Thursday, March 27, 2008

1900 Live Blog

12:02 PM - Snacks? Check. Water? Check. Computer? Check. DVDs? Check. T-minus 28 minutes and counting.

12:25 PM - Checking Bernardo Bertolucci's IMDB page, I find I have seen only Last Tango in Paris of his body of work. I enjoyed Last Tango quite a bit, though not as much as Pauline Kael.

12:30 PM - Here we go!

12:33 - I'm a sucker for opening credit sequences. I'm trying to guess who did this music.

12:34 - I knew it. Morricone, you great god.

12:40 - Often in Italian films of this period, I experience a brief, but trying amount of time while I struggle to keep in mind that the unsynchronized dialogue is a result of the traditional Italian production process, not necessarily a reflection of the quality of the film. This is going on right now.

12:40 - Donald Sutherland vaguely resembles Paul Giamatti in his first apperance in this film.

12:43 - De Niro totally snuck in under my radar. I didn't realize it was him.

12:48 - Nice flowing shots that introduce several characters. Two women give birth, one a bastard of a peasant woman, the other the inheritor of vast wealth. Cues indicate that the wealthy child is De Niro later on.

12:53 - These opening scenes can't help but remind one of The Rules of the Game with the upstairs/downstairs conflicts and wonderful, lush cinematography that sort-of glides along as things happen. Right now: an auditory delight as several workers clean their scythes in unison.

12:57 - Precursor to the famed Hay Zombies of Zombi 3, several children emerge from the hay and chase the young wealthy boy. The bastard child collects frogs and puts them on his hat. He tries to force a young girl to eat a frog. Is this the young Depardieu? If so, the "frog" aspect is somewhat amusing.

1:02 - We've got a Prince/Pauper friendship developing. The young Wealthy fellow is not as a brave, looks up to the more earthy bastard. The earthy one lays down on the railroad track and lets a train pass over him while the wealthy kid can't take the pressure. We will no doubt see a call back to this as they age.

1:05 - A Hunchback fool introduces the concept of Unionizing the estate workers to the peasants that work the wealthy fellow's land. I'm also a sucker for union films. This is going to be good. For so many hours. I love this kind of movie.

1:10 - And on the heels of that: The frog boy's father instructs this bastard son to learn to read, write, join the army, and attain success, but still remember he's the son of peasants. As he speaks, the kid walks across several tables and the camera tracks his legs as he approaches. It's a beautiful thing, but the first moment that truly rings false... bending the reality of the film as previously established for the sake of creating aesthetic beauty. Pushes too many buttons. Sterling Hayden (I believe) is the father and he is as commanding as ever, but he can't save this moment from some of the emptiness that has crept in.


1:20 - Bladder and nicotine levels back to optimum standards. What I'm saying is that that moment was affecting, but rather arch and the movie did not build to that archness. RESUME!!!

1:22 - Future reference: Alfredo is the name of the wealthy son and Olmo the name of the bastard/frog kid. Discussion that both young men will be going into the army.

1:24 - A gun is introduced. Chekhov's rule in effect.

1:37 - I have trouble keeping up with characters in these sweeping epics, I'll admit. There is an uncle Ottavio who, I believe is the brother of a nun. He is dying and seems to be suffering from dementia. He and Alfredo play at shooting members of the family with unloaded guns. Alfredo gets in trouble for this. I had to REWIND to try and understand the relationships. I'm not entirely sure I've gotten it accurate here, but can't spend any more time trying to get it with the length of the film being what it is. What's important is that Alfredo identifies with the notion that he doesn't belong with his family, that he is an outsider among the wealthy noble class and wishes to live with uncle Ottavio.

1:40 - A general trend in the film's aesthetic seems to be to mythologize Olmo's story, to tell it in elevated tones with passionate music.

1:41 - speaking of music, a wonderful sequence of peasants playing rustic instruments, starts out diagetic then transitions to a fun little oomp-pah-pah tune clearly coming from the soundtrack.

