Sensational

Last week, Minnelli — this week, Visconti, with a melodrama of a different, perhaps more literal kind, his operatic “Senso” of 1954. Thanks to funding from the Film Foundation, the badly shrunken three-strip Technicolor negative has been restored by the Cineteca di Bologna, and the glorious results are on display in a new Blu-ray being distributed in the US by Criterion (and other publishers elsewhere). A review here in the New York Times, along with a look at the new three-disc Warren William set, featuring everyone’s favorite pre-Code rapscallion, from the Warner Archive Collection.

95 comments to Sensational

  • david hare

    Mike, there’s a small issue with the opening shot of Senso. It has a bleached, flat appearance, much like the previous 2005 Optimum UK/Canal DVD version on which the entire movie looks like this – flat and without depth. But of course the credits (optically matted) end and the tenor steps forward to address the Fenice audience with “Di quella pira”, and Visconti pulls the camera back and behind the tenor to capture the hall. THen with the first cut (after just shy of two minutes) the image pops back into full three strip life, where it remains for the rest of this splendid new restoration. It looks to me like the existing elements are stuck with a dupe or second gen opening shot which has less density than the rest of the picture, perhaps becuase of less than ideal printing or lab work on the original. In any case it’s minor and short.

    Trovatore is well served by Italian movie directors. There is also the fabulous five minute sequence of – more or less – the complete Act 1 Scene 2 in Bertolucci’s wonderful Luna during which Matthew Barry turns up at the theatre where mother Jill Clayburgh is singing Leonora during the big trio with Manrico and the Count di Luna. Berto’s camera mellifluously becomes Matthew Barry tracing the actions from front and backstage with all the mechanics and the magic of a live performance, down to the fake cellophane water in the mill. A rapturous, delirious and – in Barry’s case stoned scene. Berto of course winds the movie up, including its Freudian paternal reconciliation with Ballo in Maschere.

  • Alex

    Two or three of this week’s posts understandably tie in “Senso” with melodrama. However, Dave Kehr’s observations in his NYT review that “An operatic sense of amplified emotion dominates “Senso,” as does a theatrically heightened use of color,” seem to me to steer clear of an easy characterization of “Senso” as melodrama.

    I think “theatrical” and, most especially, “operatic’ are far more discriminating than use of “exaggerated” or outright use of “melodramatic” would have been.

    There’s a real operatic sense and effect in quite a number of Italian films. This includes some loud and tumultuous effects that make explicit use of Opera: the scenes from “Senso” and “Luna” respectively evoked today by Mike Grost and David Hare today. It also includes scenes at once as theatrical as they are operatic – the uproar at the gang rape and family gathering scenes toward the end of “Rocco.” But beyond explicit opera and hyper histrionics there is something more distinctive, a kind of emanation of emotion from a protagonist or two that shines forth like an aria (or duet). I think we have get this from Vali in some of the scenes of “Senso,” from Magnani confronting the horror of the penultimate scene in Open City” (from Brando and Schneider in the final “tango” scene” of “Last Tango,” from Delon and Girardot on the streetcar in “Rocco.”) Between this cinematic mutations from opera, the dirtect transplants (like the end of “Luna”) and the more mixed hyper-dramatic with an operatic tinge like Rocco’s finale I think we have what we might call an operatic mode in Italian cinema that is distinct from, or more specific than, simple melodrama. Indeed I think we get such moment of soaring emotional purity outside the Italian cinema as well, for example the incredible soliloquy -aria of Thérèse right before she jumps to her death in “Tirez sur le pianist,” and,. in “Les Enfants du Paradis,” Nathalie whenever she is before Baptiste and Baptiste whenever he is before Garance.

    There’s a kind of musical purity in the emotional expression of key players in Cassevettes film, indeed some a straight opera duet or three between the titular characters of a Cassevettes film sometimes though too “melodramatic,” the great “Minnie and Moskowitz.”

  • Alex

    By golly, “Rebel without a Cause” is an opera!

