Not for nothing, Judge P.S. Colbert loves, loves, loves pepperoni pizza.
"This journal of ours, created with film instead of pen and ink, is dedicated to love in a great city."
Dateline: Post-war Roma. Italian screenwriter Cesare Zavattini (Bicycle Thieves) had a dream: to create "The Spectator," a six-monthly cinematic journal dealing with societal concerns of the day. Each topical assignment would be completed in the form of a short subject made by Neorealist film-makers. The Spectator's first issue debuted on Nov. 26, 1953, as a feature titled Love in the City, and boasted these six articles:
• "Love for Money" (11 minutes)
• "Attempted Suicide" (22 minutes)
• "Paradise for Three Hours" (12 minutes)
• "Marriage Agency" (16 minutes)
• "Story of Caterina" (27 minutes)
• "Italians Turn Their Heads" (14 minutes)
Alas, The Spectator's first volume was also its last, and Zavattini's dream died hard, after his experimental celluloid omnibus collided with small, hostile audiences and a critical community which showed no love.
As for me, I say: what's not to love?!
If you're enamored of Italian Neorealist cinema (and honestly, what self-respecting, self-described film aficionado wouldn't be?) this heretofore little-seen collection of the genre's leading lights—whilst mere neophytes, mind you, happily working gratis—should be enough to have you popping corn, drawing the curtains, turning off your phone and settling back to watch the likes of Antonioni, Fellini, and Lattuada taking baby steps.
Surprise, surprise: long before the days of Blow-Up, 8 1/2, and Mafioso, respectively, these men (in addition to their less-famous compatriots) demonstrated a unique ability to sear the screen with indelible imagery.
Opinions will vary. I'm partial to "Paradise for Three Hours," an almost dialog-free comic masterpiece of choreography, coquettishness, and crazy-man-crazy jivin' rhythms, helmed by the criminally under-appreciated Dino Risi.
Likewise, Fellini's "Marriage Agency," which gleefully abandons the documentary-like approach of the other pieces (a fact that Zavattini reportedly appreciated not one bit), but nevertheless achieves the same heady mix of knife-sharp wit and keen observation present in his early masterpiece, The White Sheik.
But perhaps my favorite piece is Zavattini's own "Story of Caterina," the heart-breaking saga of young Caterina Rigolioso, formerly of Palermo, who came to Rome seeking employment as a domestic maid. There, "she was seduced and abandoned" by an unnamed man, who left her pregnant. Penniless and alone, she winds up giving birth on the street, for which she is arrested, and subsequently ordered to leave the city. Amazingly, all I've just described is merely prologue to the 27-minute story here, which features Caterina and her young son Carletto playing themselves in a reenactment that must be seen to be believed.
Raro Video has brought out Love in the City in Blu-ray with a not-bad 1.33:1/1080p transfer that betrays some softness and other artifacts that I'd most likely have dismissed as age-related if I wasn't aware of a reportedly superior Region 2 release that's been floating around since 2006. That said, if you don't know what you're missing, you'll be pleased with this reasonably-priced release. The PCM 2-channel mono (Italian) sound mix fares much better, so…there's that, which is good. English subtitles are optional.
The set is heavy with extras, including a well-written and info-stuffed booklet (which hopefully won't be missing pages 8-11, as mine is). In addition to the original theatrical trailer, there are audio commentaries accompanying each chapter (Lizzani and Maselli comment on their respective contributions, while more contemporary film-makers pinch hit for dearly-departed Messrs Antonioni, Fellini, Lattuada, Risi, and Zavattini). And for those who can't get enough analysis, there are three additional critical overviews! To be fair, none of these qualify as time-wasting exercises, but pace yourselves, or suffer the bends.
What more is there to say? Obviously, Love in the City—which opens a window on a world gone forever and filmmakers that will likely endure for eternity—will appeal only to the nichiest of niche audiences. You know who you are, so what are you waiting for?
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Raro Video
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