Showing posts with label Sergio Leone. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sergio Leone. Show all posts

30 December 2023

For a Few Dollars More released in Italy

Second in Spaghetti Western trilogy

The poncho-wearing Clint Eastwood became one of the Western genre's most famous characters
The poncho-wearing Clint Eastwood became one
of the Western genre's most famous characters
The movie For a Few Dollars More, the second in what became known as the Dollars Trilogy of Spaghetti Westerns, was released for public viewing in Italy on this day in 1965.

Directed by Sergio Leone and starring Clint Eastwood as the Man with No Name, the film followed the unexpected success of the low-budget feature A Fistful of Dollars, released 15 months earlier, which overcame poor initial reviews to become, for a time, the biggest-grossing movie in Italian cinema history.

Released for Italian audiences as Per Qualche Dollaro in Più, the follow-up proved even more commercially successful than its predecessor. By 1967, it had displaced A Fistful of Dollars as the highest-grossing Italian production, generating 3.1 billion lire ($5 million) in ticket sales from more than 14 and a half million admissions.

Eastwood, who had been little known outside America before A Fistful of Dollars catapulted him to international fame, had been paid a reputed sum of just $15,000 for his role in the original film, from a production budget of only $200,000.

This time Leone had more money at his disposal after teaming up with Italian producer Alberto Grimaldi and Eastwood received $50,000, although co-star Lee Van Cleef, given the part of a rival bounty hunter after Charles Bronson turned the role down, was paid a rather more modest $17,000.

One of the original posters advertising the film in Italy
One of the original posters
advertising the film in Italy
As with A Fistful of Dollars, the lead villain in For a Few Dollars More was played by Gian Maria Volonté, who was to become one of Italy’s most celebrated movie actors, famous for portraying memorable but neurotic characters in high-profile social dramas, usually with a political message. Volonté always insisted he took the Dollars roles only for the money.

Some critics were again derisive, dismissing the theme as corny, others accusing the director of glorifying violence and murder, yet For a Few Dollars More transfixed audiences with a gripping storyline, stunning cinematography, and powerful performances, as well as another brilliant musical score by Leone’s former school friend, the great Ennio Morricone.

The central plotline revolves around the rivalry between Eastwood’s character, on this occasion known as Manco, and Van Cleef’s former army officer, Colonel Douglas Mortimer, a fellow bounty hunter, with Volonté as a cold-blooded bank robber known as El Indio, who is just out of prison with a price on his head.

In common with the original, the film was shot on location in Spain rather than Italy. The original takes were all recorded without sound. Voices, sound effects and the musical score were all added later.

Leone completed the trilogy the following year with The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, which teamed Eastwood again with Lee Van Cleef but with Eli Wallach taking over from Volonté as the chief villain.

The budget this time was $1.2 million and box office revenue worldwide was almost as much as the first two parts of the trilogy combined.  Eastwood and Leone’s careers went in opposite directions but both enjoyed considerable success.

Leone scored another huge western hit with Once Upon a Time in the West in 1968 and, despite turning down the chance to direct The Godfather, directed a great gangster epic of his own in 1984, with Once Upon a Time in America. Sadly, he died of a heart attack in 1989 at the age of 60.

Eastwood went on to enjoy countless box office successes as an actor before becoming an Oscar-winning director, remaining active even into his 90s.

The arches of the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana echo those of the Colosseum
The arches of the Palazzo della Civiltà
Italiana echo those of the Colosseum 
Travel tip:

Sergio Leone, born in Rome, died there in 1989 when he suffered a fatal heart attack in the villa he used to entertain friends in the city’s EUR district, the complex to the south of central Rome that was originally developed to host the 1942 World's Fair - the Esposizione Universale Roma - which was cancelled because of the Second World War.  Mussolini’s modern city within a city was designed by a team of prominent architects, headed by Marcello Piacentini and including Giovanni Michelucci. The designs combined classical Roman elements with Italian Rationalism in a simplified neoclassicism that came to be known as Fascist architecture.  The Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, which has become known as the “square colosseum”, is regarded as the building which is the most symbolic of EUR. Designed by Giovanni Guerrini, Ernesto La Padula, and Mario Romano, it draws inspiration from the Colosseum with its rows of arches, while its square shape and stark whiteness are reminiscent of metaphysical art.