1:46 - I'm unmoored. Not sure where/when the movie is. Alfredo and Olmo were going to run away. Now there's an elderly man who looks glancingly familiar asking a young girl (who is not used to wearing shoes) to follow him. The live blogging is no doubt interfering with my comprehension at this point.

1:52 - Dark cue by Morricone, powerful, as Sterling Hayden discovers the body of the elderly man who's hung himself in a barn full of cows. This is the grandfather of Alfredo, I've just figured out. (sorry!)

1:56 - demonstration of early television as a child is entertained by a shadow of a boat on a wall.

1:58 - Ottavio has shown up. He's a rakish sort, tattoos, worldly, completely charming in just his first scene.

2:00 - just as a conflict was brewing between Alfredo and Olmo where Alfredo demonstrated he had power over Olmo due to his class, there was a goddamned scratch on the disc. The DVD player jumped backwards ten minutes. CURSE YOU PREVIOUS NETFLIX CUSTOMERS AND ALSO THE QUALITY CONTROL PEOPLE AT NETFLIX!!! I haven't even made it 1 hour into this film due to some rewinding, one break, and so-forth, and it's already been 1.5 hours in REAL TIME. Now the disc jumps back TEN MINUTES??? I'VE GOT TO GET MY TAXES DONE AND YOU PUT ME THROUGH THIS???


2:10 - Okay, I'm back. I've attempted to clean the disc. Luckily this is not a David Lynch film, so I can use handy chapter stops to get back to the point I left off at.

2:11 - By the way, the elderly fellow had a little girl touch his wiener before he hanged himself. Classy way to go out.

2:17 - I believe this scene was cut from the American release. Alfredo and Olmo compare their penises. In addition, Alfredo lords his class over Olmo and there's a brief discussion of socialism, class, and religion.

2:20 - I relize that I am falling into the trap of describing what is going on a little too much. I will labor to stop describing the events of the film and more describe my reactions.

2:25 - The disc just skipped backwards again.

2:28 - I've switched players to see if it will do any good.

2:29 - Not much better here. There's still this one moment that simply won't play.

2:30 - While I'm stopped up, I want to note that there's a bit of an irritating sentimentality that runs through a lot of this movie, particularly with regard to the peasants and their struggles. It is rather cloying.

2:34 - Okay, well, I'm going to have to skip across a bit of the film. Annoying. There appears to be a scratch running the length of this disc, which means that this will probably keep popping up throughout this disc. I'll have to do what I can with these paola stoppas and surge on through. It makes one long for the simplicity of streaming video.

2:45 - Sterling Hayden's death is a truly earned moment of sentimentality. Each time I make a comment about this film, there's a moment that comes along immediately and refutes what I've said. Great moment, great acting. He just fades from existence. Also, he is not Olmo's father, but his grandfather. I am not so sharp about such things, very often.

2:45 - GOD DAMMIT.

2:55 - I would like to propose that Netflix adopt the following slogan in their offices: Don't be a jerk. Make sure the disc works!

2:58 - Real time spent: 2.5 Hours. Amount of movie watched: one hour 25 minutes.

3:00 - The disc is working... but for how long?

3:02 - The use of diagetic music in this film is awesome. There have been several scenes of people playing music and following them as they play. It's really compelling to just watch people play.

3:05 - Time jumps are always tricky. The movie's just jumped ahead in time to the end of World War I and Olmo is now Depardieu. I don't believe I've seen Mr. Depardieu in a film before, oddly enough. Anyway, it's a pretty big jump, but not awkward. Gracefully done. Similar to the Godfather Part II, prior to the jump, we're on a train, after the jump, we're back on a train, both times with Olmo.

3:10 - The hour and a half spent on the estate at the beginning is well worth it. Depardieu's homecoming from the war feels genuine, I was happy to see these people again, somewhat older, like Olmo. I knew them and what Olmo meant to them and vice-versa.

3:14 - De Niro's acting as the older Alfredo is out of place, feels too American.

