Archive for Blasetti

Neapolitan Flavour

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 1, 2019 by dcairns

Among the many things I missed in Bologna was the screening, as part of the fairly exhaustive Eduardo de Filippo retrospective, of his chapter of the portmanteau film GOLD OF NAPLES, directed by Vittorio De Sica. But Fiona saw it and liked it and so we watched the whole thing the other day.

It’s great, of course. It might even cause me to re-evaluate VDS’s WOMAN TIMES SEVEN, which I found weirdly pointless. But the stories in GOLD are nearly all “pointless” in a way, and certainly none of them wraps up in a neat conclusion that makes you go “Ah-ha!”

More like “Huh?”

But in a good way.

It’s an all-star affair (Alessandro Blasetti inaugurated this kind of thing with ALTRI TEMPI and TEMPI NOSTRI, both of which Vittorio was in), produced by De Laurentiis and Ponti and featuring their wives, Sophia Loren and Silvana Mangano (who gets the meatier part). Also appearing are Toto and his amazing performing chin, but De Sica himself gives the best performance, alongside a wee boy rejoicing in the name of Pierino Bilancioni. They play cards together, De Sica (a real-life gambling addict — thanks, David E) loses comprehensively, and he’s a lousy loser. That’s basically their whole story. The little boy doesn’t even want to play cards, he listens poignantly to the sound of his chums playing in the street, but De Sica’s count insists, and the kid’s dad is an employee.

At the end, having trounced his director through a whole series of hilarious reaction shots, and refused to admit to being lucky (“The cards know their master,” he shrugs, infuriatingly) he sits alone, bedecked with the cards his aging opponent has flung at him, then picks up a kitten by the scruff of the neck and cradles it tenderly. It’s such an odd, inappropriate ending to a piece that could easily have ended with him running out to play in the streets (which would have MADE SENSE and CONNECTED) that I had to consider it superior to any logical or organic conclusion.

Then there’s the very funny Felippo episode in which he teaches disgruntled neighbours how to blow a raspberry, and an episode showing a hearse bear a child’s body towards the cemetery. We see it leave, we never see it arrive, and that’s essentially it. The clip-clop of the horse’s hooves becomes hypnotic, the tight cluster of smartly turned out tinies parade through sidestreets and then along the main coastal road — and there’s one stunningly bold visual gag as we pass a window and see through a window a furiously rowing couple, who stop to cross themselves, one after the other, as they notice the procession, then get back to screaming and flinging imprecations at one another.

De Sica, on form, is hard to beat — the closest successor to Chaplin there’s been.

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03 Giovedi

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 28, 2014 by dcairns

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Yeah, I haven’t finished trawling through Bologna yet, have I?

One thing about Il Cinema Ritrovato — unlike a lot of good experiences, it isn’t over quickly. Once you hit the wall (which happened to me before I was really halfway through), time slurs to a near-halt like Wendell Corey on a steep slope, accelerating or dissolving away during screenings and conversations — the minutes flit, but the days stretch on, impersonators of infinity. It’s nice!

I had now adopted a policy of seeing things loud enough to keep me awake — other anti-sleep qualities were strong narratives, speed, and familiar faces. This made the early Japanese talkies and the Polish widescreens a bad risk, but I still hoped to catch some (I failed with the ‘scopes).

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Chaplin’s WORK was supposed to begin the day at 9, but I was too sleepy. I think the first thing I made it to was THE HORRIBLE DR HICHCOCK at 10.45. In the intro it was explained that despite valiant efforts by restorers, legal wrangles prevented the movie from being repaired, so the print we saw was somewhat pinked, badly spliced, and missing at least one whole scene. I think it may have been missing more, because although I’ve seen it before I didn’t remember it making QUITE so little sense. But it’s an Italian horror movie so anything’s possible. I wished they’d screened THE GHOST instead.

And then it was lunchtime already — after which (I’m sure it was a good one, but I didn’t take notes) I finally saw one of the Italian compendium episodes that had been getting such raves throughout the fest (Alexander Payne declared one to be the best thing he saw, but nobody could tell me WHICH one). I’d been a touch resistant, since in the compendia I’d seen, only the Fellini episodes tended to be any good. Shows what I know. This one was from Alessandro Blasetti’s TEMPI NOSTRI, the follow-up to his ALTRO TEMPI, which inaugurated the who anthology-film craze in Italy.

