Eclipse Series 14: Rossellini's History Films

Discuss DVDs released in the Eclipse and Essential Art House lines and the films on them.
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knives
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Re: Criterion on Hulu

#51 Post by knives » Thu Jun 30, 2011 5:03 pm

It is an Italian production. I doubt it can be anything worse than a Pasolini film.

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Peacock
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Re: Criterion on Hulu

#52 Post by Peacock » Thu Jun 30, 2011 5:19 pm

Socrates was filmed with actors speaking various different languages. According to Tag Gallagher, largely French. What language dub is the Hulu version? I watched Age of the Medici a few months ago, the Italian dialogue was out of sync and when i'd switch over to the english dub it matched their mouths almost perfectly.... but I still kept it on the Italian track as it felt weird watching something with such an Italian subject with American accents. Anyway rambling here, the sync is probably off because Rossellini didn't care about such things.

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Re: Criterion on Hulu

#53 Post by jwd5275 » Thu Jun 30, 2011 5:35 pm

Hmmm. Never been distracted by the dubbing in a Pasolini film like I have in this, maybe because Socrates is mainly shots of people pontificating that it is so noticable.
Peacock wrote:Socrates was filmed with actors speaking various different languages. According to Tag Gallagher, largely French. What language dub is the Hulu version?
It's in Italian (yes, no Greek dub). Don't get me wrong here, I'm not expecting the words to match the mouths. I understand the issue of dubbing the people of different languages, but everyone else seems to get it to work with minimal distraction. However there seems to be a significant lag at the end of the movie, a whole two seconds worth of a mouth articulating a sentence/phrase before the sound kicks in. You would think that they would at least make an effort to start them at the same time...

Hence, yes:
Peacock wrote:the sync is probably off because Rossellini didn't care about such things.

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Re: Criterion on Hulu

#54 Post by tag gallagher » Thu Jun 30, 2011 9:02 pm

All Rossellini's history films (and almost all Italian films) were shot with scratch tracks and then dubbed in the studio. The idea, since subtitles were impractical for mass-market tv, was for each country (state-owned tv) to make its own dubbing. So in most cases, Rossellini's actors spoke a variety of languages and the choice of which edition is the "original" is often not automatic. And in any case, Rossellini's intention was for us to see his movies in OUR own language, not with subtitles.

For BLAISE PASCAL, Pierre Arditi (Pascal) spoke his native French, and then dubbed himself in French with someone else dubbing him in Italian, while the rest of the cast spoke Italian and were dubbed by others in French and may not have dubbed themselves in Italian. For AGE OF THE MEDICI, almost everyone spoke English, because it was planned for American tv. For SOCRATE, Soc and his wife were French actors and dubbed themselves; the rest of the cast were Spanish. The French edition is vastly superior to the Italian, simply because Soc is vastly more intelligent with his own French voice. Unfortunately creating a French edition today of SOCRATE is not so easy, as we don't seem to have decent color masters of the French edition, whereas the Italian edition replaces a dozen dissolves with straight cuts, eliminating lots of footage that contains Fench dialog in the process. Also, the French text is totally different than the Italian, whereas text differences are tiny in the cases of the other films. So it's a pity to see the Italian SOCRATE on Hulu in Italian. :( ](*,) ](*,) ](*,) [-X [-X [-X

The Italians also threw away two dissolves in the second half of PASCAL and while there is no dialog, the straight cuts are much too abrupt and disconcerting, but in preparing the Criterion edition (which married the French audio to Italian video; just as MEDICI was a marriage of English audio to Italian video) no decent copy of the French dissolves could be found.

ACTS OF THE APOSTLES was shot in half a dozen languages, or with people just chanting numbers. There is no original edition, although some make a claim for the French since some of the principals dub themselves in French. Thus the American dubbing made by Don Bosco Films after Rossellini's death is just as authentic as the Italian dubbing, which was equally made without any participation by Rossellini personally, even though still alive.

I'm not sure, but I believe two factors are preventing release of Acts of the Apostles in any language. One factor appears to be inability to find out who owns rights to the film. The other may be that no copy can be found with decent color. The U.S. edition (on vhs and 16mm) had gorgeous color, but Don Bosco today claims no knowledge of its own release in 1982, and in any case it is cut by an hour. The edition once available on Italian vhs (and also as broadcast by RAI these last decades) is horribly faded and a total disgrace.