3:16 - Sutherland doing better acting than De Niro? It's happening in front of me right now!

3:19 - This movie may be Donald Sutherland's finest hour. He's vibrant, honest, genuine... confident.

3:22 - Morricone's score veers from amazing to too sentimental and back again. Sometimes within seconds.

3:28 - Payoff, of sorts, to the musicians onscreen when a group of socialists begin singing at a group of (fascist?) soldiers in order to protest their being rousted. This scene is quite effective, the singing a representation of socialism brotherhood and solidarity.

3:45 - The measure of a man is how he handles an epileptic prostitute going into a seizure while you and your childhood friend are about to have relations with her.

3:52 - Back from another quick break. I'm settling into De Niro's performance here. His character is obnoxious, one-note. He hasn't grown one bit from the child he was earlier.

4:00 - Well, the movie seems to have read my mind again and given De Niro a love interest who is twice as obnoxious as he is, a pouty woman who screams like a spoiled six year old when she doesn't get what she wants.

4:13 - My hackles are being raised. This movie has begun to piss me off... There's a lot of movement, but not a lot of tension. There's no momentum developing, no sense of progression. I'm getting the sense of the early overwrought moments beginning to dominate, take charge. This woman who pretends to be blind is dragging the movie down like a pair of concrete shoes.

4:14 - Her name is Ada. Her voice is like someone blended Isabella Rosselini and Kathleen Turner. And the sound of the blender is still audible. It's atrocious.

4:26 - A fire at the socialist meeting place results in the death of several older members of the party. Their charred bodies are paraded down the streets by Olmo and his not-wife, in order to inspire the masses. The parade is rather involving, but still, I'm waiting for this movie to find its traction. Everything is bits and pieces. The last time this movie felt like it was coming together was when Olmo came home from the war and I don't know how fucking long ago that was. More footage of people playing music as the parade continues. Rather good music too. Don't know if it's traditional or Morricone, but it's great. Now a parade of marchers wearing dark mourning clothes, but red neckerchiefs strolls by. Meanwhile soldiers watch, eyeing the proceedings suspiciously. Really cool, visually... Historically. It matters to Olmo, and that's nice since our sympathies are with him as the underdog.

4:27 - Sutherland has just officially stopped acting, and is now just pretending to be a crazy evil fellow. He's left the land of praise and is now in the land of obviousness.

4:28 - It's not entirely his fault, the script just required him to kill a cat for no reason, other than to demonstrate how totally evil he is.

4:30 - The end of disc 1! Two hours and forty-two minutes. PAUSE FOR SLIGHTLY LONGER AS I MAKE SURE DISC 2 ISN'T SO STUPID! See you at 4:50 or so!

4:44 - So the hilarious thing is that disc 1 was really banged up and stuff, but disc 2 looks almost like new. I wonder if most people stopped at disc 1. I can't say that this movie makes a great case to continue, but I shall press on in five minutes.

4:50 - Okay, disc 2 begins!

4:53 - Typical of the movie, Alfredo and Ada run up a staircase with no apparent reason other than to give the camera an excuse to have a bird's eye view of an elaborate hotel lobby.

5:00 - Another fit and start--Alfredo has to return home to visit his sick father. Affecting, in that Alfredo has run away from his father's ever-growing fascism to pursue a life of hedonism like his uncle Ottavio. But we're straying further from anything resembling a spine to the film.

5:03 - In fact, the film resembles a soap opera at this point. Nothing is happening between the cuts. Everything is onscreen and labored over.

5:05 - That's not entirely true, Alfredo's dad died without a long slow death scene or anything. A lot of time passes in between the cuts. But things are labored over to the point of overkill.

5:08 - The marriage of Alfredo and Ada gurantees that this reprehensible character will continue to pollute this film.


5:15 - Sutherland is making me want to go and edit out that "finest hour" comment. This is Nolte in Hulk unhinged.

