Archive for Antonioni

Forbidden Divas RIP

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 19, 2020 by dcairns

Lucia Bosè’s death earlier this year wasn’t much publicised in the UK — David Melville Wingrove discovered it months later, and wrote this beautiful piece. Some more months later, I’m finally publishing it, with apologies.

Imitations of Lives

“There are many ways to commit suicide and still go on living.”

~ Lucia Bosè, Of Love and Other Solitudes

There are stars whose off-screen life is a thing entirely apart from their on-screen image. Then there are stars whose lives on and off the screen seem to intersect in uncannily intimate ways. The Italian (and later Spanish) actress Lucia Bosè was emphatically a star of the second type. In 1967, the whole of Spain was agog at the break-up of her marriage to Luis Miguel Dominguín, the country’s most illustrious matador. Two years later Bosè starred in Of Love and Other Solitudes (1969) – a bleak and anguished drama of marital dysfunction and break-up. This was not so much a case of Art Imitates Life as one of Life or Art, What’s The Difference?

For most of the 50s and 60s, Bosè and Dominguín had been the premier glamour couple of Franco’s Spain. They lived in a palatial villa, had three gorgeous children and their inner circle included Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, Jean Cocteau and, more ominously, the dictator General Franco himself. “I can’t say anything bad about Franco,” Bosè remarked years later. “To me he was just a normal man. But my husband was more franquista than Franco, in any case.” It is comments like that which reveal the marriage was not a happy one. There can be no doubt that Bosè married her bullfighter for love. But as the years wore on, she felt increasing dismay at his right-wing politics, his compulsive womanising and his stubborn refusal to allow his wife to work. It did not help that she hated bullfighting and nothing would induce her to attend a corrida.

Anyone could see the couple came from radically different worlds. Lucia Bosè had been born in great poverty on a farm outside Milan. She had little if any formal education and had to work from the age of twelve. As a teenage girl, she survived the Allied bombing and saw the corpses of Benito Mussolini and his mistress, Clara Petacci, hanging upside down in the main city’s square. “I learned that horrible things happen every day,” she said. “All you can do is pull yourself together and keep going.” By the age of sixteen, she landed a job behind the counter at Galli, the city’s most elegant patisserie. One day a dashing older man walked in, took one look at the girl and declared she ought to be in movies. The name of this man was Luchino Visconti. It appears he had no ulterior motives; he was gay and had eyes at the time for his young and handsome assistant, Franco Zeffirelli. But he took Bosè under his wing and groomed her systematically into a star.

At first, Visconti had plans to star her opposite Gérard Philipe in a film called A Tale of Poor Lovers. But the funding fell apart so he introduced his protégée instead to Michelangelo Antonioni. She became that director’s first muse and starred for him in Chronicle of a Love (1950) and The Lady without Camellias (1953). She went on to work for other European auteurs, notably Juan Antonio Bardem in Death of a Cyclist (1955) and Luis Buñuel in Cela S’Appelle L’Aurore (1956). This was the career she gave up in 1955 in order to marry Dominguín and lead, essentially, the life of an upper-class Spanish housewife. At the time, she assured the world’s press that her marriage was worth every sacrifice. (One can assume Dominguín was phenomenally good at something apart from killing bulls!) But after twelve years, Bosè decided enough was enough and made her break for freedom. She demanded – and won – sole custody of her children and became the first woman in Spain since the Civil War to be legally granted a divorce.

The events in Of Love and Other Solitudes are in no way as dramatic as these. María and her husband Alejandro (Carlos Estrada) are a well-heeled couple who live in a villa on the outskirts of Madrid. He is an economist and university professor; she is an artist who works in stained glass. Her job, of course, is symbolic. (Be warned this is one of those movies where literally everything is symbolic of something.)  The art of stained glass is not primarily the art of creating anything new or even of reshaping objects in a new way. It consists almost entirely of altering the light in which things appear, of making them look new when in fact they are not. The couple have a son and daughter and a sizable domestic staff. But their house, with its long wood-panelled corridors and walls of clear glass, looks more like an expensive hotel than a family home.