  • david hare

    Has anone here seen Siamo Donne?
    There is a fabulous restoration of it on SD with English subs, and it’s again possibly Cristaldi Home vid (Can’t remember.) Every single ep in this is a complete joy, even the Isa Miranda ep from Luigi Zampa. Rossellini’s ep with Ingrid – ii Pollo – is a doozy and the Italian disc includes an english wild soundtrack version which is even better than the Italian dub (read/dubbed by Ingrid herself.)

    But I suspect my favorite of all is Visconti’s, with Magnani, playing a movie star again, just after they had made the wonderful Bellissima together (another V masterpiece.) If there is any other Visconti in which location, wide shot and CU, backstage and front of house are more harmoniously wedded I can’t think of one. And Magnani allows herself to be totally upstaged by a small Dachshund for the first half of the episode.

    There was a great freedom to Visconti’s form in the 50s which started to ossify into a house style by the mid to late 60s. Very much like Losey, Alas. But we at least have the first half dozen movies.

  • Visconti’s episode of Siamo Donne is a sort of Utopian fantasy. It shows Magnani, playing herself, wandering around Rome. Everywhere she goes, she spreads a bit of fun. The film is a fantasy about being a diva, and what that might mean in terms of comic joy.

    The brief film has a structure a bit like The Leopard:
    The first part of both films takes us to locations all over. In Siamo donne, this is Magnani’s taxi cab ride around Rome.
    The second part of both films is a bravura musical sequence. In Siamo donne, Magnani sings a song on stage at a theater.

    The police building has a huge, multi-story courtyard in its center. Other Visconti films will involve such interior, multi-story areas.
    We also see people in boxes at the theater, another Visconti favorite image. This also involves a well-like, multi-story interior.

    Everywhere Magnani goes, she meets crowds of young men in uniform: sailors, policemen. They all smile, and have a brief holiday, showing her courtesy. The film anticipates the interest Visconti will show in uniforms in The Leopard and The Damned. But, unlike these later films, these are innocent, modern day Italian young men. None is associated in any way with an oppressive regime, or any sort of sinister political program. They are just young guys, getting a welcome break from their serious routine, by meeting a movie star.
    As usual in Visconti, the men are in groups of identical uniforms. Early on, we see groups of sailors, all in the same uniform. Later at the police station, there are large numbers of identically uniformed police. Such men in repeating clothes form building blocks of Visconti’s compositions.

  • I agree with David Hare that Visconti’s Anna Magnani is the best episode in Siamo donne. Bellissima and Siamo donne are interesting as transition films from neorealism to the opera mode of Senso. Anna Magnani, as Francesca Bertini before her, and Sophia Loren after her, were naturally dramatic, even operatic, actresses. Orson Welles made a Gina Lollobrigida documentary called A Portrait of Gina, one of his best tv movies, where he makes this point that Italians from Rome or Naples are natural dramatic actors. Their exaggeration is authentic.

  • Alex

    “There was a great freedom to Visconti’s form in the 50s which started to ossify into a house style by the mid to late 60s. Very much like Losey, Alas. But we at least have the first half dozen movies.”

    I’d say Visconti’s style show freedom (rather than ossification) through more than six film, indeed through “The Leopard’ (so long as we don’t confused style and production values) and, further yet, through the stylistically lively and inventive “Vaghe stelle dell’Orsa.”

  • Brian Dauth

    And after the first six, we have Visconti’s German Trilogy — THE DAMNED; DEATH IN VENICE; LUDWIG — which takes film to a level of genius rarely visited. So much to be grateful for.

  • Yann,

    The TCM documentary sounds different from your link. Your link has film historians like Prof Drew Casper. They are not in the TCM film.
    The TCM documentary, maybe 10-15 minutes long, is hosted by a lady from a Madison, Indiana historical society. She takes us on a then-and-now tour, of the locations used in SOME CAME RUNNING. It is charming and informative. Madison sure looks pretty.

