Showing posts with label Giuseppe De Santis. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Giuseppe De Santis. Show all posts

1 September 2018

Vittorio Gassman - actor

Stage and screen star once dubbed ‘Italy’s Olivier’

Vittorio Gassman in the 1948 movie Riso amaro, which provided him with his breakthrough as a screen actor
Vittorio Gassman in the 1948 movie Riso amaro, which
provided him with his breakthrough as a screen actor
Vittorio Gassman, who is regarded as one of the finest actors in the history of Italian theatre and cinema, was born on this day in 1922 in Genoa.

Tall, dark and handsome in a way that made him a Hollywood producer’s dream, Gassman appeared in almost 150 movies but he was no mere matinée idol.

A highly respected stage actor, he possessed a mellifluous speaking voice, a magisterial presence and such range and versatility in his acting talent that the Hollywood columnist Sheilah Graham once called him ‘the Lawrence Olivier of Italy’.

He enjoyed a career that spanned five decades. Inevitably, he is best remembered for his screen roles, although by the time he made his movie debut in 1945, he had appeared in more than 40 productions of classic plays by Shakespeare, Aeschylus, Ibsen, Tennessee Williams, and others.

On screen, his major successes included his portrayal of the handsome scoundrel Walter opposite Silvana Mangano in Giuseppe De Santis's neorealist melodrama Riso amaro (Bitter Rice, 1948), and several Commedia all’Italiana classics, including Mario Monicelli’s I soliti ignoti (Big Deal On Madonna Street, 1958), La grande guerra (The Great War, 1959) and L'armata brancaleone (1965), and Dino Risi's Il sorpasso (1962).

With Silvana Mangano and Alberto Sordi (right), his co-stars in the comedy classic La grande guerra (1959)
With Silvana Mangano and Alberto Sordi (right), his co-stars
in the comedy classic La grande guerra (1959)
At this time, his popularity was rivalled only by Alberto Sordi, his co-star in La grande guerra, which shared the Golden Lion prize at Venice in 1959 with a Rossellini film.

Gassman’s portrayal of a blind military man in Risi’s 1974 film Profumo di donna received the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival. Al Pacino played the same part and won an Oscar in the 1992 remake, Scent of a Woman.

His flirtation with Hollywood came after he met and fell in love with the American actress Shelley Winters while she was touring Europe.

When Winters returned to Hollywood because of contractual obligations, he followed her there and married her. With his natural charisma and fluency in English he landed a number of roles in Hollywood, including Charles Vidor’s Rhapsody opposite Elizabeth Taylor, and with Gloria Grahame in Maxwell Shane’s film noir The Glass Wall.

He was the only Italian star in the cast of King Vidor's epic War And Peace (1956), produced by Dino De Laurentiis in Rome and for which the Italian composer Nino Rota wrote the music score. Later, Gassman gave distinguished performances in the Robert Altman films A Wedding (1978) and Quintet (1979).

Gassman was the only Italian cast in the 1956 epic War and Peace, in which he is pictured with Audrey Hepburn
Gassman was the only Italian cast in the 1956 epic War and
in which he is pictured with Audrey Hepburn
Born to a German father and a Jewish Italian mother, Gassman had aspirations to be a lawyer. But his mother encouraged him to pursue his interest in acting and he remained devoted to his first love, theatre, throughout his career.

A student at the Accademia Nazionale d'Arte Drammatica in Rome, he made his stage debut in Milan in 1942 before moving back to Rome to work at the Teatro Eliseo.

Even after his film debut in 1946 was followed by his breakthrough role in Bitter Rice two years later, he devoted much energy to Luchino Visconti's theatre company in productions such as Tennessee Williams' Un tram che si chiama desiderio (A Streetcar Named Desire) and Come vi piace (As You Like It) by Shakespeare.

In 1952 he co-founded and co-directed the Teatro d'Arte Italiano, which produced the first complete version of Hamlet in Italy.  Later in his career, he created his own company, Teatro Popolare Itinerante, with which he toured Italy staging the works of 20th century authors and playwrights as well as the classics of Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky and the Greek tragicians. He also founded a theatre school in Florence.

For a while he was the star of a popular TV series, Il Mattatore, which was later turned into a movie.

Married three times - to actresses Nora Ricci, Shelley Winters and Diletta D'Andrea - he also had numerous affairs.  The father of two daughters and two sons - one of whom, Alessandro, became a film actor - Gassman died in June 2000, in Rome, following a heart attack.