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Re: Criterion on Hulu

#55 Post by Peacock » Thu Jun 30, 2011 9:12 pm

Thanks a lot for the insight Tag, even if it's not good news with regards to Socrates or Acts of the Apostles. I'm guessing it'll be a while till we see another Eclipse set then as I doubt they'll release Augustine of Hippo on its own, and I always thought Il Messiah might get a standalone release, but anyway.

I was thinking though, would the ideal dub for each film not be the one the original dialogue by Rossellini et co was written in with all its subtleties? As otherwise we're getting an english translation of a third party's translation of the original dialogue? Or does the fact Rossellini spoke French confuse matters here?

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Re: Criterion on Hulu

#56 Post by tag gallagher » Thu Jun 30, 2011 9:50 pm

Il Messia, unfortunately, can't be distributed in the US because of a fight between Rossellini and the American financers. It was shot in English but not completed that way because of the fight. There's a dvd of the Italian edition in Italy and also In Germany (with an alternate German dubbing), and I think one in Spain. The French dubbing is not available, far as I know.

There is no "original" dialogue as written. SOCRATES, for example, was shot in Spain, a co-production for Italian, French and Spanish tv. The dialog was written by the French producer, Jean-Dominque de La Rochefoucauld, who was on the set. So the original dialogue for the French actors (i.e., Soc and his wife) was in French, whereas for the other, Spanish actors, it was translated for them and they spoke Spanish during the shooting. Then separate editions were prepared and dubbed in each of the three countries. Obviously the French edition is to be preferred because the French actors are dubbing themselves (and because the French voices are as superior to the Soc's Italian voice as rare Cognac is to sewer water), and also because the dissolves between the sequences are cut out in the RAI edition.

You have to understand that Rossellini didn't give a damn about language or post-production editing.

It is impossible, for me, that someone should argue that the Italian dubbing of MEDICI should be preferred simply because Rossellini was Italian. It was shot with almost everyone speaking English, and as someone remarked here, the dialog, even though post-synched, is quite close to lip synch almost all of the time. And Rossellini was making it for American tv. (At this time, almost all Italian films were shot in Italy in English, for export purposes, then dubbed into Italian for domestic consumption.)

Also, Rossellini did not write his own scripts.
To begin with, most of the dialog is taken verbatim from contemporary texts. Most of what Pascal says, for example, comes from the writings of Pascal. And most of what anyone says in Messiah or Acts of the Apostles comes straight from the Bible; for authenticity you would want ancient Greek! In point of fact, with ACTS, Rossellini assigned the Italian dubbing to one of his assistants, and it was done as cheaply and quickly as possible, whereupon RAI vetoed it, and the entire dubbing was re-done by RAI with Rossellini's Italian producer (Luciano Scaffa) and two Jesuits (one of whom became the Cardinal of Milan), without any participation by Rossellini himself. Who, I repeat, didn't give a damn about dubbing. Take a look at Roma città aperta -- most of the time the dubbing is shockingly out of synch.

The French editions were done with much greater care by La Rochefoucauld, who collaborated on the scripts, and the French, since they had scant respect for Italian dubbing, generally imposed French actors on their co-productions so that they could at least be dubbed by the same actors.

The Italian dubbing of Messiah is quite good, but not by Rossellini but by the scenarist and co-producer, Silvia d'Amico who had originally written it all in English (and set up an "English school" for the actors), in which it was shot.

Finally, I repeat: Rossellini's intention and desire was for these movies to be seen in the language of the audience. He did not approve of subtitles. Few sensible people do. You lose infinitely more reading subtitles than you do hearing dubbing. I can't think of a single film distributed in Italy with subtitles -- ever.

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Re: Criterion on Hulu

#57 Post by Peacock » Thu Jun 30, 2011 10:10 pm

Thanks again for all the detailed information.

Then I have to say our only hope in the non-Italian/German/Spanish speaking world would be for Eureka/MoC to port over the Italian version of Il Messiah; which sounds like one of his best History films from what i've read. I had presumed Criterion had the rights as they don't ordinarily show clips from films they don't also have the home video rights to, but there's some shots from it in your visual essay on Louis XIV; but oh well, hopefully someone from the UK is reading all this.