    I love the way film takes us on a tour of the world. How else would a Michigan guy like me see La Fenice, Venice’s opera house, if it weren’t for SENSO?

    I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs,
    A palace and a prison on each hand:
    I saw from out the wave her structures rise
    As from the stroke of the enchanter’s wand:
    A thousand years their cloudy wings expand
    Around me, and a dying Glory smiles
    O’er the far times, when many a subject land
    Looked to the wingéd Lion’s marble piles,
    Where Venice sat in state, throned on her hundred isles!

    Byron – Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage

  • Peter Henne

    “There was a great freedom to Visconti’s form in the 50s which started to ossify into a house style by the mid to late 60s. Very much like Losey, Alas. But we at least have the first half dozen movies.”

    Visconti and Losey in any period deserve better than an off-handed dismissal like this. Both artists show great care to composition and performance style that most other directors may only dream of fulfilling. Not every writer on Losey shares David Hare’s judgment on his work, either; thus David H’s perspective, asserted without reference to any argument, is not by default an accepted appraisal. Foster Hirsch in his book “Joseph Losey” (Twayne Publishers, 1980) writes, “Losey probably has had a longer period of dry runs and test cases than any other major director; his movie apprenticeship extends from 1948 to 1963, when, finally, with THE SERVANT, he produced a film that will surely claim a lasting place in the international film repertory” (p. 56). Hirsch argues for this position throughout his book by examining every film of Losey’s in formal, thematic and dramatic detail. He takes a cautious and soundly reasoned approach to the development of Losey’s career. Whether or not one agrees with Hirsch, he backs up what he says with a large body of specific pieces of evidence, which is soberly assessed. In my opinion, that’s what makes his or anyone’s point of view worth reading.

  • Barry Putterman

    Peter, I don’t agree with David’s view of Losey (or Foster Hirsch’s for that matter), but aren’t you going a bit far here? “Not every writer on Losey share’s David Hare’s judgment on his work.” Well, what a sorry world this would be if EVERY writer shared the same judgement on ANY subject.

    After all, we’re making limited comments on a conversational web site. And I’m sure that David would be willing and able to elaborate on why he has a lower regard for later Losey if you chose to engage him on that. But, good gravy man, to imply that Hirsch’s view is to be taken seriously because he wrote a book and David’s view is not because he is merely posting comments seems a bit much.

  • Peter Henne

    Barry, I’ll amend what I said in the last sentence of my 2-28, 1:41pm post to “substantial body.” It’s not a matter of writing a book; after all, several people here blasted Caute’s biography in the last Losey thread. It’s one thing to ignite conversation with some careful observation and clear-headed reasoning, and another to toss off a jibe without making any argument for it. The latter type is mean-spirited and unhelpful because it supports glib, superficial views and doesn’t add to reasoned discourse. That’s just my observation.

  • Peter Henne

    Ah, sheesh, the edit function isn’t working: NEXT to last sentence in my 2-28, 1:41pm post.

  • Barry Putterman

    Peter, as a man who holds a substantial body of glib and superficial views, many of which I’ve posted here, I’m not unsympathetic to your case. But consider that David’s comment in many ways echoes that of our host when he somewhat off-handedly posited the superiority of THE PROWLER to THE SERVANT in his Times review. Again, I’m sure that both of them could elaborate on that view if asked. My only concern is that if you start out the conversation with a push into the corner, there are very few directions it can take from there.

  • Peter Henne

    Barry, I don’t see why I should have to ask for a reasoned proposition in the first place. And my concern is fair-minded and productive discussion in a civil and tolerant framework. I call that collegial.

  • Vivian

    Barry, have you considered publishing an anthology of your glib and supericial views? There are precedents …

  • Vivian

    Peter’s right, the edit function isn’t working. But that’s OK, because I’m not writing, I’m typing.

  • Barry Putterman

    Vivian, thank you so much for your kind interest. However, I am afraid that I will need to acquire a greater glib and superficial public profile before my views will be of commercial interest to publishers. And the competition seems to be a glut on the market these days.

