ROME — Two decades after going nine for nine at the Oscars with “The Last Emperor,” Bernardo Bertolucci is being inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame with a star in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater just as a sorely needed proper DVD of his prodigious China-set epic is being issued.
“It fits in nicely with those nine statuettes,” he says about his long due Hollywood star.
“I actually don’t know if this is good or not,” Bertolucci adds reflectively about the nod that could seem to tinge the independent ethos of Italy’s biggest living auteur.
“But it will enter a similar place within my imagination, and in that same part of me, which has always loved American cinema so much,” he adds dreamily, speaking by phone from his Rome home.
After years of there just being a rudimentary DVD copy available of “The Last Emperor,” which swept the 1988 Oscars, a four-disc Criterion Collection set is coming out Feb. 26 of Bertolucci’s splendid tapestry centered around the true tale of hereditary Chinese monarch Pu Yi. A tale that producer Jeremy Thomas — who financed the epic entirely outside Hollywood — has said had been “hidden from history.” The Criterion edition includes a longer 218-minute made-for-television version.
But don’t call it a director’s cut.
“The risk with director’s cuts is that they become full of a director’s onanistic syndromes, which become much too visible,” says Bertolucci. “They are often sort of little gifts given to pacify directors who had dreamed of making very long movies.”
Bertolucci, 67, was hoping to make it to L.A. for the unveiling of his star and for the recent U.S. preem of his rarely seen 1965 oil docu “La via del petrolio,” a reflection on the origins of “black gold” and its crucial contemporary relevance, which unspooled during the pre-Oscars Los Angeles Italy fest.
But his bad back has forced him to postpone the trip.
“I’ve been told it’s better for me not to travel, because I have to take care of this problem and decide what to do,” says Bertolucci who had surgery for a herniated slipped disc two years ago.
“I can imagine a Texas oil tycoon would be willing to pay a fortune for a Hollywood Walk of Fame star,” Bertolucci joked in a letter to the nod’s organizers, which is ironic given that his timely oil docu, shot at age 24, preemed in L.A. amid the Oscar campaign for “There Will Be Blood.”
Speaking of campaigns, the impending prospect that TV-tycoon Silvio Berlusconi could soon become prime minister for a third time after Italy’s upcoming mid-April elections, has Bertolucci baffled.
“The country is really split in half and for me this is a huge mystery,” he says.
Berlusconi, for Bertolucci, is like a virus.
“I can’t understand how after seeing Berlusconi in action for five years when he was in power — all those laws designed just to make his life easier; some to clean the slate on possible crimes perpetrated by himself, or by people close to him — one half of Italians haven’t been vaccinated,” he laments.
He’s also outraged by what he calls the “constant intrusion by the Vatican” in Italian life, most recently manifested by an attempt by the Italian Bishops Conference to censor a graphic copulation scene in Nanni Moretti starrer “Quiet Chaos,” which, he adds, “doesn’t come anywhere near the violence” of the sex scenes in “Last Tango in Paris,” which the Vatican managed to have banned in the 1970s. “So, I ask myself: have we gone backwards?”
Meanwhile, Bertolucci’s latest project is an epic about the turbulent life of another character hidden from history: 16th century Neapolitan madrigal composer Gesualdo da Venosa, whose creativity soared as he suffered over having killed his wife and her lover. But that pic is on hold.
“I had to suspend casting because I’ve got to solve my health problem first,” Bertolucci says.
Fans in Italy’s film community, and beyond, are ardently hoping he gets his back in better shape soon.
“Many people, especially outside of Italy, think Bertolucci is a lot older than his actual age,” Thomas recently told Variety.
“They don’t realize he’s still got plenty of creative power to draw on.”