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It was introduced by Blasetti’s daughter, a voluble nonagenarian, and I realized why these screenings were all overrunning by half an hour. But the background she provided was ESSENTIAL — the episode starred Vittorio De Sica and was SUPPOSED to re-team him with Gina Lollobrigida, with whom he’d formed a popular couple in the previous movie. But Lollobrigida balked at playing a deceived wife, arguing that it was not plausible that a man married to her would ever stray. Blasetti was forced to recast so Elisa Cignani is on jiggling duties instead (literally, she vibrates her body in every scene, sometimes by bouncing one crossed leg, sending tremors through her torso which assume Vesuvian proportions beneath her blouse), but director and co-writer also rewrote the script, I can’t think why. We can see that Cignani was supposed to be De Sica’s wife, but now she’s his parents’ ward, raised as his sister, and the narrative turns not on her jealousy and his infidelity but on her silent love for him and his blindness, until he realizes he shouldn’t think of her as a sister anymore… It doesn’t quite work, but what’s left is the comedy of De Sica as an ebullient Neopolitan bus driver, with a sour-faced supervisor who wants to sack him. It’s just like On the Buses, in other words, if that 70s sitcom were charming and sexy instead of ugly and repulsive.

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My vim somewhat restored, I stayed for TOBY DAMMIT, though the print turned out to have subtitles only for the English bits. I’ve seen it often enough that I could follow it. It was better than the old DVD that dubbed it into French — Fellini’s mulit-lingual melange is essential to the hallucinatory experience.

A spirit of randomness kept me in my seat for OIDHCHE SHEANCHAIS, which looks like I just collapsed on my keyboard but is in fact Irish Gaelic for NIGHT OF THE STORYTELLER. Robert Flaherty’s long-lost movie was the first film in that language, and its apparent loss left a puzzling hole in the tragic record. To everyone’s amazement, a print has turned up in America (it was assumed the film, of only local interest, was never exported) and can now be seen. It’s terrible, but at least it can be seen. A kind of footnote to MAN OF ARAN, it has clear historical interest, but nothing else. My objection is that Flaherty films the whole twenty-minute piece with five locked-off set-ups. Wide shot, storyteller, listener, listener, listener. Utterly inexpressive. Somewhat typical of the approach to early talkers seen elsewhere at the fest (Japan, Wellman) but applied here with a rigorous lack of creativity. Then there’s the storyteller himself: some said they could have closed their eyes and enjoyed the music of his voice without the need for translation (and certainly without the need for pictures) — I found his a snore. Admittedly, I was now permanently sleepy from insomnia and the heat.

Then there were three shorts with Peter Sellers, two of them freshly discovered and the third part of the set. That one ran first. It had a couple of laughs — Sellers attempts to cure his cold by wearing a sock full of mustard round his neck, which ruptures in a disgusting welter — b&w film so it’s like a magma flow of porridge slow-oozing into Sellers’ VERY HAIRY CHEST. Disgusting but sort of funny. But the film wasn’t good, and I only stayed for a few minutes of the first redisocvery, DEARTH OF A SALESMAN (mis-spelled in the program, presumably leading some to expect a proper Arthur Miller piece). When the shorts’ rescue hit the news, I discussed them with Richard Lester, who said “I hope they show more artistic ambition than THE CASE OF THE MUKKINESE BATTLEHORN.” They show less. Though not quite at Flaherty’s level of soporific inertia, what I saw of DEARTH was enjoyable only for the hilariously mismatched angles, with Sellers’ position transmuting instantly between every shot.

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Then there were some Soviet films about Hitler, (“Good evening, Hitler fans”) screened in the Il Cinema in guerra contro Hitler season. Some nice zany shorts — Hitler, for some reason, was always a comedy figure to the Russians — maybe if you’re working for Stalin, you just can’t help laugh at Hitler. The main feature was THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SCHWEIK, a follow-up to the popular WWI comedy, with Schweik (a really irksome clown, kind of a Soviet El Brendel) getting drafted by the Nazis but defecting to aid the partisans in Yugoslavia. Weirdly, the ending, in which Hitler is captured and exhibited in a cage, and somehow mutates into werewolf form (as inexplicable as Cleopatra the Chicken Lady — “Maybe it as the storm?”), directly echoes a passage in the previous evening’s Hitler entertainment, Pabst’s DER LETZTE AKTE, where Adolf has an infernal monologue about how he’ll never surrender because the allies would show him off as a caged freak…

More synchronicity — Olaf Möller and Christoph Huber had just explained to me their theory about the donkey — that ever-golden cinematic axiom which adds lustre to every opus — and SCHWEIK was well supplied with asinine entertainment, including an animatronic donkey hind legs– an ass’s ass — which kicks various characters. This had Olaf swooning with the possibilities. Has the apparatus been preserved in some Russian film museum, fur flaking off to expose the cybernetic fetlocks beneath? If so, Olaf will gladly drop a kopeck in its slot to make it buck again.

