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Author Topic: Senso (1954)  (Read 3552 times)
dave jenkins
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« on: February 26, 2011, 11:14:36 AM »

Senso (1954) 10/10. An Italian noblewoman at the time of the Risorgimento falls for an Austrian cad; he exploits her, then she gets revenge.

Mark Rappaport calls this the most beautiful movie ever made, and, well, it's certainly in contention. In the booklet accompanying the new CC Blu-ray, Rappaport waxes ecstatically: "It is not exactly an accident that the film brings to mind Manet, Veronese, Tintoretto, and Titian, among others. It is as if we were in a Manet painting twenty-four frames a second. Which is not to say that it has the studied, frozen, waxwork, art-directed quality of a period film like Barry Lyndon (1975), about which critics raved that each frame was a masterpiece. Senso is much more fluid than that. You don't want to hang the images on the wall. You want to live in them. The figures move in architectural surroundings with the grace and elegance of Veronese figures come to life. They inhabit the backgrounds as if they and history are one. Which also explains the lack of close-ups in Senso." That's a partial explanation. It should also be remarked that there are no close-ups in opera.

And Senso is a film steeped in opera. Visconti begins the picture at the opera, at a performance of Il trovatore; then the characters in the audience leave the theater, and begin playing, in the streets and buildings of Venice--what a set!--their own melodrama. One mirrors the other, of course, but here Visconti makes a move that seems counter-intuitive but is nonetheless brilliant. The soundtrack for the love story is provided not by Verdi, but by Bruckner, from his Wagnerian 7th Symphony. Beyond the fact that the music works so well, was Visconti, in his choice of dueling composers, underlining the political tensions between his Italian and German-speaking characters? I wouldn't put it past him.

The acting is appropriately operatic, and that will not please everyone. Alida Valli plays every scene over the top, and in the most magnificent gowns and veils (she's veiled in most scenes). It is unclear to me whether or not she dubbed herself in the Italian language version. And I can't comment on Farley Granger's performance, as so much of it comes from the Italian voice actor who dubbed him. That voice does, to my ears, sound suitably smarmy. Apparently, the producers could have had Brando for the part, but thought Granger the better choice. Go figure.

This movie features some of the best looking battle scenes ever filmed. Kubrick and Bondarchuk, if they saw the film when released (it never had a regular U.S. run), must have been envious.

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« Reply #1 on: February 26, 2011, 03:22:44 PM »

Sounds pretty awesome. Afro

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« Reply #2 on: February 26, 2011, 03:35:33 PM »

OK, I'll give it another try one of these days, my dvd has been laying dormant for almost a year. I seem to remember Alida Valli was dubbed by someone else. It would be interesting to know why Visconti envisioned for the male part all bisexual actors and why Brando didn't get the part... Of course the answer to the first question is obvious, I'm curious about the second: Zeffirelli will surely know what was behind the choice, but I'm sure it had nothing to do with acting. Cool

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« Reply #3 on: February 26, 2011, 11:48:34 PM »

OK, I'll give it another try one of these days, my dvd has been laying dormant for almost a year. I seem to remember Alida Valli was dubbed by someone else. It would be interesting to know why Visconti envisioned for the male part all bisexual actors and why Brando didn't get the part... Of course the answer to the first question is obvious, I'm curious about the second: Zeffirelli will surely know what was behind the choice, but I'm sure it had nothing to do with acting. Cool

Haha, this movie already deserves a topic of its own. Afro

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« Reply #4 on: February 27, 2011, 07:19:14 AM »

It would be interesting to know why Visconti envisioned for the male part all bisexual actors and why Brando didn't get the part...  
Is this a good time to mention the film's gay subtext?

Apparently the producers decided to pass on Brando because they thought Granger was going to be the bigger star. They wanted a "big-name" American so they could crack the U.S. market. Ironically, the film didn't play in the U.S. until after the release of The Leopard, by which time everyone had practically forgotten who Granger was.

UPDATE. Ebert's 2011 take: http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20110221/REVIEWS08/110229998
              A review of the BD: http://www.blu-ray.com/movies/Senso-Blu-ray/17925/#Review

« Last Edit: February 27, 2011, 11:28:05 AM by dave jenkins » Logged


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« Reply #5 on: February 27, 2011, 05:53:57 PM »

Is this a good time to mention the film's gay subtext?

Gay SUB-text in a Visconti movie? You're joking...

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Apparently the producers decided to pass on Brando because they thought Granger was going to be the bigger star.

Sure, and one is also free to believe that Visconti constant hiring of bi-sexual actors (Lancaster, Delon, Berger...) may be purely casual.

Anyway, I saw this for the third time and still find it's boring. Especially those dialogues between the protagonists lead nowhere and are about nothing. The final confrontation is beyond ridiculous: Granger is able to see the outcome of IWW 50 years before, revealing the essential fakery the movie. Bruckner's music is most apt to score this: he is the most boring composer among the "great" (or just considered such) composers. I give it 6\10 because of its pictorial qualities, but Barry Lyndon is much better than this for the simple reason that it has a great novel to strart from (and which is in fact better than the movie) whereas Senso is based on a story nobody in Italy, except Visconti, has read.   

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« Reply #6 on: February 28, 2011, 09:39:40 AM »

Sure, and one is also free to believe that Visconti constant hiring of bi-sexual actors (Lancaster, Delon, Berger...) may be purely casual.
Well, you have a point.
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Anyway, I saw this for the third time and still find it's boring. Especially those dialogues between the protagonists lead nowhere and are about nothing. The final confrontation is beyond ridiculous: Granger is able to see the outcome of IWW 50 years before, revealing the essential fakery the movie.
I didn't read it that way. Instead, I saw it as just typical aristocratic vanity, pace de Sade's "After me, the Deluge!" But I don't know Italian and the subtitles, which appear to be good, may have their limitations.

Anyway, the dialogues do not lead "nowhere" and are certainly about something. In the case of Granger's lieutenant, he is, in the final encounter, at great pains to display his self loathing even as he humiliates the countess. He must know that the countess has the means to be revenged on him, but he can't help goading her into it. Of course, all along he has been laying the groundwork for his own destruction--he writes the countess a letter and tells her not to visit him but helpfully includes his address. This is the very letter the countess uses to traduce him--again, he must have understood when writing it where his act of self-incrimination would ultimately lead. And so, that final scene of humiliation--of dual humiliations--plays out interminably, exquisitely. I had to marvel at how well Visconti could prolong such an orgy of cruelty.
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Bruckner's music is most apt to score this: he is the most boring composer among the "great" (or just considered such) composers.
I think Bruckner is fine. I grant that if you can't stomach his music, the film cannot be saved for you.
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I give it 6\10 because of its pictorial qualities, but Barry Lyndon is much better than this for the simple reason that it has a great novel to strart from (and which is in fact better than the movie) whereas Senso is based on a story nobody in Italy, except Visconti, has read. 
BL isn't anyone's idea of a "great" Thackeray novel, but that's really beside the point. Terrible stories and novels have been made into great movies, and great literary works have been badly adapted to film. Kubrick and Visconti, in the present instances, radically departed from their sources, and our evaluations must apply only to the finished films. 

I share Ebert's and Dave Kehr's enthusiasm for Senso. Sorry you can't agree with us, but then, what would your spleen do with a day off anyway?

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« Reply #7 on: February 28, 2011, 02:45:36 PM »

I was referring more than to the last one, to the previous dialogues. The last one is more "intense" (and thank god is the last one) but it is marred by the Granger attittude to play the blasť aristocrat (who, BTW, he has no right to play at all as he has displayed before no quality which may grant him such a title). So his speech about loathing and self-loathing sounds to me fake because it is too self-conscious and coming to him from outside, i.e. a real aristocrat born much later.

