Fists in the Pocket
Tormented by twisted desires, a young man takes drastic measures to rid his grotesquely dysfunctional family of its various afflictions in this astonishing 1965 debut from Marco Bellocchio. Charged by a coolly assured style, shocking perversity, and savage gallows humor, Fists in the Pocket was a gleaming ice pick in the eye of bourgeois family values and Catholic morality, a truly unique work that continues to rank as one of the great achievements of Italian cinema.
The Criterion Collection’s original DVD edition of Marco Bellocchio’s Fists in the Pocket presents the film in the aspect ratio of about 1.85:1 on a dual-layer disc. The standard-definition presentation comes from a high-definition digital restoration, scanned from the 35mm original camera negative. The image has been enhanced for widescreen televisions.
It’s another early DVD from Criterion that still holds up remarkably well all these years later. There are still some bits of dirt and such remaining but it’s very little, and based on clips from the film found in the included special features, showing a lot of damage, it’s clear that a lot of work went into cleaning the film up and it looks remarkable.
The digital presentation also holds up decently if not perfectly. Compression isn’t a major concern and even upscaled the details are decent, and while the image is rarely sharp and crisp, it looks to come down more to materials rather than the digital presentation. The one concern is ringing and edge-enhancement is a pretty consistent issue and this can impact the image. Outside of that gray levels and contrast are good, though some blacks can come off a little milky and details get lost in darker areas.
A new Blu-ray from Criterion fixes most of the issues left over here, but for an older DVD I still feel it looks pretty good.
The film’s soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 mono. Dialogue can sound a little hollow and edgy, but it’s clear, and damage is minimal, with some audible noise in places.
Surprisingly the film only receives a couple of features, starting with a making-of produced by Criterion, called A Need for Change. It’s a talking-heads feature but it manages to be an engaging one and features interviews with Bellocchio, actors Leo Castel and Paola Pitagora, editor Silvano Agosti, and critic Tullio Kezich. It sounds as though Kezich had a production company back in the day and he helped get the film off of the ground. He doesn’t appear much more outside of this, but everyone else recalls details about the production (Castel amusingly does his interview from a hammock), from inception to casting (Pitagora almost turned down the film based on something in the script that never actually got filmed), and then the eventual reception, which includes Buñuel’s. It only runs 33-minutes but it thoroughly covers the film’s production and the influences behind it.
Criterion also records a 10-minute interview with filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci, recalling his first seeing the film and the impact it had, while also addressing the underlying political themes representative of the time (comparing to his film Before the Revolution), though they’re not front-and-center. He also talks about how it differed stylistically from other Italian films, having more in common with English films of the period. The included booklet then includes a couple of articles, starting with an essay on the film by Deborah Young, followed by a reprint of an interview with Bellocchio conducted for Sight & Sound in 1967. The filmmaker talks about the film and Italian directors he feels closest to.
The material’s good, and I enjoyed getting Bertolucci’s perspective and context, but I would have expected more academic material.
The DVD’s presentation has some issues but still holds up surprisingly well, but the lack of more supplementary material is even more disappointing.