Blog Directory CineVerse: April 2017

Cut to the chase by attending CineVerse this Wednesday

Sunday, April 30, 2017

On May 3, CineVerse will kick off its new two-month schedule with “Vanishing Point” (1971; 99 minutes), directed by Richard C. Sarafian, chosen by Mike Bochenek.

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The Little Tramp -- with a skirt

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Giuletta Masina acquits herself quite nicely as an outstanding actress in "Nights of Cabiria." Of course, it helps getting direction from your husband, Federico Fellini, perhaps the greatest Italian director of all time. And borrowing physically expressive elements from Charles Chaplin's Little Tramp character doesn't hurt either, especially when playing a spirited young lady of the night with a diminutive stature but a large heart. Masina certainly does much of the heavy lifting in "Cabiria," but the film excels across many levels besides acting. CineVerse tapped into what makes this movie tick last evening and deduced the following:

WHAT IS THIS FILM ABOUT? WHAT THEMES STAND OUT?
Loneliness and isolation contrasted with the need for love and connection: Cabiria is an outcast even among fellow prostitutes; she seeks a loving bond with another human being, but keeps getting betrayed.
Childlike innocence: Cabiria maintains a youthful simplicity and gullibility about her, and her ability to rebound and smile shortly after a serious setback makes her seem like an innocent, resilient child
The quest for redemption, spiritual transcendence and acceptance: Cabiria is “baptized” in a sense by her near-drowning in the river, which sets her on an odyssey-like path toward personal discovery and the pursuit of an answer to the question, “what if I had died”?
The importance of self-reliance and looking inside for strength and wisdom: despite all that happens to her, the last shot we see of Cabiria is her smiling, which indicates that growth, maturity and strength has to come from within; she has faith that she’ll find her way on her own two feet.
Being “at home” with oneself, as symbolized in Cabiria’s house, which is isolated but which she loves.
Living two lives: a life at night when fantastical things happen, and a life in the daytime when the imperfect real world reigns.

WHAT IS INTERESTING AND OFFBEAT ABOUT NIGHTS OF CABIRIA?
It stands as one of the greatest pairings of husband and wife talents in cinema history: Guiletta Masina and her husband, director Fellini, collaborated on five films together; other successful spousal/lover pairs in movie history include D.W. Griffith and Lillian Gish, Ingmar Bergman and Liv Ullman, Woody Allen and Mia Farrow, and Zhang Yimou and Gong Li.
It’s a different kind of Italian neorealism film; like Umberto D, Cabiria struggles to maintain her dignity, yet the ending is not very neorealistic; instead, it’s almost surreal, introducing this band that comes out of nowhere to stir Cabiria out of her sadness. 
o Blogger Aldo Vidali wrote that this film contains neorealism characteristics: "It is Cabiria’s low social status that ensures her repeated disappointment, because the men in her life continually cast her aside in search of their own version of fulfillment. Therefore, Nights of Cabiria does examine social structures, but with an emphasis on their psychological effects. In doing so it uses Cabiria as an example of women’s yearning for commitment in a society that breeds a seemingly unshakable restlessness among men, who are rarely content with their relationships, or are blinded by their pursuit of wealth. Nevertheless, the film does not propose change or impose a moral, rather it attempts to show the mental condition of humanity through the struggles of women.” However, Vidali added, “(Fellini) discarded pragmatic realism in the pursuit of a metaphysical realism that penetrated far deeper into the human condition than the most “real” of traditional Neorealist motion pictures.”
The plot is episodic, seeming to string together vignettes of Cabiria’s experiences from day to day, night to night, and each of these short episodes can stand on their own as self-contained mini movies.
Cabiria is often framed in isolated shots separate from others; she’s also often placed behind gates or barriers, and she wears striped clothing—all of which suggest that she’s a “prisoner” of some kind who is prevented from achieving the happiness, love and connection she seeks.
The ending is ambiguous deliberately. Fellini believed his movies didn’t need “a final scene…my films give the audience a very exact responsibility. For instance, they must decide what Cabiria's end is going to be. Her fate is in the hands of each one of us. If the film has moved us, and troubled us, we must immediately begin to have new relationships with our neighbors. This must start the first time we meet our friends or our wife, since anyone may be a Cabiria."

