Sunday, March 12, 2006

Getting Down to Life's business

Yesterday was my first screening of the 5 hr 13mins. full-length Swedish television cut of "Fanny and Alexander."
Now, this is the greatest film of all time-- the theatrical 3 hour version which I first viewed some ten years ago had already established that and, if you choose to consider it as a separate entity, it can still hold the second position comfortably even against the likes of Tarkovski's "Sacrifice" or "Shadow of a Doubt"-- but the full, preferred cut loomed in my dreams as the ultimate cinematic dream castle, unapproachably remote as "Fanny and Alexander" had to wait for Criterion to be released on dvd at all. But ads in "Sight & Sound" tantalized me, and the critics, though not all the directors, were careful to clarify with a parenthetical "full-length television version" when they offered it on their lists for the once-each-ten-years Poll. Frightening insinuations reached my ears (were our protagonists really the children of the Bishop?), but all in all the five-hour "Fanny and Alexander" remained almost as mythical as the Christine Edzard "As You Like It" (even now only attested to by a S&S ad from years ago . . . ), though longed-for even beyond the five-hour Viscontis or the missing footage from the 'restored' "Novecento" broadcast on Bravo, shorn of all sexuality and none of its necktwisting violence in 1992.
I had my vhs to console me, an MGM/UA video transfered more or less to the standard of the HBO home video of "Amadeus" which I grew up with (perhaps less, though). Even so, it's not a film to be viewed lightly; like Mahler, it doesn't wear for everyday. So I had almost certainly viewed it under a dozen times when Criterion finally unveiled its sets: the theatrical cut on one, and another, omnibus set pairing that with the definitive cut. Europe got it first, but it had finally arrived.
But of course I shamefully put it off, like so many other things. But when my gf announced she would be out of town for Saturday, I committed myself, commited the sixty-odd dollars and committed myself, absolutely, to watching it. At this juncture, it's all a matter of courage, a courage I less and less frequently have. An "Elle" contributor once proclaimed that she had sat through Bertolucci's "1900" (the aforementioned "Novecento") three times back-to-back in the theatre in 1975; today, she admitted, she wouldn't be able to get through it once. Granted, in 1975 she had little over four hours to exalt in, but I share her sense of loss, even perhaps a bit of her relief. But that I shall now dutifully shun.
Oh, but not to the point of watching "Fanny and Alexander" tomorrow. Goddess knows when that'll happen. But in the theatre of my mind it's playing nonstop. The night before I actually dreamed of "Novecento", a film whose ideological excesses threaten to become dehumanizing even as its cinematic arias swirl and soar to astounding emotive heights, and I was in raptures, in that waking bliss of dream I feel when I dream of Italian films, or when I channelsurf and alight upon a moment of "Once Upon a Time in the West", which I have still never seen!; oh, and that promised bliss was mine in "Fanny and Alexander", an experience big enough to remind me of Plato's arguments for the immortality of the soul and to console me, perhaps, if they cannot be true. So giant and entire a fragment of the human imagination must surely "endure" for, Realist that I am, I cannot believe that even the concept of such an achievement can be without its universal resonance, should every material trace of it somehow vanish.
But it has not vanished. Hell, the discs didn't even skip! And, long life permitting, I shall wander attentive and enraptured in my enchanted castle many times to come. Brevity of life, sense, and senses notwithstanding, someone else will, and there is a patience in that thought which itself builds to mystical rapture inside me.

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