5:21 - Regina, a character that I haven't mentioned yet, is jealous of the marriage. She's putting the film into train-wreck territory. The actress scowls, schemes, and glowers. She's begun stomping about, growling like a Disney villainess. And cackling. There's no temperance to this. It's all over the place, like people playing the same song in different keys.

5:23 - 33 minutes into the second disc, Sutherland runs sporadically, suddenly, comically. I doubt he was going for laughs, but he's getting them.

5:25 - Now Ada, on a horse, has run into Olmo's net. He has a net strung up between 2 trees for some reason and entreats her not to rip the net. I am describing the plot again, because it has completely jumped the tracks. "What is this net doing here?" "It's a trap, to trap a bride." This is getting ludicrous.

5:28 - Sutherland and Regina are having sex in front of/with a child. This is evidence that fascism totally SUCKS. Also: Sutherland just smashed the child against a wall. CURSE YOU MUSSOLINI!

5:33 - 42 minutes in: most unconvincing reaction to being spit on I've ever seen. Olmo is accused of murdering the child. By Sutherland. OOOOH I HATES FASCISTS!

5:35 - Depardieu is beaten almost to death while De Niro watches, unable to act and retain his status. This is the best wedding day ever. I can't imagine what they can do on their wedding night to top this!

5:36 - De Niro has called off the reception on account of it raining dead children. The pageantry in the film is weighing the film down more than ever. After he tells everyone to go home, the camera, inexplicably, tracks with all the attendants walking off.

5:39 - I hate it when I have to watch animals get really killed onscreen. But I eat meat. So I deserve it.

5:42 - The movie is really, really off the rails at this point. I really have no feeling for any of the characters whatsoever. Good moments here and there, but I have no confidence that the movie can recover from what it's done. As always, I retain hope that I will see things or experience something transcendent despite the movie crashing so hard.

5:51 - Olmo's daughter is taught by Alfredo's wife, Ada. He admonishes her to leave the kid alone. This results in screaming. Screaming that is outlandish. Then De Niro sighs and says, "Ooohhh... November is the cruelest month of the year." I cannot describe the overacting.

5:54 - Okay, so there was a nice, lived in feeling at the beginning of this film. Soft, gentle, innocent. It was too sweet, but nice. Now here we are with Ada reaching for bottles of wine that are locked away, Regina, now crazy, dangles the key before her. They fight, a bottle of wine is retrieved, and Ada pours this wine on Regina. All this screaming and just... what the fuck.

5:57 - A nice scene between Ada and Olmo with that lived-in sweetness. But all gone like wisps of cotton candy as soon as they start talking politics. Then the intensity, the misplaced, unmodulated intensity takes over. And then we're back to the villains who are hammy, crazed, and laughably unconvincing.

6:06 - Another jump in time, perhaps this sequence will work better than the last one.

6:13 - PAUSE.

6:21 - A well-played scene between the very dissatisfied, alcoholic Ada and Alfredo in a bar on Christmas Eve. Ends with a gorgeous shot of the two of them, highlighting their separation from each other, but also their closeness. Too little, too late, but nice.

6:21 - RESUME.

6:30 - The movie seems to have come back down to planet Earth. It's still incredibly sloppy, but at least the behaviors are recognizable and not nearly so outlandish. Sutherland and Regina have calmed down a little, despite their murdering a woman and covering their tracks. They have stopped cacklling, at the very least.

6:32 - I'm stopping at 7:00 for about an hour and a half. Will resume at 8:30 or so.

6:35 - Depardieu seems to have inherited Donald Sutherland's crazy acting disease in this section of the film. De Niro, playing an older man, is much more tempered. Though not particularly nuanced. He at least seems to have lived and learned a bit.

6:39 - Giamatti Sutherland in da house. With kids now. Time jump! WWII is going on and going crazy.

6:42 - UH OH! Crazy Sutherland is back!!! Overacting, eating scenery, and fucking shit up.