The most annoying thing about Alejandro is that he does not do any of the things that bad husbands in movies traditionally do. There is no reason to believe he is cheating on his wife. Apart from one feeble effort to chat up a girl at his office, he seems to lack the imagination or the energy an affair would require. This is not so much a bad marriage as one that has gone stale. The husband and the wife have simply run out of things to say to one another, assuming they said much in the first place. María consults a psychologist who tells her: “Everyone who gets married is convinced their marriage will be different from the others – and then it isn’t.” What is interesting in this film is not the drama (there is virtually none) but the arid bourgeois lifestyle it evokes. Alejandro and María lead superficially modern lives, but in a country where social and religious attitudes have changed hardly at all since the Middle Ages.

María is the one character who seems in any way aware of this disjunction. Her family background is that of the pro-Franco upper class. A full-size portrait of Franco hangs just inside the front door of her parents’ house. In the next room, in a glass display case, are her father’s medals from the Civil War. She has an obscure sense this is not the world she belongs in – and expresses it in odd and somewhat childish ways. On one wall in her studio hangs a poster of Theda Bara in Cleopatra. In World War I this star was Middle America’s image of the Vamp, the Temptress, the morally and sexually transgressive Apostle of Sin. But it now takes a great deal of naïveté to see Theda Bara as threatening or subversive in any way. She entirely lacks the sophistication and sexual autonomy of the silent Italian divas – most notably, that of Francesca Bertini whom Bosè oddly resembles.

With her vast and haunted dark eyes, her ivory skin and her lustrous torrent of black hair, Lucia Bosè has all the allure of the silent divas and then some. There are stray moments in Of Love and Other Solitudes where she suggests Leonardo da Vinci’s portrait of the Mona Lisa – who has casually stepped out of her frame and deigned to wander about among mere mortals. There are other moments where we notice her chunky and ungainly hands, her way of walking that is at once elegant and strangely awkward. Details like this do not destroy the illusion; they only make us like her more. This film proved a succès d’estime for Bosè and her writer-director Basilio Martin Patino. She followed it with a string of increasingly odd movies. In Arcana (1972) she plays a witch who spits live toads out of her mouth. In La Messe Dorée (1975) she is a socialite who hosts an orgy based on the Roman Catholic mass and winds up giving a blow-job to her son. Was it entirely an accident that her ex-husband’s friend General Franco dropped dead not long after?

She survived into old age as a truly glorious eccentric. At eighty she sported bright blue hair and a designer punk wardrobe and said she had every intention of living to 105. She appeared occasionally in movies but her true passion was a museum she opened to display her art collection, which was made up entirely of images of angels. Her closest companion was her son Miguel Bosé, Spain’s first out gay pop star and the transvestite Femme Letal in the Pedro Almodóvar film High Heels (1991). One almost wishes Almodóvar had starred his mother in a flashy, trashy remake of Travels with My Aunt or Auntie Mame. She could have played either or both roles to perfection and would, in fact, have barely needed to act.

Lucia Bosè passed away in March, 2020 due to complications arising from Covid-19. She was the first famous person in any country to fall ill and die in what would become a global pandemic. Her life was spent knowing that terrible things happen every day and the one choice we all have is to pull ourselves together and keep going. In the world as it is today, that stands as a legacy in itself.

IN MEMORIAM LUCIA BOSÈ (MILAN 1931-SEGOVIA 2020)

David Melville

Lucia Bosé dies at 89 from pneumonia | Spain's News

Me and Marlon

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 3, 2015 by dcairns

It continues! At Kaput, Already, Renlau Outil considers Antonioni’s swan-song, BEYOND THE CLOUDS. Do check it out.

And here at Shadowplay, regular Shadowplayer Judy Dean addresses the career of Marlon Brando, recently summed up by a posthumous appearance in LISTEN TO ME, MARLON.

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ME AND MARLON

It’s hard to explain why Marlon Brando took so long to enter my consciousness.  I’m at primary school when that magnificent run of early films comes to a halt with Desiree. By the time I’m 15 I know that he once made a film so dangerous we’re not allowed to see it, but that doesn’t stop all the bad boys in town from dressing like him and wanting a Triumph like the one he rode. A couple of years later, when I join a group who spend every Sunday afternoon in the front row of the local ABC, regardless of what’s on, he’s become just another actor.  We are vaguely aware that he is troublesome, that he caused a lot of problems on Mutiny on The Bounty and wasted a lot of money on a western.  Did I see him during this period of indiscriminate filmgoing?  Bedtime StoryThe ChaseA Countess from Hong Kong?  I must have done, but I have no memory of it.

Come the seventies and life has taken a serious turn.  I’m married, working, and cinema has become an occasional indulgence but, like almost everybody of my generation, I see his great trilogy.

The Godfather is a major, much anticipated event. We drive home afterwards talking excitedly about the restaurant shootings and the horse’s head but I don’t remember our discussing Brando’s performance.

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Then Last Tango In Paris becomes a cause celebre.  We see it in London’s West End soon after it opens and find the cinema picketed by supporters of Mary Whitehouse, which only adds to the sense of occasion.  The film makes me feel queasy.  What exactly is it we are witnessing here?   But I am astonished by Brando’s physical appearance.  The Godfather has made me think of him as old, but here is this beautiful man in his forties with a blonde ponytail who can do a backflip.

Move on a few more years and we’re in the West End again for Apocalypse Now, a special journey made with friends in order to see it in 70mm and stereo.  A collective sigh of pleasure is heard as the sound of helicopter blades travels from one side of the auditorium to the other. There’s more than a whiff of pot in the air. Again, there is little talk afterwards of Brando; we think him weird.  It’s spectacle we’re after and we emerge high on images of air raids and napalm.

Now we’re into the eighties and everything goes quiet. Brando disappears from the screen and parenthood kicks our social life into touch.

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Move on another decade and I find myself, thanks largely to the arrival of Blockbuster video, starting to explore cinema’s back catalogue. Something in a Brando performance captures my imagination, some small gesture, some tiny detail.  What was it?  Putting on Eva Marie Saint’s glove in On the Waterfront?  Sliding a letter between his wife’s toes in The Ugly American?  Sharing a carrot with his horse in The Missouri Breaks?  I honestly can’t remember, but I know that I have never seen an actor do something like this before and I am entranced by it. Why this coup de foudre hasn’t happened sooner I’m not sure, but it leads me to start seeking out his films in a systematic kind of way and in so doing I discover Burn!  I am bowled over by this tale of colonialist meddling in the West Indian sugar trade, and ecstatic when I later discover that it’s his favourite role.

Overnight I become a Brando completist.   I watch every film, buy every biography and every coffee table book, hunt down every article and every review, correspond with every webmaster.  I am obsessed.  Eventually my passion is exhausted, the fever subsides and I return to the normality of just another fan. (That is, until the same thing happens with Buster Keaton; but that’s another story.)

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Jump to November 2015.  I decide to write about The Score for David’s blogathon.  Surely, with a cast like that, it can’t be as uninspiring as I remember it?  I buy the DVD to refresh my memory and find that it is.  I am depressed.  What a note to end a career on.  And what can I find to say about such a film?

Then a miracle occurs with the perfectly timed UK release of Listen to Me, MarlonThe Score proves not to be his final film after all.  Brando himself has the last word on his life and career.  And this moving documentary brings it all flooding back to me – his beauty, the damage caused by his unhappy childhood, the courage he showed in his political involvement, his failings as a husband and father, the blame for problems on set that were not of his making and, above all, the originality of his performances.  Forget all his feigned indifference to the art of acting.  Here he is talking about what lay behind the small gesture (whatever it was) that opened my eyes to his genius.

