IL POSTO (Criteron/Morningstar, 1961) D: Ermanno Olmi, w/ Sandro Panseri, Loredana Detto. Rating: NNNn
I FIDANZATI (Criterion/Morningstar, 1962) D: Olmi, w/ Anna Canzi, Carlo Cabrini. Rating: NNN
these two films are among the last gasps of neo-realism. As Fellini and Antonioni in their very different ways altered the shape of Italian film in the 1960s, Milanese documentarian Ermanno Olmi reverted to the purest kind of low-key realist cinema using real locations and non-professional casts. Truly non-professional: of the four leads in these two films, only one of them had a film career. Loredana Detto, the romantic interest in Il Posto, appeared in no other movie. Olmi's concern is the real world of Italy's economic recovery. His young characters are absolutely unprepared for the rest of their lives, in jobs (that's what Il Posto means) in windowless offices where absolutely everyone is obsessed by the company pecking order. The conclusion of Il Posto is like the scary Italian prequel to Billy Wilder's The Apartment.
I can't make the claims for Olmi that I can for the more famous names in Italian cinema, but in an age of short-attention-span filmmaking, his allegiance to realistic detail and characters you might actually meet in the real world is refreshing. And now that Criterion has begun to dig into some of the lesser-known corners of Italian film, how about Marco Bellocchio's great early films, Fists In The Pocket and China Is Near?
DVD EXTRAS Each film comes with a new interview with Olmi, an individual booklet essay by Kent Jones of Film Comment, and the original theatrical trailer. Il Posto also has La Cotta, a 50-minute short Olmi made for Italian television in 1967, a deleted scene and a restoration demonstration. English subtitles.
THE CHAPLIN COLLECTION VOLUME ONE: THE GOLD RUSH, MODERN TIMES, THE GREAT DICTATOR, LIMELIGHT (Warner, 1925/1936/1940/1951), eight discs, $100; each film available singly, two discs, $35.
ok, i'll put it right up front. i'm not terribly fond of Charlie Chaplin. There's a broad streak of sentimentality in Chaplin that sets my teeth on edge, and, when he finally opened his mouth and spoke, we learned that he had discovered platitudes and considered them wisdom. Which is not to say he wasn't an amazing comic talent. I can cite sequence after sequence of comic genius. This time through, I was particularly struck by the rollerskating scene in Modern Times. It may be heretical, but I prefer Chaplin's shorts to his features.
That said, this first instalment of the Chaplin collection from Warner Home Video offers superb transfers. It's nice to have a reminder of just how good the old films look when there's good source material, and these are taken from the Chaplin estate and the French distributor MK2, which assembled most of the extras. The documentaries on the second discs of the two-disc sets were produced as a series for French television.
If you're on a limited budget, I'd start with Modern Times and The Gold Rush. They're the best films. This Gold Rush offers a unique double - the 1925 release of the film, with piano accompaniment, and the 1942 re-release, which Chaplin recut and which comes with a full score.
A word on price: The box of four films is cheaper than buying each title separately. But if you want, say, Modern Times, Gold Rush and Dictator, buying the three separately will cost about the same as the box; Limelight isn't a film I really want.
The secondary material is remarkable. The series of documentaries includes one, with The Great Dictator, that looks at Hitler and Chaplin (born in the same week), directed by Kevin Brownlow and narrated by Kenneth Branagh. Modern Times comes with contemporary documentaries on industrialization. Original theatrical trailers for each film, 25 minutes of colour making-of footage on The Great Dictator filmed on the set by Chaplin's brother Sidney. If you want these films, these are superb presentations.
DVD EXTRAS - The Gold Rush: Two cuts of the film, documentary by Serge Le Peron, theatrical trailers, poster gallery.
Documentary by Philippe Truffault; deleted scenes, including the complete version of the nonsense song Chaplin sings in the restaurant; Smile, performed by Liberace; Behind The Scenes In The Machine Age, a 1931 U.S. government-made documentary on the assembly line; photo gallery; theatrical trailers; For The First Time, a 1967 Cuban documentary on peasants seeing this as their first movie. The Great Dictator: The Tramp And The Dictator, by Kevin Brownlow; colour production footage; Charlie The Barber; deleted scene from Sunnyside; scene from Monsieur Verdoux. Limelight: Documentary by Edgardo Cozarinsky; deleted scene; complete original score; The Professor, an early sketch of the flea circus material from Limelight; Chaplin family home movies, photo and poster gallery; theatrical trailer.
