Showing posts with label Fellini. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fellini. Show all posts

25 February 2017

Alberto Sordi - actor

Comic genius who appeared in 190 films

Alberto Sordi with Sophia Loren in the 1954 film Due notti con Cleopatra (Two Nights with Cleopatra)
Alberto Sordi with Sophia Loren in the 1954 film
Due notti con Cleopatra (Two Nights with Cleopatra)
Alberto Sordi, remembered by lovers of Italian cinema as one of its most outstanding comedy actors, died on this day in 2003 in Rome, the city of his birth.

He was 82 and had suffered a heart attack.  Italy reacted with an outpouring of grief and the decision was taken for his body to lie in state at Rome's town hall, the Campidoglio.

Streams of his fans took the opportunity to file past his coffin and when his funeral took place at the Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano it was estimated that the crowds outside the church and in nearby streets numbered one million people.

Only the funeral of Pope John Paul II, who died two years later, is thought to have attracted a bigger crowd.

Sordi (right) in a scene from his 1954 film An American in  Rome, which established him as a comic character actor
Sordi (right) in a scene from An American in Rome 
(1954) which established him as a comic character actor
Sordi was the Italian voice of Oliver Hardy in the early days of his career, when he worked on the dubbing of the Laurel and Hardy movies.  He made the first of his 190 films in 1937 but it was not until the 1950s that he found international fame.

He appeared in two movies directed by Federico Fellini - The White Sheik and I vitelloni.  In the latter, he played an oafish layabout, something of a simpleton but an effeminate and vulnerable character to whom audiences responded with warmth and affection due to Sordi's interpretation.

It was Sordi's eye for the foibles of quirks of the Italian character that identified him as an actor of considerable talent.  His films often had the simple titles of the Italian stereotypes he was sending up, such as The Seducer, The Bachelor, The Husband, The Widower, The Traffic Cop and The Moralist.

Some were black comedies, some slapstick farces, others more serious dramas. Along with Vittorio Gassman, Ugo Tognazzi and Nino Manfredi, he made up a quartet that has been described as Italy's equivalent of the Ealing comedy school.

Alberto Sordi in the 1962 black comedy Mafioso
Alberto Sordi in the 1962 black comedy Mafioso
Born in Rome in June 1920 in the working class Trastevere district, Sordi came from a musical family. While his mother was a schoolteacher, his father played the tuba in the orchestra at the Rome Opera House.

His father encouraged an interest in music and by the age of 10 Sordi was singing in the Sistine Chapel choir. At 16 he went to Milan to study at drama school but was told he would never be successful unless he shed his thick Roman accent.  In the event, the accent and distinctive voice became part of his popularity.

Back in Rome, he became popular in radio shows and as a music hall act before landing the voice-over part for the Laurel and Hardy films, employing the bogus English accent he had used in a music hall sketch.

Eager for more work in the burgeoning movie industry, he hung around the cafes in Piazza di Spagna, where he befriended Fellini and his fellow director, Vittorio De Sica.  After working as an extra, he landed his first important role was as an air force cadet in Tre Aquilotti (Three Eaglets) in 1941.

Sordi (in the foreground) lounges outside a cafe in I vitelloni
Sordi (in the foreground) lounges outside a cafe in I vitelloni
The two Fellini movies brought him to the attention of the movie world as an actor of potential but it was his performance in An American in Rome (1954), directed by Stefano Vanzina - usually known as Steno - that established his brilliance in exaggerating the foibles and idiosyncrasies of his fellow Italians.

Poking fun at Italy's obsession with things American, Sordi played Ferdinand 'Nando' Mericoni, a young Roman who is so in awe of the American lifestyle he tries to make his room look like a Hollywood set, pretends he is from Kansas City and lives out everyday situations as if he were an actor in an American film. He makes up for his inability to speak English by making American vocal sounds.  Sordi would return to the theme years later, in 1968, with an Italian in America, which he directed himself.

In the opinion of the critics, the most accomplished performance of his career was as a middle-class Italian in Mario Monicelli's hard-hitting 1977 film Un Borghese Piccolo Piccolo (A Very Small Petit Bourgeois), who takes vengeance after seeing his child killed in a robbery.

Sordi never married but was the long-time partner of the actress Andreina Pagnani. Later in life, he lived quietly with his dogs and his two sisters in a splendid villa near the Baths of Caracalla, indulging his interests in opera, collecting antiques and supporting his football team, AS Roma.

Over a career that spanned five decades, he won seven David di Donatello awards for best actor - the most won by anyone in that category - and four awards from the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists. He also received a Golden Lion for lifetime achievement at the Venice Film Festival in 1995.