The historic entrance to the Cinecitta film studios in Rome, in its heyday the largest in Europe
The historic entrance to the Cinecitta film studios
in Rome, in its heyday the largest in Europe
Travel tip:

The Italian film industry for many years revolved around Cinecittà, the Rome film studio that is the largest in Europe, spreading over an area of 100 acres with  22 stages and 300 dressing rooms. Situated six miles south of the city centre, like EUR it was built during the Fascist era under the personal direction of Mussolini. The studios were bombed by the Allies in the Second World War but were rebuilt and used again in the 1950s for large productions, such as Ben Hur. These days a range of productions, from television drama to music videos, are filmed there. The complex contains a permanent exhibition about the history of the studio, within which a special hall is devoted to the work of Sergio Leone, who worked at Cinecittà in the early stage of his career as an assistant director on several large-scale international productions, notably Quo Vadis (1951) and Ben-Hur (1959).

Also on this day: 

39: The birth of Roman emperor Titus

1572: The death of architect Galeazzo Alessi 

1962: The birth of politician Alessandra Mussolini

1991: The birth of tennis star Camila Georgi


17 March 2019

Gabriele Ferzetti - actor

Starred in classic Italian films as well as Bond movie

Gabriele Ferzetti appeared in more than 160 movies and many TV dramas
Gabriele Ferzetti appeared in more than 160
movies and many TV dramas
The actor Gabriele Ferzetti, best known to international audiences for his role in the 1969 Bond movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service but in Italy for the Michelangelo Antonioni classic L’Avventura (1960), was born on this day in 1925 in Rome.

Ferzetti, who cut a naturally elegant and debonair appearance, was the go-to actor for handsome, romantic leads in the early part of his career and although he was ultimately eclipsed to some extent by Marcello Mastroianni, he seemed equally content with prominent supporting roles. Rarely idle, he made more than 160 films and appeared in countless TV dramas and was still working at 85 years old.

His intense performance as Antonioni’s wealthy yet unfulfilled playboy opposite Lea Massari and Monica Vitti in L’Avventura was the role that identified him most as an actor of considerable talent. Ferzetti had played a similar character in another Antonioni classic Le amiche (1955).

Outside Italian cinema, he was memorable as the unscrupulous Morton, the railroad magnate who hobbled around on crutches in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), and as Marc Ange-Draco, the sophisticated Mafia boss who joins forces with James Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which was George Lazenby’s only outing as 007.

With Lea Massari in his most famous role in the  Antonioni classic L'Avventura
With Lea Massari in his most famous role in the
Antonioni classic L'Avventura
Although Ferzetti spoke very good English, his accent was heavily Italian and he was dubbed in both roles.

In Rome, Ferzetti won a scholarship to attend the Silvio d’Amico National Academy of Dramatic Art, although his studies were abruptly cut short when he was expelled for appearing with a professional theatrical troupe.

It did not set him back too severely. After playing the young shepherd Sylvius in Luchino Visconti’s 1948 stage production of As You Like It, he won small roles in several films and quickly worked his way up to becoming a leading man.

The first movie to bring him wide recognition was Mario Soldati’s La provinciale (1953), which was packaged for English-speaking audiences as The Wayward Wife. Despite the nature of the production as a vehicle for the rising star Gina Lollobrigida in the title role, Ferzetti was superb as her bespectacled science professor husband.

Monica Vitti in another scene from L'Avventura
Monica Vitti in another scene from L'Avventura
In the same year he landed the title role in the big-budget production Puccini, directed by Carmine Gallone, in which he portrayed the philandering Italian opera composer from his student days to a man in his 80s. He was Puccini again in House of Ricordi (1954), about the music-publishing house.

Ferzetti was first cast by Antonioni in Le Amiche (The Girl Friends) (1955), which won a Silver Lion at the Venice film festival.

