At the end of the 19th century, in Turin, Italy, textile factory workers are sweating out 14 hour days. From the very young to older family members are employed here, and sometimes it looks like the whole town is here. Overly tired and sleepy by days end, one worker carelessly is maimed by machinery. Next day, the workers plan to talk to the manager about the long hours, but they get nowhere.
A few are selected to lead the group and their first attempt is to work one hour less at days end by cutting off the steam to the machinery. Then they think about beginning their day one hour later. When a professor Dr. Sangrillia, comes to town, it is with his expertise that encourages a strike. They plan some benefits to hold themselves during the strike, like stealing coal. Meanwhile, we get the company's reaction to the strike.
This movie, it's Italian name I Campagni, is a grainy black and white filmed in 1963, a docudrama effect with a slight comedic edge. It is a sight to see when a trainload of scabs (unemployed men from another town) engage in physical battle with the strikers. Born in 1915, Mario Monicelli is known as one of Italy's finest directors, King of Italian comedy, directed numerous movies, written screenplay, and is an actor. He is known to have a role in the 2003 Under the Tuscan Sun. Not on DVD yet, the video subtitles are not perfected, and at times difficult to read. 130 minutes. There is a certain look to this film that clearly depicts the era. Try this! ........Rizzo
on July 27, 2011
Italy in 1900 was at a stage similar to the United States in 1820. The industrial revolution was beginning. Textile and garment making factories were springing up. Desperate, poor peasants were moving from the fields to factories. This film depicts what this experience was like through the eyes of a boy of about 12. His father has died. He must go out to work to support the family. Without any preachiness, the film has the viewer enter a world where child labor is allowed, where there is no social safety net (no welfare, no unemployment compensation, no survivor's benefits, no sick pay, no medical insurance, no disability benefits). If you don't work, you starve. It's a world where there is no concept of an 8-hour day -- from 12 year old boy to old man, workers toil from sunrise to sundown, maybe 12 or 14 hours a day, six days a week. And near the end of that long day, workers in the textile factory are very tired. Without any safety laws, the machines are dangerous and tired workers can get their hands caught on the looms and be maimed. Working hard will not get one a better future (not mentioned in the film as Italians would know this -- there were no public schools, no way for a worker to get a mortgage to buy a tiny dwelling). Theirs will only be a life of drudgery.
What was unusual about Italy is who tried to help the workers. The union organizers were not workers but young upper middle class men, most of whom had been educated in France or England. They came back and thought Italy (newly unified) backwards, and in particular, that the peasants and workers were oppressed with no realistic chance of improvement unless they organized. Marcello Mastroianni portrays an idealistic young man, with no experience of the reality of grinding poverty, but who truly wants to help the workers. Although he is from a vastly higher social class, the workers do recognize his honesty and his true concern. There is no happy ending, and the film is brutally honest. There is no whitewashing of what life was like (including a humorous but touching scene where the organizer must hide from the police and the daughter of a worker hides him in her room -- she is a prostitute and stoutly defends her choice to do something that will make her enough money to escape from grinding poverty unmaimed). But one does see that the workers, having organized, have won something -- a sense of respect for themselves and the realization that if they act together they may be able to improve their future.
When there is discussion of the oeuvre of an Italian filmmaker, it is easy to mention the names of legendary directors Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, Vittorio De Sica, Luchino Visconti and Mario Monicelli.
Mario Monicelli is known in Italy as one of the masters of Commedia all'Italiana (Comedy Italian style) and received Oscar nominations for his screenwriting for "The Organizer" (1963) and "Casanova '70' (1965). As well as a Grand Prize of the Festival nomination at the Cannes Film Festival ("Guardie e ladri", 1951) and Palme d'Or nominations for "For Love and Gold" (1966), "Vogliamo i colonnelli" (1973), "An Average Little Man" (1977) and "Le due vite di Mattia Pascal" (1985).
And while he is known outside of Italy for his comedy films such as "I soliti ignoti" ("Big Deal on Madonna Street") and collaborating with talents such as Toto, Vittorio Gassman and Marcello Mastroianni, Mastroianni also directed films that contained humor, but were tragic or futile. One of the most important films Monicelli is known for is "La grande guerra" ("The Great War", 1959), which he was nominated for an Academy Award and considered as his top masterpiece, and also directing "i compagni" ("The Organizer", 1963) and "The Girl with the Pistol" (1968). Both films, he would also receive Academy Award nominations. Fitting films for a Marxist who accepted reality and its failures.
