Blu-ray diary: Il Generale Della Rovere

09 Dec
December 9, 2013

Il Generale Della Rovere - Blu-rayIn case it wasn’t obvious from my last post, I seem to have a new addiction and it’s the films of Roberto Rossellini.  At the moment the more formalist auteurs seem like weaksauce to me compared to the way that Rossellini challenges and reconsiders formal considerations at every step of his filmic development, or so it seems to me now that I’m about six films into his filmography.  But what’s interesting to me about Il Generale Della Rovere, which was released for the first time on Blu-ray just last week (in a fine package by Raro Video), is that it seems as likely to be misunderstood now as it seemingly was on first release in 1959.

A condition laid down by the film’s producer was that it should be ready for the Venice Film Festival in the fall of that year. This led to the film being shot in studio—Cinecittà in Rome, as it happened (on the legendary soundstage Teatro 5, where Fellini made several of his films). Rossellini, starting with Rome: Open City in 1945, had been associated more than any previous filmmaker with the use of location shooting to bring a feel of verité to his films. For Il Generale he decided to embrace the artificiality of the studio environment and, in fact, play it up.  His approach seems, however, to have been too subtle for reviewers at the time, who wrote of his “return to realism” in response to this film.  His deliberately contrasting of newsreel footage and studio shots with (obvious to later viewers) painted and matted-in backdrops seems to have not had the intended effect.

I tend to think that today’s viewers might watch this film and see those abrupt shifts as poor workmanship rather than deliberate aesthetic.  We have had so many subsequent generations of filmmakers that have embraced conscious artificiality and refined it in various ways such that what was once a bold cinematic experiment might play more like a clumsy misfire. But understood in context it is another fascinating chapter in Rossellini’s development.

I continue to find compelling the complex edition history of Rossellini’s films, and this package offers another chance to explore that aspect of his filmography.  The disc contains both the director’s cut that was presented at Venice 1959 and the later theatrical release that was edited in various ways. Once again it is worthwhile viewing both versions as well as the visual essay by leading Rossellini interpreter Adriano Aprà that meticulously glosses the various changes. To summarize: most of the nips and tucks of the theatrical version constitute indisputable narrative improvements, but one of the most significant cuts in that version is baffling unless you’ve seen the director’s cut.  For this reason that earlier festival version is the default version presented from the main menu of the disc. The theatrical version is available in the bonus-feature submenu.

One more note: Raro have decided to present this in an archival framing—exposing the rounded corners of all of the exposed filmic image,  rather than matted/cropped presentation that filmgoers would normally see (and which we most often see in video transfers). I’m fine with this presentation—considered in Blu-ray.com’s detailed review—but others may find it a bit strange. Otherwise, Raro Video clearly have been influenced by Criterion in their production of the special features on the disc as well as the accompanying booklet (with excellent Aprà essay)—the resulting package is not quite as slick as the current Criterion standard, but more than worthwhile nonetheless.  We’re indeed lucky that 2013 has seen not one but two excellent Rossellini high def releases.

Blu-ray diary: Criterion’s Rossellini+Bergman package might be the best box set of 2013

23 Nov
November 23, 2013

Criterion Rossellini Bergman box coverA ball started rolling for me when I saw that restored print of Rome, Open City at TIFF in September. It was the first Rossellini film that I’d ever seen and I found it simply devastating —a much more harrowing, yet illuminating, emotional experience than I’d expected.  In October, on the strength of that film alone, when Criterion had a brief 50% off sale, I decided to blind-order the 4-disc Blu-ray set 3 Films by Roberto Rossellini Starring Ingrid Bergman. I started with Stromboli (the English-language version), which I found to be a raw emotional experience in a much different sense, and I didn’t really know, at first viewing, what to make of the abrupt turn to God in the closing sequence. But then I started to watch Europe ’51, and that was went I fell off some kind of cinematic cliff. The film immediately turned me into an Rossellini obsessive.

Both of these films come in this set in alternate English-language and Italian-language versions. As the English-language versions are in better visual condition, and seem to be generally preferred, I started off watching the English cut of Europe ’51. But I quit that cut an hour in, impatient with the way that English dialects and accents were matched to various characters (British accent for the intellectual journalist, Brooklyn for the peasant mother of 6 children). I started watching the Italian version from the beginning and quickly realized the profound changes that had been made. “Are you a communist?” had become, in the English version for the US market, “are you a member of a political party?” The public, social schism in post-war Italian society between West and East, Catholicism and Communism, had been censored nearly out of visibility in the film.

