Showing posts with label Bernardo Bertolucci. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bernardo Bertolucci. Show all posts

18 November 2021

Attilio Bertolucci - poet

Pastoral scenes and family life inspired writer from Parma

Attilio Bertolucci was an important figure in 20th century Italian poetry
Attilio Bertolucci was an important
figure in 20th century Italian poetry 
Writer and poet Attilio Bertolucci was born on this day in 1911 in San Lazzaro, a hamlet in the countryside near Parma in Emilia-Romagna.

Bertolucci wrote about his own family life and became renowned for the musicality of his language while describing humble places and human feelings. He became an important figure in 20th century Italian poetry and was the father of film directors Bernardo and Giuseppe Bertolucci.

Attilio Bertolucci was born into a middle-class, agricultural family. He began writing poems at the age of seven and published his first collection of poems, Sirio, when he was 18.

He went to study law at the University of Parma when he was 19, but soon gave it up in favour of literary studies. He also went to the University of Bologna to study art history. He went on to teach art history at the Maria Luigia boarding school in Parma.

He became a book reviewer and theatre and film critic for the Parma newspaper, La Gazzetta, and developed anti-fascist feelings along with other intellectuals at the time. He worked as foreign editor for the poetry publisher, Guanda, and introduced a range of modern poetry from overseas to Italy.

When he was 20, his work, Fuochi di Novembre, earned him the praise of the Italian poet Eugenio Montale, which enhanced his reputation.

Bertolucci with Bernardo (left), the elder of his two sons, during the shooting of his 1975 epic, Novecento
Bertolucci with Bernardo (left), the elder of his two
sons, during the shooting of his 1976 epic, Novecento 

Bertolucci married Ninetta Giovanardi in 1938 but they continued to live in his parental home near Parma. They had their first son, Bernardo, in 1941 and their younger son, Giuseppe, in 1947.

In 1951 he published La capanna Indiana, which won the Viareggio Prize for Literature. In the same year the family moved to Rome. Among the readers who admired his work was the film director Pier Paolo Pasolini, who became a close friend.

In Rome, Bertolucci worked for the publisher, Garzanti, for Italian radio, and for the daily newspaper, La Repubblica.

From the 1960s onwards the Bertolucci family alternated between their apartment in Rome, their 17th century house in the Apennine village of Casarola, which they visited  in the spring and summer, and their home by the sea in the Ligurian village of Tellaro, where they lived during the autumn. In nearby Lerici, Bertolucci became president of the committee for the Lerici Prize and biennial literary conference.

The cover of Bertolucci's first published poetry
The cover of Bertolucci's
first published poetry

He published Viaggio d’inverno in 1971, which is considered one of his finest works. It was seen as marking a change to a more complex style from that of his earlier works, where he used humble language to describe pastoral situations.

From 1975, he directed the prestigious literary review magazine Nuovi Argomenti, along with Enzo Siciliano and Alberto Moravia. In 1984 he won another Viareggio Prize for the narrative poem Camera da letto.

His last work was La lucertola di Casarola, a collection of works from his youth, which he published in 1997.

Attilio Bertolucci died in Rome in 2000 at the age of 88. Selections of his poetry have been translated into English by the poets and translators, Charles Tomlinson and Allen Prowle.

Parma is famous for Prosciutto di Parma and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Parma is famous for Prosciutto di Parma and
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Travel tip:

Parma is an historic city in the Emilia-Romagna region, famous for its ham (Prosciutto di Parma) and cheese (Parmigiano-Reggiano), the true ‘parmesan’. The city was given as a duchy to Pier Luigi Farnese, the illegitimate son of Pope Paul III, and his descendants ruled Parma till 1731. The composer, Verdi, was born near Parma at Bussetto and the city has a prestigious opera house, the Teatro Regia. Parma is divided into two parts by a stream. Attilio Bertolucci once wrote about it: ’As a capital city it had to have a river. As a little capital it received a stream, which is often dry.’ This refers to the time when Parma was capital of the independent Duchy of Parma.

Boats fill the tiny quayside at the fishing village of Tellaro in Liguria, where Bertolucci had a home
Boats fill the tiny quayside at the fishing village
of Tellaro in Liguria, where Bertolucci had a home
Travel tip:

Tellaro, where the Bertolucci family had a seaside home, is a small fishing village on the east coast of the Gulf of La Spezia in Liguria and a frazione of the comune of Lerici. Tellaro has been rated as one of the most beautiful villages of Italy by the guide, I Borghi più belli d’Italia. The Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and his writer wife, Mary Shelley, lived there in the rented Casa Magni in the early 1820s and drew inspiration from their beautiful surroundings for their writing until Shelley’s death at sea in 1822.

Also on this day:

1626: The consecration of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome

1630: The birth of Eleonora Gonzaga, Holy Roman Empress

1804: The birth of Alfonso Ferrero La Marmora, military leader and statesman

1891: The birth of architect and designer Gio Ponti



24 June 2019

Vittorio Storaro - cinematographer

Triple Oscar winner among best in movie history

Vittorio Storaro has won three Oscars as one of film's greatest cinematographers
Vittorio Storaro has won three Oscars as
one of film's greatest cinematographers
Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, whose work has won three Academy Awards, was born on this day in 1940 in Rome.

Storaro won Oscars for Best Cinematography for Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 Vietnam War epic Apocalypse Now, for the Warren Beatty-directed historical drama Reds in 1981, and for The Last Emperor, Bernardo Bertolucci’s story of imperial China, in 1987.

Described as someone for whom cinematography was “not just art and technique but a philosophy as well”, Storaro worked extensively with Bertolucci, for whom he shot the controversial Last Tango in Paris and the extraordinary five-hour epic drama 1900.

He filmed many stories for his cousin, Luigi Bazzoni, collaborated with Coppola on three other movies and recently has worked with Woody Allen, whose latest picture, A Rainy Day in New York, is due to be released next month.

Storaro inherited his love of the cinema from his father, who was a projectionist at the Lux Film Studio, which was based in Rome from 1940 having been established in Turin by the anti-Fascist businessman Riccardo Gualino in 1934.

Storaro at the Portuguese Academy in 2017 to receive a lifetime achievement award
Storaro at the Portuguese Academy in 2017
to receive a lifetime achievement award
He began studying photography at the age of 11, enrolled at the CIAC (Italian Cinemagraphic Training Centre) and continued his education at the state cinematography school Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, the institute created by Mussolini, who was intrigued by the movie boom and wanted to see Rome become one of the most important film-making centres in the world.

When Storaro enrolled at age of 18, he was one of the youngest students in the centre’s history.

Soon finding work as a camera operator, Storaro drew inspiration from visiting art galleries and studying the works of great painters, which helped him understand how light and darkness could be used to create different effects.

It is said that his philosophy is largely based by the 18th century German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's theory of colours, which explores the psychological effects created by different colours have and the way in which colours influence our perceptions of different situations.

He worked as as an assistant cameraman on Before the Revolution (1964), one of the first films directed by Bertolucci. His long collaboration with Bertolucci began to develop when he was credited as cinematographer on The Spider's Stratagem in 1970.

Bernardo Bertolucci worked with Storaro on several films
Bernardo Bertolucci worked with
Storaro on several films
Later in the same year, he shot Bertolucci’s political drama The Conformist, based on the novel of the same name by Alberto Moravia. Following Last Tango in Paris in 1972, they would work together on Luna (1979), The Sheltering Sky (1990) and Little Buddha (1993), as well as The Last Emperor.

His collaboration with Beatty generated another Oscar nomination, for Dick Tracy in 1990.

Storaro worked outside Italy for the first time on Apocalypse Now (1979), for which director Coppola gave him free rein on the film's visual look.

He had at first been reluctant to take on the assignment because he considered Gordon Willis to be Coppola's cinematographer, but Coppola wanted him, having been impressed by Storaro’s filming of the star of Apocalypse Now, Marlon Brando, in Last Tango in Paris. 

Some great moments of in late 20th century cinema resulted from their collaboration. They would work together again on One from the Heart (1981) and Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988) and the Life without Zoe segment of New York Stories (1989).

In addition to his three Oscars, Storaro won a BAFTA for Best Cinematography for Bertolucci’s The Sheltering Sky (1990), as well as a Primetime Emmy Award, a Goya Award, and a David di Donatello Silver Ribbon Award, in addition to numerous lifetime achievement honours from various film organizations, including, in 2017, the George Eastman Award for distinguished contribution to the art of film.

With his son Fabrizio, he created the Univisium format system to unify all future theatrical and television movies into one respective aspect ratio of 2:1. His first work with the format was the television science fiction mini-series Dune in 2000.

The Cinecittà studios in Rome are the largest in Europe
The Cinecittà studios in Rome are the largest in Europe
Travel tip:

Cinecittà in Rome is the largest film studio in Europe, spreading over an area of 100 acres with  22 stages and 300 dressing rooms. Situated six miles south of the city centre, it is the hub of the Italian film industry. Built during the Fascist era under the personal direction of Benito Mussolini and his son, Vittorio, the studios were bombed by the Allies in the Second World War but were rebuilt and used again in the 1950s for large productions, such as Ben Hur. These days a range of productions, from television drama to music videos, are filmed there.

The Palazzo del Podestà in Parma
The Palazzo del Podestà in Parma
Travel tip:

Much of the location shooting for 1900, the colossal movie Storaro shot for Bernardo Bertolucci, took place in Parma, the historic city in the Emilia-Romagna region, famous for its Prosciutto di Parma ham and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, the true ‘parmesan’. In 1545 the city was given as a duchy to the illegitimate son of Pope Paul III, whose descendants ruled Parma till 1731. The composer, Verdi, was born near Parma at Bussetto and the city has a prestigious opera house, the Teatro Regio.

More reading:

Why Last Tango in Paris caused outrage

Francesco Rosi and the birth of neorealism

Luchino Visconti, the aristocrat of Italian cinema

Also on this day:

1866: Austria defeats Italy at the Battle of Custoza

1859: Italy sees off the French at the Battle of Solferino

1993: The birth of Piero Barone, tenor with Il Volo


1 May 2018

Laura Betti - actress and jazz singer

Long-time companion of director Pier Paolo Pasolini

Laura Betti made her screen debut in Fellini's 1960 classic about fame and decadence, La Dolce Vita
Laura Betti made her screen debut in Fellini's 1960 classic
about fame and decadence, La Dolce Vita
The actress and singer Laura Betti, who appeared in a number of important Italian films in the 1960s and 1970s, including Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, Bernardo Bertolucci’s Novecento and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Teorema, was born on this day in 1927 in Casalecchio di Reno, in Emilia-Romagna.

In addition to Teorema, which won her the coveted Volpi Cup for best actress at the 1968 Venice Film Festival, Betti appeared in six other Pasolini films as the two developed a special and unlikely relationship.

Betti, a vivacious blonde with striking good looks, had no shortage of suitors among the authors, artists, singers and aspiring actors that made up her circle in Rome in the 1950s, but Pasolini was homosexual and had no interest in her in a romantic sense.

Yet he became a regular guest at her apartment near the Palazzo Farnese and she wrote many years later that a kind of love developed between them. They met while he was an unknown poet and it was with her encouragement that he realised his aspiration to become a director.

Betti the jazz singer was a popular performer in Rome nightclubs
Betti the jazz singer was a popular
performer in Rome nightclubs
Over time she effectively became his cook and housekeeper and after his death in 1975, the victim of a brutal murder that was never fully explained, she devoted much of her time to preserving his memory and championing his work.

She was the driving force behind the establishment of the Pasolini Foundation in Bologna, where he was born. She also set up an annual literary prize in his name.

The daughter of a barrister, she was born Laura Trombetti. Her first interest was in singing, particularly jazz, and she moved to Rome at a young age, acquiring a following on the cabaret circuit, for which her husky voice was ideal.  Both Pasolini and Alberto Moravia supplied material for her act.

Her interpretations of jazz tunes and songs by Bertolt Brecht brought comparisons with the sultry-voiced French singer Juliette Greco. She released a number of albums, which sold well.

Betti's first venture into theatre came with a 1955 production of Arthur Miller's Crucible staged by Luchino Visconti, although the night clubs continued to be her domain for much of the late 1950s until Fellini launched her film career with a cameo role in La Dolce Vita (1960), as one of the authentic Roman eccentrics in the beach villa orgy sequence.  It was the first of 76 movies in her career.

Her first Pasolini film was La Ricotta, a controversial 40-minute short that featured Orson Welles as an American director shooting a film about the Passion of Christ in Rome, with Betti a temperamental Madonna.

Laura Betti was for many years the companion of enigmatic director Pier Paolo Pasolini (left)
Laura Betti was for many years the companion of
enigmatic director Pier Paolo Pasolini (left)
In 1968, her first substantial Pasolini role, as the peasant maid in a bourgeois household in Teorema, won the best actress award at the 1968 Venice festival.

After returning to the stage to give an electrifying performance in Samuel Beckett's Not I for the Rome Municipal Theatre, her next Pasolini film role was in The Canterbury Tales (1972), shot in England, in which she was the Wife of Bath.

In the early 1970s, she also appeared in films by Marco Bellocchio, Mauro Bolognini, Miklos Jancso and the Taviani Brothers. She was also in Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango In Paris (1972), Novecento (1976) and La Luna (1979).

After Pasolini's murder, Betti was sceptical, like many, of the explanation for his death and the confession by Giuseppe Pelosi, a 17-year-old youth he had paid for sex, when the evidence suggested the involvement of more than one attacker.  She preferred the idea that, as a communist sympathiser, he had been the victim of a conspiracy of the political Right, perhaps because he knew damaging secrets about senior figures, a theory that gained credence when it emerged that the Italian secret services were involved in the investigation into his death.

She continued to appear in films for her whole life, although at the same time devoting much time to travelling in Italy, and around the world, to fight Pasolini's corner. In 2001, she made a 90-minute documentary, Pier Paolo Pasolini: The Reason For A Dream, emphasising what she considered to be his optimistic vision of the future.

Betti, who never married, struggled with her health in the early 2000s and died of a heart attack in 2004.

The Villa Marescalchi, outside Casalecchio di Reno
The Villa Marescalchi, outside Casalecchio di Reno
Travel tip:

Casalecchio di Reno, which takes its name from the Roman word for a small collection of houses, in this instance clustered around the Reno river, is nowadays effectively a suburb of Bologna. An important industrial area in the early part of the 20th century, it was heavily bombed by the Allies in the Second World War, its population growing rapidly as it was rebuilt after 1945. The Villa Marescalchi, just outside the town, once contained paintings by the noted Bolognese painter Cesare Baglioni, but these were destroyed in a bombing raid.

The Palazzo Farnese now houses the French Embassy
The Palazzo Farnese now houses the French Embassy
Travel tip:

The Palazzo Farnese is one of the most important High Renaissance palaces in Rome, which currently serves as the French Embassy in Italy. Designed in 1517 for the Farnese family, it was expanded when Alessandro Farnese became Pope Paul III in 1534. The palace was designed by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger and the development involved input from Michelangelo, Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola and Giacomo della Porta, who were alls prominent in Rome in the 16th century.


22 April 2017

Alida Valli - actress

Scandal dogged star admired by Mussolini

The actress Alida Valli was the object of Mussolini's admiration
The actress Alida Valli was the object of
Mussolini's admiration
The actress Alida Valli, who was once described by Benito Mussolini as the most beautiful woman in the world after Greta Garbo, died on this day in 2006 at the age of 84.

One of the biggest stars in Italian cinema in the late 1930s and 40s, when she starred in numerous romantic dramas and comedies, she was best known outside Italy for playing Anna Schmidt, the actress girlfriend of Harry Lime in Carol Reed’s Oscar-winning 1949 classic The Third Man.

She was cast in the role by the producer David O Selznick, who shared the Fascist leader’s appreciation for her looks, and who billed her simply as Valli, hoping it would create for her a Garboesque enigmatic allure.  Later, however, she complained that having one name made her “feel silly”.

Valli was born in Pola, Istria, then part of Italy (now Pula, Croatia), in 1921. She was christened Baroness Alida Maria Laura Altenburger von Marckenstein-Frauenberg, on account of a noble line to her paternal grandfather, Baron Luigi Altenburger, an Austrian-Italian from Trento and a descendant of the Counts d’Arco.

Her father was a journalist and professor. The family moved to Como when she was young but her father died when she was a teenager, after which she and her mother moved to Rome, where she enrolled at the capital's new film school, Centro Sperimentale.

She had no expectations of making a career in movies but the Centro's teachers recognised her talent. The name Alida Valli was invented for her, and in 1937 she made five films, each one more successful than the last. Consequently, her salary went up with each production. When she realised her earnings could support her whole family, she decided that it was a career worth taking seriously.

Alida Valli with Joseph Cotten in The Third Man
After a number of comedies and costume dramas, she won acclaim for more serious roles in Picolo mondo antico (1941) and We the Living (1942). The latter saw her star opposite Rossano Brazzi as tragic lovers in post-revolutionary St Petersburg, which pleased the Fascist regime because it seemed to convey an anti-communist message.

She felt uncomfortable about being linked with the Mussolini regime, however, especially when an anonymous letter to the United States embassy in Rome stalled her application for a visa to work in the US. The letter accused her of Fascist sympathies and being romantically involved with Hitler's propanganda chief Joseph Goebbels. The visa was granted, but only after Selznick's lawyers had disproved the allegations.

After Alida returned to Europe, she moved into more serious roles in films such as Luchino Visconti's Senso (1954) and Michelangelo Antonioni's Il Grido (1957), which had won her praise and confirmed that her beauty was underpinned with genuine acting ability.

Her success was overshadowed, however, by her relationship with Piero Piccioni, the son of Italy’s foreign minister, Attilio Piccioni, who was implicated in a sex and drugs scandal – the so-called Montesi scandal -  that emerged following the discovery of a young woman’s body on a beach near Ostia Antica, the old Roman resort, in 1953.

Piccioni was acquitted of any culpability in the woman’s death after Valli confirmed that she and Piccioni were together in Amalfi, 200 miles away, at the time, staying in a villa as guests of Carlo Ponti.  Valli had by then separated from her husband, Oscar De Mejo.

Valli with Stewart Granger in Luchino Visconti's Senso
During the next decade Alida struggled to rebuild her film career and turned to working more in theatre and television, before her reputation was re-established with parts in such films as Pier Paolo Pasolini's Oedipus Rex (1967) and Bernardo Bertolucci's The Spider's Strategem (1970), 1900 (1976) and La Luna (1979).

Valli encountered tragedy in her personal life when her lover as a young actress, the fighter pilot Carlo Cugnasca, was killed in action over Africa. In 1944, Alida married De Mejo, a jazz pianist, with whom she had a son, Carlo, in 1945, by which time Alida had been offered a Hollywood contract.  They had another son, Larry, but parted after eight years.

Valli's death at her home in Rome was announced by the office of the mayor of Rome, Walter Veltroni. The Italian president, CarloAzeglio Ciampi, described her passing as “a great loss for the cinema, the theatre and Italian culture.”

The 15th century facade of Como's Duomo
The 15th century facade of Como's Duomo
Travel tip:

Como, where Valli grew up, can be found at the southern tip of the eastern branch of Lake Como. It is a pleasant town with an impressive cathedral in the historical centre, the construction of which spanned almost 350 years, which is why it combines features from different architectural areas, including Gothic and Renaissance. The façade was built in 1457, its characteristic rose window and a portal flanked by Renaissance statues of Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger, both of whom were from Como. This Duomo replaced the earlier 10th-century cathedral, San Fedele.

Travel tip:

The Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia can be found off Via Tuscolana to the south of Rome, nextdoor to the Cinecittà studio complex. It is the oldest film school in Western Europe, founded in 1935 during the Mussolini era by his head of cinema, Luigi Freddi. It is still financed by the Italian government to provide training, research and experimentation in the field of cinema.  Apart from Alida Valli, other actors and actresses to have emerged from the school include Claudia Cardinale, Domenico Modugno and Francesca Neri. Directors among the alumni include Michelangelo Antonioni, Giuseppe De Santis and Luigi Zampa.

More reading:

23 March 2017

Ugo Tognazzi - comic actor

Achieved international fame through La Cage aux Folles

Ugo Tognazzi became known for playing suave bon viveurs in Commedia all'Italiana
Ugo Tognazzi became known for playing
suave bon viveurs in Commedia all'Italiana
Ugo Tognazzi, the actor who achieved international fame in the film La Cage aux Folles, was born on this day in 1922 in Cremona.

Renowned for his wide repertoire in portraying comic characters, Tognazzi made more than 62 films and worked with many of Italy's top directors.

Along with Vittorio Gassman, Alberto Sordi and Nino Manfredi, Tognazzi was regarded as one of the four top stars of Commedia all'Italiana - comedy the Italian way - in the 1960s and 1970s.

In 1981 he won the award for best actor at the Cannes International Film Festival for his role in Bernardo Bertolucci's Tragedia di un Uomo Ridicolo (The Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man).

His work was widely acclaimed in Italy, but it was not until he was cast in the role of homosexual cabaret owner Renato Baldi in the French director Édouard Molinaro's 1979 movie La Cage Aux Folles that he became known outside Italy.   The film became in its time the most successful foreign language film ever released in the United States, with box office receipts of more than $20 million.

A publicity poster from the French film La Cage aux Folles in which Tognazzi starred
A publicity poster from the French film La
Cage aux Folles in which Tognazzi starred
The film spawned two sequels in which Tognazzi reprieved the role of the mincing Baldi, who in the story was the joint owner of a night club in St Tropez that specialised in drag acts.

The son of an insurance agent, Tognazzi left school at 14 to help supplement the family income, taking a job as an accountancy clerk in the Negroni salami factory in his home town.  His father had wanted him to become a musician, his mother a priest.

Although he had made his stage debut as a four-year-old child in a charity show at the Teatro Donizetti in Bergamo, he had no thoughts of an acting career until he began participating in amateur dramatics via Negroni's recreational club.

During his military service with the Navy, he became involved with putting on entertainment for his fellow sailors.  After the Second World War, he moved to Milan in search of opportunities in theatre and found work with a number of companies, but it was after he landed his first film role in 1950, in I cadetti di Guascogna, directed by Mario Mattoli.  that his career began to take off.

The following year he met his fellow comic actor Raimondo Vianello, and their collaboration led them to form a successful comedy duo for the fledgling RAI television network.  Their show Un Due Tre (One Two Three) became famous for its wry satire and was among the first to be censored on Italian television.  It ran from 1954 to 1960.

Ugo Tognazzi as Il Commissario Pepe in Ettore Scola's  1969 film of the same name
Ugo Tognazzi as Il Commissario Pepe in Ettore Scola's
1969 film of the same name 
After his first major big screen success in Il Federale (The Fascist), a 1961 film by Luciano Salce, Tognazzi became one of the leading performers of Commedia all'Italiana. 

Excelling as bon vivants, adulterous husbands and other suave individuals, he made many films with the writer-director  Marco Ferreri.  He also worked with Mario Monicelli, Carlo Lizzani, Dino Risi, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Ettore Scola and Pupi Avati among others.

Risi's Marcia su Roma (The March on Rome) brought him praise but it was with Ferreri that he enjoyed sustained success. Together they made films that included Una Storia Moderna: L'Ape Regina (also called The Conjugal Bed) in 1963, La Donna Scimmia (The Ape Woman) in 1964, Marcia Nuziale (Wedding March) in 1966, L'Udienza (The Audience) in 1971 and La Grande Bouffe in 1973.

As well as La Cage Aux Folles, in which he surprised critics by accepting a role so different from his usual range, he appeared before wider film audiences after Roger Vadim cast Tognazzi as Mark Hand, the Catchman, opposite Jane Fonda in Barbarella (1968).

He had children by three women - the Irish dancer Pat O'Hara, with whom he had a son, Ricky, the Norwegian actress Margarete Robsahm, the mother of his second son, Thomas Robsahm, and Franca Bettoia, an actress, with whom he settled in Velletri, near Rome, after their marriage in 1972.  They had a son, Gianmarco, and a daughter, Maria Sole.  All of his children followed him into the movie business.

Tognazzi, a passionate supporter of AC Milan and a lover of food who also put his name to a number of recipe books, died in 1990 after suffering a brain hemorrhage.

The Duomo and Baptistery in the centre of Cremona
The Duomo and Baptistery in the centre of Cremona
Travel tip:

Cremona, well known for its tradition of violin making, is a prosperous city in Lombardy with a wealth of fine medieval architecture, much of it concentrated around the Piazza del Comune, including the cathedral, finished in 1107 and rebuilt in 1190 after suffering damage in an earthquake, which includes impressive frescoes - the Storie di Cristo - by Pordenone.  A chapel inside the Duomo contains what is said to be a thorn from Jesus's crown of thorns.

The Corso della Repubblica in Velletri is typical of the  narrow streets in the town near Rome where Tognazzi died
The Corso della Repubblica in Velletri is typical of the
narrow streets in the town near Rome where Tognazzi died
Travel tip:

Velletri, a town of 50,000 inhabitants, lies just southeast of the Castelli Romani to the south of Rome.  It was once a popular place for Rome's wealthiest to build their country villas.  It suffered considerable damage soon after the Allied landing at Anzio during the Second World War after the advancing army met resistance from German forces in and around the town.  Many monuments were beyond repair, sadly, but the town remains an attractive alternative to staying in the capital and the towns of the Colli Albani are close by, including Castel Gandolfo, the summer residence of the Pope.

More reading:

The comic genius of Alberto Sordi

Cesare Danova - from medical school to Mean Streets

Was Otto e mezzo (8½) Fellini's finest work?

Also on this day:

1919: The founding of Mussolini's Fascist Party

(Picture credits: Cremona cathedral by Jakub Halun; Velletri street by Deblu68; via Wikimedia Commons)


16 March 2017

Bernardo Bertolucci - film director

Caused outrage with Last Tango in Paris

Bernardo Bertolucci
Bernardo Bertolucci
The controversial film maker Bernardo Bertolucci was born on this day in 1940 in Parma.

Bertolucci won an Oscar for best director as The Last Emperor picked up an impressive nine Academy Awards in 1988 but tends to be remembered more for the furore that surrounded his 1972 movie Last Tango in Paris.

Last Tango in Paris, starring Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider, caused outrage for its portrayal of sexual violence and emotional turmoil and was banned in Italy.

Although the storm died down over time, it blew up again in 2007 when Schneider, who was only 19 when the film was shot, claimed she felt violated after one particularly graphic scene because she had not been told everything that would happen.  Schneider died from cancer in 2011.

The controversy has overshadowed what has otherwise been an outstanding career, his movies placing him in the company of Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, Luchino Visconti and Franco Zeffirelli among the greatest Italian directors of all time.

As a young man, Bertolucci wanted to become a poet, inspired by his father, Attilio Bertolucci, who was a poet as well as an art historian.

He moved to Rome to study modern literature at Sapienza University yet it was his father's part-time occupation as a film critic that was to shape his career.

Marlon Brando in a scene from Last Tango in Paris
Marlon Brando in a scene from Last Tango in Paris
He had helped Pier Paolo Pasolini find a publisher for his first novel and Pasolini in turn took on Bernardo as his first assistant when he began his film directing career with Accattone in 1961.  It was not long afterwards that Bertolucci quit university and at the age of 22, in 1962, he directed his first movie, La commare secca, with a screenplay by Pasolini and produced by Tonino Cervi.

Last Tango came 10 years later, by which time Bertolucci was beginning to acquire a reputation as a director of talent, having attracted particular acclaim for his 1970 film, The Conformist, based on a novel by Alberto Moravia.

It was Last Tango that thrust him into the spotlight, however.  Though there was an Oscar nomination, it was overshadowed by the backlash of moral outrage.  The Italian authorities, as well as ordering initially that all copies of the film should be destroyed - an appeal court later allowed three to be saved - launched a prosecution for obscenity against Bertolucci, who was given a four-month suspended jail sentence and a five-year revoking of his civil rights.

Nonetheless, his career moved to another level.  He made his comeback in 1976 with 1900, an epic that ran to five hours and 17 minutes in its uncut version, telling the story of two men from different ends of the social spectrum in Bertolucci's native Emilia-Romagna, set against the background of political turmoil in Italy in the first half of the 20th century.  Boasting a cast that include Robert De Niro, Gérard Depardieu, Donald Sutherland and Burt Lancaster, 1900 was hailed as a masterpiece.

A publicity poster for Bertolucci's acclaimed 1976 epic tale, 1900
A publicity poster for Bertolucci's
acclaimed 1976 epic tale, 1900
More success followed with La Luna and Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man before The Last Emperor, his British-Italian biographical film about Puyi, the last emperor of China before the People's Republic of China imposed communist rule.  The first western feature film for which the producers were authorized to film in the Forbidden City in Beijing, it won nine Academy Awards, including best picture and Bertolucci's best director.   The Last Emperor marked the beginning of his working relationship with the British producer, Jeremy Thomas.

Although hampered by serious back problems that now mean he is increasingly wheelchair-bound, Bertolucci continued to work into his 70s.  In 2007, he received the Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival for his life's work, and in 2011 the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

Married to Clare Peploe, a writer who worked on the screenplay of Antonioni's 1970 classic Zabriskie Point, Bertolucci is a former supporter of the Italian Communist Party.  He was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6925 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California on November 19, 2013.

Parma's cathedral and octagonal baptistery
Parma's cathedral and octagonal baptistery
Travel tip:

Bertolucci's home city of Parma suffers a little from living in the shadow of Modena and Bologna, both of which have achieved greater fame.  Yet the home of prosciutto di Parma and parmigiano reggiano is an elegantly wealthy city with a virtually car free centre, a host of fine churches - including the Romanesque cathedral and baptistery and the Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Steccata - and some beautiful palaces.

Travel tip

Emilia-Romagna is one of the wealthiest regions in Europe, let alone Italy. Its capital, Bologna, is the home of the University of Bologna, the oldest university in the world, while the region is a major centre for food and car production. It is the home of companies such as Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, Pagani, De Tomaso and Ducati, and a thriving tourist trade based around the popular coastal resorts of Cervia, Cesenatico, Rimini and Riccione.

More reading:

The brilliant legacy of Federico Fellini

How Shakespeare adaptations made Zeffirelli a household name

Why Francesco Rosi can be counted among Italian cinema's greats

Also on this day:

1886: The birth of Emilio Lunghi, Italy's first Olympic medallist

1978: The terrorist kidnapping of former prime minister Aldo Moro


28 March 2016

Alberto Grimaldi - film producer

Spaghetti Western trilogy gave Naples producer his big break

Alberto Grimaldi was born in Naples in 1925
Alberto Grimaldi
Film producer Alberto Grimaldi, who celebrates his 91st birthday today, boasts an extraordinary list of credits that includes Last Tango in Paris, The Canterbury Tales, Man of La Mancha, Fellini's Casanova, 1900, Ginger and Fred and Gangs of New York.

Born in Naples on this day in 1925, Grimaldi trained as a lawyer and it was in that capacity that he initially found work in the cinema industry in the 1950s.

However, he could see the money-making potential in production and in the early 1960s set up his own company, Produzioni Europee Associate (PEA).

His first three productions, cashing in on the popularity in Italy of westerns, enjoyed some success but it was a meeting with Sergio Leone, the Italian director, that earned him his big break.

Leone, whose first venture into the western genre, A Fistful of Dollars, had been an unexpected hit both for him and the young American actor, Clint Eastwood, was busy planning the sequel when a dispute arose with his producers over the cost of the movie.

Grimaldi was listed as a producer of the 2002 movie directed by Martin Scorsese
Movie poster advertising Scorsese's
epic Gangs of New York
As it happened, Grimaldi's first production, The Shadow of Zorro, had been filmed, like A Fistful of Dollars, on location in Spain.  Leone knew of Grimaldi's legal background and initially sought his advice on settling the dispute.  Ultimately, they agreed to collaborate and the Leone classics, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, also starring Eastwood, were PEA productions.

Both were considerable box office hits and established Grimaldi's name, opening many doors.

By the 1970s, Grimaldi was in a position to produce movies by many of Italy's top directors, including Federico Fellini, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Pier Paolo Pasolini, as well as supporting the artistic aspirations of other Italian directors, such as Gillo Pontecorvo, Elio Petri and Francesco Rosi.

He became more selective in his projects in the 1980s, notably turning down the chance to work with Leone again on Once Upon a Time in America. After producing Fellini's comedy drama Ginger and Fred, a 1986 film about two Italian impersonators of the American dance movie legends, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, it was 16 years before his name was attached to the $100 million Martin Scorcese epic, Gangs of New York, which was released in 2002.  By then Grimaldi was aged 77.

Grimaldi was aged 10 in 1935
Via Partenope in 1935
Travel tip:

Grimaldi's home city of Naples has changed little in his lifetime.  The black and white postcard image shows the Via Partenope, bordering the waterfront in the Santa Lucia district of the city, in 1935, when Grimaldi was a 10-year-old boy.  It is scarcely different today, 81 years on.

A view of Naples from Castel Sant'Elmo
Over the rooftops of Naples towards Mergellina and
Posillipo, as seen from Castel Sant'Elmo
Travel tip:

Visitors to Naples who crave a more peaceful side to the city away from the chaos of the Spaccanapoli or the Spanish Quarter should venture north from Piazza del Plebiscito and the Royal Palace on to the long promenade of Via Francesco Caracciolo towards Mergellina and the residential quarter of Posillipo, the traditional home of the more wealthy Neapolitans.

More reading: