Tag Archive for: Roberto Rossellini

Blu-ray diary: the BFI’s tasty answer to Criterion’s Rossellini/Bergman box

29 Aug
August 29, 2015

For the 100th anniversary of Ingrid Bergman’s birth—my 100th blog post. Thanks to all my readers and for all the positive feedback I’ve received in the past three years. I just re-upped with my hosting service so I guess you’re in for another year of this…

Rossellini & Bergman Collection (Limited Edition Numbered Blu-ray Box Set)The Roberto Rossellini/Ingrid Bergman Collection
(BFI 3x BD)

This is the second three-disc Blu-ray set of Rossellini films from the British Film Institute this year, following on their excellent War Trilogy release. Criterion was of course the first to release a box set of Roberto Rossellini’s films starring Ingrid Bergman, and that release was so brilliant that I proposed it as the best of 2013. That Criterion set is built around three features: Stromboli, Journey to Italy, and Europe ’51, whereas this new BFI box offers Stromboli, Journey to Italy, and Fear.

About Fear. My first impression was that it’s rather fascinating to see Rossellini essentially doing a Hitchcock-style film (if slightly German-expressionism-inflected) starring Ingrid Bergman. But I have to admit that my interest flagged a bit in the second half hour. I’m so attached to Rossellini’s rough-sketch approach to filmmaking that the smoother Hitchcockian feel began to make me sense something missing—until the Big Twist happens an hour in, one that is so emotionally brutal that it feels genuinely dark in a way that the more aestheticized Hitchcock rarely manages to touch. However—hopefully I’m not giving too much away—as with Journey to Italy, the closing scene turns away from that darkness in a way that will feel overly abrupt to viewers not used to Rossellini’s rhythm. My single reservation: with its German cast and aesthetic touches, I would really like to see the German cut of this film, and I imagine I would prefer it to the English. But this restoration is flawless, and the film is unique in the Rossellini oeuvre, so once again, props to the BFI for making it available.

Rossellini directed five feature films starring Bergman—the fifth, Giovanna d’Arco al rogo / Joan of Arc at the Stake, is really a filmed stage play performance and is not included on either box, and in fact was not included in the ten-film “Projetto Rossellini” restoration project that was recently undertaken by the Cineteca di Bologna. You have to concede that Criterion went the extra mile by including Europe ’51 (my personal favourite of the four Rossellini-Bergman feature films I’ve seen) in two restored versions, whereas the BFI has simply included the three films that were restored as part of the Projetto.

So, to double-dip, or not? Does the BFI’s box offer enough additional value to justify a second, overlapping purchase? Apart from Fear, here’s what it offers that the Criterion set does not:

  • The Machine That Kills Bad People (La Macchina ammazzacattivi, 1952). From Rossellini’s Bergman period, but not featuring Bergman, this is, as the box notes promise, a fascinating film. It’s a pleasing special feature for completists—the “Projetto Rossellini” restorations included eight fiction features, and with this inclusion all eight are now available in English-friendly editions—four in each of the two BFI sets.
  • Viaggio in Italia (1954). The alternative, Italian cut of Journey to Italy. Criterion’s box included the Italian cuts of Stromboli and Europe ’51, but, for some reason, not the Italian cut of Journey—though its differences with the English version are perhaps not as substantial as in the other two cases, it is a welcome addition here, and I enjoyed seeing the tighter cut with its mostly-Italian supporting cast speaking in Italian.
  • Bergman & Magnani: The War of the Volcanoes (La guerra dei vulcani, 2012). An entertaining documentary (in Italian, subtitled in English) “charting the scandal of the Magnani-Rossellini-Bergman love triangle” that cleverly tells its story partly by deploying scenes from Rossellini’s and Magnani’s films that mirror, sometimes uncomfortably so, episodes in their real-life relationships.
  • Ingrid Bergman at the National Film Theatre (1981), an interview before an audience, with a Q&A session, that doesn’t perhaps have much to add on the Rossellini years, but is entertaining for other reasons and worth a look for Ingmar Bergman fans (she is hilarious when talking about Casablanca). This was an event organized by The Guardian and hosted at what is now the BFI Southbank.
  • Adrian Martin 2007 commentary on Journey to Italy. The BFI release also brings over the Laura Mulvey commentary (2003) included in the Criterion release. Both are insightful and worth the time.

Bottom line: If you’re even half as much into Rossellini’s films as I am, you want this—an essential purchase for any serious collection.

 

Blu-ray diary: Roberto Rossellini—The War Trilogy (BFI limited-edition Blu-ray box set)

26 Apr
April 26, 2015

rossellini_the_war_trilogy_coverFilm disc collectors often talk guiltily, or regretfully, or occasionally scornfully, about “double-dipping”—buying a new Blu-ray edition of a film previously purchased on DVD or on an inferior Blu-ray. But if there was ever a case for it (as well as for owning a multi-region player), it’s this brilliant new Region “B” numbered edition of 3000 from the British Film Institute.

The restoration work for the films transferred here was performed, as one might expect, by the nonpareil Cineteca di Bologna, in 2013, and the image is a substantial upgrade, as you can see in the comparison screenshots in DVD Beaver’s review. What you can’t see is the even more remarkable improvement in sound. I did a little toggling between this edition and the Criterion DVD set from 2010, and the audio restoration is a massive step up in fidelity and clarity.

Because Rome, Open City is important not just to film history, but to history in general, and likely because it is more conventional than Paisan or Germany Year Zero in its construction, it has tended to overshadow the other two films. And yet the latter two are more representative of Rossellini’s particular genius. So the presentation on these discs perhaps levels the playing field, allowing all three films to be better appreciated as the masterpieces they are.

What makes the 2010 Criterion DVDs still worth having is the incredible forest of extras, several hours’ worth, which really help to illuminate the films and their context.

The BFI Blu-ray set brings forward perhaps the best of these—a half-hour visual essay about the entire trilogy by Rossellini biographer Tag Gallagher called “Into the Future.” It also has two features that the Criterion box lacks: a 2005 documentary Children of Open City in which Roma: Città Aperta lead kid actor Vito Annicchiarico, nearly six decades on from the film, goes on a surprising journey of reminiscence, and, remarkably, a freshly restored transfer of Rossellini’s Amore (1948), a two-part anthology film that showcases the incredible acting talents of the great Anna Magnani. The first part is from a play by Jean Cocteau, and the second is scripted by, and features an appearance by, Federico Fellini, complete with a remarkable blond dye-job.

While the 2010 DVD box is being target-marketed to me via Facebook for “only” $69 at amazon.ca (before tax&shipping), the new BFI box came from Amazon UK for $56 all in, thanks to the continuing relative strength of the Canadian dollar against the UK pound. (Canadian collectors note: Amazon UK is a fantastic source of Blu-ray deals, especially, but not only, if you invest in a multi-region player.)

So, the Criterion box may be the winner on extras, but if you want the most pristine presentation of these historic films, the new BFI box is a slam dunk. The time may come when Criterion releases a set that combines the best of both, but in the meantime, this is the Blu-ray release of 2015 so far.

DVD diary: Rossellini’s War Trilogy—completing the cycle

14 Dec
December 14, 2013

Roberto Rossellini's War Trilogy - Criterion CollectionMy fall 2013 encounter with Rossellini has transpired in a strange order… after seeing the restored Rome: Open City at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, I had intended to dive into Criterion’s 3-DVD box of the War Trilogy in the ensuing weeks. But then when I scored the 4-BD Rossellini-Bergman box I excitedly jumped immediately to that.  I have a sort of mild regret about that because the supplements I watched (and certain aspects of Europe ’51) rather spoiled the ending of Germany Year Zero for me. Possibly the most useful piece of advice I can offer people coming to these two boxes / six films for the first time is: watch them in order, and for useful explication watch the Rossellini introductions and Adriano Aprà interviews after each film—and save the supplements that consider the entire trilogies for after you’ve watched each full trio of films.

The only other Rossellini regret that I have at this moment is that it’s taken me this long to get around to watching the War Trilogy films—and this Criterion box in particular, which was released just about four years ago now.  As with the Rossellini-Bergman package the supplements are brilliant—thoughtfully produced and abundantly insightful. Especially valuable are two video essays: Rossellini and the City, by Mark Shiel, about the urban landscapes in the trilogy, and Into the Future, by Rossellini biographer Tag Gallagher, which is essentially a concise half-hour lecture, with quickly edited visuals, that is guaranteed to elevate your appreciation of all three films. As with the Rossellini-Bergman box I have found myself compulsively watching every minute of the extras.

If recent and future further restoration of these classic films does indeed result in new high def upgrade releases for these films, it’s hard to think that the accompanying features can also be improved.  One of Criterion’s best releases ever, for me, and that is saying something. For the dedicated cinephile this is pure gold.

 

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.