The Piazza de Ferrari in the centre of Genoa
The Piazza de Ferrari in the centre of Genoa
Travel tip:

Gassman’s home city of Genoa boasts Italy's largest sea port, its maritime power going back to the 12th and 13th centuries, when the Republic of Genoa ruled the Mediterranean. The old city is fascinating for its large maze of narrow caruggi (streets), opening out occasionally into grand squares such as Piazza de Ferrari, site of an iconic bronze fountain and Teatro Carlo Felice opera house. There is a Romanesque duomo, the Cathedral of San Lorenzo, recognisable for its black-and-white-striped facade and frescoed interior.

The Accademia Nazionale d'Arte Drammatic in Rome
The Accademia Nazionale d'Arte Drammatic in Rome
Travel tip:

The Accademia Nazionale d'Arte Drammatica "Silvio d'Amico", the dramatic arts academy where Gassman trained as an actor, can be found in Via Bellini, between Villa Borghese and the Parioli district, in an elegant four-storey building. Founded in 1936 by the critic and theatrical theorist Silvio D'Amico, in addition to Gassman it has seen students such as Rossella Falk, Anna Magnani, Paolo Stoppa, Nino Manfredi, Gian Maria Volonté, Monica Vitti, Michele Placido, Nicoletta Braschi and Luca Zingaretti attend lectures and workshops there.

More reading:

Mario Monicelli - the father of Commedia all'Italiana

The genius of Alberto Sordi

How Silvano Mangano's acting talents overcame her critics

Also on this day:

1878: The birth of conductor Tullio Serafin

1886: The birth of vaudeville star Guido Deiro


21 April 2018

Silvana Mangano - actress

Star who married the producer Dino De Laurentiis

Silvana Mangano worked as a model before breaking into the cinema
Silvana Mangano worked as a model before
breaking into the film industry
The actress Silvana Mangano, who was decried as a mere sex symbol and later hailed as a fine character actress during a quite restricted career, was born on this day in 1930 in Rome.

She found fame through Giuseppe De Santis’s neorealist film Bitter Rice, in which she played a female worker in the rice fields in the Po Valley who becomes involved with a petty criminal Walter, played by Vittorio Gassman.

Mangano’s character was a sensual, lustful young woman and the actress, a former beauty queen, carried it off so well she was hailed by one critic as “Ingrid Bergmann with a Latin disposition” and likened also to the American glamour queen Rita Hayworth.

She went on to work with many of Italy's leading directors, including Alberto Lattuada, Vittorio De Sica, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Luchino Visconti, but she made only 30 films, in part because she preferred to spend time with her family but also because Dino De Laurentiis, the producer of Bitter Rice who soon became her husband, controlled her career.

It is said that she was offered the important part of Maddalena in Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita but that De Laurentiis prevented her from taking it, the role instead going to the French actress Anouk Aimée.

The daughter of a Sicilian railway worker and his English wife, Ivy Webb, who was from Croydon, Mangano grew up in difficult circumstances in wartime Rome.  After the conflict was over her family lived effectively in poverty but she was determined to make something of herself and paid for seven years of dance lessons by earning money as a model.

Mangano's character in the 1951 film Anna was a dancer who gives up nightclubs to take holy orders
Mangano's character in the 1951 film Anna was a dancer who
gives up nightclubs to take holy orders
Beauty pageants were an established route into the growing film industry.  Mangano won the Miss Rome competition in 1946 and entered Miss Italia the following year, against an extraordinary field that included Lucia Bosé, Gina Lollobrigida, Eleonora Rossi Drago and Gianna Maria Canale, all of whom would become stars.

Mangano did not win but attracted attention.  She had a brief affair with Marcello Mastroianni, then an upcoming actor, and had a number of small parts, in Italy and in France.

Bitter Rice provided her with her big break in 1949, although with a certain irony she was almost rejected by De Santis as too glamorous after she turned up for the audition dressed to kill and heavily made up.  It was only after bumping into De Santis later on the Via Veneto, having removed her make-up, which she seldom wore off screen anyway, and with her hair wet from the rain, that she won the part.

After Bitter Rice, it took a long time for Mangano to shake off he image as sex symbol but between the 50s and the 70s she gradually acquired a reputation for delivering solid acting performance in strong character roles.

