Archive for Claudia Cardinale

Watching and Waiting: Desert of the Tartars

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 3, 2014 by dcairns

A regular contributor to the blogathon, Judy Dean, tackles a true late masterpiece for us this year.

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“I have made eight films, and these have a common theme, which is that life has no aim other than to watch itself go by. Force of illusion cannot sustain us, for there’s no idealism strong enough… But we’re not talking about a tragedy, merely a sadness… “ (Valerio Zurlini, 1926 – 1982)

Nothing illustrates this statement more effectively than Zurlini’s last film, Desert of the Tartars, made in 1976.  Adapted from the 1940 novel by Dino Buzzati (published in English under the title The Tartar Steppe), it is set in the late 19th century and tells the story of Giovanni Drogo, an idealistic young army officer setting out for his first posting to an isolated frontier fort.

He explains on arrival that he has been assigned to the fort by mistake and wishes to apply for a transfer but is persuaded, in the interests of his career, to stay for two months.  Caught up in a web of surreal Catch 22–like bureaucracy, and clinging to the vain hope that one day there will be an attack on the fort and his dreams of military action will be realised, Drogo’s two months turn into twenty years.

Buzzati, an Italian journalist, said that “the idea of the novel came out of the monotonous night shift I was working on at Corriere della Sera in those days.  It often occurred to me that that routine would never end and so would eat up my whole life quite pointlessly.  It’s a common enough feeling, I think, for most people.”

Indeed it is.  You may not be a soldier, you may not be young, or male, but if you have ever begun a job with high hopes only to find yourself sometime later trapped by inertia, by familiar routine, aware your life is slipping away but apparently powerless to prevent it, then you will find Drogo’s situation all too familiar.

The novel, described as a surrealist masterpiece and most often compared to Kafka and Orwell, became an international best seller and several major directors, including Visconti, Lean and Antonioni, expressed an interest in adapting it for the screen.  However, the film rights were held by Jacques Perrin, the young French actor who had appeared in two of Zurlini’s early features – Girl with a Suitcase (1961) and Family Portrait (1962) – and when, in the seventies, he got together the financial backing, Perrin turned to the man he regarded as his mentor.  Perrin took the lead role as well as co-producing while Zurlini directed and is also credited with the Italian dialogue.

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To play Drogo’s fellow officers an extraordinary international and multi-lingual cast was assembled. The characters portrayed by Max von Sydow, Fernando Rey, Philippe Noiret, Vittorio Gassman and Jean-Louis Trintignant depict different responses – ennui, stoicism, delusion, fanaticism – to the tedium of a military routine that is punctuated only by false alarms and dashed hopes.  How the casting was achieved is not entirely clear.  Was Zurlini’s reputation among actors riding high at the time?  Perrin’s character has much of the screen time and this illustrious group is given little to work with, but does so supremely well.  Trintignant, for example, playing the garrison doctor, has about four lines of dialogue and Fernando Rey, an ageing Colonel, none at all.  Did some end up on the cutting room floor?  Who knows?  If only we had a director’s cut.

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Two lesser known actors make striking contributions.  Laurent Terzieff, primarily a stage actor, plays Count von Amerling, a sickly Lieutenant, whose treatment at the hands of the sadistic Major Matti results in his death. Terzieff has as few lines as other cast members, but his face alone ought to ensure his place in the annals of cinema.

Major Matti is played by Giuliano Gemma, a former stunt man and better known at the time for sword and sandals epics, but whose performance here was to earn him a Donatello Award.

But it is not the performances, excellent though they are, for which this film is remembered, but its setting, one of the most dramatic – and ultimately tragic – in film history.

Drogo’s nationality is never made explicit, and the uniforms give nothing away.  Some commentators have assumed the fort to be located on the edges of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but that is surely too literal an interpretation.  The film starts conventionally enough with Drogo leaving his small-town home, having bid farewell to his mother and fiancée, and setting out on horseback across green meadows.  He says to his companion, a fellow cadet who has come to see him off, that he doesn’t know what the fort looks like, only that it is distant.  In the next shot he is traversing a featureless, rock-strewn desert of a kind unknown in Europe to the accompaniment of an eerie Morricone score.  Clearly, this will not be the standard military adventure the title sequence leads us to expect.

Zurlini, a passionate art collector and student of art history, is reported to have been inspired, in his search for the right location for the fort, by this painting of Giorgio Chirico entitled La Torre Rosso.

