Struggled with whether to call Franco Zeffirelli a Great Director, and decided I couldn’t. But I’ll allow “good.” Above is an eight-year-old Zeff in Pagliacci whiteface.
The image comes from FZ’s autobiography, imaginatively entitled Zeffirelli. Actually a pretty fun book, with the man’s pomposity amusing rather than hateful, and some interesting stories. Like how he visited Egypt in the 70s to prepare a film of AIDA. After touring the pyramids he stopped to buy some stamps for his postcards, and was struck by the large, colourful yet ominous images of Nasser in front of a burning city. “What is this?” he asked.
“Tel Aviv,” said the shopkeeper.
“Did all this happen while I was away looking at the pyramids?”
“Ah no, this is what’s going to happen.”
FZ, struck by what he viewed as a premonition (which I think is putting it too strongly), got on the next plane out, which turned out to be the last plane for some time, as the Six-Day War broke out, “though it was certainly not Tel Aviv that burned as a result of it.”
Also striking is a passage where Z manages to explain how he squares his Catholicism with his “sinful lifestyle,” which almost makes sense and goes some way to explaining how he can hold his homosexuality and his right-wing Catholicism in his head at the same time without the cognitive dissonance detonating inside his skull and blowing his chin off.
Most interesting to me is the but which intersects with my fascination with famous but anonymous voice artists, as detailed in The Vox Project. The scene is the post-production of his pretty good production of ROMEO AND JULIET (shown in UK schools during my youth, whereby Olivia Hussey became responsible for the first stirrings os sapphic passion in several women I know) ~
One by-product of the filming was my first chance to work with Laurence Olivier. While we were shooting, he was working on a neighbouring sound stage making THE SHOES OF THE FISHERMAN with Anthony Quinn as the Pope. Naturally he felt an almost proprietary interest in any film of a Shakespeare play. The contrast between the rather boring film on which he was working and the glorious text we had at our disposal obviously affected him. Eventually he asked me if there was any way he could join in, and I, delighted at the chance, asked him if he would voice the prologue.
‘Of course,’ he said, ‘But isn’t there anything else?’
I think he would have played Romeo if he’d thought there was half a chance. In the end I got him to dub Lord Montague, who’d been played by an Italian with a thick accent. By now unstoppable, Larry insisted on dubbing all sorts of small parts and crowd noises in a hilarious variety of assumed voices. The audiences never knew just how much of Laurence Olivier they were getting on the soundtrack of that film.
Really makes me want to see it again!
Buy here (US): Romeo & Juliet