    So, for the present, it seems I will have to limit myself to you and the rest of the Dave Kehr audience.

  • Vivian

    We are fortunate indeed.

  • david hare

    Peter and Barry, as one who has never shied from sweeping generalizations I can’t let such an entreaty pass unanswered and I agree this one deserves some amplification.

    My first problem with later Losey and Visconti is historical, i.e. particular to my own filmgoing history. By the early to mid sixties both directors had very much become arthouse darlings, as you know, whether by self conscious promotion or otherwise, and IMO sometimes to the detriment of their work.

    So, like Bergman and Fellini, the Losey and Visconti brands dominated arthouse repertoire at that time. Thus I have to say as one who saw most of their work on first release theatrically I’m painfully aware of the pre-eminence they had over so many other directors – something I always found irksome, whatever the quality of individual pictures.
    Now to amplify simple opinions, Visconti’s work after Vaghe Stelle starts to sprawl and bloat both in length and tone to really no great effect. I wish I could share Brian’s enthusiasm and affection for the German Trilogy as he calls them but I simply can’t, I’ve been through all this before but I simply find late Visconti repetitive, indulgent and facile, with a visual style in which décor and fussiness dominate character or narrative detail and mise en scene is reduced to pointlessly roaming telephoto shots of interminable duration all the better to photograph the décor and costumes at the expense of everything else.
    Losey is more hit and miss – like everyone here I imagine I love his 50s movies from both the US and the UK with very little reservation – including still underrated movies like Time Without Pity and Blind Date and the great Eva. The pairing with Pinter is the beginning of his best known period I guess and for me the beginning of a sense of serious purpose which I find overarch, and the results uneven. The one clear masterpiece is Accident, a wonderful film of great mystery and beauty, but Servant and Go Between still leave me cold today. Then he turns house director for the Burton-Taylors and makes his outright worst film Boom. Even another turn at meta camp with Modesty Blaise seems weighted down with some misguided sense of serious purpose. But then he makes something wonderful with Taylor like Secret Ceremony, and a terrific Trotsky with Burton. Some more fine films from the late period – Don Giovanni (an ideal subject for Losey) and Monsieur Klein. In the end Peter I far prefer Losey within the containment of good honest genre, like Noir or melodrama. So I guess I’m simply revealing my own bias for restraint over ambition, and formal containment over “projects”.

  • Alex

    David Hare’s timing of stylistic “ossification” — for me merely innovativeness and an increasing dependence up-scale productionsvalue– now extended beyond a first “half dozen” films for both Vistonte and Losey, and recognition of strong works now extended well beyond the 50s now allowed for, I find DHs generalizations about right –especially for Losey. (I do think that Visconti has arguable masterpieces after THE LEOPARD (though none that as probable so as OSSESSION, TREMA, SENSO, ROOCO or THE LEOPARD).

  • Peter Henne

    David Hare, Thank you for replying about Visconti and Losey. What I most appreciated were the sentences at the end that contained these words:

    “I far prefer Losey within the containment of good honest genre, like Noir or melodrama. So I guess I’m simply revealing my own bias for restraint over ambition, and formal containment over ‘projects’.”

    This gave me a sketch of where you are coming from with Losey. But, David, is calling a film or person a name, good or bad, such as “house director,” “outright worst film,” “meta camp,” or “terrific,” and leaving things basically at that, any different from fanspeak, like “icky,” “boring” and “great,” that we are trying to move past as informed auteurists on this website? I think we can all find abbreviated put-downs and accolades about movies, actors and directors on a whole lot of other websites. I, for one, look to davekehr.com for comments that move in further with some thoughtful description and supported interpretation. I have the nagging feeling it used to be that way more often, in general. I miss the days of the dragged out but high-flying and excitingly detailed fights over TOUCH OF EVIL’s aspect ratios.