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But elsewhere, the choice is said to have been determined by incentives offered to filmmakers at the time by the pre-revolutionary government of Iran.  As one of Perrin’s co-producers is Bahman Farmanara, who went on the following year to produce Kiarostami’s first feature, this may well be the case.  Whatever lay behind it, the final choice was stunningly effective.  The film was shot in the magnificent citadel of Bam in South-East Iran, close to the Afghan border.  A Silk Road fortress, dating to the 5th century BC, Bam was the largest adobe complex in the world, covering an area of more that 180,000 square metres and surrounded by seven-metre high walls.

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It’s necessary to use the past tense because in 2003 the citadel was destroyed by an earthquake in which many thousands in the city lost their lives.  The film has therefore become a poignant reminder of its former glory.  Bam is classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site and the current regime in Iran, with international aid, is undertaking restoration work but its long-term future is far from secured.

The film achieved some commercial and critical success in Europe, especially in Italy where in 1977 it won Donatello awards for Best Film and Best Director (as well as Giuliano Gemma’s aforementioned acting prize), but it was never released in the USA.

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Zurlini committed suicide in 1982 at the age of 56, possibly as a result of financial and alcohol problems.  Here’s what Claudia Cardinale who appeared in Girl with a Suitcase said of him in an NFT interview in 2003.  “He was a wonderful director and a man of great refinement.  His apartment in Rome was full of wonderful paintings.  We became close friends; he gave me one of his paintings after that film.  Then one day in 1981, he invited me to his apartment in Rome.  When I got there the place was bare.  Everything sold.  There were only packing cases.  He ordered in a gourmet meal and we ate it off packing cases.  Then he went to his home in Venice (sic) and killed himself.”  (Other sources give his place of death as Verona.)

Never as well known outside of Italy as he deserved, Zurlini’s reputation went into a decline following his death, but despite something of a revival in the past decade, thanks to DVD releases and retrospectives, there is still a dearth of information about him (at least in English) and you will search in vain for his name in the reference books.  A re-evaluation is long overdue.

My thanks go to Rolland Man of the University of Edinburgh on whose recommendation I first saw this superb film.

Sex-Positif

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 23, 2013 by dcairns

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Amazing! Picked up the special edition of Positif from 1964 in Lyon for two measly euros. This was a FIND, partly because it intersects with NATAN, the film Paul Duane and I made. Bernard Natan has been falsely connected with several pornographic films, and one of the “sources” for this is a short list of early smut films in the back of this magazine. Many of the films are unattributed, but a few have the name “Nathan” attached. The anonymous author probably did mean Natan, since earlier publications like a 1938 edition of Match also attributed some of the same titles to Natan. But repeating the allegations strikes me as dodgy, since the Positif “article” gives no sources, offers no evidence, and getting the guy’s name wrong doesn’t exactly fill one with confidence. (Natan’s name is spelled “Nathan” all over the place — Georges Sadoul does it in his Histoire General du Cinema, despite getting it right elsewhere in the same book. This is odd, since the title Pathe-Natan appeared ahead of all Natan’s thirties films, often with his signature.)

Anyway, the magazine has a few other things of interest, as you’d expect, including the following piquant questionnaire, which I think we can have some fun with.

MR INDIA. Invisible man musical sexiness,

1) What is the most erotic movie you ever saw? Give your reasons.

2) What seems to you to be the perfect example of a non-erotic movie? Limiting yourself, of course, to films that deal with love.

3) Has the cinema had an influence on your erotic life?

4) What situations, scenes, objects or attitudes in the cinema, seem to you to have the greatest erotic significance?

5) Who is the actress (or actor) who, for you, embodies eroticism? Why?

6) Of  those who are supposed to embody eroticism on screen, which actor (or actress) is for you the negation or eroticism? Why?

7) What erotic work would you like you see adapted (or would you like to adapt yourself) to the screen? With who?

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Fellini’s last drawing: on the bottom of a model in a magazine.

A few notes on the questions and answers.

I love the “(or actor)” and “(or actress)” which are positioned with a hilarious assumption that most of the respondents will be straight men. In film criticism, has this ever been true? At any rate, they at least allow for exceptions, but they want to make it very clear, via parenthesis, that they ARE exceptions. At any rate, the only women quoted are France Roche (respected screenwriter, still with us at 91) and critic Grace Winter.

The aforementioned Sadoul puts Dovzhenko’s EARTH at the top, which surprised me as I didn’t hear swooning over its sexiness at Pordenone, but maybe I didn’t have my ear to the right patch of ground. And maybe I should see for myself. Sadoul is also very keen on Louise Brooks, who was undergoing rediscovery.

Raymond Durgnat is fascinating, as you’d expect. Lots of top choices for erotic film, including but not limited to BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, 42ND STREET, PICKPOCKET, KING KONG, HAXAN and ARTISTS AND MODELS. Polymorphous perversity! But I have to admit, Shirley MacLaine looks cute as Bat Lady.

