Monday 11 April 2016

Retrieving popular Italian cinema - (Plus adolescent recollection)

 Perhaps the greatest art deco cinema built in Australia. Sadly, demolished in 1982.
Things collide together. My previous post referring to a long ago screening at Hoyts Padua came at the same time as the NFSA in Canberra was devoting a weekend to screening a selection of films from what has been dubbed the Ricketts Collection of Italian Cinema

Take a step back, My movie childhood was spent in Brunswick at Hoyts Padua and Alhambra, the Empire also on Sydney Road, the Liberty on Lygon Street and the Western on Melville Road. Occasionally there would be a tram ride to a theatre further along Sydney Road in Coburg. 

But the world changed after TV started and after awhile, perhaps within a decade, if you wandered past the Liberty, then the Empire near Dawson St, then Hoyts Padua (peremptorily renamed The Metropolitan by the last lessee Tony Zeccola)  you knew these theatres were no longer for you. (The others had closed.) Those remaining had gone over to the dark side of the business screening unsub-titled Italian movies to an audience of postwar emigrants and their locally born offspring, the former apparentlystill pining for sightings of those comic geniuses Toto, Albert Sordi, Vittorio Gassman, Nino Manfredi  and others all the way down to the slapstick of Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia. Tony Zeccola may have done some of his own importing but for a long time at least a very large part of the market was supplied by Charley Palumbo under the banner of World Films. But now those films comprise the Ricketts Collection and Sig. Palumbo's life work and his business investment gets just a solitary passing mention and certainly no headline or naming. 

Whatever is left of Charley’s holdings apparently now forms the Collection, having been prised out of the possibly less than tender embrace of Charlie’s widow. The greatest prize in the collection in its day was a 35mm copy of Francesco Rosi’s Salvatore Giuliano (Italy, 1962). Holding a beautiful English-subtitled print, Charley, with the help of the late Leon Boyle who was managing the Australia Cinema in Collins St at the time, got the film into the art-house circuit for limited screenings and eventually, after overcoming deep suspicions, allowed it to be screened by the Melbourne university film society and others. 

All of this activity has been a matter of some interest to researchers and I’m told, without having read any of it, that Deb Verhoeven, former AFI CEO and now Deakin University Professor and Chair of Media and Communication at Deakin University, has with others done significant work studying the subject. 

Some memories do emerge. In passing a note to Bruce Hodsdon I was advised that he recalled booking Salvatore Giuliano for a late-60s screening at SUFG, also a cut English language version of Senso (Luchino Visconti, Italy, 1954) retitled The Wanton Countess. He also recalled a Pietro Germi film Gioventu Perduta (Lost Youth, Italy, 1948) for which Barrie Pattison wrote a substantial note - his only contribution to the SUFG Bulletin. In reference to the NFSA note on its website where its stated that the World Films catalogue had other European films from beyond Italy, Bruce confirms my memory that he wasn’t aware that the company ever had such non-Italian features.

Still,  'catalogue' is a bit of a misnomer. No list of titles held by the company ever seemed to exist. Everything was in Charley's memory. Others do mention that there were non-Italian films in the collection. One professional remembers the company also had Italian-dubbed versions of other Euro titles, reflecting the common portability of different language versions of European productions around continental circuits at the time. Some of those other titles were Euro puddings that were produced in multiple language versions. And there were also Italian dubbed versions of Hollywood pictures, THE GUNFIGHTER (Henry King, USA, 1950) being one.  As can be seen World Films also wasn't fussy about the age of stock at the time of acquisition.

World Films mostly brought non-subtitled copies into Australia and four of the five films screened by the NFSA last weekend were selected from among this un-subtitled material. There was a suggestion that the NFSA might do its own soft-titling of some or all of the films but I dont have any word as to whether this eventuated. Late advice on the NFSA’s website indicated that one of the original selection of six films had been withdrawn because of technical difficulties with the print. Which does cause one to spread one possibly baseless rumour. For many years it was reported that someone in the family destroyed a single reel of many of the films Sig Palumbo was holding. The reason for doing this was obscure but if anything like that occurred it may rather devalue the collection now lodged with the NFSA. Whether anyone has put in the hard yards of checking all the prints against the published original lengths is not known. All things take time in archive-land.

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