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October 06, 2005


Bernardo Bertolucci - 1968
NoShame Region 0 DVD

His Day of Glory
La Sua Giornata di Gloria
Edoardo Bruno - 1969
NoShame Region 0 DVD

I have to admit that when I see a film like Partner more than thirty years later, I feel distant from the person I was when I saw the film in its New York release. I missed the presentation at the New York Film Festival in 1968, but saw the film in a critics' screening in early 1974. At the time, Last Tango in Paris had been in U.S. distribution for a year and New Yorker Films had hoped there would be interest in his earlier work. For myself, I was a graduate student at NYU and interested in those filmmakers who were "revolutionary" both in content and style.

Partner is an admittedly experimental film by Bertolucci. It is in fact his last such film, followed first by the more classical Spider's Strategem for Italian television, followed by The Conformist. A loose version of Dostoevsky's The Double, the story is of a somewhat hysterical theater teacher and his double, a cool revolutionary activist and killer. Pierre Clementi's alternating between detached and manic, in combination with some of the comic moments, made me think of Partner as the Marxist version of Jerry Lewis' The Nutty Professor.

The Lewis comparison is appropriate as Lewis often make verbal and visual references to other films as does that well-known fan of Lewis, Jean-Luc Godard. Partner is Bertolucci's most Godardian film with a visual style using extensive tracking shots and pans, scenes of Clementi reading aloud from a book on theater theory, as well as uses of music and silence. Bertolucci goes so far in his visual gags to show some theater students in masks reminiscent of the Odyssey characters in Contempt, his own version of the runaway baby carriage from Potemkin, and even shows Pierre Clementi Shoot the Piano Player.

Much of the discussion of theater is based on the work of Antonin Artaud, not coincidentally the author of Theater and its Double. Partner does have its less intellectual pleasures such as my favorite moment, when Clementi is walking alone and watches his giant shadow start moving by itself, turning around to chase after Clementi.

The DVD comes with a documentary that coincided with the release of The Dreamers, Bertolucci's look back at events in Paris in May of 1968. Partner was shot during the time of the May strikes, and used some of the slogans as reported by Clementi. Bertolucci also explains how the film used in camera special effects to film Clementi twice, and used direct sound at a time when Italian films were normally shot silently and dubbed afterwards. The DVD also includes an interview with editor Roberto Perpignani, who worked with Bertolucci on several early features through Last Tango in Paris.

In an act of film scholarship that rivals Criterion, NoShame included a second feature with Partner, His Day of Glory. Seen very briefly in 1969, this film also tries to dramatise the political scene of 1968. Film critic Eduardo Bruno and students from Centro Sperimentale have used the writings and theories from Bertolt Brecht in this story about revolutionaries. A good chunk of the film is of several activists sitting around, discussing theory and action. Bertolucci donated some rushes to Bruno, who in turn redubbed the dialogue of a scene showing Clementi leading his students in street theater. If Bruno's dialogue is more dense and intellectual, the scenes by the two film makers still are somewhat similar in intent and are complimentary. The ending of the film made me think of Bertolucci and his quote from Talleyrand: Those who haven't known life before the revolution cannot know how sweet it is. The interview with Bruno that is part of the DVD is immeasurably helpful in putting this film in context and spotlighting the extraordinary efforts of NoShame in making His Day of Glory available after thirty-six years.

In viewing His Day of Glory, I had to wonder about the fate of a similar project I was involved in. Street Scenes was originally made to be credited to a collective known as New York Cinetracts. Sometime over the summer of 1970, the film was completed with individual credits. Some of those involved have since become quite famous. More or less a documentary about the student protests that followed the U.S. invasion of Cambodia and the killing of students at Kent State University, the film has, to the best of my knowledge, not been seen since its screening at the 1970 New York Film Festival. I had to reflect on the urgency felt at the time the film was made, thinking it would be seen by a much larger, national audience. I don't think a lot of time was spent thinking about who the audience for the film would be, or there was perhaps an assumption that this would speak to other students. I had to wonder how Street Scenes would look after thirty-five years. Maybe it would also be of historical interest to somebody. Would I feel nostalgia or discomfort were I to see it again? I probably will never know. I can only remember my own brief moment of being a revolutionary filmmaker, or more precisely, a production assistant revolutionary.

Posted by peter at October 6, 2005 06:46 PM