When Antonioni summoned him again for L’Avventura, it ended a five-year period of rather mediocre films that did Ferzetti no favours, so the chance to play his weak and disillusioned character, a failed architect whose lover disappears while they are sharing a sailing trip around Sicily with wealthy friends, could not have come at a more opportune moment. L’Avventura won the jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

Ferzetti was acclaimed for his portrayal of the the playboy composer Giacomo Puccini
Ferzetti was acclaimed for his portrayal of the
the playboy composer Giacomo Puccini
His career still had a long time to run but the consensus is that nothing Ferzetti did in subsequent films stood up particularly well next to his performance in L’Avventura, although his Draco, the gentlemanly mafia boss who helps Bond track down his arch-enemy Blofeld, was a memorable character.

Ferzetti was hailed later for his portrayal of a psychiatrist trying to cover up his Nazi past in Liliana Cavani’s controversial The Night Porter (1974), a study of a sadomasochistic relationship between another former Nazi (Dirk Bogarde) and the woman he raped in a concentration camp (Charlotte Rampling).

By the 1990s, Ferzetti was appearing more frequently on television but there were still a few big-screen triumphs to come, notably as the Duke of Venice in Oliver Parker’s Othello and, in 2009, by which time he was 84, as the head of a wealthy Milanese industrial family in Io sono l’amore - I Am Love - directed by Luca Guadagnino.

Married twice and with a daughter, Anna, Ferzetti died in December 2015 at the age of 90.

Parioli's tree-lined boulevards make it one of the most attractive residential areas in Rome
Parioli's tree-lined boulevards make it one of the most
attractive residential areas in Rome
Travel tip:

Rome’s Silvio D’Amico National Academy of Dramatic Art, which has been attended by many aspiring actors, can be found in Via Vincenzo Bellini where it meets Via Guido d’Arezzo in the Parioli district of Rome, between the Villa Borghese gardens and the vast Parco di Villa Ada. It was opened in 1936. D'Amico, a theatre critic and writer who was a friend of Nobel prize winner Luigi Pirandello and French theatre director Jacques Copeau, was appointed Special Commissioner for the reform of the drama school and led the academy for many years.The academy now has university status.  Parioli is regarded as Rome’s most elegant residential area.

Smoke and steam rising from the crater of the active volcano Stromboli during its 2008 eruption
Smoke and steam rising from the crater of the
active volcano Stromboli during its 2008 eruption
Travel tip:

L’Avventura was filmed partly on location in the Aeolian Islands, a cluster of eight small islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea north of Sicily. The best known is undoubtedly Stromboli, an active volcano known as the ‘lighthouse of the Mediterranean’ on account of the molten lava that streams down the side of the visible 3,000ft (914m) of the mountain with every eruption, of which there are many. The largest of the islands is Lipari, which has a population of 12,000 people and is not unlike Capri in appearance, but with a fraction of the tourists. Salina, famed for its capers and sweet Malvasia wine, was used for the movie Il Postino while Panarea, which has a resident population of only 280, has become a fashionable celebrity hang-out. Yachts owned by Giorgio Armani and Roman Abramovich have regularly been spotted in the small harbour.

16 August 2018

Tonino Delli Colli – cinematographer

Craftsman who shot Life is Beautiful and Italy's first colour film

Tonino Delli Colli worked with some of the leading  directors in Italian movie history
Tonino Delli Colli worked with some of the leading
directors in Italian movie history
Antonio (Tonino) Delli Colli, the cinematographer who shot the first Italian film in colour, died on this day in 2005 in Rome.

The last film he made was Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful, shot on location in Arezzo in Tuscany, for which he won his fourth David di Donatello Award for Best Cinematography.

Delli Colli was born in Rome and started work at the city’s Cinecittà studio in 1938, shortly after it opened, when he was just 16.

By the mid 1940s he was working as a cinematographer, or director of photography, who is the person in charge of the camera and light crews working on a film. He was responsible for making artistic and technical decisions related to the image and selected the camera, film stock, lenses and filters. Directors often conveyed to him what was wanted from a scene visually and then allowed him complete latitude to achieve that effect.

Delli Colli was credited as director of photography for the first time in 1943 on Finalmente Si (Finally Yes), directed by László Kish.