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“When an actor takes a little too long as he’s walking to the door, you know he’s going to stop and turn around and say ‘Quite frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn’. Never let the audience know how it’s going to come out.  Get them on your time. And when that time comes and everything is right, you just fly.  Hit ‘em!  Knock ‘em over!  With an attitude, with a word, with a look.  Be surprising.  Figure out a way to do it that has never been done before.  You want to stop that movement from the popcorn to the mouth.  Get people to stop chewing.  The truth will do that.  Damn!  Damn!  Damn!  Damn! When it’s right, it’s right.  You can feel it in your bones. Then you feel whole.  Then you feel good.”

Let’s finish with a song.  Over to Dory Previn.

Judy Dean

Of course I’m liberated now

I see life as it is.

I call my soul my very own

and I no longer covet his.

 

No one else can get you through

I’ve learned with some regret.

I’ve outgrown all my heroes

I am cured of kings and yet…

 

And yet the other night

By chance, I saw him

There on the TV screen

Overbearing, arrogant

Marvellous, marvellous

And oh, so mean.

 

And that old addiction gripped me

You know how women get

I’ll bet I could have handled him

If only we had met.

 

Handbag Bowls

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on December 11, 2014 by dcairns

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In LA NOTTE, Antonioni’s existential urban ennui driftalong dream of directionless decadence and the isolation of togetherness, Monica Vitti, making an “extraordinary appearance” (though as the director’s wife, it’s not so much extraordinary as inevitable), invents a fun new game, sliding her handbag across a checkerboard floor, the object being to land on the last square. It’s not quite the only fun anyone has in the movie, but it feels like it, perhaps because Antonioni has invented the best excuse for cleavage shots in screen history.

As another disaffected, casual, despairing party guest, Vitti still manages to be more alive and productive than the principles (tellingly, the most vivacious guy is the friend who’s dying), with her tape-recorded observations, made purely for self-expression, but even she ends up drained by the vampiric energy-void of Mastroianni and Moreau. Also, she represents such vivacity and allure that Mastroianni, drawn zombie-moth like towards her, never seems to lose sympathy despite the fact that he’s trying, in a listless way, to cheat on his miserable wife. I was on his side.

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The excellent bit with the stuffed cat.

But I was on Moreau’s side too — she’s much more appealing than him. It seems surprising to see Moreau cast as nothing but a wife, and a passionless one too. It helps that she smiles quite a bit — but a gentle smile, none of her usual edge. JULES ET JIM located that smile as belonging to an ancient statue: the smile of the sphinx. I have no idea how thoughtful the real Marcello was — I have my doubts — but he makes a just-credible intellectual here. But it’s Moreau who more strongly  suggests hidden depths.

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Her flaneur sequences, wandering a Milan that’s gradually being corroded into another international Tativille, were the bits that hooked me, evoking as they do the mysterious intensity of L’ECLISSE’s final, protagonist-free street corner hang-out zone (analysed here).

Hard to imagine how the film’s celebration/suicidal despair at the clean angles of modern architecture would have played when all this was actually new. Despite an opening shot that pointedly contrasts old and new structures, LA NOTTE doesn’t generally offer a Tati-style dialectic on differing ages of design, it essentially takes up discrete vantage points amid those glossy, glassy planes and bides its time. And it’s bravely devoid of a sense of humour, even if Marcello does sprout a set of glittering deely-boppers for an instant.

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The final party, endless party, all jazz and dark angles, strikes me as more successful than anything in LA DOLCE VITA — it doesn’t seem to have dated, and in eschewing the cartoonist’s eye for tabloid-friendly excess, it captures public aloneness, isolation in a crowd, melancholy pleasures amid revelry, solitary pensiveness and also portrays a party I’d actually kind of like to go to, even if I would just find a quiet corner and read.

UK Blu: LA NOTTE [THE NIGHT] (Masters of Cinema) (Blu-ray)

UK DVD: La Notte [Masters of Cinema] [1961] [DVD]

US Blu: La Notte (Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]