Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Rossellini's WAR TRILOGY on Criterion

I just ordered me some movies! Since seeing glimpses of PAISAN in Martin Scorsese's documentary MY VOYAGE TO ITALY (available at Videomatica), I've been eager to see the entire film. Rossellini is the most neglected of the great auteur directors whose work revolves around spiritual themes, so it's marvellous to see some of his most pivotal films coming into circulation in this Criterion three-disk set. Wonder if there's any chance Criterion will come out with Rossellini's VOYAGE TO ITALY, STROMBOLI, and EUROPA '51?

Before we get to the email announcing the new set, I do want to mention Mike Hertenstein's new essay commemorating the release, posted today at Filmwell. The guy knows his Rossellini...

Dear Criterion collectors,

This is a momentous occasion. We have been working on our five hundredth release for either ten or twenty-five years, depending on how you look at it. It’s ten years if you count only the time since we set out to produce a definitive edition of Roberto Rossellini’s War Trilogy, but this release also comes almost exactly twenty-five years after the release of the earliest Criterion Collection laserdiscs. The company was born with a mission—to present important classic and contemporary films in the best possible editions—and more than a quarter century later, we’re still doing our best. Over time, we have forged a reputation for quality that can be difficult to live up to, and no project has been more challenging than this one, but we could not be prouder to mark our twenty-fifth birthday by offering you spine number 500, Roberto Rossellini’s War Trilogy, for your collection.

Here’s what the New York Times has to say:

In the immediate aftermath of World War II, Roberto Rossellini made three films that helped to lay the foundations of modern cinema: Rome Open City (1945), Paisan (1946), and Germany Year Zero (1948). It’s almost impossible to underestimate the importance of these movies, both for the impact that their startling realism had on the audiences and filmmakers of the time and for the influence they continue to exert on directors.

Andrea Arnold’s current Fish Tank is only the latest example of work that continues to draw on Rossellini’s open, observational approach, which mixed location filming with studio sets, professional actors with amateurs asked to play variations on themselves, and screenplays that were not set in stone, Hollywood-style, but roughed out in advance and improvised on the spot. Whenever we see a film by François Truffaut (The 400 Blows was directly inspired by Germany Year Zero ), John Cassavetes, or Mike Leigh, we are in some sense experiencing Rossellini’s vision, his determination to cast aside refinements of form and style and penetrate to the heart of his human material, captured on the fly with all of its rawness and complexity intact.

Yet for decades now it’s been impossible to see Rossellini’s War Trilogy, as the films have come to be called, in any kind of decent condition. All we’ve had are ugly dupes, made from damaged, dirty prints many generations removed from the original negatives, and, in the case of Germany Year Zero, with the actors dubbed into a language not their own.

Which is why I’m feeling particularly grateful to the Criterion Collection for its newest release. The three-disc Roberto Rossellini’s War Trilogy uses photochemical and digital techniques to reclaim these masterworks, removing speckles and scratches (more than 265,000 individual fixes were hand-applied to Paisan alone) and vastly improving definition and contrast. Germany Year Zero has been refitted with its original German-language dialogue (though the disc includes the opening of the Italian-dubbed version as well, with its different introduction), and the soundtracks of all three films have been scrubbed of pops and hisses.

Wisely, there has been no attempt to make these films look pristine. Many flaws are still apparent (as they probably were in the original release prints), and the graininess of the image has been maintained. This is all very much in the spirit of Rossellini, who felt that technical perfection was a minor virtue compared to the warmth and spontaneity that could be captured once technique was thrown away.

The edition also features introductions to the films by Rossellini; documentaries; interviews with scholars, critics, and filmmakers; visual essays; and rare footage of Rossellini in candid discussions about his craft. We hope you’ll enjoy what Tom Carson of GQ called “the most thrilling DVD release I expect to write up in 2010.”

The Criterion Collection

Here's a rundown of what's included in Criterion #500, along with the movies...


New, restored high-definition digital transfers

Video introductions by Roberto Rossellini to all three films, from 1963

New video interviews with Rossellini scholar Adriano Aprà, film critic and Rossellini friend Father Virgilio Fantuzzi, and filmmakers Paolo and Vittorio Taviani

Audio commentary on Rome Open City by film scholar Peter Bondanella

Once Upon a Time . . . “Rome Open City,” a 2006 documentary on the making of this historic film, featuring rare archival material and footage of Anna Magnani, Federico Fellini, Ingrid Bergman, and many others

Rossellini and the City, a new visual essay by film scholar Mark Shiel on Rossellini’s use of the urban landscape in the War Trilogy

Excerpts from rarely seen videotaped discussions Rossellini had in 1970 with faculty and students at Rice University about his craft

Into the Future, a new visual essay about the War Trilogy by film scholar Tag Gallagher

Roberto Rossellini, a 2001 documentary by Carlo Lizzani, assistant director on Germany Year Zero, tracing Rossellini’s career through archival footage and interviews with family members and collaborators, with tributes by filmmakers François Truffaut and Martin Scorsese

Letters from the Front: Carlo Lizzani on “Germany Year Zero,” a podium discussion with Lizzani from the 1987 Tutto Rossellini conference

Italian credits and prologue for Germany Year Zero

Roberto and Roswitha, a new illustrated essay by film scholar Thomas Meder on Rossellini’s relationship with his mistress Roswitha Schmidt

New and improved English subtitle translations

PLUS: A booklet featuring essays by James Quandt, Irene Bignardi, Colin MacCabe, and Jonathan Rosenbaum

(Already available at Videomatica)

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