Less than a week after his death, the mayor of Rome announced that the gallery of shops opposite the Palazzo Chigi would be renamed Galleria Alberto Sordi in his memory.

The Isola Tiberina adjoins the Trastevere district
The Isola Tiberina adjoins the Trastevere district
Travel tip:

The Trastevere district has evolved from its working class roots into one of Rome's most fashionable neighbourhoods, certainly among young professionals, who are attracted by its pretty cobbled streets and the wealth of inexpensive but chic restaurants.  There are interesting attractions for visitors, too.  Apart from some fine churches, the area boasts the Botanical Garden of Rome, the lovely Isola Tiberina, an island in the middle of the river on which is built an old hospital and a church, and the lively Porta Portese Sunday market.

Rome hotels from

Travel tip:

Numbering John Keats, Mary Shelley and Casanova among its fans, the Piazza di Spagna is a beautiful square noted for the famous Spanish Steps leading up to the Trinità dei Monti church. Keats had a house next to the steps on the right looking up from the square. The steps tend to be crowded with tourists during the day but thin out after 10pm, when the square still looks glorious under the street lights. Leading off the square, Via Condotti has become home to Rome’s most exclusive shops, including Prada and Gucci. There are plenty of restaurants and bars around the square, although they can be expensive. However, inexpensive beer, ice creams and roasted chestnuts can be bought from street vendors.

More reading:

Giulietta Masina - Fellini's muse and wife of 50 years

Otto e mezzo - the greatest Fellini movie of them all?

How tough-talking Roman actress Anna Magnani became an Oscar-winning star

Also on this day:

1682: The birth of anatomist Giovanni Battista Morgagni

1707: The birth of Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni

1873: The birth of the brilliant tenor Enrico Caruso

Selected books:

A History of Italian Cinema, by Peter Bondanella and Federico Pacchioni


27 October 2016

Roberto Benigni - Oscar winner

How Life is Beautiful made Tuscan actor and director famous

Roberto Benigni
Roberto Benigni
Roberto Benigni, whose performance in the 1997 film Life is Beautiful won him an Oscar for Best Actor, was born on this day in 1952 in rural Tuscany, around 20km south of Arezzo.

The Academy Award, for which he beat off strong competition from Nick Nolte (Affliction) and Tom Hanks (Saving Private Ryan) among others, put him in the company of Anna Magnani (1955) and Sophia Loren (1961) as one of just three Italian winners of best actor or actress.

Benigni, who also directed Life is Beautiful, had won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film earlier in the awards ceremony, which delighted him so much he famously clambered on to the back of the seats of audience members in the row in front of his to lead the applause before stepping up to the stage to receive the award from Sophia Loren.

When Helen Hunt called out his name for Best Actor - the first since Loren to win the most coveted prize with a foreign language film - he began his acceptance speech by apologizing for having "used up all my English", before proceeding to deliver another joyously emotional expression of gratitude.

Benigni was born in the hamlet of Manciano la Misericordia, near the walled town of Castiglion Fiorentino.  His family moved when he was six years old to Vergaio, a village near Prato, to which he made reference in his speech, thanking his parents, Luigi and Isolina, for "the gift of poverty", despite which he had a happy childhood and believes shaped his character and made him appreciate his good fortune all the more.

Roberto Benigni with his wife and co-star, Nicoletta Braschi
Roberto Benigni with his wife
and co-star, Nicoletta Braschi
He based Life is Beautiful, the story of a Jewish Italian bookshop owner who uses his comic imagination to shield his son from the horrors of internment in a Nazi concentration camp, in part on the experiences of his father, who spent almost three years in the Belsen concentration camp in Germany.

Written in collaboration with Vincenzo Cerami, the film was attacked by some critics for presenting an unrealistic picture of the Holocaust which contained too little suffering, and suggested that "laughing at everything" was disrespectful to the millions of victims.

However, others praised Benigni for having the artistic daring and skill to create such a sensitive comedy against a background of dark, unparalleled tragedy.

Before the huge fame the movie brought him, Benigni, who was raised as a Catholic and was an altar boy in his local church, had enjoyed relatively modest success in his acting and directing career.

After studying initially to become a priest, a path he abandoned after the school he attended in Florence was damaged in the floods of 1966, he developed a fascination with a circus that was playing near his home and was offered work as a magician's assistant.

He had his first taste of theatre in Prato before moving to Rome, where he appeared in avant-garde theatre and became popular for his improvisation of epic poems, such as those of Ludovico AriostoEdmund Spenser and Dante Alighieri.

