20 September 2023

20 September

- Asia Argento - actress and director

Twice winner of Italian ‘Oscar’ with turbulent private life

The actress and director Asia Argento, whose father is the influential horror movie director Dario Argento, was born on this day in 1975 in Rome.  Argento’s mother was the actress Daria Nicolodi, granddaughter of the composer Alfredo Casella. She appeared in her first movie at the age of nine and turned out to have such a talent for acting she had won two David di Donatello best actress awards - the Italian equivalent of an Oscar - by the time she was 21.  As well as appearing in around 50 movies, some of which she also wrote and directed, and a number of television productions, Argento’s artistic talents have ranged to writing short stories and novels and recording solo albums as a singer.  Her private life has been somewhat turbulent. Married for five years to the director Michele Civetta, she was previously in a long-term relationship with the Italian rock musician Morgan, and later became romantically involved with the celebrity chef and documentary maker Anthony Bourdain, who took his own life at the age of 61.  After alleging in 2017 that she had been raped by the since-jailed producer Harvey Weinstein at the Cannes Film Festival at the age of 21, Argento became a central figure in the #MeToo movement.  Read more…


Election of Pope Clement VII

Appointment that sparked split in Catholic Church

The election of Robert of Geneva as Pope Clement VII by a group of disaffected French cardinals, prompting the split in the Roman Catholic Church that became known as the Western Schism or the Great Schism, took place on this day in 1378.  The extraordinary division in the hierarchy of the church, which saw two and ultimately three rival popes each claiming to be the rightful leader, each with his own court and following, was not resolved until 1417.  It was prompted by the election in Rome of Urban VI as the successor to Gregory XI, who had returned the papal court to Rome from Avignon, where it had been based for almost 70 years after an earlier dispute.  The election of Cardinal Bartolomeo Prignano as Urban VI followed rioting by angry Roman citizens demanding a Roman be made pope. Prignano, the former Archbishop of Bari was not a Roman - he was born in Itri, near Formia in southern Lazio - but was seen as the closest to it among those seen as suitable candidates.  His appointment was not well received, however, by some of the powerful French cardinals who had moved from Avignon to Rome, who claimed the election should be declared invalid because it was made under fear of civil unrest.  Read more…


Capture of Rome

Troops enter the capital in final act of unification

Crack infantry soldiers from Piedmont entered Rome and completed the unification of Italy on this day in 1870.  Rome had remained under French control even after the first Italian parliament had proclaimed Victor Emmanuel of Savoy the King of Italy in 1861.  The Italian parliament had declared Rome the capital of the new Kingdom of Italy even though it had not yet taken control of the city.  A French garrison had remained in Rome on the orders of Napoleon III of France in support of Pope Pius IX.  But after the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war, Napoleon III had to withdraw many of his troops. Italian soldiers from the Bersaglieri regiments in Piedmont led by General Raffaele Cadorna seized their chance and after a brief bombardment were able to enter Rome through a breach in the Aurelian Walls near Porta Pia.  King Victor Emmanuel II was then able to take up residence in the Quirinale Palace and Italy was declared officially united.  The date of 20 September, which marked the end of the Risorgimento, the long process of Italian unification, is commemorated in practically every town in Italy with a street named Via XX Settembre.  Read more…


Sophia Loren – actress

Glamorous star one of just three Italian Oscar winners

The actress Sophia Loren, who came to be regarded as one of the world’s most beautiful women and is the most famous name in Italian cinema history, was born on this day in 1934 in Rome.  In a career spanning more than 60 years, Loren appeared in almost 90 films made for the big screen and several others for television.  Although she was often picked for her looks and box-office appeal, she proved her acting talent by winning an Oscar for her role in Vittorio De Sica’s gritty 1960 drama Two Women, released in Italy as La ciociara.  In doing so she became one of only three Italians to win the Academy Award for Best Actor or Actress and the first of either sex to win the award for an Italian-language film. She followed Anna Magnani, who had won in 1955 for The Rose Tattoo, as the second Italian Oscar winner.  Loren stayed away from the awards ceremony in 1961 on the grounds that the suspense of waiting to learn whether she had won was something she would rather suffer in private but she was there in person to accept an honorary Oscar in 1991, recognising her career achievements.  She also attended the 1993 Oscars to present an honorary award to the director Federico Fellini.  Read more…


Book of the Day:  Murder by Design: The Unsane Cinema of Dario Argento, by Troy Howarth

An in-depth look at the films of Dario Argento, Italy's acknowledged master of horror and suspense, has made a career out of exploring the macabre poetry of images of violent death. He did not, however, set out to be a filmmaker. He established himself early on as a progressive voice in film criticism-lavishing praise on directors like Sergio Leone, who had yet to receive their due from the Italian critical establishment. His efforts attracted the attention of Leone himself, who invited the young critic to help develop the story for his next feature. The end result, Once Upon a Time in the West, is often cited as a masterpiece-and from there, Argento went on to enjoy success as a screenwriter before making the all-important switch to directing. His directorial debut, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, became a major hit and helped to popularize the floundering genre of Italian thrillers, also known as gialli.  In the years since, Argento has established a high profile as one of Italian cinema's most commercially successful artists, earning a level of celebrity which is almost unheard of among film directors.  Murder by Design: The Unsane Cinema of Dario Argento explores the full scope of his work as a writer, a producer, and a director. 

Troy Howarth is a Rondo Award-nominated writer who specializes in European Cult cinema. His books include: The Haunted World of Mario Bava: Revised and Expanded Edition, Splintered Visions: Lucio Fulci and His Films, the three-volume series So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films. He has also contributed audio commentaries, audio essays, and liner notes to over one hundred DVD and Blu-ray releases.  He lives in Pennsylvania. 

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