In his lifetime, he won 27 awards worldwide and won an Honorable Mention at the 44th Berlin International Film Festival and a Golden Lion for Career at the 1991 Venice Film Festival. His final film was in 2006 in which the filmmaker directed "The Roses of the Desert" at the age of 91.
A man full who lived life to the fullest, unfortunately his final years with prostate cancer would become too much of a burden on the filmmaker that he committed suicide in 2010 at the age of 95.
While many people are familiar with Monicelli's comedy films such as "Big Deal on Madonna Street", which was released by the Criterion Collection back in 2001. Criterion Collection will be releasing "i Compagni" ("The Organizer"), one of his more serious films ala "tragicomedy" for the first time on Blu-ray and will also be released on DVD in April 2012.
"The Organizer" is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:85:1 aspect ratio). The whites and grays are well-contrast and black levels are very deep. For the most part, I detected no film damage or any white specks, artifacts or banding issues. The quality of the film is very good, doesn't look soft and viewers should be pleased.
According to the Criterion Collection, this new high-definition transfer was created on a Spirit Datacine from a new 35 mm print. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter and flicker were manually removed using MTI's DRS system and Pixel Farm's PFClean, while Image Systems DVNR was used for small dirt, grain and noise reduction.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
"The Organizer" is presented in LPCM 1.0 monaural Italian with optional English subtitles. Dialogue is crystal clear and I detected no pops or hiss during my viewing of this film.
According to the Criterion Collection, the original stereo soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from a 35 mm optical soundtrack positive. Clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using Audio Cube's integrated workstation.
"The Organizer - The Criterion Collection #610' on Blu-ray comes with the following special features:
Mario Monicelli - (10:53) Featuring an interview with director Mario Monicelli recorded by the Criterion Collection in 2006. Monicelli talks about Commedia all'Italiana and his career.
Theatrical trailer -Theatrical trailer for "The Organizer".
"The Organizer - The Criterion Collection #610' comes with a 4-page (dual sided) fold-out leaflet, featuring the essay "Description of a Struggle" by J. Hoberman.
I simply adore the films by Mario Monicelli and when it comes to "The Organizer", it's rather fascinating because when it comes to films about workers going on strike, in many modern films, the outcome has always been in the employees favor and always positive outcome of how labor laws were changed.
But not so much the case in cinema past, especially films from Europe.
From Sergei Eisenstein's 1925 film "Stachka" (Strike) that showcased Eisenstein's theme of collectivism versus individualism and showcasing how employees work themselves to death while owners and management are wealthy and could care less about their employees, Eisenstein's film was grounded in Lenin belief that, "The strength of the working class is organization. Without organization of the masses, the proletarian is nothing. Organized it is everything. Being organized means unity of action, unity of practical activity".
We fast forward to 1963 and similar to "Strike", Monicelli's film is set during the turn-of-the-twentieth century Turin. As Eisenstein's film preached Leninism, Monicelli believed in Marxism, which literally is a society in which burgeois or idealism do not exist.
In today's world, specifically here in the West, the idea of long work hours, employment of children and literally no breaks can not be fathomed. But yet this mentality still continues in other countries. The reality for some countries today and how things were back then is that people accept their working condition and the fear of the harsh realities of not making any income is enough for one not to stand up and become defiant towards their management. As a collective, not many are willing to do public protests, strike back in the media nor are they in a position financially to do so.
This is the reality today.
And back then, a lot of these individuals had no means to strike back, especially as a collective through media or political means. In Eisenstein's "Strike", the reality of the employees and their organized strike was violence. Violence towards the management, violence towards any other employees who were not able to hold out from the strike and were willing to return to their jobs. And unfortunately, all that is left is tragedy.
Fortunately, Monicelli's "The Organizer" is a film that showcases Monicelli's belief that the reality is what it is, and the employees of Turin need to realize that going on strike may have hurt the management but in the long run, the reality is they have the means to outlast the workers, because they have the money to survive.
And another juxtaposition with Eisenstein's "Strike" is that the people were ready to fight and die for what they believe in. This was the Leninism perspective of working as a collective. Monicelli's "The Organizer" featured a collective that was held on a string, courtesy of Professor Sinigaglia, but it was evident that these workers have families, children that depend on them and while some maybe able to fight, the outcome is much more different, despite their being a tragedy.
