Sunday, July 29, 2007


The second movie I saw Thursday was Mario Monicelli's gritty I Compagni (the Organizer, 1963),* about exploited workers in a nineteenth century textile mill. These workers are tired: forced by poverty into working fourteen-hour days over loud, unsafe machinery. Their half-hour breaks aren't enough time to eat lunch. Occasionally the machines catch a worker unawares, chewing up an arm before a series of whistles brings the spinning gizmos to a clamorous stop. Fed up with long hours and starvation wages, a wearying climate that cannot but foster industrial carelessness over dangerous machines, our workers seek an industrial revolution! They toy with disobedience: will striking bring about change? Some are gung-ho, others skeptical. Many are starving and cannot imagine a loss of means will justify the end. What they need is an organizer who will inspire brotherly unity. They get Professor Sinigaglia (Marcello Mastroianni), a bearded socialist hobo who's hopped a train from parts unknown. Perhaps he's wanted by the police, a criminal agitator laying low along the tracks. Regardless, here's the right man at the right time; and it amuses the Professor to use his considerable wattage to organize his ideas of social reform. Many predictable trials are coming: threatening scabs from an even poorer town, wavering resolve, riots in the street. The lovely thing about this movie is its depressed naturalism, presenting the downtrodden workday life of the factory class in such a plausible light that the historical nature requires no suspension of disbelief. Actors characterizing workers do a magnificent job underplaying their blue collar roles without a trace of the stage. Mastroianni feels more fabricated, but the payoff is clever: the professor himself postures as a supposedly higher class, attempting to portray a leader even as he scrabbles and steals to stave off his own starvation. [Cavin]

Then, a 0 sided conversation ensued...

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