  • Brian Dauth

    I guess there is an historical element as well in my love of late Visconti: THE DAMNED and DEATH IN VENICE were the first of his films that I saw. They made up a frequent double bill at the Hollywood Twin on Eighth Avenue before the area became corporatized. These Visconti discussions caused me to think back and realize that it was a favorite among my early years of cinephilia. At the same time, I was discovering Fassbinder (who once said that THE DAMNED was the most German of all films), and for me, there was a complementarity between the work of these directors.

    I saw VAGHE STELLE next and liked it, but it was a while before I saw his earlier work, and when I did, I was surprised how different these films were: they seemed to be an earlier iteration of “art house” cinema. Finally, there was a Visconti retrospective at MoMA, and I was able to see them all, and begin to gain a better understanding of them and the aesthetic continuum they fell along.

    I come from a different perspective than you do David, in that I feel Visconti’s presence much more strongly/completely in these late films: his attention to detail and decor is as meticulous as ever, but he informs it with an attitude of menace missing in his earlier films, as if a) there is a desire/desires that constitutes itself outside of the visual beauty he achieved in his earlier work; and b) Visconti is trying to understand both the desire(s) and his relationship to it.

    I also value these films for the way that Visconti’s situation as a queer man informs their mise en scene. I have previously expressed how taken I am with DIV’s entrapment of Aschenbach in the frame, and the way Visconti uses pans, camera movement, and zooms to capture the queer gaze/awareness between Aschenbach and Tadzio. The German Trilogy and CONVERSATION PIECE strike me as deeply personal films, especially with Helmut Berger starring in three of the four (much like the combos of Antonioni/Vitti; Rossellini/Bergman; Godard/Karina; Edwards/Andrews, though the Visconti/Berger pairing has received less critical attention).

    David, I also think that these films are as unrestrained as they come, and in fact, are structured as challenges to systems of restraint. And if there is a project involved in these films, it is one that includes to larger extent issues of non-normative desire/sexuality than his earlier work. After the previous flurry of critical nay-saying, I did go and re-watch these films, and they were as magical as ever for me.

  • david hare

    Brian, yes, Senso is prime queer Visconti. The collaboration of Bowles and especially Tenessee on the scrrenplay/dialogue (however much of it was only intended for the English dub version) transforms Livia into a fully Williams-esque lead. But V’s own taste in the film is remarkable – who else would have thought to use two musical works so completely disparate as the call to arms of Di Quella Pira from Il Trovatore, and Bruckner’s 7th Symphony? The Verdi on the face of it is almost a narrative lampoon – Gypsy fortune tellers, doomed love triangles, etc, but it carried a barely hidden political allegory that would not have been lost on (and was specifically written for) Venetian audiences during the Austrian occupation.

    The Bruckner is something else, more or less a source of two or three leitmotifs for Livia with what one could only describe as a 4/4 “noble passion” string theme of rising chromatic shifts which finally, after a long sustained Brucknerian development climaxes with an explosion of strings piercing the air in fortissimo unison while the brass wails a lament in the background. The ultimate scoring to Livia’s final delirium.

    They sure don’t make em like this anymore!

  • Alex

    Netflix is getting pretty slow or pop. No SENSO yet, no COBWEB yet, (no TWO WEEKS, ROOM AT THE TOP, BODY AND SOUL, ODD MAN OUT, etc., etc.).

  • Brian Dauth

    David: You found the words and have the wide knowledge to describe the queerness I feel in Visconti’s earlier films, but cannot delineate. For me, the new element in the later films is his explicit expression of male-male desire: his sculpts Helmut Berger’s face with light (even as he dresses him in Nazi regalia). And making Tadzio aware of and responsive to Aschenbach’s gaze is a daring move (there is probably queerness in his selection of music as well, but I am too untutored to know what it might be). While the earlier films are homosocial, in the later films, Visconti allows same sex desire to be unclothed. I wonder if I would now have a different response if I had seen Visconti’s films in order of release, rather than having seen the two “halves” of his career in reverse chronology.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Alex -

    Netflix has pretty much stopped stocking vault films. In part of their transition to live-streaming, it seems pretty clear it is taking a position to distributors that this is the delivery system they prefer. They can’t do that with current releases yet (where much of their business is), but the squeeze play is pretty obvious.

