Showing posts with label Giuseppe Tornatore. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Giuseppe Tornatore. Show all posts

8 November 2022

Salvatore Cascio - actor

Child star of classic movie Cinema Paradiso

Cascio (right) in a famous scene from Cinema Paradiso alongside Philippe Noiret's Alfredo
Cascio (right) in a famous scene from Cinema
alongside Philippe Noiret's Alfredo 
The actor Salvatore Cascio, who earned fame through his starring role in the Oscar-winning movie Cinema Paradiso, was born on this day in 1979 in Palazzo Adriano, a small town in a mountainous area of western Sicily.

In Guiseppe Tornatore’s nostalgic 1988 drama, Cascio was the eight-year-old child chosen to play the part of the the film’s central character as a small boy in a Sicilian village who loves to watch films at his local cinema and develops a friendship with the cinema’s grumpy but good-hearted projectionist, Alfredo.

His performance was so charming and captivating it won him the prize for best actor in a supporting role at the 1990 BAFTAs. He remains the only Italian to have won such an award. Roberto Benigni, star and director of the 1997 film Life is Beautiful, is the only Italian to have won a BAFTA as best actor.

By coincidence, the lead character in Cinema Paradiso is also called Salvatore and, like Cascio, is known as a boy as Totò, the Sicilian diminutive of Salvatore.

Landing the part was not down to just having the same name, however, although it helped when it came to filming.

Cascio was chosen for the part of his namesake Totò from more than 200 hopeful boys
Cascio was chosen for the part of his namesake
Totò from more than 200 hopeful boys
The process of choosing the right child for the part involved Tornatore searching a number of towns and villages. One of the casting sessions took place in Palazzo Adriano. Out of more than 200 young hopefuls, the director chose Cascio and a boy from a village five kilometres away - a friend, as it happened - but plumped for Cascio.

Location shooting for Cinema Paradiso - or Nuovo Cinema Paradiso as it was called in Italian cinemas - took place almost entirely in Sicily, with several scenes shot in Tornatore’s home town of Bagheria, near Palermo.

The principal location was Palazzo Adriano, where the central Piazza Umberto I was chosen as the main square of Giancaldo, the fictional town where the Cinema Paradiso picture house was located. The cinema’s facade was built on the square and some of the interior scenes were constructed in the nearby church of Maria Santissima del Carmelo.

Tornatore’s crew remained in Palazzo Adriano for three months. Cascio recalled that the days were long and tiring, often starting at 7am and going on until late in the evening, with some scenes requiring 20 or more takes before the director was satisfied.

As an adult, Cascio chose a different life, running a restaurant with his father
As an adult, Cascio chose a different
life, running a restaurant with his father
Yet Cascio formed a close relationship with Tornatore, who ensured the process remained fun and who he came to regard as a second father, and with Philippe Noiret, the French actor who played Alfredo.

Cascio found himself in demand after his success with Cinema Paradiso and found himself playing opposite some major stars in films such as Breath of Life, with Vanessa Redgrave, Franco Nero, and Fernando Rey; C’era un castello con 40 cani (There Was a Castle with 40 Dogs) with Peter Ustinov; Stanno tutti bene (Everybody’s Fine), with Marcello Mastroianni; and Jackpot with Christopher Lee and Adriano Celentano.

He also appeared in a number of TV dramas yet by the end of the 1990s his life was moving in a different direction. A star almost by accident, having never really had ambitions to make a career in acting, he decided ultimately that the life that beckoned was not for him.

Instead, he went into partnership with his father in opening a restaurant with rooms. They found a property in Chiusa Sclafani, a village not far from Palazzo Adriano, and called it L’Oscar dei Sapori - the Oscar for Flavours. 

The restaurant is themed with Cinema Paradiso memorabilia and Cascio remains willing to talk about the film that played such a huge part in his life, even though it is now 34 years since it was made. He is often invited to movie events.

