Sky Arts’ Superb Documentary on Ingrid Bergman Roberto Rossellini Scandal.

In the late 40s Roberto Rossellini, the most revered and respected art house film director in Europe secretly contacted Ingrid Bergman, one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, to come over and make a film with him.

Why secretly? Because at the time he was having a very public affair with the most famous actress in Italy.

Anna Magnani had given Rossellini one of the most iconic images in the history of Italian film. It was she who ran down the street in desperation as her fiancée was carted away by the fascists in Rome, Open City in 1945.

She was everything Bergman wasn’t. Earthy, corporeal, and inescapably and gloriously southern.

So when Rome’s favourite actress learned that the ethereal, Nordic beauty had been secretly ensconced on a volcanic island off the coast of Sicily (Sicily for Heavens sake!) to star in the latest vehicle of her now former paramour, she sprang into action.

She got Rossellini’s cousins to start shooting a suspiciously similar film on the next door island, with her as its leading lady. In what sense suspiciously similar? Well the script that Rossellini had now begun shooting on the island of Stromboli was based on an idea he’d stolen from them in the first place.

And so, for the next few months, what became dubbed as the War of The Volcanoes was played out off the Straights of Messina, where once Odysseus had been forced to steer between Charybdis and Scylla, as the two warring film crews took to the field.

And when a visibly ahem heavier Bergman was spied acting in a film that now included a hastily written pregnancy storyline, the Italian paparazzi went to town. Not because he was cheating, again, on his wife, but because he was doing so at the expense of his film star and oh so Italian mistress.

Though technically of course, there was no such thing as the paparazzi then. It was only after  Fellini introduced the character of Paparazzo in La Dolce Vita a decade later that the term was coined. Fellini, by the by, had been one of the scriptwriters on Rome, Open City.

The War of the Volcanoes perfectly struck the balance between red top sensationalism and blue top calm. It told a fascinating story superbly without shying away from the scandal it caused at the time. And, more to the point, it’s further proof that Sky seem to be moving into the arts in much the same way that they previously homed in on sport.

They provide a steady stream of grown-up arts docs, some of which they buy in but more of which they help fund, and they are quietly poaching some of the better British brains determined to report on all things cultural. The migration of The South Bank Show there is very much the rule and not the exception.

All of which is very much a good thing. Now that Channel Four has focused its attention on becoming ITV Lite (I know I know, that’s a tautology), it’s vital that there’s something there to keep BBC4 and 2 on its toes.

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