Exhaustion was setting in — I had a good dinner, and didn’t feel able to face another movie, but LADY FROM SHANGHAI was showing in the Piazza Maggiore and it was on my way home, so I thought I’d just look in and see how it was looking. It’s not a reconstruction — no missing footage was found — but it is a very attractive digital presentation — and as it turned out, it was just about to start (everything starts late in Bologna) as I appeared. So I sat on the curb, all seats being occupied, and surrendered to the inevitable…

 

Antipasto

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 10, 2014 by dcairns

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Il Cinema Ritrovato presented a season of Italian shorts, culled from the compendium films that were so popular in the fifties and sixties. I kept hearing that Alexander Payne had declared one of these to be the find of the festival, but nobody who told me this could remember which one he was talking about. Could be Scola, Rosi, Rossellini & Greco, or De Filippo. I also heard that Giorgio Simonelli’s episode from 1954’s ACCADE AL COMMISARIATO was a standout, with an endless array of outrageous plot twists, beginning with the best-prepared “pull back to reveal no trousers” gag in Italian history.

I saw a few.

Alessandro Blasetti, recently undergoing a renaissance thanks to Scorsese’s campaigning, inaugurated the whole anthology movement in 1952 with ALTRI TEMPI (OTHER TIMES, screened at Bologna last year), which collected stories from different historical periods. He followed it up with TEMPI NOSTRI (OUR TIMES), an episode of which was introduced by his 90-year-old daughter, who talked up a blue streak and nearly exhausted her poor interpreter. But she provided vital background to this story of an amorous Neapolitan bus driver played by Vittorio De Sica — the piece was originally intended to co-star Gina Lollobrigida, who had successfully paired with VDS in the previous film, but she declined the chance to play a deceived wife, arguing that it was not plausible that any husband would cheat on her. (She has a point, though one could point to the case of Gardner Vs. Rooney as precedent.)

Blasetti recast, but for some reason also rewrote to make the woman not De Sica’s wife, but a foundling raised as is sister, which very nearly wrecks the story. However, thanks to De Sica’s ebullience and charm, and some very funny lines, he gets away with it. British attendees were amused by the set-up of a randy bus driver and a sour, long-faced supervisor who hates him — the exact set-up of 70s sitcom On the Buses, adapted for the cinema for Hammer films and best avoided in both televisual and film form. Blasetti shows what that premise could be like with appealing characters and a sexiness that eschews seaside postcard grotesquerie. And it’s nice to see De Sica in a working-joe role.

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STORIA SULLA SABBIA was directed by Riccardo Fellini in 1963. Ahah! I thought, another Idiot Brother to add to my collection. But perhaps not — R. Fellini, who acted in several of his brothers, most notably as one of I VITELLONI, creates a touching, funny mood piece out of a working class wedding on the beach at Rimini. He can’t match his sibling for visual flair, but the less artful style allows a more naturalistic humour to emerge. The film was poorly received and Riccardo turned to documentary in the end — he also fell out decisively with F.F., who demanded that he change his name if he was going to be a director. There could be only one Fellini! What a dick. I am almost ready to declare Fellini the idiot brother.

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TOBY DAMMIT screened in its correct multilingual version, but without English subs for the Italian parts — the only movie offered without translation, so I have to assume it was an oversight. Still, it freshened the experience, and made me realize that Tim Lucas’s suggestion that the film evokes the strangeness of being in Italy without speaking the lingo is not quite right. Terence Stamp as Toby is able to reply to questions asked in Italian, even if he answers in English. So the film is really about how strange Italy is even if you DO speak the lingo.

A clue to the nature of Italy — Chaplin’s EASY STREET, in Italy, was called LA STRADA DELLA PAURA — THE STREET OF TERROR! If we could understand this, we would know many things, like the fox of legend.