I read online that the new release of Bernardo Bertolucci's infamous "Novecento" includes two documentaries, one of which (this one) includes Bertolucci and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro explaining various aspects of the film. I had hoped to hear something about their views about what went wrong, since the film in many ways was a critical disaster, but really it's just Storaro, briefly, and mostly Bertolucci giving some insight into their motives.
Bertolucci calls Novecento "the greatest utopia that I've created in my life as a film director." He then recounts the now well-known fact that the film was structured according to the seasons, summer, autumn, winter, and then spring, since not many people seemed to have gotten it in the first place. Maybe they were blinded by the sheer badness of the movie.
I have a lot of respect for the film, it is certainly a tremendous effort, but it is so obvious that what killed it is that Bertolucci just displayed the most horrendously bad taste, and on so many levels, not just the ridiculously excessive nudity. Clearly I'm not the only one who felt this way, because Bertolucci feels the need to point out in this documentary, "pornography happens when you exploit sex and eroticism. Otherwise I think I do realism...I thought it was very innocent, at the time." If you have seen the film you will know what a ludicrous statement this is.
One thing that I found to be very interesting is that Bertolucci explains that he got the inspiration for the landowner trial at the end of the film from looking at pictures of the trials of Chinese landlords, which took place during Chairman Mao's vicious rise to power, mostly in the 1930s and 1940s. He tried to recreate that atmosphere, that iconography, and I can tell you that he did it very well. I've recently become something of an expert on modern Chinese history, and those trials (which were called "struggle sessions") were the first thing I thought of as I was watching them, even before I knew that's where the inspiration came from.
Overall, this documentary sort of gave me the feeling that Bertolucci and Storaro were explaining things that people didn't get about the film, like they had to explain what they had been trying to do because it just didn't work in the first place, such as the bizarre ending.
Maybe most importantly, Bertolucci gives some interesting insight into the different versions of the film - such as that the producer cut a 3 hour 15 minute version that was never seen and that Bertolucci himself cut a version just over 4 hours as a compromise, and he did it by basically making every shot slightly shorter.
This means that I could have saved an hour by watching that version without losing anything except a few frames on either side of the shots, which with the naked eye you wouldn't even really notice. That being said, if you can find the 4-hour version, watch that one!
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