    It is possible that some of the studios (WB in particular) are declining to give the normal wholesale discounts in order to increase retails sales. But for the most part, the evidence is that Netflix no longer wishes to be the go-to place for anything recently released.

    Meantime, I am having the sad experience of digging through Blockbuster online for obscure titles (they sometimes have ones for which Netflix no longer has titles). Unfortunately, four times in recent months after a long wait I received a copy, but it was cracked, sent it back, and then found it was their last copy. Thus a new era of lost films begins.

  • Alex Hicks

    Thanks, Tom B.

    Think maybe there’s a decent change I’ll be able to stream, say, THE COBWEB or SENSO Ifrom Netflix) before long?

  • jbryant

    Not sure if it has been mentioned here, but Criterion recently made a deal with Hulu. They’ve added 150 Criterion titles to stream on their Hulu Plus service, which is $7.99 a month. Eventually, all 800 or so titles for which Criterion has streaming rights will be available, as well as all the supplemental material (which Netflix does not stream). So I’m guessing newer Criterions such as SENSO will bypass Netflix streaming and end up at Hulu Plus.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    I doubt Warner Brothers (which controls the libraries that TCM shows) will make a deal with Netflix anytime soon – they are key rivals battling for control of future webstreaming, and Warners also of course is a major cable and internet player across the country.

    The same goes for the Universal libraries (Universal, Paramount) which are owned by cable and net giant Comcast and Fox (Rupert Murdoch also owns DirectTV). They basically are extremely wary of Netflix.

  • Alex

    At least detracters of the post-Vaghe Stelle (or post-Straniero) Visconti are admiring enough not to attribute the 1969 “La Monaca di Monza” (“The Lady of Manza”) to Luchino instead of nephew Eriprando.

    Yet there are those who regard “La Monaca”, with its lusty narrative, a Hardy performance by lead Krüger, andh a soaring use of Vivaldi to rival Luchino’s use of grand art music, as nothing less than Eriprando Visconti’s masterpiece, a landmark in Nunsploitation cinema and source of perhaps the greatest trailer of all time.

  • david hare

    Is this truly that grindhouse classico, The Monk that was banned hither thither and yon for years?

    Hallelujah.

    Actually I really adore the way Italian cinema followed every “arthouse” directors’ moments of trangression (including Paso, Bellochhio, Fellini, Berto etc) and turned individual odd films into entire genres (like Caligula etc, or maybe twenty more hardcore films about the Decamerone, or Casanova, after Fellini’s not uninteresting film with Donald Sutherland.)

    Nunsploitation – itself a genre only ever tamed by Ferrara.

  • Alex

    David Hare,

    No, don’t think it’s The Monk, but it did indeed have one of the great trailors of all time, seen by me at least a half dozen times in 1970 or so at Maracaibo Venezuela’s grand Cine Paris before the actual film finally arrived to great disappointment.

    Another terrifically disapppointing — indeed artrocious– Italiain (actiually Italian-Spanish) film of the era is José Luis Merino’s “Comando al infierno” (Hell Commandos or Seven Commando to Hell)– a truly hilarious knockoff of Von Ryan’s Express and The Dirty Dozen (starring Guy Madison).

    “La Monaca di Monza” actually has it’s moment – enough of them for, like I said, a great trailor, and enough to evoke the fear that Luchino’s nephew might have entered into the venture with high artistic aspirations.

  • Bruce Hagood

    For me, movies like Senso come down to that distinction between liking a movie and believing it to be great art. I do not like the direction that Visconti takes here, and continues with throughout the rest of his career, but his technique is magnificent. The Leopard almost resolves this dilemma for me. Almost, but not quite.

  • Brian Dauth

    Bruce: I am curious as to what you perceive as “the direction Visconti takes here.” What dilemma do you see?

