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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