March Highlights on TCM
Roberto Rossellini (Fridays in March)-- This month, TCM is paying tribute to Roberto Rossellini. Rossellini was born into the movie business: his father owned the Cinema Corso in Rome, the first modern movie theater in that city. Rossellini was initially drawn to both documentary and fiction, which is to say that he saw them as one. This aspect of his moviemaking has been extremely influential, to neorealism, to the French New Wave, and to filmmakers all over the world including myself. He made his first fiction films during the fascist period, but it was with Rome, Open City that he became famous. That film was the real beginning of Italian neorealism. With the Po Valley episode of his 1946 episodic film Paisan he created something even more remarkable: acting and pure behavior, storytelling and unfolding reality flow together like a river. In the late '40s, Rossellini met Ingrid Bergman, and their romantic relationship was one of the great media scandals of the day, while their creative relationship resulted in five features and one short. Three of those features, Stromboli, Europa '51 and Voyage to Italy, were initially rejected by almost everyone but a handful of critics (many of them French-the future members of the New Wave). Today these films are justly celebrated, and the third is considered by many to be among the greatest ever made. They are "difficult" movies-the actors were speaking a mixture of languages, and a lot of dialogue in the official versions (if there is such a thing) is dubbed, which can be initially disorienting; the emotional transformations of the characters are not conventionally dramatized, but unfold as they react to the events of their daily lives in unfamiliar places; and they each end surprisingly-no matter how many times you see these pictures, they always catch you unawares. After the Bergman films, Rossellini more or less turned his back on conventional film production. He made a picture in India that pushed the synthesis of fiction and documentary even further. And then he went in a slightly different direction. He embraced the capacity of television as an educational medium, and he made a series of what he called "didactic" films about, among others, Socrates, Pascal, Louis XIV, Cosimo de' Medici, St. Augustine, Descartes and Jesus. The emphasis in these pictures is not on drama but on ideas and cultural and technical details. These are movies about grand intellectual and cultural transformations, intended to be understood by children. TCM is showing many of the titles mentioned above: Rome, Open City, Paisan, Stromboli, Europa '51, Voyage to Italy, India: Matri Bhumi, Socrates and Blaise Pascal. Also included are Germany, Year Zero (the third picture in the post-war trilogy) and the extraordinary Flowers of St. Francis. If this is your first exposure to Rossellini, it might mark the beginning of an initially difficult, even perplexing, but ultimately rewarding intellectual and spiritual journey.
Lionel Rogosin (March 13, 8pm)--I also want to mention another tribute, to the American filmmaker Lionel Rogosin. Like Rossellini, though from a completely different angle, Rogosin worked in a register between documentary and fiction; though he was less famous in his lifetime, he had a powerful effect on many filmmakers (like John Cassavetes) and he led the way to a genuinely independent American cinema. His first film, the 1956 On the Bowery, has a special meaning for me apart from its greatness: I grew up in the (now vastly transformed) neighborhood where it was shot. TCM is also showing his ground-breaking 1959 film Come Back, Africa, Black Roots, Good Times, Wonderful Times and a recent documentary about the making of Come Back, Africa-An American in Sophiatown.
by Martin Scorsese