  • Alex

    Associating “believing a film to be great art” with “great technique,” like the film or not… isn’t an obvious take.

  • david hare

    Bruce, I am also having some trouble getting a handle on what you mean.

    Are you drawing an initial distinction between form and substance, or suggesting that the former takes over from the latter in some Visconti? If so that’s an interesting idea, but I think it needs explication.

    But your first sentence confuses me .. I don’t understand what if any distinction one is supposed to make between liking a movie (or not) and however one “evaluates” a movie, whether as great art, entertainment or anything else.

  • Bruce Hagood

    Well, I plead guilty to talking in shorthand, to a certain degree, but wow! If it opens some of these sorts of questions, maybe that is not all bad!

    Simply put, I do not conflate liking a movie with considering it to be “great.” Many of the movies I like, I also consider to be great, but not all. For example, I have a trashy side to my taste: I like movies like Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, but I by no means consider them to be “great.” Or, to take an example from literature, I really dislike Shelley’s poetry, but I also consider it to be great poetry.

    Alex, your point is well taken.

    As far as Vicsonti’s direction, I part with him when he starts piling on the operatic melodrama with a trowel.

  • Brian Dauth

    Bruce: I agree with you that a person can like something without it being great, but the reverse is not obvious to me: can a person consider something great which she does not enjoy and gives her no pleasure? How can you determine Shelley’s poetry is great if you do not like it? I am trying to think of a work of art I think is great, but which I dislike, and cannot come up with one. What I can think of are works of art I dislike, but for which arguments of greatness can be made; arguments I find well-made, but not convincing. In these cases, I say the work may be experienced as great by others, but fails for me (which may be what you are saying).

    As for Visconti: I understand you not liking his “piling on the operatic melodrama with a trowel,” but from what you wrote that seems to account for only one horn of the dilmemma you say he fails to resolve. What is the other horn? Lastly, if his technique (“piling on … “) is magnificent, how does the work then fail to achieve greatness? I am sincerely curious, since I love Visconti so much, and am always curious about differing responses.

  • Brian Dauth

    Addendum to above: I should have been clearer. The arguments I referred to above are well-made in that they are grounded in the formal/content elements of the art work. I am unconvinced because my experience of these elements differs from that of the person making the argument.

  • Bruce Hagood

    One horn of the dilemma is the content, and the other horn is the form. If I do not like the content, but I deeply respect the form (technique, etc.), then does the work achieve greatness (for me, of course)?

    Take Visconti’s Death in Venice, for example. What a beautiful movie, aesthetically speaking (form). But I just cannot muster up sympathy for the main character, for reasons that I feel no need to elaborate. That is a dilemma, for me.

    I want to like Visconti, I really do. And I love, I mean LOVE, La Terra Trema. But that is early Visconti, right?

  • Brian Dauth

    Bruce: thanks for your explanation. I come from a different perspective: great form cannot redeem flawed content just as great content cannot ameliorate bad form. Form and content are just too intertwined in my experience.

    As for DIV: as a queer man, the way Visconti portrays Aschenbach’s captivity in normative society resonates with me (though I am not sure I find Aschenbach sympathetic, but then I do not believe I evaluate characters in a film on whether or not they are sympathetic). Visconti is also brilliant in making Tadzio a late adolescent, capable of understanding and giving expression to his own emerging queer desires. Having first seen DIV as a teenager, it was Tadzio’s playing with his (newly?) discovered powers of attraction that grabbed my attention. It was only as I grew older that Aschenbach’s side of the equation came more into focus.

    Lastly, LA TERRA TREMA is early and not as concerned with issues of desire as Visconti’s later work is. He certainly does shift, and in challenging, often uncomfortable ways.

  • Bruce Hagood

    Brian, I completely agree that you cannot separate form from content. I only separate them for analytical reasons; in reality, they cannot be so easily separated.

  • Alex

    Available for streaming at Netflix: SENSO (and IL GRIDO).

    (However, is seems impossible to locate even an image of a chaldron on the web.)