Mangano's breakthrough came in the  neorealist movie Bitter Rice
Mangano's breakthrough came in the
neorealist movie Bitter Rice 
Her notable successes included Lattuada’s Anna (1951), in which she played a dancer who abandons the nightlife to become a nun, and the The Gold of Naples (1954), directed by Vittorio De Sica, in which she took the part of a prostitute, Teresa.

Later she played opposite Vittorio Gassman again in Robert Rossen’s Mambo (1955), portrayed a bourgeois mother in Pasolini’s Theorem (1968) and was the mother of Tadzio in Visconti’s Death in Venice (1971).

She won several Italian film industry awards, including three David di Donatellos, two Silver Ribbons and one Nastro d’Argento (Gold Ribbon) for best actress in Death in Venice.

Mangano and De Laurentiis married in 1949 and the couple had four children: Veronica, Raffaella, Francesca, and Federico. Raffaella went on to to be a film producer herself. Federico died in an plane crash in 1981.

Veronica’s daughter, Giada De Laurentiis, who moved to California after her parents divorced, became the host of Everyday Italian and Giada at Home on the Food Network TV channel, as well as the founder of GDL Foods and the owner of two restaurants in Las Vegas,

Mangano and Dino De Laurantiis separated in 1983, at around the same time Mangano began to suffer from ill health.  Afflicted by insomnia and bouts of depression, she was discovered to have a tumour close to her stomach, between her lungs.

She left Italy to live in Spain.  A year after her divorce from De Laurentiis she underwent surgery in Madrid in December 1989 but was left in a coma and died two weeks later, the cause of death recorded as lung cancer,

Streets in the Vallerano neighbourhood are named after actors, actresses and writers
Streets in the Vallerano neighbourhood are named after
actors, actresses and writers
Travel tip:

Mangano has a road named after her in the Vallerano neighbourhood of suburban Rome, about 16km (10 miles) south of the centre of the city in the direction of the Pontine marshes and adjoining an area of nature reserves. The area is primarily residential, its broad streets named after performing artists Italian and foreign, including many movie stars, as well as journalists and publishers.

The Villa Oplontis at Torre Annunziata
The Villa Oplontis at Torre Annunziata
Travel tip:

Mangano’s husband, Dino De Laurentiis, was born in Torre Annunziata, a former small city now absorbed into the greater Naples metropolitan area. 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 10 metres below ground level just outside the town and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

More reading:

How Dino De Laurentiis made Italian cinema famous

The genius of Federico Fellini

Luchino Visconti, the aristocrat of Italian cinema

Also on this day:

753BC: The birth of Rome

1574: The death of Cosimo I de' Medici


28 November 2017

Mario Nascimbene - film music composer

First Italian to score for Hollywood

Mario Nascimbene
Mario Nascimbene
The composer Mario Nascimbene, most famous for composing the music for more than 150 films, was born on this day in 1913 in Milan.

Nascimbene’s legacy in the history of Italian cinema is inevitably overshadowed by the work of Ennio Morricone and the late Nino Rota, two composers universally acknowledged as giants of Italian film music.

Yet the trailblazer for the great Italian composers of movie soundtracks was arguably Nascimbene, whose engagement to score Joseph L Mankiewicz’s 1954 drama The Barefoot Contessa won him the distinction of becoming the first Italian to write the music for a Hollywood production.

It was such an unexpected commission that Nascimbene confessed in an interview in 1986 that when he was first contacted about the film by Mankiewicz’s secretary he shouted down the phone and hung up, suspecting a hoax perpetrated by a friend who only a few months earlier had caught him out in a similar wind-up over the score for the William Wyler movie Roman Holiday.

Only after a third call from the secretary did he reluctantly agree to meet the director and when his doorbell rang he was convinced his friend would be on the other side as before, only to fling it open and find Mankiewicz standing on his front step, ready to explain that he had been impressed by his work in Italian cinema and did indeed want to hire him.

The movie poster for Joseph Mankiewicz's The Barefoot Contessa
The movie poster for Joseph Mankiewicz's
The Barefoot Contessa
The Barefoot Contessa, starring Humphrey Bogart, Ava Gardner and Edmond O’Brien, won an Oscar for O’Brien as Best Supporting Actor and was a box office hit, gaining Nascimbene a level of exposure he had never before known.

More work in America soon came his way and more success, his scores for Robert Rossen’s Alexander the Great, starring Richard Burton and Claire Bloom, A Farewell to Arms, starring Rock Hudson and Jennifer Jones, Mankiewicz’s The Quiet American, starring Audie Murphy and Michael Redgrave, and The Vikings, a swashbuckling romp starring Kirk Douglas, establishing his reputation.

