Life is Short: Watch Movies
The Great War (1959), a widescreen epic produced by Dino De Laurentiis, is a comic-tragic WWI tale described by Garbicz and Klinowski as “the best achievement of the Italian populist cinema in the post-Neorealist period”. This film won at Venice and was Oscar-nominated for Best Foreign Film. In fact, Monicelli is probably the most honored Italian director to be almost totally unknown in the US. (Only Big Deal on Madonna Street is on Criterion.)
He had two other Oscar nominees in The Organizer (1963) with Mastroianni and The Girl with the Pistol (1968) with Monica Vitti, and was also nominated for writing The Organizer and the anthology Casanova 70 (1965). He won at Venice for directing A Tailor’s Maid (1957), Caro Michele (1976) and Il Marchese del Grillo (1981). He won his country’s Donatello for Best Director for An Average Little Man (1977), We Hope It’s a Girl (1986) and Dark Illness (1990). This guy had legs, and we haven’t even mentioned his historical satires For Love and Gold (1966) and We Want the Colonels (1973). When he died last November at 95, his New York Times obit claimed his first two films were a short of Poe’s “Tell Tale Heart” and a version of Ferenc Molnar’s novel The Boys of Paul Street that won a special award at Venice. It must be true.
NoShame released two of his early films and the 1976 Desert of the Tartars. Another famous achievement is the Venice winner Cronaca Familiare (Family Diary) with Mastroianni. This was released in the US by MGM with narration by Orson Welles, and Warner Brothers may now control it; it’s been shown on Turner Classic Movies. (Someone at IMDb labels his review “A fantastically poetic existentialist masterpiece; one of the ten most gorgeous Technicolor films ever made.”)
Criterion has released some of his late additions to neo-realism, but where is a beautifully styled chamber piece called The Legend of the Holy Drinker (1988)? Starring Rutger Hauer in an adaptation of Joseph Roth’s novel, this is like a transcendental rebuke in advance to Leaving Las Vegas. A purely cinematic film with little dialogue, this won at the Venice Film Festival and grabbed Donatellos for Picture, Director, Editor (also Olmi), and Photography (Dante Spinotti)—and was never released in America!
Criterion finally released this button-pushing bad boy’s mysterious Dillinger Is Dead (1969), and a few years ago Koch Lorber put out an ambitious eight-film box. I hope they didn’t take a bath on it. (I swear, the Spanish-made El Cochecito is a Robert Altman film, shot in deep-focus black and white, ten years in advance.) Anyway, there’s been no follow-up box, and we’re still lacking such sexual provocations as The Conjugal Bed (1963), The Ape Woman (1964), The Harem (1967), La Cagna (1972), and The Last Woman (1976).
Ephraim Katz’ Film Encyclopedia: “His specialty is the Neapolitan-style bittersweet humor, casting a cynical, winking eye on unwholesome aspects of life in contemporary Italian society, the rich as well as the poor….Robust buffoonery often thinly veils serious social satire.” His most famous is probably the 1974 Scent of a Woman (remade with Al Pacino), but Il Sorpasso or The Easy Life (1962) was acclaimed in its day.
After writing for Dino Risi, he turned to directing with Let’s Talk About Women (1964), answered by Lina Wertmuller with Now Let’s Talk About Men (1965). He hit a stride of acclaim in the ‘70s with We All Loved Each Other So Much (1974), Down and Dirty (1976, best director at Cannes), the Oscar nominee A Special Day (1977) with Sophia Loren and Mastroianni, Passione d’Amore (1981), La Nuit de Varennes (1982) about the French Revolution, and the dialogue-free Le Bal (1983). Some of these used to be on VHS and now need proper DVDs.
Early obscurities include the little-seen The Lizards (1963) and two musical comedies with singer Rita Pavone. For a while in the ‘70s she could do no wrong, but still missing in action are The Seduction of Mimi, All Screwed Up and the monumental Love and Anarchy (a 1998 disc is long out of print).
Pier Paolo Pasolini
While most of his films have floated around on DVD, someone should properly tackle his elusive literary trilogy of the ‘70s, The Decameron, The Canterbury Tales and The Arabian Nights in a single box. His first novel was filmed by Mauro Bolognini as Le Notte Brava (1959).
Criterion has released his 1965 debut Fists in the Pocket and some of his more recent films are also on disc (Good Morning Night is one of the new century’s great films about terrorism). There’s still a lot in between for this hostile yet beautiful artist, including China Is Near (1967), In the Name of the Father (1971), Leap Into the Void (1980, with Michel Piccoli and Anouk Aimée picking up awards at Cannes), The Eyes the Mouth (1982), and Henry IV (1984). That last isn’t Shakespeare but Pirandello, with Mastroianni and Claudia Cardinale.
I fully expect that one day Criterion will release the 1964 milestone Before the Revolution (released on VHS by the defunct New Yorker Films) but it’s sure taking its sweet time. Also among the missing: the maligned sexual angst of Luna (1979) and Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man (1981). He’s made documentaries too.
Best known for horror films, his early titles sound obscure and cultish, which is always good: Balsamus l’uomo di Satana, Thomas and the Bewitched (1970), The Mazurka of the Baron, the Saint and the Early Fig Tree (1975), Bordella (1976), and Tutti defunte…tranne i morti (1977). The Childhood Friend (1994) and The Mysterious Enchanter (1996) are thrillers. He’s made acclaimed nostalgic dramas such as Help Me Dream (1981, a musical cult waiting to happen) and The Story of Boys and Girls (1989), plus many TV items. RaroVideo in Italy has already distributed some of these.
One of my dream projects is a box devoted to films scored by this great maestro which otherwise seem hard to find. There’s a lot to choose from. One could simply pick 10 or 20 films with the grooviest or most haunting scores.
Frequently overlooked as the bastard children of Italian cinema, there might be a whole anthology of anthologies!
Clearly I’m greedy. That’s okay. Life is too short, and one must watch as many movies as possible in one’s lifetime.