Before today, most of what I could tell you about Roberto Rossellini, the great Italian director who made his name taking Italian Neorealism to the world stage straight from the ashes of WWII, was that I once read where he said of his divorce from Ingrid Bergman that you should never marry an actress because you’ll never know when she’s acting.

It wouldn’t surprise me if even that was wrong.

I’d seen Rome, Open City way back when. VHS. Not a very good print. Left me thinking maybe you had to be there–mid-forties, war-ravaged Europe, the fall of fascism–to get what all the fuss was about.

But some years back I picked up Criterion’s collection of Rossellini’s “history” films about the Renaissance and Enlightenment, mostly because one of them was about Blaise Pascal and there was some kind of sale going on.

The collection’s been sitting on my shelf ever since, waiting for a rainy day.

Today it rained, all day.

Perfect for contemplating The Age of the Medici.

And I was….impressed.

I don’t know how anyone could fail to be…or how anyone could be more than impressed (say moved, say swept away, say any of the things one might expect art to do beyond educate). I know it’s happened, both directions. But, at least on first acquaintance, I was only, and suitably, impressed.

It’s four hours plus of talking.

Good talk to be sure, especially if you are still interested in how a certain We (the West, Christendom, the children of the Enlightenment–those for starters), came to be as we are.

But, still….Talking. The freeze frame above is one of the more active scenes.

Oh, and looking at beautiful things. Much of the talk is about how those beautiful things came to be themselves. What it took to create a platform for achievement and how best to preserve those achievements, meaning, in a four hour mini-series about Cosimo de Medici, there’s some serious political intrigue.

I don’t mean there’s anything like a conventional plot. Rossellini had come to a point in his life and career where he thought cinema was at an impasse if not a dead end. He devoted the last years of his life to educating the masses and this was his medium.

I learned a lot or thought I had. I mean something beyond facts (though I learned plenty of those too).

I assumed that would be enough for one day.

Then a funny thing happened. I needed something familiar when it was all over.  Not comforting, exactly, but something that moved. Naturally, I picked a western.  3:10 to Yuma as it happened. I’ve seen it over twenty times. Familiar enough then.

By the time Frankie Laine’s theme song was done, I had re-learned more than I learned listening to four hours of fine talk on one of history’s most important periods.

Actually, I re-learned that much in one line.

Fate, you see, travels everywhere….

I bet Rossellini could have made eight hours out of that. And never said more.

Movie’s pretty good too.


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