Toto a colori was the first Italian movie to be filmed in colour
Totò a colori was the first Italian movie
to be filmed in colour
In 1952 Delli Colli shot the first Italian film to be made in colour, Totò a colori. He had been reluctant to do it but was given no choice by his bosses.

The cinematographer once recalled in an interview that he had to make do with lighting for black and white films as colour lamps didn’t exist at that time and that he felt sorry for Totò, the comic actor, who was being constantly showered with light.

The arrival of colour changed everything and Delli Colli had to study each new product carefully. He became infuriated with Kodak as whenever a new product came out he had to start again from scratch.

He went on to work with acclaimed directors such as Sergio Leone, Roman Polanski, Louis Malle, Jean-Jacques Annaud and Federico Fellini. Annaud's The Name of the Rose (1986), based on the book by Umberto Eco, is regarded as among Delli Colli's best work.

Delli Colli shot three of Leone's biggest triumphs -  The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West and Once Upon a Time in America.

Delli Colli received a number of awards for his achievements
Delli Colli received a number
of awards for his achievements
He worked particularly well with Pier Paolo Pasolini, with whom he made 12 films and formed a close bond.  The two teamed up on Pasolini’s first film as a director, Accattone (1961), and remained together throughout the director’s career, culminating with Salò (1976), which he helped restore after Pasolini’s death.

In 2005, at the age of 81, Delli Colli was awarded the American Society of Cinematographers’ International Achievement award.

Later that same year he suffered a heart attack and died at his home in Rome on August 16.

Delli Colli was posthumously awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 13th annual Camerimage Film Festival in Poland.

The Cinecittà complex in Rome, situated about 12km (8 miles) southeast of the city centre
The Cinecittà complex in Rome, situated about
12km (8 miles) southeast of the city centre
Travel tip:

Cinecittà in Rome, the hub of the Italian film industry, is a large studio complex to the south of the city, built during the Fascist era under the personal direction of Benito Mussolini and his son, Vittorio. Delli Colli began working there just a few months after it opened for business. The studios were bombed by the Allies in the Second World War but were rebuilt and used again in the 1950s for large productions, such as Ben Hur. These days a range of productions, from television drama to music videos, are filmed there and it has its own dedicated Metro stop.

The Badia delle Sante Flora e Lucilla in Arezzo
The Badia delle Sante Flora e Lucilla in Arezzo
Travel tip:

Life is Beautiful, for which Delli Colli won a David di Donatello Award in 1998, was shot in the centro storico of Arezzo, an interesting old town in eastern Tuscany. One of the scenes was filmed in front of the Badia delle Sante Flora e Lucilla, a medieval abbey. Right in the centre of the town, the 13th century Basilica di San Francesco is the most famous tourist attraction, as it contains Piero della Francesco’s cycle of frescoes, The Legend of the True Cross, painted between 1452 and 1466 and considered to be his finest work.

More reading:

The actress who stood by Pier Paolo Pasolini

The distinctive style of Sergio Leone

How Roberto Benigni became the first Italian male actor to win an Oscar

Also on this day:

1650: The birth of globe maker Vincenzo Coronelli

2006: The death of Umberto Baldini, who saved hundreds of artworks damaged in Florence floods


16 February 2018

Edda Dell’Orso – vocalist

Soprano was wordless voice of Morricone soundtracks

Dell'Orso was 29 when she began her long association with Ennio Morricone
Dell'Orso was 29 when she began her long
association with Ennio Morricone
The singer Edda Dell’Orso, best known for the extraordinary range of wordless vocals that have featured in many of composer Ennio Morricone’s brilliant film soundtracks from the 1960s onwards, was born on this day in 1935 in Genoa.

Her collaboration with Morricone began when he was contracted in 1964 to provide the musical score for A Fistful of Dollars, the first of Sergio Leone’s so-called spaghetti western trilogy that was to make Clint Eastwood an international star.

Leone’s producers could only offer Morricone a small budget, which meant his access to a full orchestra was limited, forcing him to improvise and create sound effects in different ways. One idea he had was to replace instruments with human voices, which is where Dell’Orso, a distinctive soprano, came into her own.

Born Edda Sabatini, she had pursued her musical interests with the support of her father who, while not musical himself, could see that she had potential as a pianist.

The quality of her voice became clear when she enrolled at the National Academy of Santa Cecilia, the renowned music school in Rome, where she graduated in 1956 in singing and piano and met her future husband, Giacomo.

Edda Dell'Orso has enjoyed a long career in the Italian cinema
Edda Dell'Orso has enjoyed a long career
in the Italian cinema
At the time, there was work to be had in Rome’s recording studios, providing backing vocals for TV and film productions, as well as recording artists.  Working for the composer Franco Potenza, Dell’Orso once performed with Frank Sinatra during a visit to Rome by the American singer, whose family originated in Sicily.

In the early 1960s, she joined I Cantori Moderni (The Modern Choristers), a choral group run by the composer Alessandro Alessandroni, a lifelong friend of Morricone and the man to whom he turned when he needed to be imaginative in his soundtrack for Leone.

It was Alessandroni’s musicians who provided the whistling and the twanging guitar in the scores for all of the Dollars trilogy. On hearing Dell’Orso, the group’s solo soprano, Morricone realised, he said later, that he had "an extraordinary voice at my disposal".

As Dell’Orso recalled in a recent interview, it was hardly glamorous work.  Rather than turning up on set and rubbing shoulders with the stars, she would report to the studio, and after one quick read of the musical score be required to either sing with the orchestra in the hall or step into a booth, wearing headphones, to sing along with a recording.

Often, she would be at the studio all day, recording several pieces for different composers of different soundtracks. Although she would keep notes in her diary of which film and which maestro she had performed for, there were so many that she found it difficult to keep track.  Moreover, the singers had no way of knowing if a piece would be used and sometimes did not find out until a movie was released.

Listen to Dell'Orso's voice on the Ecstasy of Gold by Ennio Morricone

Nonetheless, it was the making of her.  Capable of infusing her voice with high drama, playful humour or haunting poignancy, she was called upon time and again, not only by Morricone but many other composers, including Bruno Nicolai, Piero Piccioni, Luis Bacalov and Roberto Pregadio.

In all, she worked on the soundtracks of around 60 films, for which Morricone was the lead composer in more than 30, from the Dollars trilogy to, in more recent times, Giuseppe Tornatore’s 2013 romantic mystery La migliore offerta (The Best Offer), which was entitled Deception when released in the UK.

Despite rarely being asked to sing words, many albums of Dell’Orso’s music have been released and even in her 80s she is still performing.  She lives in Rome with Giacomo, to whom she has been married for 57 years.

The facade of the Palazzo Ducale in Genoa
The facade of the Palazzo Ducale in Genoa
Travel tip:

Genoa, Dell’Orso’s home city, is the most westerly port city in the Italian mainland, situated just 177km (110 miles) from the French border.  Clinging to the coastline between the Mediterranean and the sharply rising northwestern Apennines, its metropolitan area stretches for about 30km (19 miles) from east to west, although the centre is relatively compact, comprising the centro storico (historic centre) and the Porto Antico.  Worth visiting are the Palazzo Ducale, on Piazza Matteotti, and the 12th century Cattedrale di San Lorenzo, handsomely fashioned from black granite and white marble.

The entrance to the Cinecittà complex in Rome
Travel tip:

The heart of the Italian film industry is Cinecittà, the studio complex on Via Tuscolana, about 10km (6 miles) southeast of the centre of Rome.  Built in the Fascist era as Benito Mussolini tried to revive the at-the-time flagging Italian movie business, it is the largest studio complex in Europe.  In the 1950s, nowhere outside Hollywood produced more movies. Scenes from Roman Holiday, Beat the Devil, The Barefoot Contessa and Ben-Hur were all shot there during the 1950s, and the studios became closely associated with the director Federico Fellini.  More recently, the complex has provided sets representing the interiors of both St Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel for a 2016 TV series, The Young Pope.

