker's Richard Brody: "Chantal Akerman stages this 1986 romantic musical roundelay in the triangular hall of a subterranean Brussels shopping mall, between a clothing store, a hair salon, and a kiosk-like café; true to form, her characters' smiles and tears, dashed hopes and reawakened dreams play out against a virtual historical landscape that was blasted by war and by the Holocaust."

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I saw “Senso” at the Elgin too. Originally Visconti wanted Ingrid Bermgan and Marlon Brando to star. But Farley Granger and Alida Valli are scarcely chopped liver. It’s incredibly sumptuous and very personal movie about a left-wing aristocrat (guess who?) who sells out her ideal to babe-a-licious Austrian who looks fabulous in white pants. Unlike his heroine Visconti never sold out his ideals, In fact they became richer as his cinematic career progressed. Farley Granger’s memoir “Include Me Out” has a lot of intersting tidbits about Visconti’s shooting methods and great dish about his a.d. (and then-ex-boyfriend) Franco Zefferelli. Zefferelli was wildy jealous of Farleywho he had assumed (wrongly) that Visconti had dumped him for. The use of Bruckner here is as striking as Visconti’s more famous use of Mahler in “Death in Venice.” EXTRA GAY JEOPARDY BONUS POINTS!: Tennesse Willaims and Paul Bowles get a screenplay credit on “Senso” because they worked on the english-language version. As both Granger and Valli spoke english this was quite logical. But while there’s a dubbed version of “Senso” it’s not on par with the english-language versions Visconti made later in his career. So why were Willaims and Bowles chosen for this job? Because they just happened to be in Rome at the time. Libby Holman had run off with Bowles Arab boyfriend and he got word that they were in Rome. So Tennesse joined him on his quest to get the boyfriend back. While trying to figure out what to do about Libby, Visconti hired them for “Senso.” Not sure if Bowles ever got the boyfriend back. Oh well.
Some of this is in Rappaport’s piece — but it’s just not the same as when you tell it!
What Mark says about “You don’t want to hang the images on the wall. You want to live in them” is very true. That’s the essence of Visconti’s art.
If ‘Five graves to Cairo’ is to be praised for its inventive plotting, at least some of the credit should go to Lajos Biro. It’s very much an updating of his irst world war story ‘Hotel Imperial’ which was brilliantly filmed by Mauritz Stiller with Pola Negri. The earlier film, however, provides a rather implausible happy ending rather than the melancholy conclusion of the later film.

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