At a time when communism seems moribund, it’s ironic that Paramount Pictures is reissuing Bernardo Bertolucci’s spectacular utopian socialist drama 1900.

Starting today, the Music Box is screening the complete 311-minute director’s cut, with more than 70 minutes restored to the version Paramount released in 1976 (the same version that’s now available on video). It is split into two parts, both of which will be shown each evening. The most notorious “new” footage (and the cause of the NC-17 rating) is a sequence depicting a menage-a-trois between a prostitute and the film’s stars, Robert De Niro and Gerard Depardieu.

Last month the ambitious, quirky, and unfortunately obscure Bravo cable channel showed a subtitled print of Bertolucci’s complete cut. The version that’s coming to Chicago and only a few other cities around the country is dubbed and has a new color conversion supervised by Bertolucci’s extraordinary cinematographer Vittorio Storaro.

Paramount–good, old-fashioned capitalist company that it is–is not suddenly trying to satisfy cineasts or aesthetes. It’s releasing the longer version to build a market for the video release of the original cut this fall.

Nobody with even a passing interest in either Bertolucci or cinema should pass up the chance to see this flawed masterpiece about the intertwining fates of two boys born on the same day in 1901 (not coincidentally, the date of Verdi’s death in northern Italy). De Niro is the gilded son of landowners, Depardieu the bastard son of peasants who work the land. Their lives parallel the vast social and political changes in Italy during the first half of this century.

1900 contains most of the director’s formal and thematic preoccupations: equating deviant sex acts with fascism, some decadent passages that suggest late-period Visconti, and dark, baroque flourishes toward the end. In addition to Storaro’s stunning camera work and color compositions, there’s a superb score by Ennio Morricone. The rest of the international cast includes Donald Sutherland, Dominique Sanda, Burt Lancaster, Sterling Hayden, and Stefania Sandrelli. The film will be shown daily through Thursday, June 27, at 6:00 PM, with additional noon screenings on Saturday and Sunday, at the Music Box, 3733 N. Southport. Admission is $8.00; the concession stand will sell sandwiches so people can eat during the 20-minute intermission. For more information call 871-6604.