There is a fantastic 37-minute interview with film historian Elena Dagrada on this disc, that explicates very well the changes that were made, and the reasons for them (as well as a written piece by her in the accompanying booklet that talks about the changes between versions of Stromboli). I watched this, but not before going back to watch the rest of the English language version after completing my viewing of the Italian version. Though in the case of Stromboli I will readily concede the superiority of the English version, I think I find myself against the grain of common opinion on Europe ’51—I greatly prefer the Italian version.

Other highlights of the special features:

  • The interviews with film critic Adriano Aprà about all three films. Aprà has clearly thought deeply about all of these films and he opens up multiple meanings and significances to a first-time viewer.
  • Surprised by Death, “a new visual essay by film critic James Quandt on the historical and artistic themes of the trilogy”—first-time viewers of the films will be impressed by the many differences between the three films of this retrospectively-classified trilogy, but Quandt’s striking insights consist in all of the commonalities that he finds between the films.
  • Living and Departed, “a new visual essay by Rossellini scholar Tag Gallagher on the evolution of the director’s style in the trilogy”—excellent on the themes of estrangement and communication (but don’t watch it if you don’t want to spoil Rossellini’s earlier Germany Year Zero).
  • The interview with Martin Scorsese, very interesting on the spiritual aspects of the films.
  • Possibly my favourite—a fantastic interview with daughters Ingrid and Isabella Rossellini; informative, insightful, touching.

At this point I have now watched all five film cuts (the English and Italian versions of Stromboli and Europe ’51, as well as the English language Journey to Italy), as well as the film scholar Laura Mulvey’s commentary on Journey to Italy. So I have watched each film twice as well as the roughly seven hours of special features, for a total of 17 hours of viewing. I don’t regret a minute of that time spent.

I think I was somehow aware of the deep influence of these films on subsequent films and directors—especially Antonioni and Godard. But now this incredibly important point in film history has been crystallized and explicated for me. My film horizons have been expanded—Criterion has bottled lightning with this release.

Blu-ray diary: A baffling first viewing (Pasolini 8: Medea)

19 Oct
October 19, 2013

medea-coverOn my first attempted viewing of this film, I was reminded of a choice Lem Dobbs line delivered with laconic perfection by Bill Duke in Steven Soderbergh’s The Limey.

Maybe I went into this one feeling a little too cocky, feeling like I’ve seen enough Pasolini now that I fundamentally get him and can figure out what he’s doing, no matter how difficult the film. If I was seriously thinking that, well, that was a silly thought.

But I’m pretty sure that the reason I had trouble with this one was not really a matter of a radical shift in Pasolini’s approach. Instead, it had everything to do with the source text, and my complete lack of familiarity with it.

This is the kind of literary adaptation that is quite simply not made anymore—the kind that assumes that any audience interested in viewing a film of this story is going to be already familiar. In fact, Medea assumes even further that viewers are so familiar that the film can jump right into a kind of theorizing about the cultural meaning of the story, and dwell there for a good 45 minutes without even really starting to unspool the events of its most famous version—the play by Euripides.

So, I did what any self-respecting, not easily defeated, Pasolini devotee in training would do. I went and read a translation of the Euripides play, and then I watched the film a second time.

Unsurprisingly, the film was much more comprehensible on second viewing, and I can even say that I admired it—but I did find it to be his weakest film so far. Stylistically and methodologically it does feel like he is beginning to repeat himself here—not doing a lot that Oedipus Rex, for example, didn’t do better.

I will say that I totally get Pasolini’s casting of Maria Callas. She brings just the right authenticity and presence for the title character. Also, points to the BFI for a beautiful representation of the film on Region 2 BD. It’s a real shame that there isn’t a high def release of this film for the North American market.

My new go-forward plan—seeing as the next 3 of Pasolini’s films, his Trilogy of Life, are all adaptations—is to do advance reading before watching the films. I’d rather enjoy the films as they were intended to be seen—visualizations and interpretations of familiar narratives—than to make awkward attempts to appreciate the films while lacking necessary context and preparation.

3 things I didn’t like about 12 Years A Slave [TIFF post 3]

19 Sep
September 19, 2013

“The real model for this film is Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, with its relentless depiction of torture, along with every slasher movie that cloaks its intentions in a higher message. Violence has become the measure of verisimilitude. If it’s bloody, it looks real. This illusion allows us to enjoy what violence does provide: pleasure. If it weren’t so exhilarating, it wouldn’t be so popular.”

