by Stephen Garrett
Yesterday’s New York and L.A. debut of the restored “Nights of Cabiria” is also the first official title from Rialto Pictures, a year-old distribution company specializing in re-releases of classic films. After last year’s healthy box office from Mike Nichol’s “The Graduate” and Jean-Luc Godard’s “Contempt,” both handled by Rialto with Strand Releasing, Rialto co-founders Bruce Goldstein and Mike Thomas have arranged a release schedule for “Cabiria” that also includes Chicago, Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, and Philadelphia as well as other cities throughout the Summer months.
In promoting Federico Fellini’s “Cabiria,” 1957’s Oscar-winner for Best Foreign Film, Goldstein initially found it a tough sell. “Critics have been resistant to this — it’s not as sexy as ‘Contempt’,” he explained, since the young Brigitte Bardot was an easy cheesecake selling point for the Godard film. But critics have changed their tune after seeing this restoration (“Cabiria will endure as long as anyone cares to watch transcendence on a screen,” raved Kenneth Turan in Wednesday’s L.A. Times). “They’ve all done a turnaround,” said Goldstein of the press. “Besides, it’s a much better movie.”
It’s a much better movie experience as well, thanks also to the help of French film and cable behemoth Canal Plus, which made a fully-restored 35mm print and completely re-mixed the sound, including composer Nino Rota’s score. Goldstein personally supervised a thorough re-translation of the subtitles, preserving the integrity of the salty language originally co-written by then screenwriter and aspiring director Pier Paolo Pasolini. Since laser titling technology is so advanced, Goldstein has even made a few revisions to the subtitles on some of the more recent prints. “I noticed some mistakes — I’ve actually done it twice,” he said. “But I’m a perfectionist.”
And due to Goldstein’s persistence and enthusiasm, Canal Plus discovered a missing seven minutes comprising the “Man with the Sack” sequence, in which Cabiria encounters a man giving out food to the poor. The scene was widely thought to have offended the church, and had been missing for over four decades before archivists found the scene in a French “Cabiria” print marked, “Version Longue.”
“It was a great working relationship between Rialto and Canal+,” said Adrian Halpern, a partner in Rialto. “They really scoured everywhere to find [the scene]. It’s been a real active passion for everyone involved.” Rialto has invested over $100,000 in the film, including the new prints, the re-subtitling, new trailers, ads, publicity, and one-sheets reproducing artwork from the original release. They also played “Cabiria” at this year’s Seattle Film Festival, where it won distinctions from festival audience members as the “Most Liked” and “Favorite” film out of the over 175 movies shown. “It’s a great test market,” said Goldstein about Seattle, “and a great movie town.”
Rialto currently has 11 projects in development as potential follow-ups to “Cabiria’s” theatrical run, and has also been approached by video distributors for their emerging library of films. “We’ve had overtures from other companies,” Goldstein said. Rialto owns all U.S. rights on “Cabiria,” including theatrical, television, and video exhibition, thankfully making all existing (and inferior) 16mm prints and videotapes of “Cabiria” illegal.
But the highest compliment to Rialto’s efforts may be the Fellini film festival it has sparked in Los Angeles. Laemmle Theaters, which is running “Cabiria” in its Laemmle Royal theater on Santa Monica Blvd., is also having a “Festa Fellini” retrospective of the Maestro at the Laemmle Sunset 5 and the Laemmle Monica ó it will run every weekend through September and will include “La Dolce Vita,” “8 1/2,” “Fellini Satyricon,” and more, including his other two Oscar-winners, “La Strada” and “Amarcord.” In restoring “Cabiria,” Rialto Pictures has also restored Fellini to the public imagination.