Classic cinema steals into the Plaza

There’s an exciting, but sadly rare, opportunity for Calgary audiences to see Bicycle Thieves on the big screen. The 1948 Italian neo-realist film is a critical and academic darling, with numerous film scholars and critics offering it up as one of the most important works of all time. It has even reached number 10 on the Turner Classic Movies channel’s “Most Influential Classic Movies of all time” list. 

Now Calgary audiences will be able to watch the film at the Plaza for a limited one week engagement, on a brand new 35mm print,  starting Fri., Sept. 18.

“The distributor out of the States — Corinth [Films] — are bringing the print across North America and Canada,” says Plaza Theatre owner Pete Harris. “It’s pretty easy to spy when a film is playing. It already played at the Ontario Cinematheque, back in the Pacific Cinematheque in Vancouver and in Montreal. It was just a matter of hunting down the distributor and knocking on their door and taking advantage of the fact that there’s a print that’s touring Canada. It’s what happens with many films, especially in the Cinematheque circuit. You keep in touch with your peers and watch what’s coming in and jump on a print that’s travelling westbound.”

Bicycle Thieves tells the tale of Antonio, a desperately poor man who finds himself with a wife and two children he must support in extremely impoverished post-World War II Italy. After finding a job putting up posters, he’s told he must have a bike to work, so he pawns his bedsheets for the required transport. When a brazen young thief steals his bike while he is putting up a poster, Antonio goes out to search for the robber and his bike. It’s a simple, but incredibly sad, story that ends with Antonio realizing the tragic trajectory of his life.

“[The film is] powerful and heart wrenching,” says Harris. “A lot of American reviewers are saying that it’s just as powerful — and just as relevant — today. I’m kind of para-quoting here, but basically they’re saying that because of the worldwide recession it’s evident that in modern days that it’s just as relevant as it was in the early ’50s.”

Bicycle Thieves Director Vittorio de Sica was one of the best — and earliest — examples of independent filmmaking. He used an at the time non-traditional cast of non-actors and independently financed the production. The film was shot on location, an almost unheard of act. This helped popularize the Italian neo-realist movement which along with French New Wave filmmakers influenced modern filmmaking.

“Because he hit on the necessity of making it with no budget hardly, it became the classic it is today because it is so real,” says Harris. “It’s such a powerful film. It’s all ages too — even though kids may not understand its message.”

One of the most exciting aspects about this particular engagement is how fresh the film print is.  Released by Corinth as part of the 60th anniversary of the film, it has been touring the cinematheque circuit for a few months now. When Harris decided that he wanted to show the film at the Plaza, he was given the go-ahead — with a brand new print of the film.

“This print wasn’t the one travelling across Canada — that was booked up. Then they struck a new print — dripping green, brand new — and sent it to Calgary,” he says.

He further explained how clean the film will look, a great experience in any movie house, but one that’s especially rare when watching historical cinema.

“People take care of prints when they travel across North America, but they do get a nick and a scratch here and there,” he says. “So this is a pristine print, we’re pretty happy to be presenting it.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.