6:43 - Crazy Sutherland and Crazy Depardieu are in an overacting contest! WHO WILL WIN??? (any Depardieu "by a nose" jokes will result in execution)

6:44 - I wonder if this piece of music scoring peasants throwing horse manure at Sutherland (including a man waiting at the tail end of a horse and grabbing fresh poop with his hands as it comes out of the horse) is known as "The Manure March".

6:46 - Train wrecks are train wrecks because it is what makes them good that also makes them terrible. A nice farewell scene for Olmo as he rides off on a bicycle has the same tracking shot problem as the dismissal of the wedding attendants, but it works here as the camera tracks with a chorus of well-wishers.

6:50 - Bertolucci plays coy with a lesbian kiss for some reason. But then fascists tear apart Olmo's home. For all the manure they threw at Sutherland.

6:53 - This is probably one of the most overplayed, overacted movies of all time.

7:00 - Back where we started, the execution of Sutherland and Regina. Just in time for me to call it for the next 90 minutes. I need a significant break, my back is aching.

7:51 - OK, ahead of schedule here. I think I have 30 minutes to go and I'm making applesauce, so while it cooks down, I'm going to try and finish this sumbitch.

7:57 - OK, officially, here we go.

8:00 - The people have Sutherland. He's been a complete asshole, so it's frightening to think of what I'm about to watch them do to him. Surely he's in for some serious torture!

8:00 - Uh oh. A shot of a pig. The last time I saw a pig, I saw the pig killed and chopped up. Donald Sutherland- this is your future.

8:00 - A touching socialist meetup. The local pinkos meet up with some mountain pinkos and they hug and the music swells and it's just too awful for words. Not because they're communists, but because it's so fucking schmaltzy.

8:09 - Sutherland is executed for crimes against Stanislavski. And whaddya know, Olmo returns. The band plays on. Regina is quite sad. This sort of sad villain depiction always gets to me, when people realize, too late, that they've gone too far and there is no redemption. But whatever. This movie has painted him and her as such ugly cartoons that they may as well just have killed a beetle.

8:10 - Old De Niro, meet Old Depardieu.

8:10 - The question here is, will Old Depardieu save Old De Niro like Young De Niro once protected Young Depardieu from the fascists? Will Depardieu allow De Niro to be beaten as De Niro allowed Depardieu to be beaten? This is the question.

8:12 - Alfredo on trial. This is fine, the drama is between the two men, as noted above. It works.

8:15 - ...aaaand then it doesn't! Suddenly, there is no trial anymore and we get a bunch of dancing Bolsheviks holding up a giant red quilt. For SOME reason that I cannot quite comprehend, the trial is not being held because it is revealed that De Niro surrendered to a child at gun point.

8:17 - Few things are as funny as an old lady accusing Robert De Niro of having all his teeth and screaming, "NUM NUM! NUM NUM!" over and over.

8:20 - Depardieu addresses the camera!!! He delivers a quick sum-up of the Communist Manifesto and then a bunch of rabble agree with him. It's told directly to the audience, how fascists spring up. The fourth wall disintegrates and suddenly, YOU, the viewer, are complicit in the film's tragic downturn.

8:22 - That was one of the most misguided film moments I've ever seen. "We've all had a lot of fun here, but really, people are suffering out there."

8:25 - Fuck it, this whole sequence is completely awful. Just fucking badness oozing out of every pore of the screen. There are some good music performances, but there is no drama. It's just a bunch of people celebrating a political victory. And then there are a few more addresses to the camera... sigh. It's interesting in a... they don't make 'em like this anymore, kind-of way.

8:28 - Depardieu convinces the rabble to turn over their arms. And we watch everyone turn over their arms. Everyone. For at least 20 seconds.

8:30 - The conflict between Olmo and Alfredo comes to a head and the two fight in an extreme wide shot while dogs bark and a child watches. The shot widens and widens and widens. Pans over to reveal... The giant red flag being carried away by the mob. A nice shot.

8:31 - Oh my. Now super old De Niro and super old Depardieu are still fighting. This conflict will never be resolved. Not really. If only they'd fucked that hooker together and ejaculated at the same time, they might have found some peace.

