Nine times out of ten, I’m a believer in seeing movies in theaters rather than at home on television, but ever since the introduction of the DVD and its technical improvements in transferring film to video, some classics have become available for home viewing in better versions than were ever seen in theaters.
Case in point, the great Italian director Luchino Visconti’s final film, the 1976 “L’Innocente,” which didn’t arrive in this country until three years after it was finished, missing about ten minutes of the original Italian version.
The 1979 U.S. release was also marred by substandard theatrical prints that did a disservice to the superb color camerawork by Pasqualino De Santis.
Although the 1960s and ’70s were in most ways a golden age for fans of sophisticated European cinema, key films sometimes arrived in drastically cut versions and with highly variable print quality, depending on who the U.S. distributor might be.
Ingmar Bergman was well-served by the Janus and United Artists companies that released many of his most famous pictures here, but other directors were not so lucky.
Visconti had his 1960 classic “Rocco and His Brothers” heavily edited in the United States — I didn’t know that the version I saw in the late 1960s was missing 30 minutes until Film Forum in Manhattan showed Visconti’s full 180-minute cut a few years ago.
In too many cases, the theatrical prints of European pictures exhibited in the U.S. 40 years ago had the look of a copy of a copy — washed-out images, muddy sound, barely legible subtitles (or, worse, bad dubbing). Many of us who grew up in the art houses of that period didn’t know what we were missing until “remastered” DVDs started coming out a decade ago.
Which brings me to the stunning “L’Innocente,” a magnificently designed and acted drama that ranks with Visconti’s best work in the Koch Lorber DVD version.
Giancarlo Giannini stars as Tullio, a 19th century aristocrat who is flagrantly cheating on his rather meek wife Giuliana (Laura Antonelli, above) with the rich widow Teresa (Jennifer O’Neill).
When Giuliana turns the tables on her husband — and falls in love with a handsome young writer — Tullio begins to go mad with jealousy.
It’s not the story but the way it is told by Visconti that makes “L’Innocente” such a powerful (and surprisingly erotic) drama. The movie is a masterpiece of wide-screen composition and brilliant costume and set design. Visconti serves up one breathtaking image after another, but the look of the movie complements this period drama about the terrible sexual double standard women faced two centuries ago.
The extras on the DVD include an illuminating interview with longtime Visconti screenwriter Suso Cecchi d’Amico who talks about her own personal efforts to see that Visconti’s final films were restored to their full beauty after his death in March 1976. Without d’Amico and her friends we would not have complete versions of “Ludwig” (1972), “Conversation Piece” (1974) and “L’Innocente.”