It was in Rome that he met Giuseppe Bertolucci - brother of Bernardo - who cast him in a film entitled Berlinguer, I love You, that appealed to his Communist sympathies.  Enrico Berlinguer was the leader of the Italian Communist Party.

See Roberto Benigni's acceptance speech for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar

He appeared in a number of TV shows directed by Renzo Arbore, one of which was banned by the censors, and worked on films with Bernardo Bertolucci and Federico Fellini.

The first of his nine films as a director was Tu mi turbi (You disturb me), a comedy that satirizes religion and the banking system.  He also starred in the film opposite Nicoletta Braschi, an actress from Cesena with whom he became romantically involved.  They have been married since 1991.  Braschi also appears in Life is Beautiful as the wife of Benigni's character.

Benigni's two films after Life is Beautiful - Pinocchio and The Tiger and the Snow - played well with home audiences but were less well received outside Italy and in the 11 years since the latter he has not made another film, although he hinted recently that he has a new project in mind.

Roberto Benigni on stage in his touring  one-man show, TuttiDante
Roberto Benigni on stage in his touring
one-man show, TuttiDante
He has remained successful on stage and television with his 90-minute one-man show TuttiDante, in which he has returned to his love of improvisatory poetry - a particularly Tuscan art form for which his father was an enthusiast.

During the show, Benigni combines current events with his memories of the past in a passionate interpretation of Dante's Divine Comedy.

No stranger to controversy, apart from his role in the Abore TV show that was taken off the air, he attracted headlines for appearing to call Pope John Paul II by an impolite name, for lifting a startled Enrico Berlinguer off his feet in an embrace at a Communist rally, and then for gatecrashing a TV news bulletin reporting on a protest against Silvio Berlusconi in which he had taken part, removing his shirt, draping it around the shoulders if the presenter and declaring (falsely) that Berlusconi had resigned.

Travel tip:

Arezzo, where much of Life is Beautiful is filmed, is a city in eastern Tuscany famous among other things for the frescoes of the artist, Piero della Francesco, in the 13th century church of San Francesco.  The Legend of the True Cross, painted between 1452 and 1466, is considered to be one of Italy’s greatest fresco cycles.  Arezzo is also the birthplace of the 14th century Renaissance poet, Francesco Petrarca, widely known by his English name, Petrarch.

The view through one of the archways in Giorgio Vasari's loggia
The view through one of the archways
in Giorgio Vasari's loggia
Travel tip:

Apart from its 13th century walls, the Tuscan hill town of Castiglion Fiorentino, of which Manciano la Misericordia, Benigni's birthplace, is a frazione (parish), is notable for a handsome nine-arch loggia designed by the 16th century artist and architect, Giorgio Vasari, along one side of the Piazza del Municipio, which offers a beautiful vista looking out over the Val di Chio below the town.  Vasari, who worked for the Medici family in Florence, designed the loggia at the Palazzo degli Uffizi and the Vasari Corridor, which connects the Uffizi with the Medici residence across the River Arno at Palazzo Pitti and includes the covered Ponte Vecchio bridge.

More reading:

(Top photo of Benigni by Gorup de Besanez CC BY-SA 4.0)
(Second photo of Benigni by Georges Biard CC BY-SA 3.0)
(Photo of Vasari's loggia view by Silviapitt CC BY-SA 3.0)


26 September 2016

Anna Magnani - Oscar-winning film star

Roman one of only three Italians to land best actor award

Anna Magnani, the Rome-born actress who died in 1973
Anna Magnani, the Rome-born
actress who died in 1973
Anna Magnani, who found fame for her performance in Roberto Rossellini's neorealist classic movie Rome, Open City and went on to become one of only three Italian actors to win an Academy Award, died on this day in Rome in 1973.

Magnani had been quietly suffering from pancreatic cancer and her death at the age of just 65 shocked her fans and even close friends. Rossellini, with whom she had a tempestuous five-year relationship before he ditched her for the Swedish actress, Ingrid Bergman, was at her bedside along with her son, Luca.  Rossellini was considered to be Magnani’s one great love. The American playwright Tennessee Williams, who wrote two parts for her in his plays (Serafina in The Rose Tattoo and Lady in Orpheus Descending) specifically with Magnani in mind, was so devastated he could not bring himself to attend her funeral.

Instead he sent 20 dozen roses to signify the bond they developed while working together over 24 years.  When Williams was in Rome they would meet for cocktails on the roof-top terrace of her home, overlooking the city, always at eight o'clock - "alle venti" in Italy, where times are generally expressed according to the 24-hour clock.  They would sign off letters and telegrams to one another with the words "Ci vediamo alle venti" or "See you at eight."

The funeral procession attracted crowds in the tens of thousands. Countless businesses closed and many streets were shut to traffic as Magnani's coffin was taken to the Basilica di Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, near the Pantheon in central Rome, where the service took place.  The Piazza Minerva was thronged with people, who broke into spontaneous cheering when the coffin appeared.

The original movie poster for the film  of the Tennessee Williams play, The Rose Tattoo.
The original movie poster for the film
of the Tennessee Williams play
It was the movie version of The Rose Tattoo, for which Williams wrote the screenplay, that won Magnani her Oscar in 1955, playing opposite Burt Lancaster. She was the first of two Italian actresses to win the Academy Award, to be followed six years later by Sophia Loren for Vittorio De Sica's La Ciociara, which was renamed Two Women for the American market.

Loren’s role was originally designed for Magnani and Loren was supposed to play the role of her daughter. Magnani refused to play opposite Loren, who was already 26 years old and not right for a teenaged virgin, and actually gave De Sica the idea to cast Loren as the mother; a role for which she would win the Best Actress Oscar in 1962.

Roberto Benigni is the only Italian-born male actor to win an Oscar, for Life is Beautiful in 1998.

Magnani's acting was notable in that she was able to bring her own personality, her affinity with the ordinary people she grew up with, to her roles, in which she was often cast as una popolana - a coarse woman of working class background.  Raised largely by her grandparents in a poor, working-class part of Rome, Anna was a product of a short-lived marriage between her mother, Marina Magnani, and an itinerant Calabrian father (who worked in Egypt) whom she met only once.

Some erroneous biographical notes suggest she was born in Alessandria, Egypt but Magnani herself insisted that while her mother may have been in Egypt when she fell pregnant, she had moved back to Rome and was living in the Porta Pia area by the time she gave birth.  Magnani was given her maternal surname, the last name of both her mother and grandmother.

While Anna had a tough upbringing in Rome, her grandmother managed to send her to a convent school, learned French, played piano, and, at age 17, went on to study at the Eleonora Duse Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in Rome for two years. She often said she felt more at home with the more down-to-earth people in her own neighborhood as it taught her to become streetwise at a young age. Magnani soon was supporting herself by singing in cabarets and nightclubs, where her performances drew comparisons with the French singer, Edith Piaf.

Magnani had her first film role in the 1920s, although it was 20 years before her breakthrough in Rossellini's 1945 movie Rome, Open City, which is generally regarded as the first film in the Italian neorealist genre to achieve commercial success. Magnani's performance as Pina, the pregnant widow of an Italian resistance fighter murdered by the occupying Germans forces as she tries to protect her fiance, was acclaimed for its brilliance. Although she was not regarded as a conventional beauty, she had an earthy sensuality that audiences found captivating.

Anna Magnani, centre, in a scene from Rome, Open City, the film that was the turning point in her career
Anna Magnani, centre, in a scene from Rome, Open City,
the film that was the turning point in her career
Her relationship with Rossellini, often punctuated with violent rows in which they were renowned for throwing crockery at one another, foundered after five years, when Rossellini began an affair with Bergman, reneging on a promise to make Magnani the star of his 1950 film, Stromboli, and giving the role instead to the Swedish actress.  Magnani retaliated  by making her own film with director William Dieterle entitled Vulcano.

Yet Magnani's career never faltered as it this very time, in 1949-50, that her friendship with American playwright Tennessee Williams would blossom. She went on to work with many of the great Italian directors, such as Luchino Visconti, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Federico Fellini, whose 1972 film, Roma, would be her last.

Magnani married Italian director, Goffredo Alessandrini, in the 1930s but they were together only briefly before the marriage was annulled.  Her son, Luca, was born in 1942, the product of an affair with an Italian actor, Massimo Serato. Luca was stricken with polio as a child (1944) but Anna dedicated her life to caring for him in his younger years and providing him with the best (Swiss) medical care. Luca Magnani - Anna fought in court for him to keep her maternal surname - would go on to be a noted architect and real estate developer.

Luca Magnani's daughter, Olivia Magnani, born in Bologna in 1975, has followed her grandmother in becoming a movie actress. She is the fifth generation to carry on the Magnani name.

The stage play, Roman Nights, by Italo-American playwright Franco D’Alessandro recounts the inspired, fruitful, and tumultuous friendship between Anna Magnani and Tennessee Williams. 

The beautiful vaulted ceiling of the Basilica di Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome
The beautiful vaulted ceiling of the Basilica
di Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome
Travel tip:

The Basilica di Santa Maria sopra Minerva is the only existing example of an oroginal Gothic church in Rome, its Renaissance-style frontage concealing a Gothic interior featuring an arched vaulted ceiling painted blue with gilded stars.  It contains a marble sculpture, Cristo della Minerva, by Michelangelo, and the strikingly beautiful Carafa Chapel, with frescoes by Filippino Lippi.  Buried in the church are Saint Catherine of Siena, the Renaissance painter Fra Angelico, and at least four popes.

Travel tip:

Porta Pia, from which the neighbourhood in which Anna Magnani was born takes its name, is a gate in Rome's Aurelian Walls, designed by Michelangelo and named after Pope Pius IV.  It was close to Porta Pia that a breach of the walls made by Bersaglieri soldiers from the north of Italy enabled Rome to be captured and completed the unification of Italy in 1870.  It was also the scene of a failed assassination attempt on Benito Mussolini in 1926 by anti-Fascist activist Gino Lucetti.

Also on this day:

(Photo of interior of Basilica by Tango7174 GFDL)


8 August 2016

Dino De Laurentiis – film producer

Campanian pasta seller helped make Italian cinema famous 

Dino de Laurentiis, pictured in about 1950, shortly before he produced the Oscar-winning movie La Strada
Dino De Laurentiis, pictured in about 1950
The producer of hundreds of hit films, Agostino ‘Dino’ De Laurentiis was born on this day in 1919 at Torre Annunziata, near Naples in Campania.

He made Italian cinema famous internationally, producing Federico Fellini’s Oscar- winning La Strada in 1954 in Rome.

After moving to the US he enjoyed further success with the film Serpico in 1973.

De Laurentiis was the son of a pasta manufacturer for whom he worked as a salesman during his teens.

While selling pasta in Rome in the 1930s he decided on impulse to enrol at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in the city as an actor.

He quickly realised he had more talent for producing and after gaining experience in the different sectors of the industry made his first film, L’Amore Canta - 'Love Song' - in 1941 when he was just 22.

After serving in the army during the second world war, De Laurentiis became an executive producer at one of Rome’s emerging film companies, Lux.

Among the films he produced for Lux was Riso Amaro - 'Bitter Rice' - starring Silvana Mangano, whom he later married and had four children with. The film was a box-office success both at home and abroad.

An early publicity poster for the De  Laurentiis production La Strada
An early publicity poster for the De
 Laurentiis production La Strada
Proud of his Campanian origins, De Laurentiis made Napoli Milionaria, - 'Naples Millionaire' - a comedy presenting a slice of life in Naples during and after the war.

In 1950 De Laurentiis and Carlo Ponti formed their own film company and produced Fellini’s La Strada which won the Oscar for best foreign language feature in 1957.

The soundtrack was written by Nino Rota, who scored many of Fellini's films and is also known for the music that accompanied the first two Godfather films.

He moved to the US in the 1970s where he made Serpico starring Al Pacino and Conan the Barbarian, which helped launch the career of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Although De Laurentiis became an American citizen, he returned to Italy frequently, shooting scenes in Florence for Hannibal in 2001 starring Anthony Hopkins.

De Laurentiis and Silvana Mangano divorced shortly before her death in 1989 and he married Martha Schumacher in 1990, with whom he had another two daughters.

De Laurentiis died in 2010 at the age of 91 at his residence in Beverly Hills.

The harbour at Torre Annunziata, just outside Naples
The harbour at Torre Annunziata, just outside Naples
Travel tip:

Torre Annunziata, where De Laurentiis was born, is a city near Naples in Campania. Close to Mount Vesuvius, it was destroyed in the eruption of 79 AD and was rebuilt over the ruins. Its name derives from a watch tower - torre - built to warn people of imminent Saracen raids and a chapel consecrated to the Annunziata (Virgin Mary). It became a centre for pasta production in the early 19th century. The Villa Poppaea, also known as Villa Oplontis, believed to be owned by Nero, was discovered about ten metres below ground level just outside the town and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Travel tip:

The Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia (Experimental Film Centre) was established in 1935 in Rome to promote the art and technique of film making. It is located near Cinecittà, the hub of the Italian film industry, to the south of the city. Cinecittà was bombed during the Second World War but rebuilt and used again in the 1950s for large productions, such as Ben-Hur. A range of productions, from television drama to music videos, are filmed there now and it has its own dedicated Metro stop.

More reading:

(Photo of movie poster by Pabloglezcruz CC BY-SA 3.0)


19 June 2016

Pier Angeli - Hollywood star

Actress hailed for talent and beauty died tragically young

Photo of Pier Angeli
Anna Maria Pierangeli, the actress who
 became known as Pier Angeli
The actress Pier Angeli, a Hollywood star in the 1950s and 60s, was born on this day in 1932 in Cagliari, Sardinia.

She won awards in Italy and in America at the start of her career, when she was likened by some critics to the Swedish-born star Greta Garbo.

Described by the actor Paul Newman as "the most beautiful Italian actress of the century", Angeli was also a fixture in the gossip columns.  Linked romantically with a number of Hollywood's leading male actors, she dated Kirk Douglas and became close to the celebrated 'rebel' James Dean before marrying another star, the Italian-American actor and singer, Vic Damone.

It would be the first of two marriages.  She had a son, Perry, with Damone but they divorced after four years.  A second marriage, to the Italian composer, Armando Trovaioli, produced another son, Andrew, but they also divorced.

Born Anna Maria Pierangeli, the daughter of an architect, she had a twin sister, Maria Luisa, who would also become an actress.  Her mother, Enrica, used to dress the girls to resemble the American child star, Shirley Temple. The family moved to Rome when she was three.

Her mother wasted little time in enrolling the girls for stage school as soon as they were old enough and Anna Maria was only 16 when she enjoyed the big break that would shape her career.  Hanging out on the fashionable Via Veneto, she was spotted by the Italian actor, Vittorio de Sica, and recommended for a role in his upcoming film, Domani e Troppo Tardi (Tomorrow is Too Late).

Playing the part of Marisa in a tale of two star-crossed adolescent lovers, she won the Best Actress award from the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists.  Soon, Hollywood beckoned.

Again, she was a hit from the start, winning a Golden Globe for Most Promising Female Newcomer for her MGM debut movie Teresa, in which she played the title role and which saw Rod Steiger and John Ericson also make their debuts.  Renamed Pier Angeli by the MGM producer Arthur Loew, it was her performance in this film - much of it shot on location in Rome - that brought comparisons with Greta Garbo.

Photo of James Dean
James Dean, the American actor with whom
Pier Angeli had a relationship
As offers of parts began to flow, so the gossip columnists began to follow Pier Angeli's every move. She was linked with numerous actors, including Marlon Brando, before settling into a year-long relationship with Kirk Douglas after they met while filming The Story of Three Loves.

Douglas was more than 15 years older than Angeli, however, and though they become engaged they eventually broke up, despite a number of attempted reconciliations.

Angeli met James Dean while making The Silver Chalice, in which Paul Newman made his screen debut.  Newman was visited on set by Dean, another young American who was simultaneously filming his debut movie, East of Eden.  The pretty young Italian actress caught his eye and they hit it off immediately.

By now, Angeli's family had moved to California and though she and Dean became inseparable, her mother disapproved of the relationship, preferring the charming Damone, whom Angeli has dated before and had the advantage - in her mother's eyes - of being a Catholic from a New York Italian family.

It is said that Angeli would have married Dean had he proposed, but he was reluctant to commit. He was still inclined to act on impulses. When he announced, suddenly, that he was going to New York and did not return for two weeks, her mother persuaded Pier that he was unreliable and she terminated their relationship.  Soon afterwards, she accepted a proposal from Damone.

In the best melodramatic tradition of screen romances, Dean is said to have sat outside on his motorcycle while the wedding was taking place in a church in Beverley Hills, speeding away noisily as the couple emerged.  Later, after the failure of her second marriage, Angeli confessed that Dean, who would be killed in a road accident a year later, had been the true love of her life.

With painful irony, Angeli would win plaudits in 1956 for Somebody Up There Likes Me, playing the wife of Paul Newman, who took the role of the prize fighter Rocky Graziano that had originally been earmarked for Dean.

Her career at the top was not over.  In 1960 she was nominated for a BAFTA as best foreign actress for her performance alongside Richard Attenborough in the British film The Angry Silence and starred with Stewart Granger in the Biblical epic Sodom and Gomorrah.

Pier Angeli died in 1971 in tragic circumstances at the age of just 39, in an apartment belonging to her former acting coach in Beverley Hills. She had been receiving treatment for a stomach disorder but her death was from an overdose of barbiturates.

Travel tip:

Sardinia's fascinating capital, Cagliari, combines fragments of the past – spanning Carthaginian, Roman, Byzantine, Spanish and Italian eras – with 21st-century cosmopolitanism.  Visitors should concentrate first on the Castello district, the medieval heart of the city built on top of a hill with a view of the Gulf of Cagliari. Built from local white limestone, most of the city walls remain intact and include two towers that survive from the early 14th century.

Photo of the Westin Excelsior Hotel on the Via Veneto in Rome
The Westin Excelsior Hotel on Rome's Via Veneto
Travel tip: 

Rome's Via Vittorio Veneto, commonly known as the Via Veneto, is one of the capital's most famous, elegant and expensive streets. The street is named after the 1918 Battle of Vittorio Veneto, a decisive Italian victory of World War I, and immortalised by Federico Fellini's 1960 film La Dolce Vita, which celebrated its heyday in the '50s and '60s when its bars and restaurants attracted Hollywood stars and jet set personalities.  Some of Rome's most renowned cafés and five star hotels, such as Café de Paris, Harry's Bar, the Regina Hotel Baglioni and the Westin Excelsior are located in Via Veneto.

More reading:

Roberto Rossellini - pioneer of neo-realism

Federico Fellini - great 20th century filmmaker

Rudolph Valentino - tragic star of silent movies

(Photo of Via Veneto by Gobbler CC BY-SA 3.0)


3 June 2016

Roberto Rossellini - film director

Roman movie pioneer whose 'neo-realism' had lasting influence

Photo of Rossellini and Ingrid Bergmann
Roberto Rossellini pictured with his third wife,
the Swedish acress Ingrid Bergmann
Film director Roberto Rossellini died on this day in 1977 in Rome, the city that provided the backdrop to his greatest work and earned him the reputation as the 'father of neo-realism'.

Rossellini had been associated with the Fascist regime during the early part of the Second World War, in part due to his friendship with Vittorio Mussolini, the film producer son of the dictator, Benito Mussolini.  His three wartime movies, The White Ship, A Pilot Returns and The Man with a Cross, all had elements of pro-Fascist propaganda.

But after Mussolini was dismissed and his government collapsed in 1943, Rossellini began work on the anti-Fascist film Rome, Open City, which he described as a history of Rome under Nazi occupation.

It starred the popular actor Aldo Fabrizi in the role of a priest ultimately executed by the Nazis and the actress Anna Magnani as the heroine, Pina, but also featured footage of real Roman citizens originally intended to be used in two short documentary films.  Rossellini also used non-professional actors for many scenes, feeling that they could portray the hardships and poverty of Rome under occupation more authentically.  Rossellini's brother, Renzo, a musician, wrote the score.

The difficulties faced in production, such as the scarcity of film and an unreliable electricity supply, affected the quality of the end product but somehow added to the realism Rossellini sought to capture.

Rome, Open City was not well received by cinemagoers in Italy, who wanted escapism rather than to be confronted with a reality they knew only too well. There was still much war damage in evidence in Rome when the film had its premiere in September 1945.

However, it won critical acclaim and several major awards, including the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival in 1946.  It was also nominated for an Oscar for the screenplay, written by Federico Fellini and Sergio Amidei. Rossellini went on to direct Paisan (1946) and Germany Year Zero (1948), also regarded as classics.  The three movies became known as his Neorealist Trilogy.

Rossellini's later films were not commercially successful but his status in the history of Italian cinema was established and he has been cited as a major influence by many directors since, including the Italian-American colossus of American cinema, Martin Scorsese.

Photo of plaque commemorating Rossellini
A plaque on a wall in the Via degli Avignonesi marks one of
the locations used for Rossellini's film 'Rome, Open City'
Born in Rome in 1906, Rossellini's love of the cinema was influenced by his father, an architect, Angiolo Giuseppe "Beppino" Rossellini, who owned a construction company in Rome and built the city's first cinema, the Barberini, to which he gave the young Roberto an unlimited free pass.  After his father died, Roberto worked in a number of jobs related to film production and gained experience in many parts of the movie-making business.

His private life was turbulent.  The first of his four marriages was to a Russian actress, Assia Noris, whom he divorced in 1936 in order to marry Marcella de Marchis, a costume designer.  In 1948 he received a letter from Ingrid Bergman, the beautiful Swedish actress who had starred opposite Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca and Cary Grant in the Hitchcock thriller Notorious, in which she declared herself "ready to make a film with you".

By coincidence - it is assumed - the characters in Rome, Open City had included one called Bergman and another called Ingrid.

They began an affair during the shooting of their first collaboration. It was regarded as a scandal in some countries, given that they were both married, and filled many column inches in the gossip magazines.  Bergman became pregnant with Roberto Ingmar Rossellini, after which they were married. They had two more children, Isabella Rossellini, the actress and model, and her twin, Ingrid Isotta.