8:33 - AND HERE IT IS! The call back! Super Old De Niro lies on the railroad track, but this time, across it... so he's sure to be killed. For some reason a mole climbs up out of the ground. Depardieu watches his "friend" die. FIN.

8:40 - That is the end. The end of 1900. Certainly a mess of a film if I've ever seen one. I'd say, ultimately, it's a great movie searching for a reason to exist. The production was great, the acting all over the place, the tone inconsistent, the script was extremely thin for five hours of time. But, as with many trainwrecks, it's neat to watch. It just falls apart. And quickly. Once Sutherland goes crazy, he takes the rest of the film with him.

I don't hate movies like this, I love them. They try so very hard to do something more than just entertain an audience. And when they fail, they are more entertaining than if they succeed. But it's a rather didactic piece, rather lumpy, poorly paced, and has nothing interesting to say about the two characters that make up its core. A flop, a dud, and a fascinating watch. I have no more words.


Housefrau said...

4:58--Cannot get image of a wild-haired Donald Sutherland strangling a cat out of head. Am laughing at inappropriate times in the office. Clients confused.

4:59--Obsessively hitting refresh. What could possibly happen next?!?!

zora said...

i'm so grateful for your candour. i don't remember this movie all too well (except the said sutherland-cat-scene, which made me sick), but somehow in a strange way, now i don't feel i need to LOVE this movie.

@housefrau: unfortunately, sutherland doesn't STRANGLE the cat (that would be humane in comparison), he put's the cat in some kind of strechter mounted to a wall and runs his head against its belly. *shudder*

Anonymous said...

that was the most amazing review ever.
i think you have redefined the movie review for the next century.
now if u can just do it live and record your comments/and facial reactions on video to accompany the review ---kind of like clockwork orange. If u do this I would pay money to see it ---it could be like a traveling road show...

or maybe a "watch-along" option with all those new blue rays so that when you watched a movie you could watch it with your favorite critic and his blow by blow reactions.

i don't think critic is the right word i guess
you would have to be a "film reactionary" ?

yes, no maybe, o.k. that was a dumb name but critic sounds wrong.

thanks for the review, I'm sure I'm way out of line but i think you should do all your reviews like this from now on --it really was "Fresh" for lack of a better word and I think I may have to read it again and forward it to all the movie nuts I know --and I saw nut with extreme most respect since I myself can devour 3 movies a day at home. the last time I saw three movies in a row at the movies was a long time ago ---sniper, sommersby, & groundhog day.


David Wester said...


Your comments are too kind! I am planning on doing more of these, though not all. There's an inherent weakness in it.

For instance: I have had time to reflect on the movie and think I was too hard on the part where Depardieu speaks to the camera. It was purely reactionary on my part to find it awful, but with reflection, it seems actually like a pretty cool thing the movie did. Just didn't work b/c of everything that had come before it and all that...

So while the immediacy is enticing, there's still a place for further, organized, and more thought-out reactions.

However... having said all of that, I think I am going to do the same style when Prince of the City comes by on my Netflix queue. Or if not that one, any movie over 2.5 hours. There is something new in this format that deserves more exploration. I may do some pictures or soemthing... not sure. Though then everyone will know how much weight I've gained since the picture on my profile was taken!

Anonymous said...

I think that crossing the 4th wall is tough --only chevy chase and gene wilder can make it work--also Mel Brooks --but I digress. Don't give up on the blow by blow --it's awesome.
Prince of the City --can't wait.
If you're camera shy, you can always just put a mosaic effect on your face or blur the image out or zoom in to an extreme close up of your eye as you talk. But really, don't be scared, your public is probably very non-judgemental and nurturing --like a bus load of lesbians on the way to a indigo girls concert.

Anonymous said...

okay one last thing, wtf is with the applesauce ?
u can't just throw in apple sauce and not explain?
are u having the kids over, making potato latka's?
u can't leave the viewer hanging on the applesauce,
how did it turn out what did u do with it?