Archive for Bertolucci

…and you know who else…

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 18, 2011 by dcairns

…has been looking at Charles Laughton’s NIGHT OF THE HUNTER? Only William Friedkin, around the time he was making THE EXORCIST.

Or if not, it’s a w ild coincidence.

Of course, Friedkin has talked about how the famous poster shot of Father Merrin arriving at the house in Georgetown was influenced by René Magritte’s painting The Empire of Light (above), but I think it’s that close. Maybe he used that as a cue when discussing the scene with DoP Owen Roizman, and maybe Roizman thought of Charles Laughton and Stanley Cortez’s imagery. Or maybe Friedkin saw Bernardo Bertolucci making the much more reasonable claim that Magritte’s “day for night” painting was a reference point for Vittorio Storaro’s THE SPIDER’S STRATAGEM — the thought stuck in the sausage-meat electrical storm of Friedkin’s brain, and he later “originated” it by the simple procedure of opening his yap.

Then there’s this ~

Okay, not that close, and one might fairly ask how many ways there are of shooting somebody standing over somebody else who’s lying in a bed? Actually, quite a few, and most of them are in THE EXORCIST. So much of that damn film takes place in a single bedroom… I’m convinced that’s why they cast Max Von S: one look at him reminds you that long static scenes in rooms CAN be cinematically compelling.

At any rate, these two images have so much in common viscerally that leafing through film books as a kid, I think I somehow confused or conflated the two movies, imagining some kind of NIGHT OF THE EXORCIST.

What a messed-up film that would be. For, with its horror of female sexuality and the body, THE EXORCIST is more like the film preacher Harry Powell would have made if Warners gave him the money.

The Night of the Hunter (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

The Night of the Hunter (Criterion Collection)

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Now THAT’S shadowplay!

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , on December 10, 2007 by dcairns

Brilliant scene from “Barnyard” Bertolucci’s THE CONFORMIST.

The Professor Quadri character in this scene is given Jean-Luc Godard’s home phone number, a sign that Bertolucci was ready to “kill” his hero, JLG. The professor’s murder perhaps also echoes Pasolini’s death, and Pasolini was Bert’s other cinematic mentor. This is the film where Bertolucci conclusively stepped out from their shadows.*

Jonathan “J-Ro” Rosenbaum once wrote, superbly, that Fritz Lang’s THE INDIAN TOMB contains “the only cave in movies that’s worthy of Plato’s,” but Bertolucci and Storaro here evoke that same cave beautifully, in a professor’s study in 1930s Paris…

*As David Ehrenstein points out, very politely, in the comments below, I am talkng insane bollocks here, since at the time of IL CONFORMISTA’s production, Pier Paolo Pasolini was still VERY MUCH ALIVE. So Bertolucci’s film is one of a select few that Predicts The Future.

“One sin atones for another.”

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , on December 9, 2007 by dcairns

Coppola owns the clapperboard, you know.

I think film in general expresses “film.” — Bernardo Bertolucci.

Stefania Sandrelli and her dimpled chin have been on my mind since revisiting Bertolucci’s The Conformist (1970) last week. Cliche alert — this is one of those films that reveals more on each viewing. As a teenager, a lot of it seemed impossibly obscure, even the basic structure. I was seduced by the surface, though, and it worked the way dazzling formal qualities presumably SHOULD work, making me investigate the film again and again, probing its shadows.

Now the story is mostly clear in my head I am even more dazzled than before by its mysterious heart: the way Clerici (Jean-Louis Trintignant, striking melodramatic poses like that great guy watering his lawn at the start of BLUE VELVET, and grinning coldly at private jokes) seeks to atone for a youthful “murder” by assassinating a left-wing professor in Paris. I always understood his drive for conformity (the title is a big help to dopes like me), the need to belong to the fascist movement in order not to feel different and vulnerable (I must have seen Woody Allen’s ZELIG around the time I first saw this, and it has a similar theme tackled in a rather different way) but the weird logic by which Clerici feels he can wipe away his guilt with a second murder was kind of lost on me. But Bertolucci was into psychoanalysis at this time, and in adapting Moravia’s novel he was keen to move it from a meditation on fate to a psychological study of character-as-destiny.

As I type this, it’s evening and very blue outside, broken only by yellowy lit windows, and I’m reminded of the Paris-at-dusk scenes in this film, shot by Vittorio Storaro (my Edinburgh evening is more of a slate-blue of the kind you find in late Melville, though). The shopping trip is particularly good in this film, though we never go inside the shops. Bertolucci is such a sensualist, he can’t help but celebrate the romance of being in Paris, on honeymoon, and spending your new husband’s money, even though it’s not in keeping with the film’s communist sympathies.

It’s all very Christmassy.

The director’s sensuality is radiantly displayed in his filming of the two leading ladies. Having grooved to Dominique Sanda’s radical lesbian chic as a teenager, this time I had more of an eye on Sandrelli, whose character really is a foul nitwit, but who gets plenty of ravishing moments, like her first appearance in a zig-zagged dress in a zig-zagged room (venetian blind striped shadows, some of them inexplicably moving down the walls as if cast by a time-lapse sunset), or her love-making with Trintignant in front of rear-projected scenery that changes from daylight to sunset to night in the course of moments.

Hot Ziggety.

Actually, and I had to keep my eye on the plot structure to confirm this, her very first appearance is in bed with Clerici/Trintignant, her backside exposed as he lifts his hat from it. At first we may think it’s a boy in bed with JLT, and the ambiguity is probably deliberate, although when she moans in her sleep, a second later, doubt is dispelled.

Et tu, Clerici?

Two minor problems always strike me with the ending: most of the narrative is enclosed by the framing sequences of Clerici and the thuggish Manganiello driving through the dawn light to attempt, without any clear plan, to save Sanda from the assassins lying in wait for her husband. When the flashbacks reach an end and this sequence pays off with the Julius Caesar-style attack on the Professor, the narrative should be at an end: structure demands it. But the leap forward to the fall of Mussolini, while essential to the story, feels structurally disconnected, both due to the time-jump and because it’s not framed by those driving sequences. It’s too long for a coda, too free-standing for a climax.

The final shots also seemed to lack the resonance of Bertolucci’s best endings. The wildly allegorical, surreal finishes of THE SPIDER’S STRATAGEM, NOVOCENTO, and THE LAST EMPEROR are not matched by the low-key fade-out here. I can never remember what happens after the stunning scene where Pierre Clementi turns up, and seeing it again I got no definite resonance from the conclusion. In an interview with Cineaste magazine, Bertolucci says, ‘He understands, he achieves prendere coscienza,’ but to me he’s the same damn bastard at the end as at the start, although his elaborately constructed fascist persona has crumbled.

But let’s be clear, these are quibbles. The film is a stunning manifestation of style (drawn from surrealism, Welles, Sternberg, Fellini, maybe even Tati’s PLAYTIME) married to complex subject matter in a way that’s far from straightforwardly illustrative. If we have to struggle to make sense of it all, it’s a struggle that’s never less than enjoyable, like wrestling a monkey for ice cream.

This is a film crammed with fun stuff, perhaps perversely so, given its dark subject matter. One terrific moment that had slipped my mind is when the two couples are sat at a table in the beautiful dance hall (ALL Bertolucci films had to have dances at this time), and Sandrelli remarks that she’s reminded of dining on the train. At which point the camera crabs off along the line of tables, making them seem like a departing locomotive, a sheer flight of fantasy arrested by our arrival at the brooding Manganiello’s table, the imaginary journey halted by the shot’s abrupt transition from poetry to prose.