While married to Bergman, Rossellini was invited by the Indian Prime Minister, Jewaharlal Nehru, to help revive the ailing Indian cinema industry and began an affair with the Indian screenwriter, Sonali DasGupta, herself married. The scandal led Nehru to ask Rossellini to leave India.

Dasgupta quit India with him to become his fourth wife, although he would walk out on her in 1973, four years before his death from a heart attack, after beginning a relationship with a young woman, Sylvia D'Amico.  He was survived by six children, plus one adopted stepson and a stepdaughter.

Travel tip:

Rossellini's childhood home was in Via Ludovisi, situated in the rione of the same name, one of 22 neighbourhoods that make up the Centro Storico (Historic Centre) of Rome.  Ludovisi is dominated by the elegant, upmarket Via Vittorio Veneto.  The Cinema Barberini, built by Rossellini's father, is on Piazza Barberini.  He began shooting Rome, Open City, just a few streets away in Via degli Avignonesi.

Photo of the Fontana del Tritone
The Fontana del Tritone in Rome's
Piazza Barberini, close to Rossellini's home
Travel tip:

Piazza Barberini is a large square in Rome's Centro Storico situated on the Quirinal Hill. It was created in the 16th century and although many of the surrounding buildings have been rebuilt, the Fontana del Tritone or Triton Fountain, sculpted by Bernini between 1642 and 1643, remains intact as its centrepiece.

(Photo of Fontana del Tritone by Alers CC BY-SA 3.0)
(Photo of plaque by Lalupa CC BY-SA 3.0)


20 January 2016

Federico Fellini – film director

The cinematic legacy of Rimini’s most famous son

Federico Fellini, one of the most influential filmmakers of the 20th century, was born on this day in Rimini in 1920.

Fellini was one of Italy's greatest film directors
Federico Fellini
He had a career lasting almost 50 years and his films were nominated for 12 Academy Awards and won four Oscars, each for Best Foreign Language Film, with La strada, Nights of Cabiria, 8½ and Amarcord.

Fellini went to Rome to study Law at University but ended up working as a journalist instead.

His assignments for a magazine gave him the opportunity to meet people involved in show business and he eventually got work as a script writer for films and radio.

Fellini worked as both a screenwriter and assistant director on Roberto Rossellini films as well as producing and directing for other filmmakers.

He began work on his first solo film, The White Sheik, in 1951. It received mixed reviews but in 1953 his film, I vitelloni, pleased both the public and the critics.

He won his first Academy Award with Nights of Cabiria, starring his wife, Giulietta Masini, in 1953.  Based on a story by Fellini, the film is about a prostitute who searches in vain for true love.

Watch the scene in La dolce vita in which Anita Ekberg bathes in the Trevi Fountain

Fellini’s film La dolce vita, starring Anita Ekberg and Marcello Mastroianni and set in Rome, broke all box office records in 1960 and won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival. It is one of the most critically acclaimed films of all time.

Amarcord was based on his own memories of growing up in Rimini and features a group of adolescents living in a provincial town in Italy in the 1930s.
Mastroianni starred in Fellini's iconic movie La Dolce Vita
Fellini's La Dolce Vita starred
Marcello Mastroianni

It was Fellini’s second biggest commercial success after La dolce vita and won him his fourth Oscar. 

In 1985 he received an award for lifetime achievement at the Venice Biennale and he was also awarded an Oscar for lifetime achievement in 1993.

Fellini died in Rome in October of the same year after suffering a stroke. At the request of his wife, “Improvviso dell’Angelo by Nino Rota, who had written the music for all of films, was played during his funeral.

The airport at Rimini has since been named the Federico Fellini airport in his honour.

Travel tip:

With wide sandy beaches, and plenty of hotels and restaurants, Rimini is one of the most popular seaside resorts in Europe, but it is also a historic town with many interesting things to see. The Tempio Maletestiano is a 13th century Gothic church,originally built for the Franciscans, that was transformed on the outside in the 15th century and decorated inside with frescoes by Piero della Francesca and works by Giotto and many other artists.

The Tempio Maletestiano houses works by Piero della Francesca and others
The Tempio Maletestiano in Rimini
Travel tip:

The Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs (Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri) where Fellini’s funeral was held, is inside the former baths of Diocletian in Piazza della Repubblica in Rome. It was built on the orders of Pope Pius IV in 1561 to be dedicated to all Christian martyrs, known and unknown. Michelangelo and Vanvitelli both contributed to the design of the church.