— Richard Goldstein, “The Backlash Passion: A Messianic Meller for Our Time”

Far be it from me to doubt the artistic merit of the film that delivers the best CGI-bloodspray-enhanced flogging scenes—money shots and all—since Mel Gibson’s cinematic milestone Passion of the Christ, but I think that the bandwagon now carrying Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave to apparently inevitable Oscar glory will have to move on without me. There are several problems with this film but let me focus on three.

Bookish prose as film dialogue. Hey, there are no absolutes in film—what works in one might not in another, and so forth. But I feel the question of whether people ever talked in daily life like characters in Victorian fiction has been clearly settled on the “no” side.  So if you’re going to deploy that kind of prose as dialogue in a film, it’s bound to feel awkward unless it’s delivered with a kind of arch deliberateness.  I kind of think that the only way you can get away with that sort of thing now is as a kind of satire or possibly a kind of meta-commentary on the contents of the film.  But this film seems to think it’s being more historically accurate by taking unbelievably meticulously constructed lines of dialogue seemingly verbatim from the source text. The net effect for me as a viewer was to repeatedly push me outside the story.

Psychosis as truth. If this movie proves one thing it’s that Michael Fassbender is the new Al Pacino—a scenery-chewer for the 21st century.  His performance in this film, I will say, is quite remarkable.  But for me the whole character is utterly off-point. As David Cox has trenchantly pointed out in The Guardian, “The cause for which McQueen’s film fights, long ago prevailed. Now, its function isn’t to rub filmgoers’ noses in unacknowledged guilt; it is to let us bathe in self-righteous satisfaction at our moral superiority to our woefully benighted forbears.” And who better to serve as a fulcrum for this someone who is not, shall we say, an “average” or “typical” slaveowner (if he were, slavery would have been over in a generation because all of the slaves would be dead or disabled).  No, it must be an absolute sociopath/psychopath/monster.  This guarantees that we will learn nothing from this cinematic encounter with slavery.  I could branch out from this point to talk about how the movie in general has types rather than characters, but I’m trying to keep this list short.

Violence as truth. Steve McQueen seems to have one core aim with this film—to construct scenes of violence that the average viewer might well experience as some of the most shocking they have ever seen. This is how he cinematically makes the argument that slavery is the worst social institution that humanity has ever invented (and short of actual sociopaths who would ever disagree with that?). The intended effect seems to be that we come away feeling how excellent it is that the full truth of the terribleness of slavery has finally been presented in cinematic form.  Somehow the spectacle of extreme violence has become our contemporary guarantor of truth. That was real, man. That’s what it was really like. We learn nothing, we congratulate ourselves, we anoint our celebrity actors as culturally important. We shower awards. Count me out.

 

the new dissident cinema [TIFF ’13 post 2]

16 Sep
September 16, 2013

The Square (dir. Jehane Noujaim — Egypt)
Omar (dir. Hany Abu-Assad — Palestine)
Ladder to Damascus (dir. Mohammad Malas — Syria)
Manuscripts Don’t Burn (dir. Mohammad Rasoulof — Iran)
Closed Curtain (dir. Jafar PanahiKambozia Partovi — Iran)

While it’s been repeatedly commented that the running theme of this year’s TIFF was torture—and indeed, 10 of the 21 films I saw either depicted or referenced it—that didn’t seem nearly as significant to me as a substantial new wave of dissident cinema. While much of the attention in this genre was soaked up by the Bill Condon directed festival opener The Fifth Estate, the riveting documentary The Square was the deserving winner of the People’s Choice Documentary award.

The film follows six Egyptian revolutionaries from the February 2011 through to the deposing of Morsi—at the post-screening Q&A the Cairo-raised/Harvard-educated director Jehane Noujaim confessed that the film was only finished its edit and delivered the day before the festival. A few subtitle typos and errors are the only evidence of the haste with which it was finished—the film is a thorougly slick, smartly crafted adrenaline rush that literally has the freshness of last month’s headlines. I will not soon forget the passion of the young secular activist Ahmed Hassan, one of 6 Egyptians whose story the film follows, but equally moving and charismatic is Magdy Ashour, who is loyal to the Brotherhood but even more loyal to his conscience.

