Chicago has the good fortune of regular archival programming at Siskel, Facets and the Music Box, but another venue’s slipping a sleek program into the mix starting this weekend. As part of Italics, the Museum of Contemporary Art’s survey of Italian art of the past forty years (running until February 14), eight films will be shown in glorious 35mm, including Visconti’s “The Damned,” Pasolini’s “Decameron,” Antonioni’s “The Passenger,” and little-known Bertolucci and Rosi. Gwen Infusino, Curatorial Administrative Assistant at the MCA, worked on the series. “In curatorial discussions, I had a tendency to compare everything to films, so it was exciting when this project came up.” She began with a list of 100 or so films; except for wild-card “Inglorious Bastards” (pictured) the 1978 inspiration for Tarantino’s latest, they came from that list. “My dealings with archives were pretty efficient,” she says, “but they didn’t have anything I was looking for. Most archives and distributors don’t hold many post-neorealist Italian films, and what they did hold didn’t necessarily fit with the series as it was taking shape. I did field a lot of suggestions of prints in private collections. But as with most private collections, the curation was more niche and based on personal interest. If someone was holding a relevant film, it was often loosely related to a larger collection of gialli [intense crime stories] or seventies camp.” Prints of two films she felt ideal for the exhibition, “Fellini Casanova” and “Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion,” were the easiest to get, and the Rosi and Bertolucci movies, which she didn’t expect, were readily available from the British Film Institute. “‘Illustrious Corpses’ was the most difficult to find. I was searching the BFI’s still-image holdings and noticed they had stills from it, and sure enough they had a print. It’s not in very good condition, but I couldn’t find any record of it being screened in the U.S. since the seventies, and BFI believes it’s the only print left of the film.” This is the poetry of the search: “Obviously, it’s difficult to get a definitive idea of how many of such prints are left in existence, who’s holding them, and where.” There’s a reason to begin with such a large pool of candidates, Infusino reflects. “Nearly all of the initial prints I researched were somehow unavailable. Rights would have expired, there was that fire at Universal, BAMPFA is temporarily closed, New Yorker Films was bought out by Technicolor…” (Ray Pride)
“Italics Film Series” runs January 7-31 at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Complete schedule here.