Friday, December 01, 2006

Rossellini (part I)

Some aspects of Roberto Rossellini ... triggered by a double bill of Blaise Pascal ('71) and India ('59).

Mystic: A deeply spiritual filmmaker; Nicole Brenez described in her original Movie Mutations letter that Stromboli ('50), whose religiosity offended her leftist anti-clericalism, provided a experience to be scaled like a mountain. It took effort for her to let Rossellini "in." Rossellini is not necessarily concerned with miracles as a rule, however: in his work faith is applied to that which perfectly natural and phenomenological, but whose significance comes out, creeps up, overwhelms the characters and the viewers. Socratic: Blaise Pascal really got me thinking about Rossellini as a Socratic filmmaker. To bring up Brenez again, in her piece on Godard in For Ever Godard she mentions how Godard likened Rossellini to Socrates--'a guy who just asked questions.' Throughout his cinema there are defenses of a free spirit, denunciations of any kind of persecution which limits questions. Formalist: amidst ostensibly unfussy, competent frames we will see a camera movement or a composition slowly fall into place which is breathtaking, as time unfolds we may be aware that Rossellini's kino-eye is submerged within the fabric of all his shots. He's not a showy filmmaker, but there are moments where the rigor comes through, because the images' feeling of naturalism periodically dissolves before our eyes.

Blaise Pascal is part of the often low-budget early modern costume film stratum that seemed to flourish in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In its pulpish forms (such as Matthew Reeves' Conqueror Worm/Witchfinder General and various other torture movies), this barebones staginess often served to underline sensationalism (a cut to or from a gory image; the presence of a violent or erotic shot). That is, unlike something like Elizabeth (Shekhar Kapur, '97), the images for these kinds of films are often clean, the sets and costumes may be sufficiently ornate but the filmmakers aren't usually going for complicated, deep, sophisticated, lush, porous images, but for flat or simple-perspective ones. Things are spare, and on the soundtrack you can hear footsteps. There are more "artful" early modern costume films of this era, of which Blaise Pascal is an example, who use some of this (possibly budgetary) "plainness" to foreground really ineffable ideas and tones--I'm thinking also of Winstanley ('75), The Immortal Story ('68), A Walk with Love and Death ('69), and the medieval-set films Lancelot du lac ('74) and Blanche ('71). (A counter-example might be Ken Russell's more "baroque" compositions in his amazing film The Devils, or Has' Saragossa Manuscript.)

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