I think you're probably right about viewing the films in english, even if it does clash a bit with the setting; Medici is incredibly dialogue heavy, at least in the first two parts and I found myself reading the subtitles more than the movements of the characters...

Also whilst you're here, according to dvdbeaver the Arrow dvd of General della Rovere is a slightly longer cut than the one Criterion uses; do you know anything about why this is and whether this is preferable?

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Re: Criterion on Hulu

#58 Post by jwd5275 » Fri Jul 01, 2011 10:11 am

So are there any releases of these Rossellini histories that retain the original French or English dubs? or are we stuck with Italian because "Rossellini was Italian"...

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Re: Criterion on Hulu

#59 Post by tag gallagher » Fri Jul 01, 2011 10:27 am

I've proposed Messiah to English companies, along with INDIA and VIVA L'ITALIA; one can only hope.

The Criterion MEDICI has two audio tracks: English & Italian.
Their PASCAL has French & Italian.
Carlotta's MEDICI is English; their PASCAL is French.
Kinowelt's MESSIA is Italian and German.

Only three of Rossellini's history movies have English versions: MEDICI; ACTS OF THE APOSTLES; and SICILY (which he signed but did not direct). (All the Ingrid Bergman films have English versions.) There was also an English edition of the first hour (or two?) of LA LOTTA, but I've never seen it; it was only shown once, in Houston. As I said, MESSIA was shot in English but never completed that way; and CARTESIUS was shot in French but never completed that way.

There's incredible hostility among English-speaking audiences against watching, say, MEDICI in English,even though it was shot in English. Many people reject English versions of Italian films on the grounds that they are "dubbed," unaware that the Italian versions are also "dubbed" (all those Fellinis, Viscontis, DeSicas, Zavatinis, Bertoluccis -- they're all dubbed).

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Re: Criterion on Hulu

#60 Post by TMDaines » Fri Jul 01, 2011 12:06 pm

tag gallagher wrote:There's incredible hostility among English-speaking audiences against watching, say, MEDICI in English,even though it was shot in English. Many people reject English versions of Italian films on the grounds that they are "dubbed," unaware that the Italian versions are also "dubbed" (all those Fellinis, Viscontis, DeSicas, Zavatini, Bertolucci -- they're all dubbed).
I think a fair proportion of people are aware. The problem is "being dubbed" can mean two different things: dubbing to change the audio language to suit the target audience or dubbing where the voice acting is added after the visual content has been filmed. I would reject most English dubbed versions of Italian films because the language has been changed from the original work of art but I'm fully aware the Italian sound was added later away from the filming also.
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Re: Eclipse Series 14: Rossellini's History Films

#61 Post by matrixschmatrix » Fri Jul 01, 2011 1:39 pm

Americans almost inevitably watch Leone movies in English, don't they? It seems like the preference for subbing over dubbing occurs much more heavily when we see something as an art movie.

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Re: Eclipse Series 14: Rossellini's History Films

#62 Post by knives » Fri Jul 01, 2011 1:47 pm

I think Leone had, at least for an English speaking audience, a preference for the English language version and this is true in many if not all cases for the reasons Tag already outlined. The only always true exception I can think of is when the English version is heavily edited and distinctly different from the original work like with a lot of Giallos. For instance at this point I think all if not most of the Rossellini/ Bergman films are favored in their English dub even by the general public.

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Re: Eclipse Series 14: Rossellini's History Films

#63 Post by Brian C » Fri Jul 01, 2011 1:50 pm

matrixschmatrix wrote:Americans almost inevitably watch Leone movies in English, don't they? It seems like the preference for subbing over dubbing occurs much more heavily when we see something as an art movie.
Well, they also featured famous English-speaking stars and were set in the American West. I don't think it's an issue of "art movies" as much as it is that English is the language you would naturally expect to hear as an American viewer in those films, unlike the Rossellini films.

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Re: Criterion on Hulu

#64 Post by tag gallagher » Fri Jul 01, 2011 8:43 pm

TMDaines wrote:I would reject most English dubbed versions of Italian films because the language has been changed from the original work of art but I'm fully aware the Italian sound was added later away from the filming also.
What you say is, however, generally the case with Italian dubbing of Italian films.