A FEW NOTES ON FELLINI AND HIS STYLE:
His earlier films had characters and stories based more in reality; as his career progressed, especially after La Dolce Vita, he dabbled more in surreal, abstract and dreamlike themes and images, and Fellini “created” worlds
“The essential subject of Fellini’s films, particularly of the late ones, like Amarcord, is the cinema itself, another world, ephemeral, touching, ineffable, comic and grand” said Sam Rohdie in his Criterion Collection essay on Amarcord
He’s been called one of cinema’s most visually expressive filmmakers, an auteur who prefers to tell stories and relate information with images more than dialogue.
Fellini was fascinated with the strange, and grotesque, with misfits and with pageantry and fa├žade; he often includes scenes of circuses and clowns, as well as town fools and disturbed/insane people in his films.
He’s also one of the most autobiographical of film directors, often basing characters, shots and scenes on himself or something that he experienced or dreamed: 8 ½ is a great example: a film about a filmmaker who is at a loss as to what to make a film about.

NIGHTS OF CABIRIA CAN REMIND US OF THESE OTHER MOVIES:
Chaplin’s “Little Tramp” films like City Lights
Fellini’s La Strada (also starring Masina) and later La Dolce Vita, which also features, according to Ebert, prostitute characters, nightclub scenes with exotic dancers, fake Virgin Mary appearances, musical sequences that occur in outdoor nightclubs, among other things
Other neorealist films such as Miracle in Milan, Umberto D, and Shoeshine
Sweet Charity, a musical adaptation of this story (1969)

OTHER FILMS DIRECTED BY FEDERICO FELLINI
La Strada
La Dolce Vita
Juliette of the Spirits
Fellini Satyricon
Amarcord 

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The hooker with a heart of gold

Sunday, April 23, 2017

"Italian Neorealism Revisited," CineVerse's Quick Theme Quartet for April, concludes on April 26 with “The Nights of Cabiria” (1957; 110 minutes), directed by Federico Fellini.

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New CineVerse schedule available

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Our May/June schedule listing what's on tap for CineVerse and Cineversary is now ready for viewing. To access the new calendar, visit tinyurl.com/cineversemj17.

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No country for old men

If you enjoy films that function as interesting character studies of individuals living realistically in their natural environment, you'd be hard pressed to find a truer example of this form than Vittorio De Sica's 1952 neorealism masterwork "Umberto D." Warning: the plot is thin, the tone is grim, and the pace is slow. But it's about as honest and authentic a movie of its period can be, and that's refreshing. Our CineVerse group came to the following realizations about this picture:

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE PRIMARY THEMES PREVALENT IN UMBERTO D.?
Life is often not fair, and those who often need the most help find the least help.
The struggle to maintain dignity and eke out an existence in a pitiless world where no one seems to care.
Even the most mundane existence devoid of excitement can still have meaning and resonance.
As long as you have at least one other being to love and be needed by, life is worth living.

