Showing posts with label Film directors. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Film directors. Show all posts

11 February 2024

Giuseppe De Santis - film director

Former Resistance fighter famous for neorealist classic Bitter Rice

Giuseppe De Santis used his films to highlight social problems in postwar Italy
Giuseppe De Santis used his films to highlight
social problems in postwar Italy
The writer and film director Giuseppe De Santis, who is best remembered for the 1949 neorealist film Bitter Rice - screened as Riso Amaro for Italian audiences - was born on this day in 1917 in Fondi, a small city in Lazio about 130km (81 miles) south of Rome.

De Santis is sometimes described as an idealist of the neorealism genre, which flourished in the years immediately after World War Two, yet it can also be argued that he moved away from the documentary style that characterised some of neorealism’s early output towards films with more traditional storylines.

Bitter Rice, for example, while highlighting the harsh working conditions in the rice fields around Vercelli in the Po Valley and the exploitation of labourers by wealthy landowners, is also a tale of plotting, jealousy and treachery among thieves.

Nonetheless, De Santis, a staunch opponent of Mussolini and Fascism, an Italian Communist Party member who fought against the Germans with the Italian Resistance, inevitably underpinned his work with a strong social message.

The son of a surveyor, De Santis wrote stories from an early age, drawing on the day-to-day lives of the people around him in Fondi and the surrounding countryside. He enrolled to study literature and philosophy at university in Rome, making friends among the city’s young intellectuals, meeting poets, writers and artists who shared his vision. The Osteria Fratelli Menghi in Via Flaminia was a popular hang-out.

Luchino Visconti, with whom De Santis worked on Ossessione
Luchino Visconti, with whom De
Santis worked on Ossessione
He identified cinema as the art form in which he would most like to work and began to attend Rome’s Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, a cinema school established under Mussolini - who at one time banned all foreign films from Italian cinemas - to encourage the development of a thriving Italian film industry.

Despite their opposition to Fascism, De Santis and other anti-Fascists in the industry did not turn down the chance to take advantage of the facilities available at the CSC. At the same time, aware that a group of talented young directors could achieve his aims for the industry, Mussolini turned a blind eye to their political views, which some of the articles De Santis and others - including fellow future directors Antonio Pietrangeli, Luchino Visconti and Michelangelo Antonioni - wrote for the fortnightly Cinema magazine did not disguise.

While working for Cinema magazine, De Santis met the screenwriter Cesare Zavattini, under whose influence he became proponent of early neorealist filmmakers such as Visconti, who sought to make films that mirrored the reality of life for working-class Italians in the tough years of post-war rebuilding, shooting on location and giving parts to ordinary people with no acting experience.

De Santis, in fact, worked with Visconti on scripting the latter’s 1943 film Ossessione, a crime drama based loosely on the James M Cain novel The Postman Always Rings Twice, which the Fascists initially banned as morally corrupting.

His own directing debut came in 1947 with Caccia Tragica (Tragic Hunt), the first of three films protesting about conditions for working people that culminated in Riso Amaro, which starred the already-established Vittorio Gassman and the American actress Doris Dowling in the headline roles, with former footballer and journalist Raf Vallone making his debut.

It is remembered largely for the performance of Silvana Mangano, a voluptuous 19-year-old in her first credited part, who conveyed a combination of physical strength and earthy beauty that audiences and critics found entirely convincing in the role of a peasant worker accustomed to hours of slog in the rice fields, but still with the energy to dance the night away to her beloved boogie-woogie music.  Mangano ultimately married the film’s producer, Dino De Laurentiis.

De Santis's Bitter Rice turned the previously  unknown actress Silvana Mangano into a star
De Santis's Bitter Rice turned the previously 
unknown actress Silvana Mangano into a star
The film, which premiered at the 1949 Cannes Film Festival and was a finalist for the Palme d'Or, was a box office success in Italy and the United States. The film was nominated for Best Story in the 1950 Academy Awards.

De Santis made another important neorealist film three years later entitled Roma, ora 11 (Rome, 11 o’clock), a dramatic reconstruction of a real-life event in the Italian capital the previous year when a staircase collapsed under the weight of women queuing for job interviews, causing one death and multiple injuries.

In 1959 he won a Golden Globe with La strada lunga un anno (The Road a Year Long), which gained him another Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.

However, none of his subsequent work really had the same impact as Riso Amaro, which has been included on several subsequent lists of the best films in Italian cinema history.

De Santis directed his last feature film in 1972. He returned to the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in the 1980s and ‘90s, this time in the role of lecturer. In 1995 he received the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Film Festival and came out of retirement to direct, jointly with Bruno Bigon, a documentary called Oggi è un altro giorno (Today is Another Day) - Milano 1945-1995, a documentary about the Resistance in Milan.  

He died in Rome in 1997 at the age of 80, suffering a heart attack. A day of mourning was declared in Italy. His widow, Gordana Miletic, joined friends in establishing the Giuseppe De Santis Foundation, which gives an annual award in his memory to an emerging young film-maker. 

The Castello Baronale, parts of which date back to the 12th century, stands proudly over Fondi
The Castello Baronale, parts of which date back
to the 12th century, stands proudly over Fondi
Travel tip:

Situated on the Via Appia, the former Roman road that was once the main route from Rome to much of southern Italy, the city of Fondi rarely features on tourist itineraries, yet travel guides often include the word charming, even enchanting, in their description. Situated on a small plain - il Piano di Fondi - between the Ausoni and Aurunci mountain ranges and the Tyrrhenian Sea, it was founded by the ancient Romans, it became an important commercial centre in mediaeval times, when the powerful Caetani family built the impressive Castello Baronale, which still dominates the skyline. Subsequently the home of the literary court of Giulia Gonzaga, in more recent times it has housed a museum. The Collegiata di Santa Maria Assunta,a beautiful Gothic-style church, is another attraction. The plain also benefits from a fine stretch of natural beach and Fondi has a tradition of excellent seafood.

Find accommodation in Fondi with

An arch over the original Via Flaminia in Umbria
An arch over the original
Via Flaminia in Umbria
Travel tip:

The Osteria Fratelli Menghi, the historic tavern in Rome where De Santis would hang out with painters, actors, musicians and writers, was located in Via Flaminia on the site today occupied by the Caffè dei Pittori. The osteria was just 300m on foot from Piazza del Popolo, one of the major squares in the heart of Rome, yet there is much more to the Via Flaminia than simply a street in central Rome. It follows the route of the ancient Roman Via Flaminia, which was built by Gaius Flaminius in around 220 BC, going due north to cross the Tiber by way of the Ponte Milvio and continuing via a course over the Apennine Mountains to Ariminum (Rimini) on the coast of the Adriatic, a distance by the more recent of two routes of 328km (204 miles). The modern route from Rimini to Rome still follows closely the path of the original Roman road, a distance of 341km (), tracking the Adriatic coast to Fano, turning inland to pass close to Urbino, Perugia and Assisi and onwards towards the capital.

Rome hotels by

More reading:

Luchino Visconti - the aristocrat of Italian film

The enigmatic ‘last great’ of Italian cinema

The director known as the ‘father of neorealism’

Also on this day:

1791: The birth of architect Louis Visconti

1881: The birth of painter Carlo Carrà

1929: The Lateran Treaty gives independence to The Vatican

1948: The birth of footballer Carlo Sartori

1995: The birth of singer Gianluca Ginoble

(Picture credits: Via Flaminia by Imcarthur via Wikimedia Commons)


31 July 2023

Mario Bava - filmmaker

‘Master of Italian Horror’ had far-reaching influence

Mario Bava followed his father into the film industry
Mario Bava followed his father
into the film industry
Mario Bava, whose near-50 year career in the film business saw him become a pioneer for horror and other genres in Italian cinema, was born on this day in 1914 in Sanremo.

At various times a screenwriter, director, cinematographer and special effects artist, Bava’s work was largely on low-budget productions, yet with his imagination and artistic flair he created films that would have far-reaching influence in the movie industry.

Although the content tended towards the macabre, Bava is credited as the driving force behind the first Italian science fiction film in The Day the Sky Exploded (1958), the first big-screen giallo - the Italian murder mystery genre - in The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963), and the first Italian horror film in I Vampiri - The Vampires - in 1957.

His 1960 movie La maschera del demonio - The Mask of the Devil - was Italy’s first Gothic horror, his 1964 production Six Women for the Assassin is considered one of the earliest examples of the so-called ‘slasher’ movies, featuring mass murder. Steve Miner’s 1981 cult ‘slasher’ movie Friday the 13th Part II was directly inspired by Bava’s A Bay of Blood, which appeared a decade earlier.

Directors such a Martin Scorcese, Quentin Tarantino, Francis Ford Coppola  and Tim Burton all cite Bava as an influence on their own work, while the British rock band Black Sabbath, pioneers of the heavy metal genre, admitted that when they changed their name from Earth in 1968, they chose Black Sabbath because it was the title of a Bava film playing in a local cinema.

Although Bava’s father, Eugenio, was working as a special effects photographer and cameraman on Italian silent films when he was growing up, Mario’s first ambition was to make a living from painting. He had some talent, yet his paintings sold for relatively small amounts and turning them out with a frequency that could generate a living was impossible.

He needed a job in addition to his painting and through his father’s contacts found work as an assistant to other Italian cinematographers. He helped his father directly in the special effects department of the Istituto Luce, the film production plant created by the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, who wanted Italy to be at the forefront of the movie business as it began to take off as an entertainment industry in the 1920s.

Bava rejected several opportunities to take his many talents to Hollywood
Bava rejected several opportunities to take
his many talents to Hollywood
By the late 1930s, Bava had set up as a cinematographer in his own right and worked with the up-and-coming director Roberto Rossellini on two short films in 1940.

He began directing in the 1950s, taking over when Riccardo Freda walked out on the project, to finish I vampiri and working jointly with Paolo Heusch on The Day the Sky Exploded.

A somewhat unassuming person, Bava turned down several opportunities in Hollywood that would have enhanced both his standing and his bank balance. Indeed, most of the 72 films he made as director failed to achieve major commercial success. 

Yet many came to be regarded as classics, earning favourable comparison with the works of directors of much higher profile such as Alfred Hitchcock.  Movie historians now regard Bava as 'the Master of Italian Horror'.

Bava was proud that his son, Lamberto, followed him into the business. Lamberto worked as assistant to his father for 14 years before directing his first solo film in 1980.

His death in Rome in 1980 from a heart attack at the age of 65 came as a major shock to his friends and family and to the industry as a whole, given that he had undergone a physical a few days earlier and was declared by his doctor to be in perfect health.  He was buried at the Flaminio Cemetery in Rome.

The port of Sanremo in Liguria was one of the first Italian resorts to become a tourist destination
The port of Sanremo in Liguria was one of the
first Italian resorts to become a tourist destination
Travel tip:

Sanremo, an Italian Riviera resort most famous as the home of the Sanremo Music Festival, the prestigious song contest that has been held there every year since 1951, is an historic Italian holiday destination that was one of the first to benefit when the phenomenon of tourism began to take hold in the mid-18th century, albeit primarily among the wealthy. Several grand hotels were established in the Ligurian town and the Emperor Nicholas II of Russia was among the European royals who took holidays there. The Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, founder of the Nobel Prize, made it his permanent home.  Blessed with a comfortable climate most of the year, the area produces notable olive oils and is an important centre for the commercial growing of flowers.

Rome's Flaminio Cemetery is known for its striking contemporary architecture
Rome's Flaminio Cemetery is known for
its striking contemporary architecture
Travel tip:

Rome’s Flaminio Cemetery, established in 1945, is the largest cemetery in Italy, covering an area of 140 hectares. Also known as the Prima Porta cemetery, it can be found some 17km (11 miles) north of the centre of Rome. Designed by Elena Luzzato, it is considered a masterpiece of contemporary cemetery architecture. It houses the tombs of many famous personalities of Italian culture, art, entertainment, sport and politics, including the TV journalist Ilaria Alpi, the Communist leader Enrico Berlinguer, actors Rossano Brazzi, Gino Cervi and Virna Lisi, the athlete Pietro Mennea, the footballer Giorgio Chinaglia, singers Alberto Rabagliati and Renato Rascel, and Natasha Sophia Simpson, an 11-year-old American killed in the December 27, 1985 terrorist attack on Rome’s Fiumicino Airport.

Also on this day:

1598: The birth of sculptor Alessandro Algardi

1886: The birth of New York Mafia crime boss Salvatore Maranzano

1969: The birth of footballer and coach Antonio Conte