First of all, in most Italian films some of the Italian bodies are dubbed by other Italians, not by themselves.

Second, for some decades almost all Italian films were shot with the actors speaking English, not Italian, and then dubbed into Italian for domestic consumption. Because (a) there's big money in exports; (b) no one wants subtitles except a few cinephiles; (c) Italians don't care. The Leones are an obvious case of this, but the same is true of ten thousand Italian films we never heard of. La maschera (Infascelli, 1988) was such a one, and when the New York Film Festival accepted it, the Festival refused to show the original English version and insisted on a subtitling of the Italian dubbing.

Third, many of the Rossellinis were shot with the actors speaking whichever language they preferred. On the Carlotta disc of BLAISE PASCAL there is a documentary of the making of the film, and you can see/hear Pierre Arditi (Pascal) filming in French while the characters he's talking to (on camera) are speaking Italian.

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Re: Eclipse Series 14: Rossellini's History Films

#65 Post by matrixschmatrix » Fri Jul 01, 2011 8:55 pm

Kalat made a similar point in his book about Godzilla- evidently, back in the 60s, Toho hugely preferred when its exports were dubbed, because you could sell to a much wider audience that way, and subbing was seen as the cheap, half-assed alternative.

It's funny, though, when I tried to watch the Leopard in English it seemed really off to me, in part because I associate dubbing into English mostly with genre movies- it makes it difficult to take things seriously. It's a kneejerk reaction, but it's one that's difficult to overcome.

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Re: Eclipse Series 14: Rossellini's History Films

#66 Post by knives » Fri Jul 01, 2011 9:02 pm

In the case of The Leopard you have editing issues to go along with that. Probably for the same reasons you site for awkwardness, I grew up on Godzilla, I don't really have a problem with dubbing, but that's usually in regards to when even the native dub came later like with animation or Italian films. I'd probably feel more uncomfortable watching a dubbed French movie for instance.

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Re: Eclipse Series 14: Rossellini's History Films

#67 Post by tag gallagher » Fri Jul 01, 2011 9:17 pm

The Leopard is an interesting problem, because Burt Lancaster filmed speaking English, and in the Italian dubbing his own voice is replaced by an Italian dubber.

You can't be pure here. Either you accept 19th-century Sicilians speaking their native English; or you accept Burt Lancaster impersonated by some Italian.

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Re: Eclipse Series 14: Rossellini's History Films

#68 Post by knives » Fri Jul 01, 2011 9:28 pm

I'm thinking most everyone is agreeing with you on that. With native dub films like this I suppose it just comes down to what you find least distracting from the images and what's available to you.

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Re: Eclipse Series 14: Rossellini's History Films

#69 Post by Jonathan S » Sat Jul 02, 2011 2:11 am

Watching Senso in the English language version last night, I was amazed at the sound fluctuations, particularly in the scenes with Farley Granger, whose voice seems to be recorded "live" (presumably he'd left Italy before dubbing began) but Valli's voice usually - though not always - sounds post-dubbed by her. So, from line to line in their scenes, the entire quality of sound often changes abruptly back and forth from a very open acoustic with genuine sound effects (Granger) - the loud rustle of clothes occasionally reminding me of Singin' in the Rain! - to a much drier, boxy, artificial sound (Valli). There are also a few scenes where Granger is evidently dubbed - still in English - by an Italian actor, even when the words appear unchanged. I guess either the live track - or possibly Granger's vocal performance - wasn't deemed good enough at those points.

But I think there's a lot to be said for the English language version in the scenes with Granger and Valli. I find their climactic confrontation much more powerful than in the Italian edition. The English version, incidentally, is how I first saw the film when it was revived theatrically in the UK in 1987. A few years later, the BBC televised the Italian version but apologised for the faded print (with unavoidably burned-in subtitles, very unusual for UK TV).

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Re: Eclipse Series 14: Rossellini's History Films

#70 Post by Peacock » Sat Jul 02, 2011 4:57 am

Off-topic a bit: but Tag, does that Carlotta documentary on the making of Blaise Pascal show Rossellini directing non/actors at all?