FOOLISH WIVES (Kino/Pixi, 1922) D: Erich von Stroheim, w/ von Stroheim, Mae Busch. Rating: NNNN
QUEEN KELLY (Kino/Pixi, 1929) D: von Stroheim, w/ Gloria Swanson, Walter Byron. Rating: NNN
BLIND HUSBANDS (Kino/Pixi, 1919) D: von Stroheim, w/ von Stroheim, Ruby Kendrick. Rating: NNN
directors who complain about studio interference should take heart that they weren't born Erich von Stroheim. These three films - only available separately - include Queen Kelly, from which he was fired by Gloria Swanson and never got to finish shooting, and Foolish Wives in the longest surviving reconstruction, 140 minutes left from a six-hour film.
And then there's Greed, which he shot eight hours long and which survives in a two-hour form (not available on DVD). We can, however, expect a fully restored version of his greatest hit, The Merry Widow, later this year. It's getting a festival screening.
The ultimate square peg in the early days of the studio system, von Stroheim was a perverse genius, supreme cautionary tale and a shameless optimist - he actually thought Universal would release Foolish Wives to be shown over two evenings. These issues from Kino, like the company's earlier collection of D.W. Griffith silents, don't boast the sort of miraculous visual revitalization on display in its Metropolis issue, which had funding from Germany's Murnau Foundation. They are a lot scrappier visually, and Queen Kelly, never really finished, is held together by the score and the title cards.
What they do provide (something that may appeal more to film students than to the general public) is a wealth of supporting material: in the case of Queen Kelly, both the von Stroheim version, as far as it can be made, and the alternate ending imposed by star/producer Swanson; commentaries on Queen Kelly and Foolish Wives by von Stroheim biographer Richard Koszarski that are a model of informed and entertaining scholarly commentary; press materials; the 1980 documentary The Man You Loved To Hate on the Foolish Wives disc; The Great Gabbo, in which von Stroheim starred in 1931 (but did not direct) on the Blind Husbands disc; a diplomatic discussion of Queen Kelly and Hollywood in the 20s with Gloria Swanson; and much more - there are three hours of extra material on Queen Kelly alone.
Foolish Wives is the best of these movies, even in this form. Von Stroheim gives a great performance as an apparently titled swindler conning women in Monte Carlo, only to finally get his comeuppance, but the ending barely exists any more. Queen Kelly is a must-see for fans of Sunset Boulevard. It's the movie Joe Gillis and Norma Desmond watch, and it's in the best condition of any of the prints.
DVD EXTRAS - Queen Kelly: Scholarly commentary; outtakes; two endings; video intro by Gloria Swanson; screenplay excerpt; production documents; audio interview clips with cinematographer Paul Ivano, directors Allan Dwan and Billy Wilder; von Stroheim-directed clips from Merry-Go-Round. Blind Husbands: Score adapted from original theatrical music cue sheets; excerpts from original press book; The High Command, a 1944 radio broadcast featuring von Stroheim; photo gallery. Foolish Wives: Scholarly commentary, The Man You Loved To Hate documentary on von Stroheim written by Richard Koszarski, original Sigmund Romberg score, NY Censor cuts, production stills, notes on the film by von Stroheim.
Also this week
LA FEMME NIKITA: SPECIAL EDITION (MGM) No commentary, but a new anamorphic transfer and some featurettes.
EUROFILMS (MGM) A whole stack of catalogue titles from MGM, including Never On Sunday, Night Of the Shooting Stars, Flight of The Innocent and Prisoner Of The Mountains.
NIKITA: COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (WB) By a strange coincidence, but Peta Wilson is no Anne Parillaud....
PHONE BOOTH (Fox) Colin Farrell under the gun, with Kiefer Sutherland whispering in his ear.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb