Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
November 20
The Damned October 14, 1969
The Damned released

Luchino Visconti’s 1969 Nazi drama The Damned was undoubtedly his most controversial work when it opened in Italy in 1969. With operatic flair and flamboyance, the film chronicles the complex sexual politics of the German Essenbecks family as they slowly cede power to the Nazis and destroy themselves in the process. (The Essenbecks were loosely based on the Krupp family, whose metal works helped arm the Nazis). The Damned was rooted in real events (the famed “Night of Long Knives”), and its tone and themes came from opera––the Italian title La caduta degli dei (The Fall of the Gods) is a nod to Wagner’s The Twilight of the Gods––and Macbeth. For many observers, the lurid, erotic feel was a far cry from the neorealistic works, like Ossessione and La terra trema, that put Visconti on the map. But in some ways, the film was quite close to Visconti personally. As an opera director, he had a sense for the grandiose. As a gay man (involved with a German, the film’s star, Helmut Berger) and a leftist from a wealthy aristocratic family, the storylines were quite familiar. When questioned why he focused on German Nazism rather than Italian Fascism, Visconti responded, “Of course, Fascism was a tragedy in many, many cases… but Nazism seems to me to reveal more about a historical reversal of values.” In the end, the film succeeded both because (and in spite) of its controversy. In Italy, it proved to be a box office smash, and, in America, even though it was slapped with an X-rating, it garnered Visconti his one Oscar nomination, for Best Screenplay. Rainer Werner Fassbinder later exclaimed that The Damned is "perhaps the greatest film, the film that I think means as much to the history of film as Shakespeare to the history of theater."


More Flashbacks
Robert Altman November 20, 2006
Robert Altman dies

On this day in 2006, the legendary film director Robert Altman passed away at the age of 81 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Read more »
Nov. 20, 1992
Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant opens

The unlikeliest franchise was born on November 20, 1992, when Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant opened in New York City. Produced by Ed Pressman, written by Zoe Lund and Paul Calderon, and starring Harvey Keitel, Bad Lieutenant boldly yoked a tale of a distraught Catholic cop seeking redemption by pursuing the rapists of a nun to a sordid, walk-on-the-wild side panorama of downtown New York in the early '90s.

Read more »
November 20, 1981
Ragtime Starts Up

Released on November 20, 1981, Milos Forman's Ragtime presented a sweeping picture of America at the beginning of the 20th century. While based on E.L. Doctorow’s sprawling novel, the film centers on the story of Coalhouse Walker Jr (Howard E. Rollins Jr.), a young black pianist who fights to have his honor restored after being abused by racist volunteer firemen. For Forman, the film’s story of oppression connected to his own struggle in Communist Czechoslovakia. For others, the story was a reflection of America’s own new Gilded Age, especially as the holiday season approached. But all saw the 155-minute spectacle, with a massive cast that included actors and celebrities like James Cagney, Donald O’Connor, Pat O’Brien, Elizabeth McGovern, Norman Mailer, Mandy Patinkin, and many more, as a movie event. It took an impressive $17 million and was nominated for 8 Academy Awards, and even spawned a Broadway musical; today, however, Ragtime, a historical epic to remind of past excesses, has sadly been all but forgotten.

Read more »