"A masterpiece – beautiful, intelligent, deeply moving" – The Observer
"One of the films I live by" Martin Scorsese
I will admit that I am biased. Il Gattopardo is one of my top ten favourite films and one of my top five favourite film scores.
The film had been allowed to languish since its release in 1963 so that the colour film stock had deteriorated badly, the colours either blanched or too dark This new DVD incarnation, courtesy of the British Film Institute (bfi), boasts of being the complete, uncut version of the film with fully restored picture and sound – a high definition digital transfer from the film's original 70mm negative materials overseen by the film's director of photography Giuseppe Rotunno and presented in its original widescreen aspect ratio.
I would like to take argument with something of that statement.
1) There is no denying that the restorers have done wonders restoring the visual elements of the film – Garibaldi's Red Shirts really do look red again - but the sound quality of the music?
Nino Rota's music, used practically intact from his Symphony on a Love Song [recently recorded by Chandos (CHAN 10090) and reviewed on this site], was performed, for the film, by a grand symphony orchestra formed from the best players of the permanent orchestras of Rome: the Academia di Santa Cecilia, The Opera of Rome and Italian Radio conducted by Franco Ferrara. The recording was made in March 1963 in Studio A of the RCA in Rome, regarded at that time as the largest and most modern in Europe. Listen to the magnificent Main Titles music on the soundtrack recording (CAM 493267-2) to really appreciate the full impact of this thrilling music. If the music on this soundtrack album could be so brilliantly digitally stereo remastered, then one asks why not for the film itself? Alas the sound quality of the music on this new DVD lacks that immediacy, that impact.
2) The assertion that this is the complete version is open to question too. Looking at the new bfi release I had the feeling that some material was missing since I saw the film at London's National Film Theatre some years ago. Colleagues have also expressed the feeling that, for instance, a glorious high tracking shot from right to left over roof tops of the beginnings of the Battle of Palermo and the advance of Garibaldi's Red Shirts is missing. I have heard that other footage or scenes might not included too.
We have had to wait many years for this masterpiece to emerge on Video/DVD now that it has; it has emerged in Italy, the U.S.A. and here in England through bfi. The Italian version (on Medusa DVD video) lasts 180 minutes and is accommodated on 2 DVDs in mono sound and with some extras; the American Criterion version is spread over 3 DVDs that comprise a 185-minute film together with 20th Century Fox's cut, dubbed English-language, American version plus a number of documentaries about not only the making of the film but also about Il Risorgimento – the historic 19th century struggle to unite Italy. The picture quality varies – the Italian colours in the Italian edition are inferior to the bfi release. The widescreen frame of the American release tends to include just a little more detail at the extreme left. One of a number of web sites springing up and covering Il Gattopardo suggests that there should be just over 200 minutes of film.
[ Web sites to look at:-
Il Gattopardo, Visconti's masterpiece of the Italian Risorgimento and how it affected an aristocratic Sicilian family had a chequered career. [It is based on the international best selling novel Il Gatopardo by Giuseppe Lampedusa – and I recommend the edition published The Folio Society in 1988 with Raleigh Trevelyan's erudite Introduction that refers to the film] The film had very mixed reviews in Italy in 1963 because of the controversial political nature of its content. The much shortened English-language version released in America by Twentieth Century Fox greatly offended Visconti who threatened to sue. It also suffered at the pens of the American critics who could not accept Burt Lancaster in the role of the Sicilian nobleman Prince Don Fabrizio. In fact Lancaster turns in a wonderfully sensitive and dignified performance of the ageing Prince who struggles to maintain traditional values as everything – political and social - changes around him.
This bfi release also features a full optional commentary by David Forgacs and Rossano Capitano that intelligently covers many of film's elements: art direction, costumes, settings, and costumes etc. And the political background to the Risorgimento Italy and Sicily is explained well too.
Other bonus materials include an interview with Claudia Cardinale at the National Film Theatre who recalls how strictly Visconti operated and how uncomfortable it was for herself filming in those heavy costumes, particularly in the very long ball sequence which incidentally has Verdi material as source music.
The film is in the Italian language with English subtitles.
One of the 20th century's major films with a powerful score by Nino Rota now splendidly refurbished – except for the music sound quality and questionable running length.
Gary Dalkin adds:
The 200 minute plus version of the film was apparently only seen on the initial roadshow engagements, after which it was soon cut down to around 185 minutes, as was often the practice with epic films in the 1960's. General informed opinion has it that this cut material has long since been lost, probably cut directly from the negative and destroyed at the time. Of course we may all be proved wrong and the material emerge one day, but until then Il Gattopardo is finally available in the best condition since the original Italian cinema release. Certainly far better than when the BBC showed the American version, which Visconti disowned, as a "tribute" to him shortly after his death.
Note: when the faster transfer speed of UK PAL DVDs is taken into account the 178 minute version here is actually the same as the 185 minute version on the Criterion DVD set. Seven minutes of material haven't been cut, but the whole film runs approximately 4% faster (25 frames per second) under the UK PAL system than in the cinema (24 frames per second). The American NTSC system is able to accommodate the correct playback speed, while for complex technical reasons the PAL system is not.