More reading:

(Picture credits: Ducal Palace at Genoa by Andrzej Otrębski; Cinecittà Studios by Emanuela Meme Giudici; via Wikimedia Commons)

21 August 2017

Emilio Salgari – adventure novelist

Author’s heroes and stories are still part of popular culture

The novelist Emilio Salgari, photographed  in the early 20th century
The novelist Emilio Salgari, photographed
 in the early 20th century
Emilio Salgari, who is considered the father of Italian adventure fiction, was born on this day in 1862 in Verona.

Despite producing a long list of novels that were widely read in Italy, many of which were turned into films, Salgari never earned much money from his work. His life was blighted by depression and he committed suicide in 1911.

But he is still among the 40 most translated Italian authors and his most popular novels have been adapted as comics, animated series and films. Although he was not given the credit at the time, he is now considered the grandfather of the Spaghetti Western.

Salgari was born into a family of modest means and from a young age wanted to go to sea. He studied seamanship at a naval academy in Venice but was considered not good enough academically and never graduated.

He started writing as a reporter on the Verona daily newspaper La Nuova Arena, which published some of his fiction as serials. He developed a reputation for having lived a life of adventure and claimed to have explored the Sudan, met Buffalo Bill in Nebraska and sailed the Seven Seas. He actually met Buffalo Bill during his Wild West Show tour of Italy and never ventured further than the Adriatic.

He turned his passion for exploration and discovery into adventure fiction, signing his stories, Captain Salgari.

The cover of Salgari's 1900 novel, Le Tigri di Mompracem (The Tigers of Monpracem
The cover of Salgari's 1900 novel, Le Tigri
di Mompracem (The Tigers of Monpracem)
He once had to defend his pen name by fighting a duel, after his claim to the title was questioned.

Salgari married Ida Peruzzi, with whom he had four children, but despite his popularity in Italy and many countries abroad, he earned little money from his books and the family had to live hand to mouth.

In 1889 Salgari’s father committed suicide, then in 1903 Ida became ill and Salgari struggled to pay her medical bills. He became increasingly depressed and attempted suicide in 1910.

After Ida was committed to a mental hospital in 1911, Salgari took his own life by imitating the Japanese ritual of seppuku, disemboweling himself in the style of a samurai warrior.

He left a letter for his publisher, saying: ‘To you that have grown rich from the sweat of my brow while keeping myself and my family in misery, I ask only that from those profits you find the funds to pay for my funeral. I salute you while I break my pen. Emilio Salgari.’ One of his sons was also to commit suicide in 1933.

By the time he died, Salgari had written more than 200 adventure stories and novels set in exotic locations, inspired by reading foreign literature, travel magazines and encyclopediae.

His major series were The Pirates of Malaysia, The Black Corsair Saga and the The Pirates of Bermuda. He also wrote adventures set in the west of America. His heroes were pirates and outlaws fighting against greed and corruption.

Sergio Leone is said to have been a fan of Salgari's books, said to have been the inspiration for his Spaghetti Westerns
Sergio Leone is said to have been a fan of Salgari's books,
said to have been the inspiration for his Spaghetti Westerns
He opposed colonisation and his legendary hero, the pirate Sandokan, led his men in attacks against the Dutch and British fleets.

His books had been so popular that his publisher hired other writers to produce stories in Salgari’s name after his death, but no other Italian adventure writer was ever as successful as Salgari.

His style spread to films and television, with Sergio Leone’s outlaw heroes in his Spaghetti Westerns being inspired by Salgari’s characters.

Among the 50 film adaptations of Salgari’s novels is Morgan the Pirate, starring Steve Reeves.
His books were enjoyed by celebrities such as Federico Fellini, Pietro Mascagni, Umberto Eco and Che Guevara.

In the late 1990s, new translations of his novels began to be published and in 2001 the National Salgari Association was founded in Italy to celebrate his work.

It has been suggested that the first film adaptation of a Salgari novel was Cabiria, directed by Giovanni Pastrone, which bears many similarities to Salgari’s 1908 adventure novel, Carthage is Burning.

Federico Fellini was another fan
Federico Fellini was another fan
Gabriele D’Annunzio was billed as the official screenwriter but he came on board only after the film had been shot to change some of the names and captions.

