Ossessione doesn’t appear to be streaming anywhere online, so I had to find it on DVD; the only DVD I could find, however, came from Korea (same service from which I got my cheap copy of To Be or Not to Be), so it took a while to get here. Not wanting to hold up the List, I went ahead with the next few movies. Then the disc arrived and, for some reason, I didn’t get around to watching it for almost a year.
So I’m watching it now at the end of summer, living what feels like an entirely different life from when the mailperson dropped this off, and the first thing I’m noticing is that, apart from just looking very much like a movie from the 1930s (which it isn’t), Ossessione’s also got that degraded film look of poorly-preserved movies from the East: Story of the Last Chrysanthemums, Midnight Song, The Goddess. So it’s nostalgic for a different era, a different country, and a different period of my life. It was only a year ago that I was watching movies from the ‘30s and ‘40s back at my old house, maybe more like ten months; but, again, so much has changed since then. I’m already nostalgic for it.
And, as tends to be the case with moviegoing experiences that’re influenced by nostalgia, my critical take on this probably isn’t all that reliable.
I think it’s great. The acting is strong and the small cast gives it a nice claustrophobic feeling that mirrors and renders more vivid the feeling of inhabiting an illicit affair. It also makes me feel like getting into a ball under lots of blankets and drinking something warm and eating candy and gazing off to reminisce. The movie’s got a lot of ambiance and I’m having a hard time determining where the line is between the movie’s warmth, and the warmth that comes from its oldness. The charm of its age. And, of course, the charm I’m projecting on it cuzza nostalgia.
I felt this way about Little Caesar: one of the great charms of hat movie is how low-tech it feels. Watching it after 40-odd movies from the silent era, I didn’t notice anything about the sound but for the fact that it was there, and revelatory, but with subsequent viewings I’ve been noticing how, as one of the first movie to use sound technology, the shots are pretty stagnant, and the characters don’t move around much because they can’t wander away from the microphone. The sound technology is also weirdly ambient int hat I think the only thing you can hear are gunshots, dialogue, doors opening and closing, and engines revving. It’s wonderful. But, at the same time, the auditory charm is inseparable from the film itself. If you were to give it some major restorative treatment where suddenly every noise in the room can be heard, I think it’d feel like the unremarkable B picture it really is. Forgettable outside of its historical context and Edward G. Robinson’s iconic performance.
Also, having waited almost a year before I got around to seeing Ossessione, I’ve got the added perspective of seeing it after the 1946 American adaptation of The Postman Always Rings Twice – of which this, too, seems to be an adaptation: guy shows up at a restaurant where a beautiful young woman with a troubled past is married to a stocky, dull, hirsute owner who’s also considerably older and too simple, too self-absorbed, to recognize her misery, her longing. The traveler and young woman fuck, fall in love, plan and carry out her husband’s murder and later on succumb to poetic justice that lands one of them in a grave and the other in jail. (Reminds me of Roger Ebert saying of Gone with the Wind that audiences of its time, and perhaps women especially, probably could not have loved the movie so dearly if it wasn’t for Scarlett getting smacked down at the end, punished for her jealousy and lust and greed.)
It’s common to make jokes about how something feels more European than its American counterpart because it’s more brooding or erotic or angsty. But in this case it’s the obvious distinction between the Italian and American interpretations fo that stotry.
It’s almost jarring, first of all, just to see a woman and a shirtless man lay in bed together, embracing, whispering confessions. The woman giving voice to extramarital love. Worse yet, they’ve known each other for less than an hour before hopping into bed. Little stuff like that, totally unremarkable today, is weird to see in a movie from the same era (albeit a different culture) in which a cow’s udders were stricken from Modern Times for being obscene.
I’m not watching movies from the mid-1950s, and censorship has eased up a lot (I’m wondering at the moment if Marilyn Monroe could have been a sex symbol in the 1940s – wondering, actually, if sex symbols like Monroe and Elvis weren’t just created in the ‘50s but created by the ‘50s).
A few nights ago I watched The Man with the Golden Arm, where Frank Sinatra plays a heroin addict, and experience one of the few genuine shocks the List has provided (An Andalusian Dog and Land Without Bread, both by Luis Bunuel, were a couple others) when Sinatra actually straps up for an injection, and when another man is thrown to a sudden and brutal death down a stairwell, and when another woman jumps to an equally-sudden and visceral death. Shit that would’ve put censors of the previous generation in a coma.
Ossessione isn’t shocking, but it’s definitely edgy. And on top of all the aforementioned sexy bits, there’s a heavily suggested romantic affair between the male protagonist, played by Massimo Girotti, and an artist with whom he travels, shares beds and later gets into what looks a lot like a lovers’ quarrel. Interestingly, I think it resembles Little Caesar in this respect, too, where Rico Bandello, “Little Caesar” himself, is clearly gay: repelled by women, enchanted by jewelry, and in the constant intimate company of his henchman Otero (who later, in a jealous rage, shoots Rico’s best male friend, played by Douglas Fairbanks Jr, who might also be Rico’s true love). It’s one of the fist movies on the List where a gay romance – whether the creators wanted it or not – graced the screen. Dr. Pretorious in Bride of Frankenstein is also played as a gay character. I’m pretty sure there are others. Lemme know in the comments if I’m forgetting somebody.
It’s a really good movie. Edgy from an American perspective, given its era. Well worth the few bucks it’ll cost you to ship it from Korea.