He cracked the British market, too, with his commission to score the 1959 movie Room at the Top, directed by Jack Clayton and nominated for six Academy Awards, winning Best Actress for Simone Signoret and Best Adapted Screenplay for Neil Paterson.

Nascimbene himself won three Nastro d'Argento awards for best score for Rome 11:00 (1952), Violent Summer (1960) and  for Pronto... c'è una certa Giuliana per te (1968).

In 1991, Nascimbene was awarded a "Career David" from the David di Donatello Awards, honouring his lifetime achievements.

Nascimbene's work is overshadowed by Ennio Morricone
Nascimbene's work is overshadowed
by Ennio Morricone (above)
Born in Milan, Nascimbene attended the  "Giuseppe Verdi" Conservatory of Music under the guidance of Ildebrando Pizzetti, studying composition and orchestral conducting.  After graduating, he wrote several pieces of chamber music and a ballet.

His first film work came in 1941 for the Italian movie Love Song and the success of that project encouraged him to concentrate his energy on the cinema, where he came to be regarded as one of the finest movie composers of his lifetime.

Nascimbene was particularly appreciated for inventing ‘Mixerama’, a revolutionary style that allowed him to incorporate into his scores the sounds of non-orchestral instruments, such as the jaw harp and harmonica, and even everyday noises such as the ticking of a clock, the ring of a bicycle bell or, famously, the clacking of typewriters in Giuseppe de Santis’s neorealist Rome 11:00.

Having worked briefly but successfully with Federico Fellini on Amore in Città (Love in the City) in 1953, he was disappointed that Fellini eventually chose Rota as his favoured composer, but established good relationships of his own with De Santis and Roberto Rossellini, composing the score for the latter’s 1975 epic The Messiah.

Nascimbene, who also did some work in contemporary opera and jazz music, was twice married.  He died in Rome in 2002 at the age of 88.

Colourful Via Abramo Lincoln
Colourful Via Abramo Lincoln
Travel tip:

One of the quirkier attractions in Milan can be found to the east of the city centre at the centre of a block just beyond Porta Vittoria, bordered to the south by Corso XXII Marzo and to the north by Corso Indipendenza.  Running parallel with Via Pasquale Sottocorno and accessed from Via Benvenuto Cellini, the narrow, tree-lined Via Abramo Lincoln is the most unusual street in the context of the city, a collection of small, terraced houses, each painted a different colour from its neighbour.  It has the feel of London’s Notting Hill and is all that exists of a dream of a workers’ co-operative in the late 19th century to create an area of small, affordable houses which, largely because of economic turmoil and the First World War, never progressed beyond a single street.

Parco Papa Giovanni Paolo II, behind the Basilica  of San Lorenzo Maggiore
Parco Papa Giovanni Paolo II, behind the Basilica
of San Lorenzo Maggiore
Travel tip:

Another less well-known place to visit in Milan is the Parco Papa Giovanni Paolo II, not far from the Navagli canal district in an area known as Ticinese, a stretch of green public space that links to basilicas, the Basilica of Sant’Eustorgio to the south and to the north the magnificent Basilica of San Lorenzo Maggiore, with its Corinthian columns left behind from a 3rd century Roman temple.

7 July 2017

Vittorio De Sica - film director

Oscar-winning maestro behind 1948 classic Bicycle Thieves

Vittorio De Sica was one of the major figures of Italian neorealism
Vittorio De Sica was one of the major figures
of Italian neorealism
Vittorio De Sica, the director whose 1948 film Bicycle Thieves is regarded still as one of the greatest movies of all time, was born on this day in 1901 in Sora in Lazio.

Bicycle Thieves, a story set in the poverty of post-War Rome, was a masterpiece of Italian neorealism, the genre of which the major figures, in addition to De Sica, were Luchino Visconti, Roberto Rossellini and Giuseppe de Santis and, to a smaller degree, Federico Fellini.

The movie was one of four that landed Academy Awards for De Sica. Another of his great neo-realist movies, Shoeshine (1948), won an honorary Oscar, while Bicycle Thieves won a special award as an outstanding foreign language film in the days before the Best Foreign Language Film category was introduced.

De Sica would later win Oscars in that section for Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1963) – a comedy starring Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni – and The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1970). 