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Re: Eclipse Series 14: Rossellini's History Films

#71 Post by tag gallagher » Sat Jul 02, 2011 9:42 am

Offhand I can't remember. And I'm not sure which of them were non-actors.
It's not a documentary. It's footage shot during some of the production.

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Re: Eclipse Series 14: Rossellini's History Films

#72 Post by Dragoon En Regalia » Wed Aug 08, 2012 5:24 pm

I took a college-level course in European history at my local Texas high school, last school year. And, to my surprise, one of the extra-credit assignments my teacher was advertising involved watching and analyzing films related to the class syllabus and subject matter, then turning in a report of sorts. I never turned in any reports to him—I've only recently become a follower of the Criterion Collection, and I've only recently become a cinephile by any standard—but I now wish I did. This Eclipse set does a great job of providing methodical, unique perspectives on European individuals and eras. More importantly, though, it has helped me exercise more critical faculty with film appreciation than ever before. Slow yet steady films, with a specific series of shot requirements (and a lot of careful zoom—as if the camera was literally looking into historical paintings and bringing them to life!).

What surprised me the most, when I first watched through Cartesius (I've got the third part of Medici and the entirety of Blaise Pascal to go through next), was how cerebral and filtered the whole experience was. No sex, little mention of women until the second half of the film, and a lot of the dirtier aspects of 17th-century European living concealed by the soul-searching and journeying of Descartes. This is exactly the kind of film that I could have watched, back when I was taking that history class. My teacher wouldn't have gotten in trouble for permitting his students to watch the film, and I would have come back to school with a greater appreciation for Descartes' milieu and severe personality. As far as film-making went, too, Cartesius made the most of minimal movement and setting. I've never seen a film use zoom as a world-building device in a film before. But Rossellini's clever usage of zoom and auto-focusing lenses was effective in revealing new visual compositions and subtle relationships between historical individuals. The whole idea of imploding and exploding spatial relations, on film, is something I never considered before, especially not with zoom as the key component of the cinematography. And while I thought the film sagged in areas, and though it didn't show enough of the crazy world all around Descartes, the film ended on a very strong note, and all was well in the world (sort of).

I'm definitely anticipating the next release of these stylized historicals, whether they come through Eclipse or as regular Criterion releases. Along with Solaris and the Cassavetes set I purchased, this set has given me high hopes for the rest of the Collection's offerings. And, additionally, I now wish Ugo Cardea was more well-known for his acting skills. A flawless performance as Descartes—though Descartes is rather stiff and non-transparent as a character.
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Re: Eclipse Series 14: Rossellini's History Films

#73 Post by jindianajonz » Wed Aug 08, 2012 6:25 pm

Welcome to the Criterion Collection! I haven't had a chance to watch the Eclipse set yet (It's sitting on my shelf, along with 100+ other criterion/eclipse movies I need to watch) but if you liked that one, you might also like The Taking of Power by Louis XIV, another Rosselini history film. I also really liked Luchino Visconti's The Leopard (definitely get the Blu-ray!) which shows the end of Italian Aristocracy in all of its fading decadence!

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Re: Eclipse Series 14: Rossellini's History Films

#74 Post by Dragoon En Regalia » Wed Aug 08, 2012 6:28 pm

Definitely got my mind set on the rest of Rossellini's back catalog, as well as The Leopard. I better go tell my old history teacher about this set, since it seems like a good fit for his list, lol.

This was the first time I had to figure out a solution for Italian-film dubs, too, which was rather interesting. Tag Gallagher's liner notes helped me out a lot, though it doesn't take too much effort to figure out the optimal dub for a film.

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Re: Eclipse Series 14: Rossellini's History Films

#75 Post by colinr0380 » Fri Aug 31, 2012 11:56 am

I must admit to struggling a lot with these films - I'm torn between admiring the ambition behind this entire project and it having taken three months to get through The Age of the Medici without falling asleep, or wondering if there was a better or more involving way to deal with the subjects that didn't feel as staged as a Renaissance painting, set against being glad these works exist at all.

