4 Comments

  1. “There is also an eddy of melodrama which at critical moments floods the senses as emotions are telegraphed with operatic musical flourishes.”

    “What makes Ossessione particularly compelling is an homoerotic strand interwoven with a critique of ‘petit-bourgeois’ values. Visconti was gay and a Marxist. His scenario here has a depth and complexity you will not find in Cain’s hard-boiled prose nor in Tay Garnett’s workmanlike Hollywood adaptation.”

    Just two of the numerous passages I will cite here from this master class essay, perhaps the best I have yet read on this seminal Italian masterpiece, arguably Visconti’s greatest work. Your last paragraph is equally magnificent, as is the passage you feature at the left in blue. Yes this is certainly as you state one of the earliest entries in the neo-realist movement, though some would argue that the non-professionals used by Rosselini and DeSica later would give this style its more defining component. It’s a fatalistic work, and a signature creation of the gay Marxist. I once read somewhere that the Fascist censors gave Visconti difficulties with this film, as it showed both adultery and poverty – two subjects “banned” in fascist Italy. You broach that yourself here with the discussion of the second negative. One can recognize the dominant influence on Visconti of Renoir and Marcel Carne, The director managed to transform everything he touched –actors, houses, objects, light, dust–into symbolic elements of his personal lyricism.

    I read an article published in 1948 with co-scenarist Angelo Pietrangeli describing the film, which he admits was to “change the face of the Italian cinema and establish its world-wide influence”:

    “A long traveling shot a la Renoir ends in front of a service station erected along the road like a frontier post. Suddenly, in a lyrical break so abrupt that it takes one’s breath away, a camera flight introduces us royally to a character, a character still without a face, his vest unbuttoned over his sunburned skin, exhausted and hesitant, as a man would be who is stretching his legs after a long sleep in a truck. Are we the Gino of OSSESSIONE? Let us call it simply Italian neo-realism. Of course the style was taken to its ultimate realization by Italian master Vittorio De Sica with such landmark films like SHOESHINE, UMBERTO D and BICYCLE THIEVES.”

    Again, superlative examination of an essential work of cinema, Tony!

  2. Thanks Sam. A signature contribution from you which brings so much to the table, and a great quote from Pietrangeli! So much more poetic and descriptive than my effort to deal with that brilliant opening sequence.

  3. Hi Tony:

    I’m finishing up an article on Visconti’s relationship to film noir (including ROCCO AND HIS BROTHERS) for Noir City, Eddie Muller’s magazine. I enjoyed your piece, but I’m wondering where you found the “Dance of death and sperm” quote? I’m finding material on Visconti in English a little hard to come by!

    Thanks!

  4. Hi Thomas

    I must have sourced the quote second-hand and none of those secondary sources I would have consulted provide a source for the fuller quote “the air of a dance of death and sperm”.

    Digging a little deeper I have found a snippet of an article in the FILM CRITICISM journal Vol 9-10 (1984) in the Google books search engine. As only snippets are available and the actual journal issue is not available from the journal’s web site, further investigation would be needed to get to the primary source, which would be in a footnote to the text.

    What can be read from the snippet is a quote which provides an intriguing context:

    “De Santis claimed that in the landscape created by “the great American highways crossed by vagabonds… one breathed the air of death and sperm”(4) and that this air would define the film’s ambience.”

    The snippet can be found here:

    https://tinyurl.com/y2l4ofon

    From my own collection I would recommend this book which has a chapter on each of Visconti’s films and an extensive bibliography:

    https://www.amazon.com/Luchino-Visconti-Claretta-Tonetti/dp/0862873320

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