Of the five films considered here the one that looks most multiplex-ready in terms of production values and genre chops is the suspense thriller Omar, which tells the story of a young Palestinian resistor whose participation in the cold assassination of an Israeli soldier leaves him caught between the resistance, the security police, and the young woman that he loves.  The film was made with mostly Palestinian producers and crew and invites comparisons to last year’s masterful Ziad Doueiri film The Attack, but is perhaps rather less nuanced and more about skillfully ratcheting up the suspense all the way to a shocking climax. And of the many TIFF screenings depicting torture this is probably the only one where the torturers are Israeli security police.

Omar was made almost entirely on location in the West Bank, and the Academy Award-nominated Abu Assad was able to shoot without fear of significant interference, unlike the other films in this category.  Ladder to Damascus, for instance, was made almost entirely in secret by Syrian auteur Mohammad Malas.

The film depicts a kind of Syrian nation in microcosm—a number of people rooming together in one house, Muslim and Christian, working people, intellectuals, artists, even a soldier. The group are threatened by the civil war happening all around the house—Malas finding the suitable metaphor for depicting both an idealized Syrian community—and human lives themselves—under duress.

Permission to shoot was obtained by submitting a false script to the Syrian film authority.  At the post-film Q&A, Malas was asked how the shooting license was policed, and he explained that the resulting film must match the approved script in order to receive a second license—a license to distribute. In the case of this film he never intended or expected to receive the second license—his only hope is that audiences around the world will get to see what Syrians cannot. In order to protect the safety of the actors and crew they never received copies of the script.  The mostly amateur cast were given pages of script on the day of shooting and expected to learn their lines on the spot.

While this approach makes for some rough edges with the performances, the same can’t be said of the brilliant cinematography by Joude Gorani, which is quite simply visually stunning.

The most restrained and low-budget-looking film on this list is Mohammad Rasoulof’s Manuscripts Don’t Burn, this one also shot in secret, but in Iran. The title, a nod to 1930s Soviet dissident Mikhail Bulgakov, provides a textual link back to previous generations of covertly-produced dissident art.  The film depicts how the Iranian government started using contract killers in the 1990s to assassinate writers and intellectuals under a layer of plausible deniability.  The pacing is slow, the performances extremely restrained, but when the film loops around at the end to retell the opening scene, the payoff offers more than mere plot closure.

The combination of this film and the more brightly-lit but guarded Closed Curtain (described in a previous post) suggests that Jafar Panahi’s This is Not a Film has touched something off—with today’s digital technology, what cannot be filmed with official sanction can be covertly created to a standard that can touch global audiences via the festival circuit and the internet.

Closed Curtain (and This Is Not A Film) / Shivers [TIFF ’13 Day 1]

07 Sep
September 7, 2013

Before getting on the plane to Toronto I decided to do a little remedial viewing and finally watch Jafar Panahi’s much-touted low-budget cinematic intervention/protest This Is Not a Film. In a manner befitting a film that was shot on a shoestring and smuggled out of Iran on a USB drive, I watched it in a format that is pretty much the opposite end of the quality spectrum from the sumptuous screens at the Lightbox.  I went to this page hosting the film on a pirate website and downloaded it using this free Firefox plug-in, which yielded a 278 Mb Flash video file on my hard drive.  I then processed it into an iPad-friendly file format using HandBrake and loaded it on my aging 1st gen iPad for the trip.

Watching Panahi improvise low-budget ways around the multiple legal restrictions on his filmmaking is inspiring—a strange, low-key partial triumph of the human spirit wrapped within the melancholy of long-term house arrest for a supposed thought crime.   Nothing so shambolic should be so compelling and yet I couldn’t stop watching him watching DVDs of his own films, talking on camera to his visitor/co-filmmaker, visiting websites with his MacBook, and doing some filming of his own with his iPhone.  My compressed/low-def Apple-based set-up seemed like the right way to watch this one.

Closed Curtain

I ended the day with a much more pristine Lightbox viewing of Panahi’s more recent, more filmic, but perhaps less compelling Closed Curtain. His new piece has an interesting, subtle, and nuance intertextual relationship with the previous film, but what This Is Not a Film achieves with simple conversation and serendipitous encounters (and surprise bursts of authentic emotion), Closed Curtain attempts with a kind of murky symbolism that almost makes me think I would put up with something more heavy-handed if only it were more direct.

Clearly Panahi cannot be more clear if he wanted to—his straining at the limits of what he is allowed to say right now is heroic but leaves me with little more than a general concern for his well-being and a fervent wish that he will be able to get back to making the films that he wants to make.