This is mostly a personal problem on my part, I think, and I wonder if I made a mistake in starting off diving straight into The Age of the Medici, as I found both Cartesius and Blaise Pascal far more involving and easier to follow. Perhaps this suggests that Age of the Medici is simultaneously both the purest and most radical version of the history films (although I have not had the chance to see any of the others outside of those in this set yet), since it is both more obsessed by minutae which kept taking a rather didactic form of "did you know that our local market transfers 250,00 square feet of silk and 4,000 bales of cotton for fifty sous per bale to the local merchants in Rome, much against the wishes of the local magistrates there?" kinds of statements (pieces of information which kept distracting me and made me think of the way that whenever I had to do a history or geography essay in school about a subject that I wasn't sure that I understood completely I usually fell back on describing the GNP of the local area, whether that added any insight to the thrust of a particular essay or not), and had the both frustrating and fascinating manner of not particularly developing any character or subject in the film beyond some broad strokes.

On the plus side that allows for the removal of material that would perhaps steer our impressions of the characters into particular 'good' or 'bad' pigeonholes (at a certain point in each of the first two episodes whenever I found myself getting too comfortable with rather dry conversations in rooms wondering if they actually had any effect on anything beyond their walls a brief, yet all the more shocking for its aside nature, moment of shocking violence occurred (with appropriate musical sting!) to assure us that there were people feeling the consequences of the machinations more deeply than those we were following). Cosimo de Medici is both the central figure and frequently disappears from the action. He becomes more important for the influence he has over the actions of others in his absence (perhaps, to mangle the famous phrase by Descartes, other people think about him, therefore he is!) and this gets very close to that idea of an 'Age of the Medici' - Cosimo doesn't need to have a hand in every area, just needs to set up the circumstances for that kind of development. It also perhaps helps that banking has a hand in so many areas of commercial life in order to have that kind of influence and patronage! (There's also the amusing intertwining of religious influence and money in the various subplots with the Pope throughout the film!)

In the final part of the Leon Battista Alberti third film it was also interesting to see the way that this film both showed how peripheral, yet integral, Cosimo and Florence itself was to the action, as the ideas and way of thinking spreads outside its borders to be applied to Rome and Alberti moves (or is kind of forced!) from pure thought to putting ideas into action. Yet the way that this final Rome set section features a number of disorienting time jumps kind of undermines Leon Battista as a main figure (much as exiling or seeing Cosimo only through other's eyes did the same for him in the earlier episodes) and instead pushes the architecture that is being built into the foreground. That helps to emphasise the way that architecture is being thought of as lasting far beyond an individual's life and suggests the reason for the many fights over who gets to manufacture a cupola or the separation of interior and exterior designers from interfering with each other's work!

In the end I suppose Age of the Medici is all about different perspectives with which people approach life! My favourite parts of Age of the Medicis has to be Wadding's journey and that view of Florence with the Renaissance painting matted onto the landscape.

Cartesius I think is my favourite film in the set. How could I not appreciate a lead character who works all night and sleeps until noon! I like the way that performing all of his research himself, without recourse to received knowledge lets Descartes think in an entirely different way yet also perhaps, as in the scene where he puts forward a theory about blood boiling in the heart leading to pulsations and is gently corrected by the lecturer suggesting contractions due to their irregular nature of a pulse, suggests that he might have come to slightly wrongheaded conclusions. Yet the appreciative response to being corrected suggests a wish to learn too.

However this gets to one of my major issues with the films in this set - a problem with this kind of approach to the material is that we often only get the dry explanation of theories to others without seeing for ourselves as viewers how those conclusions were reached. Perhaps it is a comment on the extreme difficulty of portraying learning on film in a convincing manner, or the impossibility of portraying the conscious thought processes of another person. Personally I would have preferred an even 'drier' approach showing such research in action from which such theories were formulated. It perhaps would have given a greater chance to give the audience a greater understanding of the science behind the theory (a problem throughout the films is that we are shown for example the mirrored box creating perspectives in Age of the Medici; or the math formula near the beginning of Catesius; or the telescope showing the stars in Cartesisus again; or the work into the angle of a cone in Blaise Pascal. Yet when it comes to illustrating that dawning knowledge, the film can only throw up a brief picture of the perspective, or of the stars, or a quickly held up diagram or formula to illustrate that. Which isn't really enough information!), although I assume that the various TV partners would have preferred a soapier approach with love affairs and things like that taking the place of what the historical figure was actually important for. These films kind of fall between the two stools being both anti-dramatic yet superficial in theory terms. It still leaves a beautiful historical recreation of the times and a portrait of the confusion that religious and scientific ideas can bring though.

