1900 (Italy/France/West Germany, 1976)

Directed by: Bernardo Bertolucci. I never gave much thought to Sterling Hayden’s dick, but then I watched this movie, and I saw it. It’s there. He had one. So there’s that. Also, Gerard Depardieu and Robert DeNiro—both have dicks, and you get to watch them get tugged off simultaneously by a prostitute if you watch this movie. And some little kid dicks. So, now that that’s out of the way, I can honestly say that this is a pretty compelling, intriguing little 6-hour epic tale about fascism versus socialism—and not just for the dicks. I would say that if you’re not at least partially interested in socialism as a philosophical concept, then I would hazard a guess that you might not make it quite through the entire six hours. But seriously, taken at face value, this thing could be downright intolerable, even for a card-carrying socialist, if you can’t find a way to stomach the deliberately unsubtle, unrealistic, grandiose, loud, over-the-top, perhaps cartoonish delivery of the narrative. I’ve mentioned Brechtian distancing before, because I remember the general idea of it from school, but if you want some real info, go read some Brecht. The general idea is that the traditional approach, to attempt to attain realism, to take reality and re-present that reality to the viewer, is a product of capitalist ideology, to obscure the means of production that go into the construction of every thing that exists. This covers every cultural artifact, from painting to music—the idea that you should make something “nice”. In the twentieth century, the avant-garde of all art forms started breaking these rules: painters wanted to draw attention to the act of painting, authors wanted to draw attention to the creation of words and sentences, composers wanted the listener to reflect upon the act of listening itself, etc etc, all the way up to Woody Allen talking to Marshall McLuhan in Annie Hall. Anyway, Bertolt Brecht did this for theater in Germany, and it’s called presentational rather than representational because the actor is supposed to confront you with the character. I guess what I’m trying to say is that, if the movie seems like it’s beating you over the head with its message, that’s because it is. Even keeping all of this in mind, I’m not sure how much I could really dig some of those moments. “Hooray for the workers!” “Down with the landowners!” I tend to hate seeing groups of people shouting in unison, or cheering or anything like that. It reminds me too much of every early Adam Sandler movie—“You can do it, Billy!” etc. But there is plenty of that in this movie—good old socialist community building and so forth. It makes sense, it just kind of annoys me. And the black-and-white dividing line between good guys and bad guys kind of hurts any real-life commentary they’re attempting. Aren’t the fascists bad enough without making the head fascist a sadistic rapist/murderer/child molester on top of it? That being said, it was great watching the performances in this movie. It was perhaps especially enjoyable to see Donald Sutherland ham it up as an utterly devilish fascist. There’s something in his eyes, his long face, that looks capable of such evil. Well anyway, I guess I have to recommend this movie. For all of the distancing I’ve done in this review, I have to admit that it is a pretty striking allegory for one of the most important aspects of 20th century politics. And I’m always a sucker for an attempt at history in film, however it ends up. If you’ve got 6 hours to spare, take a look.

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2 responses to “1900 (Italy/France/West Germany, 1976)

  1. Pingback: The Big Red One (USA, 1980 / 2004) | Offhand Reviews·

  2. Pingback: A Note on Robert DeNiro | Offhand Reviews·

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