WHAT DID YOU FIND INTERESTING, UNEXPECTED AND MEMORABLE ABOUT THIS FILM?
It isn’t sentimental, mawkish or emotionally manipulative; ponder, for example, the scene where Umberto looks for his dog at the pound and sees all the confined canines who will likely be euthanized—the filmmakers could have tugged at your heartstrings more here, but they don’t; they simply let the scene play out without manipulation.
It’s a bleak, warts-and-all character study that can be depressing and downbeat. There’s very little humor or comic relief, and few exciting things that happen to this man or his dog.
The lack of sentimentality can actually cause viewers to feel less or no sympathy for Umberto. Consider what reviewer Glenn Erickson wrote: “The story doesn't have cute kids, dreamy lovers, or crime thrills to distract the audience. Instead we get the kind of grinding real-life problems faced by the honest poor. I can see less generous viewers reacting to Umberto's lack of options by deciding that his problems are his own fault. It's true: the average audience will accept social realities in their entertainment, but even an art house crowd wants to be 'entertained'. Umberto D. is an uncompromised neorealist experience.”
It employs real time sequences and depicts banal everyday occurrences—consider the maid’s humdrum morning routine or the old man’s attempts to go to sleep.
It feels documentary like, brutally honest, unscripted, and nontheatrical. This is not a sympathy-soaked melodrama filled with contrived conflict.
Contrary to other neorealist movies, this does not depict the struggles of the working class everyman in or near the prime of his life; Umberto himself is a low-income, forgotten old man who lives a relatively miserable existence. He’s not rebelling against socioeconomic forces or seeking justice—he simply wants to exist alone and in peace.
The key social issues explored in this film are not necessarily economic injustice, man’s inhumanity to his fellow man, and postwar social challenges faced by most people; instead, the struggle here is to thwart shame and maintain dignity and decency in the face of old age.
This neorealism film has a much simpler and straightforward plot. The primary relationship portrayed here is between a man and his dog.
The movie uses a lot of long shots that often show Umberto and his dog from far off, versus medium or close-up shots; the longshot effect evokes a feeling of distance, isolation from others, and loneliness.
According to Roger Ebert: “"Umberto D" tells what could be a formula story, but not in a formula way: Its moments seem generated by what might really happen. A formula film would find a way to manufacture a happy ending, but good fortune will not fall from the sky for Umberto. Perhaps his best luck is simply that he has the inner strength to endure misfortune without losing self-respect. It is said that at one level or another, Chaplin's characters were always asking that we love them. Umberto doesn't care if we love him or not. That is why we love him.”

OTHER MOVIES DIRECTED BY VITTORIO DE SICA:
Shoeshine
Bicycle Thieves
Miracle in Milan
Two Women
Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
Marriage Italian Style

WHAT OTHER FILMS CAN UMBERTO D. MAKE YOU THINK OF?
Ikiru
Wild Strawberries
Un homme et son chien
A Dog Year

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Spotlight on a man and his dog

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Circle April 19 on your calendar--that's the date for “Umberto D” (1952; 89 minutes), directed by Vittorio De Sica, which serves as part 3 of CineVerse's current Quick Theme Quartet on "Italian Neorealism Revisited." Plus: Stick around for a trailer reel preview of the May/June CineVerse schedule.

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Rome is where the heart is...and the heartache

Friday, April 14, 2017

It's for no small reason that director and film historian Martin Scorsese called Rome Open City “the most precious moment of film history.” He and many experts believe this picture infused cinema with a new kind of realism, immediacy and energy that proved to be highly influential on both sides of the Atlantic. This movie is worth studying and appreciating for multiple reasons, including the following discussed by our CineVerse group last night:

WHY DO YOU THINK THIS FILM WAS CONSIDERED SO IMPORTANT, GROUNDBREAKING AND INFLUENTIAL?
It’s credited as pioneering because it’s one of the first Italian movies to portray the hardship Italians suffered during World War II and the German occupation of their country; consider that pictures made earlier in the war were censored and carefully controlled by Mussolini and made the Allied countries look like enemies.
It’s often praised as the first major work of Italian Cinema to be seen and appreciated by international viewers. How many pre-1945 Italian movies can you even name? This is the film that helped put Italian cinema on the map, that laid the path for masters like Luchino Visconti, Vittorio De Sica, Federico Fellini, and Guiseppe De Santis to tread, and that made later works like Bicycle Thieves, Umberto D, and La Strada to be enjoyed by people around the world. 
It looks and feels like a documentary, even though it’s technically scripted and acted; however, what was shot often was improvisational and invented on-the-spot. Keep in mind that it was originally intended to be a documentary about a priest shot by the Nazis for aiding the resistance as well as a documentary about Roman children who resisted the Nazi occupying force. It reenacts the real tale of a woman gunned down by the Germans before the barracks, too. In this way, Rome Open City plays as an innovative hybrid film imbued with realism and authenticity, even though it’s not a true documentary. 
Critic Kenneth Turan delves into this hybrid film theory further. “What makes "Open City" special is that it doesn't follow its own rules. It is both realistic and melodramatic, passionate and dispassionate, using newsreel-style cinematography but unafraid to indulge in big emotions,” he wrote.
Others credit Rossellini with creating a new kind of emotional cinematic experience that immerses the viewer into a fabricated reality that doesn’t appear fabricated. Essayist Stephanie Cotela Tanner wrote: "Rossellini was looking back at events in which he was not officially politically involved and created the illusion that the events were taking place in real time, thus allowing himself and his spectators to become involved. He used film as a mass medium to disseminate to a wider audience information that previous techniques could communicate only to a happy few. The novelty of Open City lies in its transformation of art into information. Rossellini provides the viewer with a real memory of something the viewer has not actually experienced."
It features some Italian actors but mostly nonprofessionals and everyday citizens. Arguably, the city itself is the primary character. Shooting on location in the streets and in actual homes and buildings, not on a studio lot, gives the film an immediacy and credible energy.
It was created outside the context of any studio involvement by independent filmmakers. It was a film made on the fly, by guerilla-style filmmakers who begged, borrowed and stole to get this picture made, literally; the director depleted his savings, bought black market film stock and borrowed short rolls of leftover film when he ran out of film stock; his life was also threatened.
Consider that, contrary to some rumors, the film was shot after the city’s liberation by the Americans in 1944, and not while the Germans were still there; still, the wounds would have been very fresh, and the rubble, destruction and human stress would have been quite evident. It would have taken guts and real bravery to attempt to make this movie in this context, in this setting, so soon after the Nazi occupation of Rome.
Tanner further suggested: "Open City is a testimony because it records on celluloid how Rome looked after World War II, including sites of memorable events. The most notable instance is the field at Forte Bravetta used as the setting for Don Pietro’s execution. It was on this site that several antifascists including Don Guiseppe Morosini, one of the models for Don Pietro’s character, was shot during the occupation. After the Liberation (10 June 1944), various leading Fascists who collaborated and/or carried out acts of repression or torture were also shot at this site. In this way, an otherwise ordinary-looking strip of land serves as a stimulus to collective memory and has an authenticating function in a scene that is in other respects a dramatized reconstruction."
It features “unorthodox approaches to storytelling”, wrote Criterion Collection essayist Irene Bignardi; think about how the tone shifts from comedic to shocking and tragic rather quickly. It also takes the story to the streets and gives us a candid look at the human condition, depicting real people left vulnerable in their own hometown. 
The lively and courageous children who fight back would have inspired the French New Wave, which later invoked the vibrant spirit of youth culture. French New Wave filmmakers would have also admired the resistance of the Italian people, which draws comparisons to the French Resistance.
Interestingly, the filmmakers aren’t afraid to paint some Italians in a bad light, too; consider that those who resist are betrayed by their own countrymen.

OTHER FILMS SIMILAR TO ROME OPEN CITY
Arguably, there are none; this movie is truly one of a kind and hard to compare to any other cinematic work.
However, it does share many commonalities with other contemporary neorealism films like Bicycle Thieves, Bitter Rice, Shoeshine, Miracle in Milan, and Umberto D.
This film is also part of a trio by Rossellini referred to as his War Trilogy; the two later movies are Paisan and Germany, Year Zero.
It also conjures up similarities to The Battle of Algiers
OTHER FILMS BY ROBERTO ROSSELLINI
Stromboli, Journey to Italy, Fear, and Europe ’51, starring his wife Ingrid Bergman
The Flowers of St. Francis
Ways of Love
Escape by Night

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Singin' about a 65th birthday

Monday, April 10, 2017

Cineversary reconvenes at the Oak Lawn Library on April 15 from 1-4 p.m. to celebrate the 65th anniversary of “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952; 103 minutes).

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Visit Rome, circa 1945

Sunday, April 9, 2017

On April 12, CineVerse's current Quick Theme Quartet on "Italian Neorealism Revisited" returns with “Rome, Open City” (1945; 100 minutes), directed by Roberto Rossellini.

