Thirty-four years later...
Bernardo Bertolucci's The Conformist is one of the most visually rich films I've ever seen. I was lucky enough to catch a screening a nearly-pristine print during last month's Los Angeles Film Festival and, for most of the running time, I was literally slack-jawed. The composition is so stylish and controlled--the celluloid oozes with Bertolucci's confidence--but it never seems overly-fussy. There are scenes with complex tracking shots and dollys and jibs and dramatic lighting, but it's all so effortless, like he's making this stuff up on the spot, just go go go-ing. (I'm convinced that Wong Kar Wai must've been obsessed with it at some point in his artistic development.)
What's surprising--at least to me--is that Bertolucci is using this cinematic language for an ultimately political purpose. For better or worse, the lush epics filmed in Scope are almost always reserved for entertainment and the angry political rhetoric gets cinematically delivered in small(er), earnest ways. Here, Bertolucci gives an impassioned fuck you to the Italian Fascists and he does it in a broad and entertaining way that's not intellectually condescending. (It sounds too good to be true, but I swear, this thing's the real deal.)
Post screening, I looked up what the Kael had to say about the film. She loved it (big shock there) and wrote extensively about it. Thirty-four years later and this excerpt from her review still feels entirely relevant (and not just to film, but especially to popular music and pop culture as a whole):
The radicalized young are often the most antidemocratic culturally, and they push radical filmmakers to the point where no one can enjoy their work. Any work that is enjoyable is said to be counter-revolutionary. The effect may be to destroy the most gifted filmmakers (who are also--not altogether coincidentally--mostly left) unless the young left develops some tolerance for what the pleasures of art can mean to people.
That makes me wish the midge were still alive so I could give her a hug. (Speaking of critical crushes, don't miss the cinetrix's Murch crush.)
Related: The Conformist is tied up in some legal nightmare, thus we are without it on DVD. But if you're in Los Angeles, you've got a second shot at seeing it project: it's playing at the NewBev on August 27th.