Wednesday, April 17, 2013

8 DECADES OF ITALIAN CINEMA launches April 19th at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas in NYC; Q&A with series co-curator Richard Peña

Dan Talbot, legendary founder of New Yorker Films, long-time champion of Italian films in the United States, and owner of one of Manhattan's premiere and longest-running art houses, the Lincoln Plaza Cinema, together with two other well-known champions of Italian cinema -- Richard Peña and Antonio Monda -- are presenting a truly unusual program: 8 DECADES OF ITALIAN CINEMA. The series will launch in New York City this Friday, April 19th, at Talbot's Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and continue there for -- count 'em -- eight months, until November 2013.

Appropriately enough, the program opens with OPEN CITY, Roberto Rossellini's 1945 shocker (in its time) that helped give a name to a style of cinema that has remained in play and vitally important ever since: Neorealism.  Open City (a still is shown below) was also one of the first postwar European films to gain a significant audience in the US. In his 1946 review of the movie for The New York Times, critic Bosley Crowther had this to say: “It may seem peculiarly ironic that the first film yet seen hereabouts to dramatize the nature and the spirit of underground resistance in German-held Europe in a superior way—with candid, over-powering realism and with a passionate sense of human fortitude—should be a film made in Italy. Yet such is the extraordinary case. Open City (Citta Aperta), which arrived... last night, is unquestionably one of the strongest dramatic films yet made about the recent war.”

8 Decades of Italian Cinema has been brought to the U.S. by the Istituto Luce Cinecittå, as a celebration of the Year of Italian Culture, and will showcase more than ten of Italy’s greatest films including the work of Oscar-winning directors such as Bernardo Bertolucci and Federico Fellini, as well as the work of contemporary artists such as Marco Bellocchio and Paolo Sorrentino. Here is a complete list of the films being shown includes (in addition to Open City) Bitter Rice (shown at bottom, from 1949), La Terra Trema (the penultimate photo, from 1948), Umberto D (1952), Before the Revolution (1964), The Tree of Wooden Clogs (1978), The Night of the Shooting Stars (1982), And the Ship Sails On (1983), Lamerica (1994), The Consequences of Love (2004), and Dormant Beauty (2012).

If there are any of these you have not seen, leap. Even if you've viewed the films on tape or DVD in possibly not-so-hot transfers, here's your chance to see them projected in their glory on the big theater screen.

Click here to see the schedule (through June) and book tickets.


Who would give up the chance to chat with Richard Peña (at left), professor, Italian movie maven, and ex-head of pro-gramming for the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Not I, so TrustMovies asked one of his favorite film gurus a set of questions about the series -- which appear in bold while Pena's answers are in standard type.

How did the idea for this 8 Decades of Italian Cinema originate?

Back in October 2012, Roberto Cicutto, the President of Cinecitta, came to New York and told me that they had received funding to support a number of programs under the rubric "The Year of Italian Cinema in America." We wanted the New York part of the program to be something out of the ordinary--something beyond the programs offered by the Walter Reade, MoMA, etc. To that end, Roberto, Antonio Monda and I came up with the idea of an ongoing series dedicated to eight decades of Italian Cinema, with one or two classics to receive short runs every month. Our dream, of course, was to have this program at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, America's greatest "art house." I met with Dan, proposed the idea, and within minutes we were talking about which films we would show. It did not take a lot of convincing!

I am guessing that the purpose of all this is to remind older audiences, while bringing in some new, younger ones, of the glories of Italian cinema? 

Yes, I guess you could say that.

Why Italian and why now? (Other than this Year of Italian Culture thing, of course.)  I am not disputing the choice -- as a huge fan of your consistently wonderful Open Roads series -- but am just wondering. 

Again, the opportunity presented itself. Perhaps other national cinemas will now be similarly inspired.

That would be terrific: France, Spain, The Netherlands, Scandinavia -- and beyond! 

How in the world did you and Dan narrow things down? This must have been a daunting task that meant leaving out some of your absolute favorites–mostly, I suspect, because of the decade in which they first appeared and which was already “full.” 

Dan and I worked very much with Roberto Cicutto and Antonio Monda on the selection. As always, it was a matter of what we wanted versus was was available. Sometimes there were "rights" issues; these can be extremely complicated. But we very much got what we wanted. Dan especially wanted films with which he had been associated; for example, it was with Bertolucci's BEFORE THE REVOLUTION that he began New Yorker Films.

If the list (shown above) is complete, why do certain decades get two films, while the others get only one (and the 40s actually gets three)? 

Early on we decided that we wouldn't work by any fixed set of rules (ah, the joy of working with Italians!). So when there happened to be several films available for a particular decade that we wanted to show, we simply found a way of doing that.

I notice that Paolo Sorrentino made the cut but Matteo Garrone did not. I love ‘em both but would agree with this choice, due to Sorrentino’s amazing visual style, his use of space, and so forth. So, how long did this winnowing process take? 

A few months. I'd say we started in November and had more or less a fixed list in early March.

And finally: Will you be coming back, even briefly, as a guest host for this year’s Open Roads? 

No, I've retired from the Film Society, although I just got the announcement for Open Roads and it looks like a great program. You'll see me in the audience quite a bit!

Thanks, Richard. We miss you. But we're so happy you're involved in this latest project.

The photos above come courtesy of  Istituto Luce Cinecittå, 
except for the shot of Mr. Peña, which is by Jonathan Rosenbaum
Thank you, Jonathan!

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