Earlier this year, he published his autobiography, entitled La gloria e la prova - The Glory and the Test -  written with the help of journalist Giorgio De Martino, in which he enthuses about the glory of the cinema and also talks about the challenges he has faced since being diagnosed, in his early thirties, with retinitis pigmentosa, a progressive, hereditary disease that will ultimately deprive him of much of his peripheral vision.

Piazza Umberto I in the Sicilian town of Palazzo Adriano featured prominently in Cinema Paradiso
Piazza Umberto I in the Sicilian town of Palazzo
Adriano featured prominently in Cinema Paradiso
Travel tip:

Palazzo Adriano, where Cascio was born and grew up and which forms the backdrop to many scenes in Cinema Paradiso, is an inland town situated on the slopes of Monte delle Rose in western Sicily, almost equidistant between Palermo, on the northern coast of the island, and Agrigento, on the southern coast.  A settlement has existed at the site since at least the 11th century, Between the 15th and 19th centuries, the area was populated by a large community of Albanians, speaking a version of the Albanian language known as Arberesh. Just off the central Piazza Umberto I is a small museum dedicated to the film, Cinema Paradiso. The town also has the remains of a Bourbon castle. As well as Cascio, Palazzo Adriano also claims to be the birthplace of Francesco Crispi, the first Sicilian to be Italy’s prime minister and one of the major protagonists of Italian unification, along with his friends Giuseppe Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi.

Bagheria is famous for its wealth of Baroque villas, such as the Villa Palagonia
Bagheria is famous for its wealth of Baroque
villas, such as the Villa Palagonia
Travel tip:

Bagheria, the birthplace of Cinema Paradiso’s director, Giuseppe Tornatore, can be found 15km (9 miles) southeast of Palermo, occupying an elevated position a short distance from the sea. A traditional Sicilian town that descends towards the fishing village of Aspra, in the 17th and 18th centuries it was a favoured by the aristocracy of Palermo as somewhere to spend the summer months, the legacy of which is some 20 or more Baroque villas that add to the town’s charm.  Tornatore employed locations in the town both in Cinema Paradiso and his 2009 film Baarìa - which is its Sicilian dialect name - which told the history of the town from the 1930s to the 1980s through the life of a local family.  Parts of The Godfather Part III were also shot in Bagheria.

Also on this day:

1830: The death of Francis I of the Two Sicilies

1931: The birth of film director Paolo Taviani

1936: The birth of actress Virna Lisi

1942: The birth of footballer Sandro Mazzola

1982: The birth of golfer Francesco Molinari


30 September 2018

Monica Bellucci - actress and model

Movie actress who is face of Dolce & Gabbana

Monica Bellucci has appeared in more than 60 films alongside her modelling
Monica Bellucci has appeared in more
than 60 films alongside her modelling
The actress and model Monica Bellucci, who has appeared in more than 60 films in a career that began in 1990, was born on this day in 1964 in Città di Castello in Umbria.

Bellucci, who is associated with Dolce & Gabbana and Dior perfumes, began modelling to help fund her studies at the University of Perugia, where she was enrolled at the Faculty of Law with ambitions of a career in the legal profession.

But she was quickly brought to the attention of the major model agencies in Milan and soon realised she had the potential to follow a much different career.

Bellucci, whose father Pasquale worked for a transport company, soon began to attract big-name clients in Paris and New York as well as Italy, but decided not long into her modelling career that she would take acting lessons.

She claimed to have been inspired by watching the Italian female movie icons Claudia Cardinale and Sophia Loren and gained her first part in a TV miniseries directed by the veteran director Dino Risi in 1990.

The following year she made her big screen debut with a leading role in the film La raffa, directed by Francesco Laudadio.  Her first major international movie came in 1992, when she played one of the brides of Dracula in Francis Ford Coppola’s Gothic horror film Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Bellucci was studying to be a lawyer when she began modelling to help pay for her education
Bellucci was studying to be a lawyer when she began
modelling to help pay for her education
Other movies for which Bellucci is well known include Persephone in the 2003 science-fiction films The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. She also played Malèna Scordia in the Italian-language romantic drama Malèna (2000), directed and written by Giuseppe Tornatore from a story by Luciano Vincenzoni, which won the Grand Prix at the 2001 Cabourg Film Festival.

She starred in the controversial Gaspar Noé arthouse horror film Irréversible (2002), and Mel Gibson's biblical drama The Passion of the Christ (2004), in which she portrayed Mary Magdalene. At 50, she became the oldest Bond girl ever in the James Bond film franchise, playing Lucia Sciarra in Spectre (2015).

In her simultaneous modelling career, Bellucci soon became known as one of the most beautiful women in the world. She appeared in the 1997 Pirelli Calendar as well as calendars for the magazines Max and GQ, for which she posed for leading photographers Richard Avedon, Fabrizio Ferri and Gianpaolo Barbieri.

She has endorsed Dolce & Gabbana, Fendi and many major world brands, including Alessandro Dell'Acqua and Blumarine, has been on the cover of Elle and Vogue magazines and in 2012, she became the new face of Dolce & Gabbana.

Bellucci has been married twice, first to a young Italian photographer of Argentine origin, Claudio Carlos Basso, from whom she separated after a few months.

She had a six-year relationship with the Italian actor Nicola Farron until on the set of the film L'appartamento she met the French actor Vincent Cassel, whom she married in 1999 in Monte Carlo. They had two daughters, Deva, and Léonie, but they divorced after 14 years. She lives with her daughters in Paris, and also owns a house in Lisbon.

A view over the town of Città di Castello
Travel tip:

Città di Castello, where Bellucci was born, is a town 55km (34 miles) north of Perugia that is rich in history, with an artistic heritage that dates back to the patronage of the Vitelli family in the 15th century. Works by great artists of the 15th-16th century such as Signorelli, Raffaello, Rosso Fiorentino and Raffaellino del Colle can be found there. The 14th century church of San Domenico and the Palazzo Vitelli alla Cannoniera are worth visiting, in particular the latter, which now houses the Municipal Art Gallery, with some impressive 15th century paintings including paintings by Raphael, Lorenzetti, Ghirlandaio and Signorelli and a sculpture by Ghiberti.

Bufalini Castle is preserved almost as it was in 15th century
Bufalini Castle is preserved almost as it was in 15th century
Travel tip:

Bellucci grew up in San Giustino, just outside Città di Castello, where the imposing Bufalini Castle is an impressive sight. Perfectly preserved, it was built in the 15th century as a military fortress, a border post at the boundary between the Papal States and the Florentine Republic.  The church of San Giustino at the centre of the town was built on the site of a large seventh-century parish church founded by the Christian martyr Giustino.  The church of the Santissimo Crocifisso is rich in frescoes and stuccos by the Della Robbia brothers.

More reading:

How Sophia Loren was brought up by her grandmother on the Bay of Naples

Giuseppe Tornatore - brilliant Oscar-winning director of Cinema Paradiso

Why Dino Risi is seen as a master of Italian comedy

Also on this day:

1863: The birth of ballerina Pierina Legnani

1885: The birth of Angelo Cerica, the man who arrested Mussolini


27 May 2018

Giuseppe Tornatore - writer and director

Oscar winner for Cinema Paradiso

Giuseppe Tornatore set many of his films in his native Sicily
Giuseppe Tornatore set many of his films
in his native Sicily
The screenwriter and director Giuseppe Tornatore, the creator of the Oscar-winning classic movie Cinema Paradiso, was born on this day in 1956 in Bagheria, a small town a few kilometres along the coast from the Sicilian capital Palermo.

Known as Nuovo Cinema Paradiso in Italy, Tornatore’s best-known work won the award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 62nd Academy Awards following its release in 1988.

The movie, written by Tornatore, tells the story of Salvatore, a successful film director based in Rome who returns to his native Sicily after hearing of the death of the man who kindled his love of the cinema, the projectionist at the picture house in his local village, who became a father figure to him after his own father was killed on wartime national service.

Much of the film consists of flashbacks to Salvatore’s life as a child in the immediate post-war years and there is a memorable performance by Salvatore Cascio as the director’s six-year-old self, when he was known as Toto, as he develops an unlikely yet enduring friendship with Alfredo, the projectionist, played by the French actor Philippe Noiret.

The movie is accompanied by a wonderful soundtrack by the composer Ennio Morricone, whose haunting theme captures the beautiful poignancy of the movie.

Morricone worked with Tornatore on many of his films, including two other magically crafted works in Baarìa, set in his home town of Bagheria, and Malèna, which has the model and actress Monica Bellucci in the title role, another Sicilian story of a 12-year-old boy’s obsessive love for a beautiful young woman.

Philippe Noiret and Salvatore Cascio in one of the most famous screenshots from Nuovo Cinema Paradiso
Philippe Noiret and Salvatore Cascio in one of the most
famous screenshots from Nuovo Cinema Paradiso
Tornatore initially worked as a photographer, seeing his efforts published in various photographic magazines. By the age of 16, he staged had staged two plays, by Luigi Pirandello and Eduardo De Filippo, and then began making documentary films for TV, beginning a long association with Rai in his early 20s.

In 1986 he made his debut in feature films with Il camorrista, starring the American actor Ben Gazzara, taken from a book by Giuseppe Marrazzo about a petty criminal in Naples, Raffaele Cutolo, who uses a spell in the Poggioreale prison to form the mafia organisation Nuova Camorra Organizzata, which would go on to become one of the most powerful criminal groups in Italy.  The movie earned him a Silver Ribbon as best new director from the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists.

Cinema Paradiso was only his second film, confirming the arrival of a new talent to rival some of the greats of the post-War era of Italian cinema, although the movie was almost written off as a flop.  When it was released in Italy in 1988, it did little to excite Italian audiences and takings were poor.

Yet the manager of a small cinema in Sicily, who had warmed to its theme, kept it on, inviting cinema-goers to watch it for nothing and then pay at the end if they liked it.  The offer was taken up in increasing numbers and gradually the film acquired almost a cult following. It won the Grand Jury Special Prize at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival, which gave it the springboard that would eventually lead to the Oscars the following year.

Tornatore’s body of work is not huge, amounting to only a dozen feature films in more than 30 years. The love of his native Sicily is a recurring theme and inevitably his movies are beautifully crafted.

In addition to the Oscar and Golden Globe for Cinema Paradiso, Tornatore has won four Best Director awards at the David di Donatellos - the premier awards ceremony in Italy - for L’uomo delle stelle (The Star Maker, 1986), La leggenda del pianista sull'oceano (The Legend of 1900, 1998), La sconoscuita (The Unknown Woman, 2006) and his English language film The Best Offer (2013).

The Villa Cattolica is one of Bagheria's characteristic Baroque villas. It now houses a museum.
The Villa Cattolica is one of Bagheria's characteristic
Baroque villas. It now houses a museum.
Travel tip:

Just 15km from Palermo in a southeast direction along the coast, Bagheria, which occupies an elevated position a short distance from the sea, has an atmosphere of a traditional Sicilian town and as well as featuring both in Cinema Paradiso and Baarìa - which is its Sicilian dialect name - it was also used for some scenes in The Godfather Part III. In the 17th and 18th centuries, it was a favoured by the aristocracy of Palermo as somewhere to spend the summer, the legacy of which is some 20 or more Baroque villas that add to the town’s charm.

The Greek Theatre in Taormina is a regular venue for open-air concerts in the summer months
The Greek Theatre in Taormina is a regular venue for
open-air concerts in the summer months
Travel tip:

Very much mimicking the Oscars, the David di Donatello awards were conceived in 1955 as a way to recognise the best of Italian cinema and promote the movie industry. Like the Oscars, the award itself is a gold-plated statuette, in this case a replica of the statue of David sculpted by Donatello, probably in around 1430-40, and currently housed in the Bargello museum in Florence. Between 1957 and 1980, the awards were presented at the open air Greek Teatre in Taormina.

Also on this day:

1508: The death of Lucrezia Crivelli, the 'mystery' woman of a Da Vinci painting

1944: The birth of Bruno Vespa, the face of Italy's long-running late night politics show Porta a Porta


10 November 2016

Ennio Morricone - film music maestro

Composer who scored some of cinema's greatest soundtracks

Ennio Morricone, pictured in 2012
Ennio Morricone, pictured in 2012
Ennio Morricone, who composed some of the most memorable soundtracks in the history of the cinema, was born on this day in 1928 in Rome.

Still working even as he enters his 89th year, Morricone has written more than 500 film and television scores, winning countless awards.

Best known for his associations with the Italian directors Sergio Leone, Giuseppe Tornatore and Giuliano Montaldo, he has also worked among others with Pier Paolo Pasolini, Brian de Palma, Roland Joffé, Franco Zeffirelli and Quentin Tarantino, whose 2015 Western The Hateful Eight finally won Morricone an Oscar that many considered long overdue.

Among his finest soundtracks are those he wrote for Leone's 'Dollars' trilogy in the 1960s, for the Leone gangster epic Once Upon a Time in America two decades later, for Joffé's The Mission and De Palma's The Untouchables.

He composed the score for Tornatore's hauntingly poignant Cinema Paradiso and for Maddalena, a somewhat obscure 1971 film by the Polish director Jerzy Kawalerowicz that included the acclaimed Come Maddalena and Chi Mai, which later reached number two in the British singles chart after being used for the 1981 TV series The Life and Times of David Lloyd George.

Much of Morricone's film music, as well as his more than 100 classical compositions and numerous jazz and pop songs from the 1960s and 70s, has been recorded and his commercial sales have topped 70 million records worldwide.

Listen to Morricone's beautiful Gabriel's Oboe from The Mission

Morricone, whose parents moved to Rome from Arpino, an ancient hill town near Frosinone in southern Lazio, was brought up in the Trastevere district of the capital, one of five children raised by his father, Mario, a professional musician who played the trumpet, and mother Libera, who ran a small textile business.

He learned the fundamentals of music from his father before entering the National Academy of St Cecilia, where he first met Sergio Leone.

Sergio Leone, the director behind the 'Dollars' trilogy
Sergio Leone, the director  behind
 the 'Dollars' trilogy
On graduating, he had some success writing for the theatre as well as for radio. After marrying his girlfriend of six years, Maria Travia, in 1956, and becoming a father a year later, he began supporting his family by playing in a jazz band and arranging pop songs for the Italian public broadcaster, RAI.

Over the next few years he composed pop songs for Rita Pavone, Mario Lanza, Paul Anka and Francoise Hardy among many others.

He branched into film music for the first time in the early 1960s, taking the commission that was to change his life when Leone, his friend from St Cecilia's, asked him to write the score for his groundbreaking Western, A Fistful of Dollars.

Starring the 34-year-old American actor, Clint Eastwood, in his first major role, A Fistful of Dollars was a huge success, spawning two more in the genre that became known as 'Spaghetti Westerns'.  For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly each grossed more than $20 million.

A Fistful of Dollars made $14.5 million, which was incredible given that Leone made it on a budget of less than $250,000.  With only limited access to a full orchestra, Morricone had to improvise, incorporating gunshots, cracking whips, a whistle, a jew's harp, trumpets, and a Fender electric guitar into his score, as well as using human, mainly female voices as musical instruments. The result was a highly distinctive score that it became a classic in the history of cinema music, as instantly recognizable today as it was then, and several of Morricone's innovative measures became part of his repertoire.