His Marriage Italian Style (1964), also starring Loren and Mastroianni, also earned a nomination as Best Foreign Language Film and for Loren as Best Actress. Loren did win Best Actress for her role in his 1961 movie La Ciociara, which was released outside Italy as Two Women.

Lamberto Maggiorani (left) and Enzo Staiola played
father and son in De Sica's acclaimed Bicycle Thieves
Born in Sora, which lies between Rome and Naples in the area known as Ciociaria, De Sica essentially grew up in Naples, to which his father, Umberto, who worked as a bank clerk with Banca d’Italia, was transferred in 1905.

During the First World War, De Sica had his first taste of the entertainment business when he joined a musical group that performed in military hospitals in Naples. He is said to have had an excellent singing voice.

He began acting in the 1920s and became something of a matinee idol on the stage. This was to lead to movie roles, mainly in light comedies. De Sica was box office for a while, chosen to star opposite female headliners such as Loren and Gina Lollobrigida.

When he turned to directing, he began with movies in a similarly frothy vein. So he took audiences and the critics by surprise with his fourth film, The Children Are Watching Us, released in 1944. An extraordinarily sensitive story about a child whose mother elopes with another man, leaving his father distraught, the film was the first product of De Sica’s collaboration with the screenwriter Cesare Zavattini.

Zavattini, a former law student, began to write screenplays when his employer, Angelo Rizzoli, moved from publishing books and magazines into producing films.  He and De Sica would work together on Shoeshine, Bicycle Thieves, Miracle in Milan (1951), which won a Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, and Umberto D (1952).

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow won the  third of De Sica's four Academy Awards
Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow won the
third of De Sica's four Academy Awards
Umberto D, a bleak study of the problems of old age, was a box-office flop, so much so that film historians saw it as the beginning of the end for neo-realism. Indeed, it prompted De Sica to return to lighter work.

Nonetheless, he continued to collect awards and after some commentators had written him off as past his peak he sprang another surprise with The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, based on a novel by Giorgio Bassani about the plight of Jews in Italy under Fascism, which won him another Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and a Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival.

A compulsive gambler, De Sica often lost large sums of money and accepted work he might otherwise have turned down in order to settle debts.  He was married twice, first to the actress Giuditta Rissone, who bore him a daughter, and later to the Spanish actress Maria Mercader, with whom he had two sons.

His personal life was complicated, however. He made a pact with his first wife to maintain the pretence of marriage while their daughter was growing up and at Christmas would turn the clocks back two hours in his second wife’s house so he could celebrate with both families, one after the other.

De Sica was a member of the Italian Communist Party, and it was the cause of some discomfort to him that his relationship with Maria Mercader created an unwelcome link with Ramon Mercader, her brother, who was a Spanish communist but at the same time an agent for the Soviet secret police, on whose behalf he carried out the assassination of the Bolshevik revolutionary Leon Trotsky in Mexico in 1940.

Sora sits alongside the Liri river against the backdrop of the Apennine mountains
Sora sits alongside the Liri river against the backdrop
of the Apennine mountains
Travel tip:

Built on a plain alongside the Liri river, in the shadow of the Monti Ernici range in the Apennines, the town of Sora can be found about 25km east of Frosinone in Lazio, about 120m  south-east of Rome and 140km north of Naples, close to the border with Abruzzo. A settlement since the fourth century BC, when it was occupied by the Volsci tribe, it has been at various times under the rule of Rome and Naples.  It lies at the heart of the Ciociaria, an area renowned for its cuisine and colourful and elaborate peasant costumes. Today its economy is a mix of industry and agriculture. It is a pleasant town with some pretty squares, including Piazza Santa Restituta, which sits in front of the church of the same name, just off Lungoliri Mazzini. On rocks above the town there are the remains of a walled fortification that dates back to the Volsci period.

The Toledo Metro station in Naples
The Toledo Metro station in Naples
Travel tip:

The Banca d’Italia building in Naples is in a fairly nondescript street linking Via Medina with Via Toledo, not on the tourist trail. Yet within a few metres is one of the city’s more unlikely must-see places, the Metro station Toledo. It is one of a number of so-called ‘art stations’ on the line linking Piazza Garibaldi and Piscinola. Toledo is famous for its breathtaking escalator descent through a vast mosaic by the Spanish architect Oscar Tusquets Blanca known as the Crater de Luz – the crater of light – which creates the impression of daylight streaming into a volcanic crater.