Another key difference is the inclusion of comedy. Eisenstein's "Strike" was primarily focused on the strike itself and the differences of lifestyle with the factory workers and the wealthy and how the financial impact was hurting families.
In Monicelli's "The Organizer", times are tough but yet there is humor. May it be a man who tries to flirt with a young woman, the stocky long-time employee Pautasso during his lunch break as he holds a huge circular bread to chow down on, or may it be a young boy who is not afraid to talk back to his elders (and also admonishing his younger brother who is attending school but would rather be an employee at the factory) or the local prostitute who tries to entice Professor Sinigaglia.
There are many of these moments that help the viewer get closer to various characters and see that despite how difficult the times are, they try to make the best of it.
So, for me, "The Organizer" has always been a fascinating film as it is an intriguing juxtaposition when compared to Eisenstein's film. Both have similarities but yet are very different.
Actor Marcelo Mastroianni is often seen playing a suave, charismatic character that always gets the lady and come to think of it, I suppose nothing has changed as the Professor also manages to find a woman but in different circumstances. But Mastroianni does a good job playing Professor Sinigaglia and being the spoken leader for the workers.
But as Marcelo Mastroianni is the lead actor, what I enjoyed most of the film are the workers who attract the viewers through their feebleness, their humor or directive. Renato Salvatori, Gabriella Gieorgelli, Folco Lullu, Bernard Blier, Raffaella Carra and many more, its the supporting cast of the film that makes "The Organizer" come to life. The performances are honest and humorous but also feel realistic and natural, and because of that, it does add to the engaging storyline.
As for the Blu-ray release, the video quality of "The Organizer" is fantastic and the interview with Mario Monicelli included on this Blu-ray was also enjoyable to watch, considering it was shot during a time when he was in good health and a few years before he died. Although I wish there were more special features included, especially audio commentary, I'm still grateful that this interview with Monicelli was included on this Blu-ray release.
Overall, "The Organizer" has always been one of my favorite Monicelli films and I can only hope that with this release, it will pave the way for more Monicelli films such as "La Grande Guerra" ("The Great War"), "The Girl With the Pistol" or "L'armata Brancaleone" ("For Love and Gold") to receive a video release.
"The Organizer" is highly recommended!
on April 22, 2012
I saw this film when it originally opened in the early 60's. It literally changed my life and my identity. The professor, masterfully underplayed by Mastroianni, moves alone from town to town wherever there are poor exploited factory workers struggling against the brutal working conditions of early industrial Italy, quietly speaking to and organizing and then electrifying his audience into taking action to better their lot. All alone, he is utterly cut off from them because of his education and life experiences, he speaks to no one before returning to sleep in his hovel at night. Awakening to repeat the same routine the next day, and the next... Why does he continue with this lonely, unpaid, and unpraised existence day after day? Not because he covets the praises of the crowd, although he does get his share of that before moving on to the next town to repeat his "performance". But simply because it is the "right thing to do", according to his own conscience. His motivation is purely internal. He is the absolute "inner-directed man". He has stood as the model of how a human being should be ever since I first saw this remarkable film. You must see this!
on March 13, 2014
If not exactly an undiscovered masterpiece, this is certainly a film that merits my caption. Had it not been for the restoration, excellently done by Criterion, I wouldn't even have come across this film.
Dating from 1963 it is something of a timepiece, more particularly since it depicts industrial life in Turin around the turn of the 19th/20th century. I'm afraid that my knowledge of Italian cinema is rather scant, and had never heard of the director, Mario Monicelli. More's the pity, since he managed to eschew the typically stylized approach that so many famous Italian directors seem to love. This make the film all the more authentic, with all the industrial brutality of the time perfectly captured.
Mastroianni excels in his role as the "sophisticated" union organizer from outside, who tries his best to instill a sense of solidarity and social justice in the workplace, with all the inevitable consequences that such efforts inevitably entailed.
Although I saw it many months ago, it still remains very fresh in my memory. It's one of those films that acquire a sort of patina with age, and don't really date. Particularly impressive are the factory scenes where one feels transposed to a bygone era, which one hopes, even in the third world, has gone forever.
Overall, an excellent film on human endeavor, beautifully directed and highly atmospheric.