Vitale di Stefano then brought Salgari’s pirates to the big screen in the early 1920s with a series of films that included The Black Corsair and The Queen of the Caribbean.

Salgari’s popular character, Sandokan, was played by Steve Reeves in Sandokan the Great and The Pirates of Malaysia. A Sandokan television miniseries later appeared throughout Europe starring Kabir Bedi in the title role.

Earlier this year, Neapolitan anti-mafia investigators announced plans to indict Francesco 'Sandokan' Schiavone, for the killing of a policeman in 1989. The gangster’s nickname shows Salgari’s character still has influence today, more than a century after his creator’s death.

The Arena at Verona, the city's most famous landmark
The Arena at Verona, the city's most famous landmark
Travel tip:

Emilio Salgari was born in Verona, which was made famous by another writer as the city of Romeo and Juliet. He began his writing career on the daily Nuova Arena newspaper, now called L’Arena, which was founded in 1866 before the Veneto became part of the Kingdom of Italy and is one of the oldest newspapers in Italy. Named after L’Arena, the Roman amphitheatre in Piazza Bra that hosts concerts and operas, the newspaper is now based in San Martino Buon Albergo, a small town just outside Verona.

The imposing entrance to the Cimitero Monumentale
The imposing entrance to the Cimitero Monumentale
Travel tip:

After his dramatic death, Emilio Salgari was laid to rest in the Cimitero Monumentale just outside the city walls of Verona in Piazzale del Cimitero. Designed by Giuseppe Barbieri in 1829, the cemetery has an impressive neo-classical façade with two carved lions on each side of the steps. These have prompted the Veronese to refer to the cemetery as Hotel dei Leoni, the hotel of the lions.

9 April 2017

Gian Maria Volonté – actor

Brilliant talent who played ‘spaghetti western’ parts for fun

Volonté in his role as the police chief in Elio Petri's Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970)
Volonté in his role as the police chief in Elio Petri's
Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970)
Gian Maria Volonté, recognised as one of the finest character actors Italy has produced, was born on this day in 1933 in Milan.

Trained at the Silvio D’Amico National Academy of the Dramatic Arts in Rome, Volonté became famous outside Italy for playing the villain to Clint Eastwood’s hero in two movies in Sergio Leone’s western trilogy that were part of a genre dubbed the ‘spaghetti westerns’.

However, he insisted he accepted the chance to appear in A Fistful of Dollars (1964) – in which he appeared under the pseudonym John Wells - and For a Few Dollars More (1964) simply to earn some money and did not regard the parts of Ramon and El Indio as serious.

In Italy, it was for the much heavier roles given to him by respected directors such as Elio Petri and Francesco Rosi that he won huge critical acclaim.

A person known for a tempestuous private life, he was very strong playing complex and neurotic characters, while his left-wing political leanings attracted him to roles in which he had to portray individuals from real life.

He was a particular favourite of Rosi, the neo-realist director who directed in him in five movies, including the acclaimed The Mattei Affair (1972), in which he played an oil company executive whose death in a plane crash in Sicily aroused suspicion, and Lucky Luciano (1973), in which he portrayed the Sicilian-American Mafia boss controversially released from a 30-year prison sentence in the United States in return for helping the Allies with the 1943 invasion of Sicily.

Volonte played the writer Carlo Levi in Francesco Rosi's 1979 film Christ Stopped at Eboli
Volonté played the writer Carlo Levi in Francesco Rosi's
1979 film Christ Stopped at Eboli
Rosi also cast him as the Jewish-Italian anti-Fascist writer Carlo Levi in Christ Stopped at Eboli (1979)

Other famous roles included that of a television journalist in Swiss director Claude Goretta's Death of Mario Ricci (1983), which won him the him the Golden Palm at the Cannes International Film Festival.

Volonte also played the Italian-born anarchist Nicola Sacco in Sacco and Vanzetti, the 1971 film by Giuliano Montaldo, a courageous Sicilian judge in Fascist Italy in Gianni Amelio's 1990 movie Open Doors, which was chosen as European film of the year at Cannes, and played the Christian Democrat leader and former prime minister Aldo Moro, whose kidnapping and murder in 1978 at the hands of Red Brigade terrorists shook Italy, in Giuseppe Ferrara’s Il caso Moro (1986).

