Sunday, October 07, 2012


1900 (Italian: Novecento, "Twentieth Century") is a 1976 Italian epic film directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, starring Robert De Niro, Gérard Depardieu, Dominique Sanda, Donald Sutherland, Alida Valli, and Burt Lancaster. Set in Bertolucci's ancestral region of Emilia, the film chronicles the lives of two men during the political turmoils that took place in Italy in the first half of the 20th century. The film was screened at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival, but was not entered into the main competition.

The original director's cut of the film runs 317 minutes. Alberto Grimaldi, the film's producer, was contractually obligated to deliver a 195-minute version to Paramount Pictures. Bertolucci originally wanted to release the film in two parts, but Grimaldi refused. Grimaldi then locked Bertolucci out of the editing room, and assembled a 180-minute cut. Bertolucci, horrified at Grimaldi's cut, decided to compromise.[citation needed] His 255-minute version was the one initially released in the United States. In 1987, the Bravo channel broadcast the uncut version with dubbed dialogue. Later in 1991, the film was restored to its original length and shown in a limited release.
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Though the film today is considered a cult classic, when the film was released, it met with mixed reviews, not just because of its length, or a particularly graphic sex scene involving both the main protagonists. Here's what Roger Ebert has to say, in 1977. He gave the film two stars, while the users, readers gave it a three-and-a-half star:

What high hopes were inspired by Bernardo Bertolucci's "1900" -- and how few of them are realized. This was to be the great epic statement by the young Italian director generally considered to be the greatest since Fellini; the director who made "The Conformist" before he was 30, and whose "Last Tango in Paris" was hailed by Pauline Kael as the most important artistic event since Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring." Bertolucci had his pick of actors a free run with his budget, the freedom to make a personal film. And he blew it.

I remember the excitement before the world premiere of "1900" at the Cannes Film Festival in May, 1976. Tickets and passes were being traded on an impromptu black market, and the crush at the first morning screening was so savage that one man was pushed through a plate-glass door. The atmosphere was totally different by the end of the afternoon, after the dual press screenings for both halves of the (then) 320-minute film. People were quiet and puzzled and dismayed: How had Bertolucci gone so wrong?

The case for "1900" has become something of a cause in the 18 months since that disastrous premiere. The film's producer, Alberto Grimaldi, had worked with Fellini, Visconti and Pontecorvo and knew a thing or two about movies that ran over budget and length. He'd gambled with Bertolucci, and now he had this enormously expensive and virtually unmarketable film on his hands. He prepared one shorter version, Bertolucci stood by the original version, and until Bertolucci finally made his own shorter (247 minute) cut, it almost seemed as if "1900" would never be seen at all.

I hate to say it, but maybe that would have been a blessing: The movie could have gone into film history as a great lost classic, and Grimaldi could have been branded the villain, and Bertolucci could have gone on to his next film (as, indeed, he has). Because "1900" is a film out of control. A film conceived on such an epic scale that it just doesn't fit. A film in which Bertolucci struggles for hours to make his statement about the class struggle in Italy only to end on a note of throwaway goofiness.
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1 comment:

  1. Anonymous8:43 AM

    I'd always considered this movie my favorite in my 20s. I watched it fully probably five times or so (I'm hitting 41 now). Historically it is a great flick showing the rise and fall of fascism and eventual rise of communism in Italy. I still like the movie, although I haven't seen it in 15+ years. I wouldn't label it as "goofiness" other than a stretch of history so complex than even a four hour movie cannot fully grasp.