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Tuesday, January 30, 2018
THE WITCHES: RHYME OR REASON?
I love foreign films…for the most part. They give a viewer an insight into other countries and film styles from around the world. That exposure reveals how various directors in the U.S. have altered their styles from the things they’ve learned abroad. At the same time it can show how foreign directors have been influenced by American directors. But not always.
In some cases there are directors who march to their own drum, creating their own unique and singular style. Those directors are most often hailed as creative geniuses whose artistic expression exceeds the limits place on them by the art form they have chosen. I’d love to be included among those who feel this way but unfortunately I’m not. I see film as a combination of art and commodity, an entertainment for all. Art for the benefit of one doesn’t impress me. But that’s just my opinion.
I’d never heard of THE WITCHES before it was being released to blu-ray by Arrow. I was familiar with its producer, Dino De Laurentiis. I’d heard of several of the directors involved including Vittorio de Sica, Luchino Visconti and Pier Paolo Pasolini. But I’d never had access to seeing features directed by them which has always bothered me. Watching what they’ve delivered here hasn’t stopped me from wanting to see their works but I wouldn’t base my interests on this offering.
The film is composed of 5 segments, one for each director and all starring Silvana Mangano. Mangano was the wife of producer De Laurentiis at the time and while she was recognized as a star one has to assume he produced this film in the hopes of furthering her career. Other than the fact she is featured in all 5 there is no connecting theme here that I could make out.
In the first segment she’s featured as a reclusive movie star/model who’s run off to her friend’s ski villa. There she’s met with awe by her friend’s social circle, the women who choose to pick at her frailties and the men who all want to bed her for the night. She moans, she feints, she over dramatizes her life and then moves on. The piece comes off as a reflection on fame and the down side of it, never offering a standard story with beginning, middle and end. Well shot and acted the worst part of this is the fact as the lengthiest story here it goes nowhere and tells us nothing.
Our next offering has Mangano as a woman driving her car and being held up by an accident on the road. She volunteers to take the injured man to the hospital and the majority of this segment is little more than her driving recklessly to the point of potentially doing more damage to the man than he already received. The end can be seen coming miles in advance and therefore loses any surprise or humor that one would expect. This piece felt like a comedic effort that just goes a little too long. It is also the best piece offered.
Third up is the weirdest of the bunch. Told in excruciatingly surrealistic style it tells the story of a man whose wife has died leaving him with their grown son and no one to look after them. He meets a woman who is mute, runs off and marries her and then brings her home to a shack they live in. Longing for a better home he convinces her to fake a suicide threat in hopes people will give them money to prevent it from happening. The end result isn’t what anyone expected. From the extreme colors chosen for people’s hair, clothing and homes this looks like an episode of Pee Wee’s Playhouse. The acting is also over the top, a combination of pantomime and spoken word. The end result is one of those what have I just watched style films.
Fourth is another somewhat entertaining piece that has a woman manipulating her father. First she refuses to tell him what her problem is only to then tell him a man made an inappropriate pass at her. In return he seeks revenge by killing the man responsible which sets into motion a chain of killings all done in revenge of the previous killing. The piece is short and to the point but offers little.
Lastly is the story of a woman who feels that her marriage has fallen flat, the excitement gone from their lives. He goes to work, comes home and ignores her while she’s done all she can to please him. As the segment unfolds she imagines him in various scenarios in the same location, showing her the affection and attention she craves while their reality is far from it. As with all the stories it ends nowhere, nothing advanced or changed. This segment is notable for the casting of Clint Eastwood in the role of the husband. By this time he was a star in Italy having made his first two spaghetti westerns the 2 years before. Watching him here is painful at times, especially when a segment calls for his interpretation of Fred Astaire like moves.
On the whole while the movie was interesting to watch from a historical perspective it lacked anything I would call entertaining. It is a case of style over substance, where the directors were more concerned with showing off how different they were than the mainstream, how artistic they could be and little more. As I said I’m a fan of foreign film but not of movies that purport to enlighten me or to show off how artistic they can be at the expense of entertainment. Others may enjoy films of that sort but for me and most they tend to be ones to pass by.
For those fans, the ones who enjoy works like this, Arrow has come through again with a version that will be a must to those fans collections. To start with they’re offering a 2k restoration of the film done exclusively for this release. Extras also include a new commentary track by film critic and novelist Tim Lucas, an interview with Ninetto Davoli, an English language version of the segment featuring Eastwood, a reversible sleeve with new artwork by Graham Humphreys and for the first pressing only an illustrated booklet featuring new writing on the film by Pasquale Iannone and Kat Ellinger. No matter what the film no one can say that Arrow short changes fans and their customers. Their product remains some of the best there is available.
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