About Thackeray, I think he is the best english novelist. I'm probably alone there, but I don't care. I've read Vanity Fair, Harry Esmond and BL and found them all excellent, especially the latter.

But I wonder: you saw an italian audio version. So what Visconti hired Tennessee Williams and Paul Bowles for?

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« Reply #8 on: March 01, 2011, 11:12:27 AM »

I was referring more than to the last one, to the previous dialogues. The last one is more "intense" (and thank god is the last one) but it is marred by the Granger attittude to play the blasť aristocrat (who, BTW, he has no right to play at all as he has displayed before no quality which may grant him such a title). So his speech about loathing and self-loathing sounds to me fake because it is too self-conscious and coming to him from outside, i.e. a real aristocrat born much later.
Fair enough. The problem is with Granger, never a favorite of mine either. I liked that last scene though: maybe it's easier to take if you have to read the dialogue. And granted, Senso is not The Leopard, which is much better at putting over what the aristocracy was really all about.
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About Thackeray, I think he is the best english novelist. I'm probably alone there, but I don't care. I've read Vanity Fair, Harry Esmond and BL and found them all excellent, especially the latter.
Thackeray is good, it's just that BL is one of his minor novels. Nobody today would even know about it if it hadn't been for Kubrick's film. Btw, although I haven't read it, scholarly consensus seems to feel that The Newcomes is his best work. I've got a copy, and I keep meaning to get to it, but all these damn movies keep getting in the way!
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But I wonder: you saw an italian audio version. So what Visconti hired Tennessee Williams and Paul Bowles for?
They did an English-language version that became known as The Wanton Countess, which played in cinemas in the U.K. and on some U.S. television stations (although no one seems to know the details). It is included as a supplement on the new CC release, but as it is unrestored and heavily cut it seemed to be of little interest. I should check out the final confrontation scene and see what Williams and Bowles made of Granger's lines. Maybe they improved them.

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« Reply #9 on: March 01, 2011, 03:06:03 PM »

I have forgotten to add that I have the impression that the italian voice for Granger is, guess what, Salerno's.

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« Reply #10 on: March 01, 2011, 06:29:08 PM »

Ah hah! Well, those Roman gigolo phrasings, so inappropriate for Eastwood, work well for Granger who is playing, essentially, a gigolo (though not one from Rome).

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« Reply #11 on: March 02, 2011, 07:31:05 AM »

I've put off seeing this and Sandra aka Vaghe stelle dell'Orsa for too long. I have access to both. I really need to get on that.

I just pray they aren't anything like The Damned or Death in Venice, and more like White Nights.

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« Reply #12 on: March 02, 2011, 02:23:01 PM »

I've put off seeing this and Sandra aka Vaghe stelle dell'Orsa for too long.
I saw Sandra recently and, even with the presence of CC, it's not a film I can recommend. Visconti's decline clearly begins at that point.

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« Reply #13 on: March 08, 2011, 07:42:03 PM »

I have to give it a go due to the CC factor but that's what I was dreading. His work had so much charm, atmosphere and it quickly went to shit in a matter of a few years.

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« Reply #14 on: May 04, 2011, 11:46:58 AM »

Just watched the Criterion BD of this myself.

I had never seen it before so it was a bit of a risk, but I knew Visconti wouldn't let me down.

What a fabulous film and a very worthy predecessor to "The Leopard". The Criterion release is as always excellent and packed with extras.

Possibly the most interesting little snippet was the fact that the ending was filmed later on wihtout Granger which is why we don't see his face. Of course Visconti was then prasied for the dramatic effect created by not showing Granger's face  Grin. Personally I wonder if the ending was needed? I think I would rather have seen Valli walking off and it then having ended there as originally intended. However, the cinematography in the final scene is great so on the other hand, maybe I'm glad it was there after all  Huh.

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