Saturday, January 19, 2008

Luna on FMC

After the Skidoo fiasco I'm reluctant to recommend anything airing on cable sight unseen, but I can give thumbs-up to another directorial disaster, Bernardo Bertolucci's Luna (1979), which the Fox Movie Channel is showing this month. I recorded the Thursday night telecast and can report that it's gorgeous; Vittorio Storaro's cinematography, properly matted to the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, aptly shines like the very phases of the moon. FMC rebroadcasts it again on Jan. 23 at 2am EST, so get your recorder ready. There's no telling when it will come again in any format, unless Fox is planning a 30th anniversary DVD for next year.

For some reason I doubt it. (The photo comes from a bootleg DVD; there are far nicer pictures, representative of the FMC broadcast, as part of an R2 version review at the excellent DVD Beaver site.) Dealing as it does with Oedipal tensions and mother-son incest, enacted by Jill Clayburgh and 16-year-old Matthew Barry (now a casting director and sometime actor, most recently in last year's Alpha Dog), the movie was dicey at the tail-end of the swinging Seventies (which that same year brought us the similarly Roman excesses of Caligula) and all but unimaginable today, with a minor in Barry's role. I didn't know what to make of the film when it popped up on Cinemax a year or so after its dire reception at the New York Film Festival. As an arty piece with opera performances and icky incest as the primary sexual attraction it certainly wasn't a turn-on, like, say, 1981's downmarket Private Lessons or 1983's The Last American Virgin, where boys my age got it on with the ladies (quite explicitly in the former, which by today's prim standards flirts with kiddy porn). But under all the pretension it seemed to be saying something about the primacy of the ties that bind, as Clayburgh (game, brave, but miscast, and too slender, as an opera diva) resorted to highly unconventional methods to wean her wayward son, adrift since the death of his presumed father (Fred Gwynne, free of Munsters makeup, at his most dapper), off heroin during an Italian tour.

I remembered the film being racier than it is. The mother-son masturbation scene is as desperate, and as painful, as it sounds. Better, if you're looking for a kinky late-night thrill, is an earlier scene between Barry's character and a girl he flirts with, juxtaposed with scenes from the dubbed-in-Italian Marilyn Monroe film they're watching at a revival showing (it reminded me of the unrated, "adults-only" scenes from Bertolucci's The Dreamers; Luna got an R). I guess I've hit middle age, as I was more impressed this time with Storaro's vivid imagery (Brooklyn Heights, in the opening brownstone scenes with the East River peeking out from the windows, is as ravishing in its own way as the Rome and Parma scenes where much of the film transpires) and the choreography of individual sequences, set to Verdi, Ennio Morricone's original score, and even "Night Fever" by the Bee Gees (is this a rights issue barring the film from legitimate U.S. DVD release? I assume the Monroe clip originated with Fox, Luna's distributor here.) The murky storyline and the uncertain central performances aside (much as I like Clayburgh, why did she, or anyone, feel this quintessentially American actress should stretch into European art cinema?), there are reasons to see Luna (Italian cinema favorites like Alida Valli, Renato Salvatori, Veronica Lazar, and even Roberto Benigni turn up) and FMC's print makes its finer qualities easier to appreciate.

January 23, incidentally, also sees a TCM telecast of a rare-ish noir, 1956's Nightfall, at 11:15am EST. Nothing sticky about this one but a strong credit for director Jacques Tourneur, and Brian Keith and Anne Bancroft in the leads.

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