Luchino Viscontiís Senso comes to Blu-ray from Criterion in its original aspect ratio of about 1.33:1 on this dual-layer disc. The image is presented in 1080p/24hz.
Senso was painstakingly restored from the original Technicolor 3-strip negative after it had, according to the booklet, shrunk and suffered from various levels of decay, making it near-impossible to line them up properly. To solve this each strip was digitally copied then corrected and aligned together using computer software. Based on this knowledge of the condition of the source materials I have to say itís miraculous the image ends up looking this good despite a few issues.
The digital transfer itself is good, if nothing spectacular. Grain is visible but looks like noise occasionally, especially in darker scenes. Detail is pretty good but I feel itís limited by the print used; there are moments where definition and textures are striking but others where edges are fuzzy and details arenít as sharp.
Overall I think most of the short comings of the image have more to do with the source materials than the transfer. Colour separation does occur on a couple of occasions causing the image to look even fuzzier. Blacks are fairly weak varying between gray and dark gray with details getting lost in darker portions of the screen. The colours are never all that vibrant, which Iím sure was the intent, and can take on a yellowish tinge but they still look saturated perfectly (reds and greens are just splendid on screen) and clean. But it's not without its pleasant surprises with the biggest being the whites, which, despite the aforementioned yellow tinge that can occur sporadically and the fact that the 3-strip process apparently has a difficult time recreating whites, do look pure.
But despite the problems that do remain the restoration is astonishing and the film does look beautiful. The effort that was put into it does show and itís incredibly impressive. The digital transfer is probably open to improvement, the middling bitrate probably not helping, but we still do get a rather lovely and impressive image, despite any shortcomings. 7/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
At first glance there doesnít look to be much on here, but thereís hoursí worth of material here and most of it is fairly fascinating.
The most intriguing supplement is the entire English language version of the film, The Wanton Countess, which runs 94-minutes and is surprisingly presented in 1080p/24hz. The condition of the print is actually not that bad, though laced with scratches. The biggest appeal to this would be that we hear Valli and Grangerís original English dialogue. As to its shorter runtime there are some curious cuts (Iím pretty sure some of the later battle scenes are shorter or missing) but the most glaring one is actually early on, where Granger and Valliís initial contact is completely excised! Their first meet is outside when sheís walking by him and a few other soldiers and the scene makes little sense without the previous one. As to the quality itís actually not too bad but itís still laced with scratches and marks, and also takes on a yellower tone. Artifacts are a little more noticeable as well. As a slight little bonus it ends up offering an idea as to how much the new transfer does improve the look of the film.
Following this is a 34-minute documentary called The Making of Senso, which features assistant director Francesco Rosi, director of photography Giuseppe Rotunno, costume designer Piero Tosi, and, briefly, the daughter of screenwriter Suso Cecchi DíAmico, Caterina DíAmico. It goes through the general production history from the acquisition of the novella, to the screen play, to the casting, and the actual shoot. They talk about the trend of hiring American actors for roles in Italian films (hoping to give the film a boost in international markets) and thereís mention of how Ingrid Bergman and Marlon Brando were considered for the parts. Ultimately Roberto Rossellini didnít want his wife working with other Italian directors, and Brando was apparently talked out of it because of Visconti being a card carrying Communist (this was during the McCarthy era.) They then cover various technical aspects like the costumes, sets, shooting locations, and cinematography, handled by three different people (G.R. Aldo, Robert Krasker, and Rotunno, who was promoted after Aldo passed away during filming.) Thereís also a little bit about the problems with the 3-strip Technicolor process. In the end itís a decent doc if a little stale because of its primarily talking-head nature.
The next supplement, Viva Verdi: Visconti and Opera, is an intriguing one, focusing on the opera elements found in the film. Running 36 minutes it features Peter Brunette (who passed away last year,) Steffano Albertini, and Wayne Kostenbaum talking about the operatic themes, starting with a breakdown of the opening opera scene, and then moving on to the opera/melodramatic elements found throughout the film, as well as parallels to other operas found within the storyline. They also offer some historical context to the film and even address some of the criticisms thrown at the film over its stylization. On top of this thereís also discussion on the operas Visconti directed with singer Maria Callas, and we even get a short interview segment from an older television broadcast featuring Visconti talking about opera and Senso thrown in for good measure. Itís a little scattershot but loaded with some intriguing topics and insights.
Following this is a 28-minute visual essay by Peter Cowie about Senso, the novella on which its based, the filmís themes, and the compositions of its scenes where he points out how certain shots almost perfectly recreate a number of paintings. Cowie makes a number of comparisons to the novella, pointing out key differences, and compares the film and its themes to Viscontiís other works, including Ossessione, The Leopard, and Death in Venice. He also examines the use of music in the film and how some scenes unfold to it, and also concentrates on some of Viscontiís visual touches such as how veils are used in developing Valliís character. I was sort of surprised that a commentary wasnít actually included here, especially since Cowie did do one for The Leopard, but his visual essay here, while still not up to some of the great ones Criterion has included with their releases, is an excellent compromise.
The final feature is Man of Three Worlds: Luchino Visconti, a television program that first aired on the BBC in April of 1966 on the director. A long one, running 48-minutes, it features interviews with those that knew and worked with him, including singer Maria Callas, looking at his career in film, theater, and opera. Itís a bit dry and I must admit I didnít completely care for it (though itís possible I was a little worn from all the other supplements by this point) but I still did appreciate the look at the many elements to his career, especially since I wasnít all that familiar with Viscontiís theater and opera work.
Criterionís booklet is also a nice treat, starting with an essay by Mark Rappaport who recalls first seeing the film and its initial reception (which wasnít good) along with also offering a strong analysis of it. Following this is a great excerpt from Farley Grangerís autobiography where he recalls the filming of Senso, offering some humourous anecdotes, including a good one where an attempt was made to change Grangerís hair colour to blonde.
Thereís quite a lot on here, covering various aspects of the film and offering some thorough analysis on its story, politics, themes, and visuals. 8/10