Listen to Morricone's music for the opening scene of The Hateful Eight

The trilogy began a relationship with Sergio Leone that would last 20 years and opened many doors for Morricone, whose career prospered from then on.

His first nomination for Best Original Score at the Academy Awards came in 1979 for Days of Heaven, directed by the American Terence Malick.  There were two nominations in the 1980s, for Joffé's The Mission in 1986 and De Palma's The Untouchables in 1987, and probably would have been a third had the American distributors of Leone's Once Upon a Time in America (1984) submitted the paperwork on time.

Morricone was particularly disappointed not to win with The Mission, which features the wonderful melody Gabriel's Oboe as its main theme, complaining that jazz musician Herbie Hancock's score for Bertrand Tavernier's Round Midnight, while beautifully done, used existing music.

The Hateful Eight: Morricone's score for Quentin Tarantino's film won an Oscar
The Hateful Eight: Morricone's score for
Quentin Tarantino's film won an Oscar
Further nominations came for Barry Levison's Bugsy (1991) and Tornatore's Malena (2000), and by the second decade of the new millennium Morricone's 50-year movie career had brought him 44 major awards.

It appeared, though, that the award he craved above all would elude him, and an honorary Oscar in 2007 for his overall contribution to film music seemed a slightly hollow consolation prize.

But then, late in 2014, just past his 86th birthday, he was approached by Quentin Tarantino, with whom he had collaborated previously but had had a difficult relationship. Morricone had not scored a complete Western for 35 years and had not worked on a high-profile Hollywood production since 2000 but The Hateful Eight, set just after the American Civil War, appealed to him.

He produced a score that was magnificent, one that would sit comfortably alongside anything he had done previously, from the sweeping L'Ultima Diligenza per Red Rock that accompanies the chillingly atmospheric opening scenes, to Regan's Theme, a melody of gathering pace with echoes of what he did for Leone half a century previously.

It earned Morricone his third Golden Globe, to go with The Mission and the ragtime-jazz score he wrote for Tornatore's Legend of 1900 and then, at the 87th Academy Awards night of February 22, 2016, the one he thought would never come and which made him, at 87 years, the oldest winner of a competitive Oscar.

Morricone, who has never left Italy despite being offered a villa in Hollywood by one of the studios he worked with, remains an active composer.  He and Maria had four children - Marco, Alessandra, Andrea, who himself became a film music composer, and Giovanni, who is a film director and producer in New York.

UPDATE: Morricone died in July 2020, aged 91, as a result of injuries sustained in a fall. Following a private funeral, he was entombed in Cimitero Laurentino in Rome.

The unspoilt hill town of Arpino
The unspoilt hill town of Arpino
Travel tip:

Arpino, home of Morricone's parents, is a hill town situated about 120km south-east of Rome, 46km north-west of Frosinone in Lazio. Clinging to a ridge on top of a hill, it is relatively accessible from a nearby station on one of the Rome-Naples railway lines, yet attracts few tourists and therefore has the unspoilt feel of a traditional southern Italian community.

Travel tip:

The Trastevere district of Rome, which sits alongside the River Tiber, is regarded as one of the city's most charming neighbourhoods, full of winding, cobbled streets and well preserved medieval houses.  Increasingly fashionable with Rome's young professional class as a place to live, it has an abundance of restaurants and bars and a lively student music scene.

More reading:

How Shakespeare adaptations made Franco Zeffirelli a household name

Sergio Leone - distinctive style of 'Spaghetti Western' creator

How Nino Rota found fame for The Godfather theme

Also on this day: 

1816: Lord Byron, the English poet and aristocrat, sets foot in Venice for the first time.

(Picture credit: First photo of Morricone by Georges Biard via Wikimedia Commons)
(Videos from YouTube)