Shivers

On opening day afternoon I was very excited to see David Cronenberg introducing a digitally restored print of his first commercial feature: “an adolescent filmmaking exercise that maybe did some things that hadn’t been done before,” he said, after sharing a tidbit that Dan O’Bannon had seen Shivers before he wrote his Alien script.

The digital print is thick with filmic grain, which will please purists when they view this on what I presume will be a forthcoming Blu-ray release, although I do wonder sometimes, when I see the circular reel-change indicators left in the image rather than extrapolated out, whether the purity thing can be taken just a little too far. Just a quibble really.

TIFF ’13 film agenda

02 Sep
September 2, 2013

Yep, the blog is back after a six-month hiatus—I am getting into gear for another ten days of bingeing on world cinema.  Here are my picks for which  I have locked down tickets so far:

DVD diary: Pigsty, or, a bourgeoisporkalypse (Pasolini 7: Porcile)

03 Mar
March 3, 2013

The explicit political content of the film has as its object, as its historical situation, Germany. But the film does not speak of Germany; rather, of the ambiguous relationship between old and new capitalism. Germany was chosen as the extreme instance.

The implicit political content of the film is a desperate mistrust of all historical societies. Thus, an apocalyptic anarchy.

from Pier Paolo Pasolini’s “Note on Porcile

Pigsty/Porcile DVD Masters of Cinema“There really don’t seem to be any minor works in his oeuvre,” or so I blogged about Pasolini’s Hawks and Sparrows, but while 1969’s Pigsty offers no letup in intellectual intensity from his previous films, I have to say that this was the first of the seven Pasolini features that I have watched where many of the film’s elements begin to feel a bit—recycled.  It was also the last of Pasolini’s films not to be based on a major work of literature, which does make one wonder whether Pasolini felt like his own creative stores had been somewhat exhausted—along with the decade of the 1960s itself.

Yes it covers both cannibalism (shown, briefly), and sex with pigs (not shown), so it certainly does up the ante in terms of testing what an audience is ready to tolerate.  But it also brings back from Theorem:

  • the barren surface of Mt Etna as a visual metaphor for the existential plane,
  • the bourgeois household reduced to essence (reduced in this case to caricature), and
  • a young lover in a catatonic/comatose state (also repeating Mamma Roma‘s referencing of Mantegna’s Lamentation over the Dead Christ).

The culturally-unplaceable “exotic” music of Oedipus Rex also makes a brief return here, fulfilling its former function of marking its society as somehow out of time, and the trial scene from The Gospel According to Matthew is back as well, again in a more bleakly satiric key.

The contemporary viewer needs to be prepared for some pretty oblique dialogue and referencing of the sociopolitical scene as Pasolini saw it at the time.  His use of satiric references to Nazism still comes across pretty clearly.  But the film is not about Nazism in the first instance, as Pasolini said.

I have come to realize in the course of watching these first seven films of Pasolini’s that 1) each of these films has at least one Christ figure and 2) you can always safely assume that the Christ figures are the characters that Pasolini identifies with. Pigsty has two Christ figures and Pasolini freely confessed that he identified with both. Drawn your own conclusions.

Not that it’s terribly crucial to appreciating this film, but I have to say it: Anne Wiazemsky looks unbelievably stylish in every one of her scenes—and in fact almost weirdly contemporary to my eye in 2013. If I had the time to rip this DVD and pick a bunch of screen caps I could assemble a pretty impressive fashion slide show.  The costume design is by Danilo Donati, who in addition to several of Pasolini’s films worked on others by Fellini and Zeffirelli. His last major project was Life is Beautiful.

DVD diary: Theorem, or, the Discreet Collapse of the Bourgeoisie (Pasolini 6: Teorema)

12 Feb
February 12, 2013

Theorem/TeoremaIt had been about seven years since the first and last time that I saw Pasolini’s Teorema. It seemed a bolt from the blue; my only previous exposure to Pasolini had been The Gospel According to Matthew, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. When I think about how brilliant it seemed, and how some of the images from it have stayed with me ever since, it’s kind of remarkable that it’s taken me this long to get around to my current project of watching all of his films in order.

Screening it now, in sequence after his first five fiction features, I do a see some richness of reference to his previous work (especially Gospel and Oedipus Rex), and having that additional context does illuminate his approach to some extent, but even after all that the shock of its brilliance remains.  In his critical commentary on the BFI DVD, Robert Gordon calls this film a “high water mark of auteurist cinema” and that is precisely what it is to me.

Really great works of art teach you how to appreciate them, don’t they, and there is something of that quality to Teorema. This film essentially breaks the three-act rule to deliver its coldly passionate theorem; if A, then B. This two-part, bilaterally symmetrical structure prevents us from expecting the kind of resolution that a conventionally plot-driven film would inevitably deliver.

Something I really enjoy about both Antonioni and Pasolini is the way that both directors use the presence of particular books to tell us things about the characters (unlike Godard, perhaps, who likes even his choices for book cameos to be opaque/cryptic).  In Teorema we don’t need to know much about Rimbaud, or the art of Francis Bacon, but a little bit of acquaintance does help.  The only literary-referencing scene that is really difficult to understand without knowledge of the source material is a scene where a physical interaction recalls a similar action from Tolstoy’s Death of Ivan Ilyich, so here I confess, not having read the Tolstoy, I was dependent on the explanation on the commentary track. By and large, though, the film’s points of reference add context but don’t demand to be completely understood on first viewing. Pasolini deploys minimal dialog here and for the most part lets the images communicate. It is his most purely visual cinema yet.

The 2007 DVD of this film (which I screened for this viewing) was already a huge upgrade from previous DVDs, but I am very much looking forward to the forthcoming BFI Blu-ray edition, which at time of writing is slated for release on May 13, 2013. If Masters of Cinema’s Oedipus Rex is anything to go by I know that this film can look even better. I will be double-dipping I expect.

Blu-ray diary: Oedipal, but not so complex (Pasolini 5: Edipo re)

10 Feb
February 10, 2013

So it seems that cinema must be naturalistic…

I want to stress the fact that now, at forty-five years of age, I have emerged from the wilderness of Freudian and Marxist dogma. But where have I got to?

Pier Paolo Pasolini, while filming Oedipus Rex

Oedipus RexColour! After experiencing six black & white Pasolini films in a row (four fiction features as well as two documentaries), colour comes as a revelation. Like Antonioni, with his first colour film Red Desert three years earlier,  Pasolini deploys colour masterfully in his first use, albeit with less overt symbolism than Antonioni. In Oedipus Rex Pasolini seems more interested in the way that it can create mood, tone, context.

It’s worth mentioning how excellently the colour is conveyed by the recent Masters of Cinema Blu-ray edition. I feel lucky to be having my first experiences of most of these films in such high quality versions.  It makes a big difference.

For a film about the Oedipal myth, with all of the Freudian baggage that might entail, Pasolini has created a remarkably unschematic, flowing narrative, at least when compared to his earlier films. Perhaps it helps to know the Sophocles play, but the narrative logic is pretty clear, I think, whether or not you’re familiar.

The opening scenes depicting the birth of Oedipus as a child in pre-way Italy are brilliant, and perhaps helped inspire a similar sequence in Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life.

But for me the most masterful sequence is the patricide/regicide of Laius, which Pasolini rightly makes the centrepiece of the film. He finds a way to stretch the scene out, without it ever feeling stretched, and to make it visceral rather than grandiose. It won’t seem “naturalistic” to those over/exposed to the “realistic” and/or cartoonish excesses of today’s violent films, but it is, relative to his previous films. And it demonstrates that Pasolini could, indeed, do suspense.

I’m inclined to think that not just The Gospel According to Matthew, but also this film, left a lasting impression on Martin Scorsese and led him to film The Last Temptation of Christ around ruined/ancient structures, rather than constructing elaborate sets. I have to say that I’ve found this choice a bit distracting in all of these films. Filming in and around crumbling ancient edifices makes the settings “feel” old I suppose, but of course in the ancient time that these films were set, some of the buildings around them would have been new. Pasolini perhaps sensed this possible criticism and claimed that he was setting Oedipus Rex “outside of time,” and indeed he found ways to make the ancient-time portion of the movie (most of it) cultural neutral or at least hybrid.

It has to be said that Pasolini is so unflinching about the mother-love aspect of the myth/story that it seems nowhere near as horrifying as the patricide sequence. Silvana Mangano’s Jocasta handles everything with such equanimity (and is not shown mourning the death of her husband Laius) that her end comes rather abruptly.

One more thought about the problems of depicting myths naturalistically. The age of CGI has inflated audience expectations about what can be depicted visually, and has inflated narrative itself along with it. All of that externalization, rendering-as-surface, may work against the original function of such stories, becoming merely a distraction from the reality of the gods and monsters within. As Pasolini’s carnivalesque sphinx says to Oedipus before it is slain, “The abyss you thrust me into is inside of you.”