Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Periodic New Series: Critically Adored Movies That are Not Readily Available For Home Viewing in This Country

#1 Europa '51 (Italy-1952)

This is not a complaint. Looking over my various posts, I see so many places where I open myself so baldly not merely to chastisement and virtuous contempt, charges of stupidity and things far worse even than that, but also to callousness. Wars, genocide, sex slavery, starvation, horrific poverty rage unabated in some corner of the globe or other, and I neglect even to consider, let alone work on, any possible resolutions for them, and write such commentary as this instead. Still, I think it is a curious phenomenom, if not a pressing one.

Given that everything media-related that is worthwhile ought, it seems at this point, to be pretty easily accessible to anyone who wants it, it is surprising to open some journal nearly every week and discover entire troves of supposedly brilliant, culture-defining film masterpieces that have scarcely ever been seen by anyone even in Paris, let alone released on DVD and displayed side by side with Twilight in the supermarket aisle. I thought after sitting through 15 or 20 Japanese samurai films I was getting close to exhausting the genre, at least as far its vital works of genius were concerned. Guess again. There are dozens, perhaps even hundreds more, that remain virtually unknown in the west. When the apparently more heard-of than seen classic Spirit of the Beehive was released on disc to great fanfare last year after a good 3 decades in hibernation, cinema fans were teased with the suggestion that this was but the tip of the iceberg as far as brilliant and totally unknown works from Spain's Franco era were concerned. Now that I find I am starting to accumulate a small list of "to-see" movies that I actually can't see even with the expanded resources of the internet for tracking a copy of such kinds of entertainments down, I thought I ought to commemorate them.

Like nearly all the movies on the list, Europa '51 does not suffer from a dearth of big names, having Ingrid Bergman for its star and the famous neo-realist Roberto Rossellini as its director. Despite this it seems never to have been released either on DVD or VHS, certainly not in the English speaking world. Someone I read on the internet claimed to have seen a tape of it that was recorded from a TV broadcast in Europe, either Italy or Spain. I'm not sure where the Youtube clip of it that is in circulation (no subtitles) was taken from. The premise of the film, which is made in the neo-realist style, according to Wikipedia anyway, involves Ingrid Bergman as a cold haute-bourgeois type whose young son effectually kills himself due to her emotional neglect, after which she befriends a communist who is supposed to be analogous to St Francis of Assisi, finally ending up in an insane asylum. The clip above looks very somber. I wonder if Rossellini is not the most somber of the neo-realists, which would explain his appeal to the Swede. I saw his first big success, Rome: Open City, much of which was filmed while Rome was still occupied by the Germans, a few years ago, and I remember that was really somber too, and kind of slow-moving, though I should probably see it again, as I think I was rather sleepy when I watched it and it was one of those movies that demands good concentration. Having only seen Ingrid Bergman in Casablance and a later movie I can't remember the title of in which she plays a missionary in China, I had never noticed before how big she was. In the clip above she is built like a power forward.


Hannah said...

Inn of the Sixth Happiness. Or maybe Fifth Happiness. Ingrid Bergman movie with her in China, that is. You should definitely see Gaslight.

Positive Winner said...

Yes, that's right. Who could remember such a title? I don't know why I would have seen that movie. She saves some children who were going to be left for dead out of her European sense of humanity, doesn't she? There was the obligatory denunciation-of-feet-binding scene too. But then some meddling English were somehow in the village at the end and I don't remember what for or whether it was good or bad.

Hannah said...

I've actually never seen it! I went through an obsessive Ingrid Bergman phase in high school (or gosh, maybe it was elementary school) and I memorized all the movies she was in, but haven't seen all of them. Gaslight is truly terrific (well, I think -- I'm sure others will disagree). She won an Oscar for it. I also actually really like her as the nun in Bells of St. Mary's, though I'm sure many think that is a ridiculously quaint and sentimental movie. My mother used to do a fantastic IB impression. She would actually say, "Would you like to hear her in Gaslight? Or maybe Casablanca?" I also recall liking her in Spellbound, though my memory of that movie is a little fuzzy. I've never seen For Whom the Bell Tolls, but I remember a funny story about her in that movie. She had a short, curly hairstyle, which apparently became THE hairstyle to have after the movie came out. This was before the days of mousse and hairgel and whatnot. In some interview with her I saw, she said they had to retouch her hair like every fifteen minutes in the movie to keep in looking so curly. As a result, the average American housewife who got an imitation haircut but no one to touch her up every fifteen minutes looked like a drowned rat about ten seconds after she left the beauty parlor.
OK, clearly my obsession with her took on epic proportions. I blame my mother and her imitations.
Hope you and Sarah and the boys are doing well. I enjoy your blog very much.

Hannah said...

Oh! And I also liked her in Anastasia. And I checked wikipedia and apparently she died in 82, so I would have been ten when my obsession began. I think I kept articles about her death for YEARS. Boy I was a weird kid.