His films under Petri’s direction included  We Still Kill the Old Way (1967), which won the Grand Prix du Scenario at the Cannes Film Festival, and  Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970), for which Volonte won one of his three Nastro d'Argento (Silver Ribbon) awards - the most prestigious acting award in Italy, and which won an Oscar for best foreign-language film.

The part of the kidnapped former prime minister Aldo Moro was played by Volonté in Giuseppe Ferrara's Il caso Moro
The part of the kidnapped former prime minister Aldo Moro
was played by Volonté in Giuseppe Ferrara's Il caso Moro
Volonté’s politics seemed to be rooted in his upbringing. Although born in Milan, he was brought up in Turin. His father, Mario, was a Fascist militiaman who was arrested for allegedly arranging the murder of some partisans. He died while awaiting trial, leaving his family facing poverty. Volonté hated the Fascists from that point onwards.

He left school at 14 to find work so that he could support his mother.  One of the jobs he took was with a travelling theatre company, initially as a wardrobe assistant and secretary, but eventually developing a desire to act, and being granted parts.

It was the realisation that he had some talent as an actor that persuaded him to move to Rome and enrol at the Silvio D’Amico Academy.  After graduating in 1957, he worked in the theatre and television, appearing in adaptations of Dostoyevski's Idiot, Chekhov's Uncle Vanya and Vittorio Alfieri's Saul.

He was soon recognised as one of the most promising of the new generation of actors and his movie debut followed in 1960.

Volonté made no apologies for his political leanings.  A member of the Italian Communist Party, he was arrested in 1971 during a demonstration by workers striking for higher wages and better working conditions and helped his friend and fellow Communist Oreste Scalzone to flee the country after he was sentenced to 16 years in jail on charges of terrorism Volonté believed were false.

He stood as a candidate for the Democratic Party of the Left in the 1992 general election.

Married twice, Volonté had a child, Giovanna, with the actress Carla Divina, his partner for 10 years, before spending the last years of his life with another actress, Angelica Ippolito, with whom he lived in Velletri, a town in the Colli Albani (Alban Hills), just south of Rome.

He died in 1994 of a heart attack while filming on location in Greece and was laid to rest at a small cemetery on the Sardinian island, Isola della Maddalena.

The Silvio D'Amico academy, where Volonté trained, is in Via Vincenzo Bellini in Rome's Municipio II district
The Silvio D'Amico academy, where Volonté trained, is in
Via Vincenzo Bellini in Rome's Municipio II district
Travel tip:

Rome’s National Academy of the Dramatic Arts was founded in 1936 by the writer and critic Silvio D’Amico, whose name was attached to the academy after his death. After occupying a number of premises, the academy settled in a building on Via Vincenzo Bellini in the Municipio II district, just beyond the Borghese Gardens and about 10 minutes’ drive from the centre of the city.

Hotels in Rome from

Velletri's Porta Napoletana formed part of the city walls
Velletri's Porta Napoletana formed part of the city walls
Travel tip:

Velletri is traditionally a walled city. Its original walls were demolished by the Romans in 338 BC but rebuilt in the Middle Ages, giving the town the appearance of a huge castle.  The walls had six gates, the best preserved of which is Porta Napoletana, built in 1511 and which is now home to a branch of the Italian Sommelier Association.

More reading:

How neo-realism and documentary style put Francesco Rosi among greats of Italian cinema

Sergio Leone - from 'spaghetti westerns' to gangster epic Once Upon a Time in America

The tragedy of Aldo Moro

Also on this day:

1454: The Treaty of Lodi ends fighting between rival northern states

1948: The birth of veteran pop singer Patty Pravo

(Picture credits: Porta Napoletana by Deblu68 via Wikimedia Commons)


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)


28 March 2016

Alberto Grimaldi - film producer

Spaghetti Western trilogy gave Naples producer his big break

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More reading: