Gorgeous, sprawling, poetic, and occasionally off the wall, Bernardo Bertolucci’s original five-hour-plus version of 1900 is finally getting a viewing more than 14 years after the movie’s U.S. release. Paramount is even considering a home video of the uncut epic, which depicts 45 years of Italian politics through the friendship of two boys born the same day, one to a wealthy landowner, the other to peasants who work for him. The first grows up to be a complacent padrone (Robert De Niro) and the second a fiery leftist laborer (Gérard Depardieu).
1900 producer Alberto Grimaldi threatened to cut the movie to three hours for its 1977 American release; Bertolucci countered with a four-and-a-half-hour cut to appease distributor Paramount. Now the studio has restored Bertolucci’s saga — which the director describes as a ”socialist Gone With the Wind” — in beautiful color and remixed Dolby Surround sound; the new 1900 has just opened in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco for open-ended runs.
Bertolucci’s reaction to the belated salvage job is mixed: ”On one hand I’m pleased that justice has been done. On the other hand, it’s a reminder of one of the worst periods of my life, when I had to cut the film.” Among the restored footage that has earned the movie an NC-17 rating is some extreme sex and violence, including a coitus interruptus scene between De Niro, Depardieu, and a young prostitute played by Ellen Schweirs. ”The way they showed themselves in that scene,” remembers Bertolucci, ”they were terribly brave.” Then he adds with a laugh, ”We were all very young.”