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Il postino always rings twice

Thursday, April 6, 2017

It's widely known that Franco filmmakers like Godard and Truffaut loved American pulp fiction and film noir. But long before the French New Wave and its slight tip of the cap to noir influences, the Italians were dabbling in the genre, as evidenced by Luchino Visconti's 1943 classic "Ossession," an early adaptation of James M. Cain's "The Postman Always Rings Twice." Our CineVerse group took a closer look at this picture last evening and came away with these observations:

HOW IS THIS ADAPTATION DIFFERENT FROM AMERICAN VERSIONS OF “THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE”?
The 1946 version with Lana Turner was glossier, and featured more of a true film noir femme fatale who was evil and calculating.
The female lead in this movie, by contrast, is arguably a more sympathetic character who is driven by understandable marital frustration and desperation for her economic and trapped condition. We see her collapse, surrendered, in a kitchen full of dirty dishes and feel for her more than Lana Turner’s femme fatale.
This version “excels in a more taboo realm,” wrote reviewer Gary Morris, who cited the Italian film’s “barren landscapes, driven characters and sexual frankness…and unabashed lust with which Visconti treats the illicit relationship.”
Speaking of the setting, the location is more rural, realistic and believable than in the 1946 version. This is a more bleak and unfertile landscape.
Prostitution is also common in the world these characters inhabit; Giovanna implies that she previously prostituted herself before marriage out of financial pressure, and Gino is enamored with a young harlot later in the film.
This adaptation doesn’t show the murder, nor have a suspenseful buildup to the crime or a carefully planned murder plot. The murder occurs off-screen and is executed seemingly on the spot, at the sudden whims of the secret lovers.
This version also features the suggestion of a gay relationship between Gino and Spagnolo—or at least an unrequited crush on one for the other. “What makes Ossesssione particularly compelling,” wrote blogger Tony D’Ambra, “is a homoerotic strand interwoven with a critique of petit-bourgeois values.
Per Henry Bacon, the director “wanted to convey the internal life of his characters through their behavior and their relationship to the environment, to capture their essence by showing them as an organic part of a certain social reality, which in various ways constantly conditions and guides their behaviors, thoughts and feelings.”
Here, instead of using stylized setups, formalistic framing or clever editing the camera is employed to depict the psychology of the main characters. Consider how the female characters are first introduced and continually photographed in the 1943 vs. 1946 films: the latter uses soft lenses and glamorous lighting; the former doesn’t try to objectify or pretty up the female lead.
There is more of an exploration of class warfare and tension between the social classes in this Italian rendition.

WHAT WOULD HAVE BEEN RISQUE AND CONTROVERSIAL ABOUT THIS FILM FOR 1946?
The sexual subtext: the passionate sudden physical-based romance between the 2 lovers.
Its dark and seedy subject matter and bleak tone: this film was considered provocative and insulting to the Fascist regime, and hence suffered from censorship meddling and distribution hurdles—with prints of the movie seriously edited and even destroyed. Fortunately, the director stashed away a secret negative or it would have been lost forever.
Clara Calamai, who plays Giovanna, had appeared topless in an Italian film a year before this, so she had likely developed a sexy reputation that would have rattled cages.

WHAT THEMES ARE EXAMINED IN “OSSESSIONE”?
Doomed love
The corrupting influence of lust and greed
Shifting loyalties
Betrayal
Paranoia
Ironic fate

OTHER FILMS THAT OSSESSIONE BRINGS TO MIND
Double Indemnity, also involving a plot by lovers to do away with a husband
Body Heat
Other adaptations of Postman: The Last Turning (France, 1939); a remake starring Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange from 1981; and a 1998 Hungarian version titled Passion.

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Film noir meets neorealism

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Once a quarter (every third month) in 2017, CineVerse will explore four movies tied together by a theme, called Quick Theme Quartet. For April, the theme is "Italian Neorealism Revisited," focusing on four important films made in Italy that were part of the neorealism movement. Part 1: “Ossessione” (1943; 140 minutes), directed by Luchino Visconti, scheduled for April 5.

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