In an odd coincidence, two major films of the early '70s are being rereleased this week, both in restored "director's cuts." Both are worth checking out, especially if you've never seen them on the big screen--and if you haven't, it's fair in both cases to say you haven't seen them at all. While The Conformist (1971), Bernardo Bertolucci's unsettling parable of social and sexual conformity set against the backdrop of fascism in 1938, would no doubt play absorbingly on video, it also warrants seeking out on a theatre screen for Vittorio Storaro's hallucinatory cinematography. Jean-Louis Trintignant stars as Marcello, a repressed, upper-class homosexual carrying a guilty, violent childhood trauma. He compensates for his feelings of abnormality by a) marrying an avid middle-class beauty (Stefania Sandrelli) and b) involving himself in a government plot to murder one of his former professors, an antifascist living in exile in Paris. The difference between this cut of the film and the one originally released is minor. It involves the restoration of about four minutes of footage, cut from the first U.S. release, in which the lesbian tension between Sandrelli and Dominique Sanda (the prof's wife) becomes overt. The sequences are striking, but even without them, The Conformist would have to be called one of the best movies of its decade, and quite possibly Bertolucci's best film, as well. Beside it, Little Buddha and The Last Emperor seem like Classics Illustrated. The phrase "director's cut" is usually meant--for marketing purposes, at least--to imply the return to aesthetic health of a film mangled by studio Philistines. The case of Michael Wadleigh's Woodstock is different, however. While the 1970 Oscar winner was a big, sloppy film, it was justified because it was documenting a big, sloppy event. There was really nothing very wrong with the original.
If you agree, then you probably wouldn't mind seeing another 40 minutes or so of concert footage unused in the initial release. True, the film was already overlong, as are most concert films, and for the same reason--most rock concerts are too long. But when the original already runs more than three hours, an extra half-hour or so seems more like a bonus than a burden. You don't go to this film for a quick time-killer. Best of all, the venue for Wadleigh's expanded Woodstock is Cine Capri, with its huge screen. This is the place to see the film, and, more important, to hear it--all that glorious music comes roaring out in Six Channel Dolby Stereo Digital. Whatever that means, the movie truly does sound wonderful. When that famous weekend is discussed (rather too often lately), it's usually as a cultural phenomenon; what is, ironically, sometimes slighted is that the musicians on the stage put on one seriously magnificent show. It was the finest hour for many of them, and for some, pretty much the only significant hour. Without having been there, it's impossible, no doubt, to know what it was like, but seeing Woodstock at Cine Capri provides a seat that surely outclasses even the front row at the actual concert.
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It's hard to say whether Woodstock is a classic because Wadleigh was a fine filmmaker or simply because it was impossible to point one's camera anywhere at that event without getting a stunning, epic-scale shot. In either case, the film is a visual marvel, even if some of the tricky editing and split-screen effects, which were highly influential on music-video style, seem dated today. My favorite nonmusical moment is the film's sole bit of understatement--Arlo Guthrie surveying the crowd and remarking, with an approving giggle, "Lotta freaks.