In Cartesius, Descartes seems so absorbed in his research he ignores those around him, dragging his servant Bretagne around the countryside with him until he succumbs to illness and dies, then getting his new maid Hélène pregnant. He does a lot for her but is never around due to his travels, missing out on seeing his daughter until it is too late (the one time we see them together, the child seems frightened of him, so presumably doesn't recognise him). It is the work/home life conflict taken to an extreme, with work taking obvious precedence. Yet does the attempt to understand the working of the universe matter when you ignore those that you care about within it to the point where they can die and it doesn't have an impact? (Which contrasts interestingly with Blaise Pascal who is able to devote himself to his work until his stable family life completely collapses taking his framework for study with it)

An element of Cartesius that I particularly liked were the frequent shots of Descartes and his servant travelling through the landscape often accompanied by an eerie electronic harpsicord score (I wonder if Tarkovsky ever saw this film, and what he might have made of these shots and that electronic/classical score). It was at times amusing (especially in the first episode where there would be a quick decision to move on and then the immediate 'travelling shot' to transition to another area, suggesting a kind of whimsical decision making) and quite depressing too (especially in the final episode where Descartes is travelling, still attempting to stay on the move and escape being tied in one place, but just seems to be retracting his steps).

I think it is very telling that immediately following Descartes' "I think, therefore I am" speech, which is interesting yet dryly presented, we have the scene with Hélène seeing him off again saying the far more profound statement "He who possesses a treasure and does not know it is poorer than he who has nothing".

Eventually with the death of their daughter that statement is given a horrible truth. The final scene is magnificent for the way that Descartes decides to withdraw entirely to his own thought processes to process his grief, using the same private methodology he used to try and understand the universe without assistance from previous teachings. Yet also this completely ignores Hélène, someone he would be able to see was in need of comfort as much as he was if he wasn't so solipsistic, and who even could potentially provide him the solace that he was looking for purely inside himself in return. Who was it who said "no man is an island"?

Blaise Pascal is fascinating too for the much more in-depth exploration of the pull between science and religion and whether by pursuing science you are abandoning religion or vice versa (something which also gets explored in some of the scenes in Cartesius, where Descartes and certain other characters that he meets in the film are forced to justify research which could unbalance the current orthodoxies, such as astrology).

There is the sense that neither really offers that much comfort - studies are good for distraction, religion for contemplation. Despite Pascal's father worrying that his intellect will give him a sense of superiority, he need not have worried as Blaise seems to use his studies as a form of self-abnegation, for the pleasure of losing himself in the work. Ironically this gets contrasted with the final section after the death of his father where religious ideas become paramount and Blaise gets caught up in almost self-pitying religious thought, seemingly only returning to scientific studies in order to help him to forget about a toothache! That intense sense of self contemplation for what might have been the first time seems as if it is the thing that drives him to death (following the lead of his sister who became a nun and died with a broken heart)

This film, for all the deep religious commitment by the sister and the enormous solace Blaise takes from religion in the final section of the film (and the quoting of the wager theory, though here it seems to naturally arise from Pascal being in a gambling den when he comes up with it! It is also amusingly staged so as to seem to just be providing a bit of light theological entertainment rather than a serious theory), seems the most condemnatory of religion. There is the early sequence of the woman who has been tortured as a witch going on trial, which shows her being fed lines and begging to be burnt at the stake to save herself (That is a particularly powerful sequence as it suggests someone with a deep religious belief has been forced to give that up under torture, and feels the pain of that recantation, in order that her employer can have a scapegoat for the failure of his business), and then the whole film climaxes with both brother and sister devoutly wishing themselves into death. There is the sense that intense religious thought leads only to one dead end, and maybe sooner than if it wasn't such a major part of their thinking.

In all I can see why the TV partner companies ran screaming from these films, or refused to show them. But they are certainly unique and frequently beautiful pieces of art (I absolutely agree with GringoTex's earlier comments about the effective use of the zoom throughout), as well as covering subject matter rarely, if ever covered anywhere else on film.
Last edited by colinr0380 on Tue Sep 04, 2012 4:02 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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