Monday, March 22, 2010

1970: The Conformist (Bernardo Bertolucci)

1970: The Conformist (Bernardo Bertolucci)
I really can't say I fully understand the story of the movie.  Nor can I really say that I fully care.  If someone forced me to choose the color film that I think is the most beautiful in the history of the medium, this would be my choice.

It seems that this movie, more than any other, influenced the great look of The Godfather.  And the way that Bertolucci and Vittorio Storaro film murder - slowly, carefully, and with rapt attention - certainly recalls Coppola's approach a couple years later.

A complete filmmaking marvel, and one of cinema's most staggering, hallucinatory achievements.

Other contenders for 1970:  There are a good number of titles I still need to see.  These are: Michelangelo Antonioni's Zabriskie Point, Jerzy Skolimowski's Deep End, Michael Wadleigh's Woodstock, Franklin J Schaffner's Patton, Albert Maysles, David Maysles, and Charlotte Zwerin's Gimme Shelter, Gilbert Cates' I Never Sang for My Father, Vittorio De Sica's The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, Claude Chabrol's La rupture, Jean Eustache and Jean-Michel Barjol's Le Cochon, Francois Truffaut's L'enfant sauvage, Werner Herzog's Fata Morgana, Luis Bunuel's Tristana, Bernardo Bertolucci's The Spider's Stratagem, Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg's Performance, and Jean Renoir's Le petit theatre de Jean Renoir.  From this year, I really like Robert Altman's MASH and Eric Rohmer's Claire's Knee.  I love Bob Rafelson's Five Easy Pieces and Jean-Pierre Melville's Le cercle rouge.  And my closest runner-up is Sam Peckinpah's The Ballad of Cable Hogue.  

10/23/11 I watched Michelangelo Antonioni's Zabriskie Point.  Hints at some fairly large ideas but never quite coheres into anything memorable.  Seems to be a lazy and hazy A.  Far from his great works.  

9/22/13 I watched Luis Bunuel's Tristana.  Of the 20 or so proclaimed masters of cinema, I probably continue to struggle the most with Bunuel.  I have yet to find a real entry point into his work and although I have liked a couple of his films - Los Olividados and Land Without Bread - I struggle more often than connect deeply with his work.  I like some of the unusual camerawork in this one, the re-focusing and the sometimes quirky zooms, and I thought the final montage at the end was interesting.  Overall, however, the story left me pretty cold.  

12/14/13 I watched Paul Mazursky's Alex in Wonderland.  Somewhat interesting as a capsule of LA in the late sixties and early seventies but far too self-absorbed and derivative to be affecting.   I grew weary after about a half hour.  

10/19/14 I watched Gilbert Cates' I Never Sang for My Father.  It is at times a very touching film particularly when Hackman and Douglas share the screen.  But Cates does not seem to have much of an aesthetic grasp of cinema and as a film it somewhat goes through the motions.  

1/4/16 I watched Jacques Demy's Donkey Skin.  Demy proves yet again that he is almost without rival when it comes to using color.  He also shows that Cherbourg/Rochefort were no fluke, that he is an absolute master at creating cinematic moments that float, light and delicate in their deep belief in love and an exalted beauty.  It did not move me to the level of Cherbourg but I enjoyed seeing it as further proof of Demy's unique skills and sensibility. 

11/4/17 I watched Abbas Kiarostami's The Bread and Alley.  I watched what is reportedly Kiarostami's first short.  It does not add up to all that much, but early on it is already clear where his main themes and interests will fall.

5/17/18 I watched Robert Altman's Brewster McCloud.  This has to be one of my least favorite films to come from a favorite filmmaker.  It just all feels such a mess and lacks any kind of emotional connection for me.  

9/27/19 I watched Hal Ashby's The Landlord.  There are a lot of interesting ideas being hinted at and thrown around in Ashby's debut and it feels like it might be as close to an experience as we have to what it must have been like to spend some time with him.  It's a bit prickly, poetic, provocative, undisciplined and independent.  I don't think it rises to the level of Shampoo or The Last Detail but it gives us some pure Ashby moments that are priceless.

10/13/19 I watched Joseph Mankiewicz's There Was a Crooked Man...  It might not be a great film but it is one of those films that show an older director able to keep pace with the changing spirit and style of the times.  It has a nice looseness to it and both Douglas and Fonda seem to be enjoying themselves.  

5/3/20 I watched Roberto Guerra and Eila Hershon's Langlois.  Not very good at all but nice to see footage of Henri all the same.

12/19/22 I watched Jerzy Skolimowski's Deep End.  I can't recall sexual awakening ever being treated by the cinema with as much hormonal neurosis.  Skolimowski once again proves he is able to unlock's cinema's ability to be poetic but also dangerous.  He is able to find extraordinary set pieces, like the pool in the final scenes, and elongate time so that his films occupy a logic that defies most narrative progressions and rhythms.  There is also a confidence in Skolimowski that enables him to go too far and to push past our level of comfort to deliver something that has that Lynchian charge that is both disturbing and powerful.    

2/16/24 I watched Satyajit Ray's Days and Nights in the Forest.  Felt a bit like a Rossellini film like Stromboli or Europa 51, even if I struggled to find the same emotional connection to it.  


  1. My Own #1 Film of 1970:

    The Conformist (Bertolucci; Italy)


    I Never Sang For My Father (Cates; USA)
    Le Circle Rouge (Melville; France)
    A Swedish Love Story (Andersson; Sweden)
    Claire's Knee (Rohmer; France)
    Landscape After Battle (Wajda; Poland)
    Mihai Viteazul (Nicolaescu; Russia)
    King Lear (Kozintsev; Russia)
    Five Easy Pieces (Rafelson; USA)
    Gimme Shelter (Maysles; USA)
    M*A*S*H* (Rafelson; USA)
    Deep End (Skolimowski; UK)
    The Spider's Strategem (Bertolucci; Italy)
    Garden of the Finzi-Continis (De Sica; Italy)

    Ah, Jeffrey, but what you say here are it's real reasons for greatness!!THE CONFORMIST is a slow build, but in the end it's an undeniable, thought-provoking masterpiece, Bertolucci's piece de resistence, and one of the glories of Italian cinema. In a year when two other films came within a hair of the #1 spot (I NEVER SANG and LE CIRCLE ROUGE) I went with the same choice as you did. It's a stlylistic, dazzling historical and personel journey that is frankly unforgettable.

  2. Sam, great to hear from you and to know that we're on the same page with this one! It really is a remarkable achievement.

    Thanks, Sam. Always a treat to have you here!

  3. THE CONFORMIST is my all-time favorite movie. I'm glad I'm not the only one that finds it difficult to grasp. But its beauty is as undeniable as that of its two leading ladies.

    You're correct in acknowledging its influence on THE GODFATHER films. That shot with the fall leaves rolling in reminds me of an identical one on the compound of GODFATHER II (which by the way, I won't hold against you for leaving off your annual's my number 2 favorite film).

    This decade of films is a rich one, with much to debate. Look forward to your subsequent entries.

  4. Tony, great to hear that you love this one as much as I do! It really is an exquisite-looking film.

    And great to hear that you, too, see its influences on THE GODFATHER films. It seems that they're definitely siblings on some level.

    I look forward to discussing this great filmmaker-centric decade. It certainly is a very rich one.

    Thanks, Tony. Always great to have you here!

  5. Well, it looks like most of us are in agreement with “The Conformist” for this year. I only saw this film for the first time about two years ago, and taken by the writing, the cinematography, the editing and the acting. It is slow going at the beginning but it is worth the wait.
    I am glad to see you love for “Cable Hogue”, a film that deserves more love than it gets. The film shows a totally different side of Peckinpah and a great performance by Robards.

    # 1 The Conformist


    Five Easy Pieces
    Gimme Shelter
    I Never Sang for My Father
    Deep End
    Le Red Cirque
    The Ballad of Cable Hogue
    Little Big Man
    Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion
    Garden of Finzi Continis
    Catch-22 (actually this film does not deserve to be on this list, it is a bit of a mess, but the book is my favorite so the film gets by riding the novel’s coattails!)

  6. Thanks, John! I couldn't agree more with all your comments above with regards to THE CONFORMIST.

    I'm also glad to know that you love CABLE HOGUE, too. It's one of these films I think I'll always defend and support.


    Thanks, John. Always wonderful to have you here!

  7. I'm on the bandwagon as well and I obviously chose this one as my #1 for 1970 in my own annual countdown. This is a movie that is so beautiful it's scary - possibly the only color film that I have ever seen that measures up against, and arguably surpasses, the best that Terrence Malick has produced. Yes, the story can be hard to follow up, but it's a haunting tale that creeps up on you over time. As I said in my review, I wasn't all that engaged in the story the first time that I watched it, but for whatever reason it stuck in my mind for weeks afterward until I absolutely HAD to watch it again.

    As is the case with Tony, this is one of the rare films that could make a push toward the top of an all time favorite movies list for me. Great choice.

  8. Thanks, Dave. You and I are totally on the same page with this one!

  9. Don't expect me to buck the trend, Jeffrey. The Conformist is the film of the year and probably one of the greatest achievements in cinematography ever. Le Circle Rouge is my runner-up with Zabriskie Point coming on strong behind it. Cable Hogue is good stuff that got better as it went along, and Five Easy Pieces would appropriately round out my old-school short list.

  10. Samuel, great to hear that you and I are on the same page with this one! I totally agree, it is one of the greatest achievements in cinematography ever.

    Thanks, Samuel. Always a treat to have you here!