Private Property (1960) Directed by Leslie Stevens Shown: Kate Manx

The little-known PRIVATE PROPERTY (1960, above) appears on Durgnat’s non-erotic list, and on Grace Winter’s erotic list. Makes me want to see it!

Michel Ciment champions QUEEN KELLY (a popular choice), Sternberg and Bunuel. The ideal erotic film, he says, would stand at an equal distance between Stroheim, Sternberg and Bunuel.

Ciment and several people mention BRIEF ENCOUNTER as a film about love without sex appeal. One critic hasn’t even seen it, and says it’s a good thing too.

Roche on unerotic actors: “Cary Grant: old young man with still-young arteries, but dry elsewhere. Rex Harrison: furry slippers and lumbago.” Mean! This question is apt to get VERY mean, so let’s try not to turn into John Simon when we approach it. John Simon is not a good look.

Poor Brigitte Bardot gets cited as an answer to question (5) by several correspondents. Vadim is chosen as an unerotic director, but Gerard Legrand disagrees and puts ET DIEU CREA LA FEMME at the top of his sexiness chart. Clearly, the negative feeling about BB was simply a reaction against the prevailing fashion, as if there’s one thing she is for most people, it’s sexy. It’s perfectly legitimate to disagree, but so many erotic nay-sayers?

Also: those who put Delphine Seyrig or Grace Kelly in their hot spot, are correspondingly apt to dismiss BB and all the busty Italians of the era.

Lotte Eisner has the best choice for work of fiction to be adapted: William Beckford’s Gothic novel Vathek, under the aegis of Luis Bunuel. Don Luis crops up as preferred adaptor on several lists. The Gothic fiction he really wanted to do was The Monk, of course.

Someone called Debourcieu chooses a science-fiction novel by someone called Pierre Versins, and wants Minnelli, Sinatra, Novak and choreography by Jack Cole.

OK. Harumph. Now, it behooves me to answer the questions myself, and honestly. Rather than just knocking everyone else’s choices. In theory I have an advantage, since I have almost fifty years more cinema to draw upon, and it’s a half-century that’s enjoyed more latitude than the earlier era. On the other hand, I have a disadvantage: shyness.

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Evidence: I was just in a room with Dominique Sanda, who meant a lot to me as a youngster and still does. Now, at her age, would she be horrified if I said, as Jonathan Ross did to Britt Ekland, “Thank you for helping me through those difficult teenage years?” I think not. But instead I just gave her a small salute. She saluted back, perhaps slightly bemused.

1) Impossible to pick a single most erotic film: too self-revealing. But

(a) I had my young mind blown by Robbe-Grillet’s TRANS-EUROP EXPRESS. It’s very dodgy, though;

(b) BETTY BLUE, for all its serious problems, did combine explicitness and photogenics, and if the story had some nasty, unexamined retrograde aspects, the sex was good (everyone seemed to enjoy it);

(c) SOME LIKE IT HOT: kissing as hard porn (fleshly, leering, over-extended), and a film which refused to go as far as I wanted it to, but teetered on the brink like an expert tightrope walker;

(d) GIRL WITH A SUITCASE: the power of enforced chastity: the young hero is home alone with Claudia Cardinale, who seems eminently available. It’s like RISKY BUSINESS for the DOLCE VITA generation. But as he’s a realistic teen not a Hollywood concoction, he doesn’t know what the hell to do so nothing happens. For two hours! It’s hell, I tell you.

(I didn’t see La Cardinale in Lyon, though she was apparently there — the encounter could only be disappointing, in the sense that I would be disappointed in myself.)

(e) THE WICKER MAN had a lot of impact on my b&w portable TV in the bedroom, fuzzy signal picked up from Grampian Regional Television, and probably would’ve “worked” even without the nudity — the singing, the drumming, and the torment, plus the extreme duration

A theme is emerging here in spite of my best efforts: the theme of intense frustration. And yet THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE and the other versions of La Femme et le Pantin don’t do that much for me.

2) Non-erotic movie? I just visited Venice so DON’T LOOK NOW is in my mind. The justly celebrated sex scene is sensitive, intimate, frank, tender, emotional, and beautifully played and rendered. Of course, as a male person I can obviously be stimulated by anything with a naked woman in it as long as she’s not actually Michelle Bachman, but for me what is impressive about the scene is how it doesn’t particularly need the audience to become excited about sex or skin (and as for the age-old “Are they really doing it?” — PUH-LEEZE). It’s beautiful, and not in a vapid way, just not in a way that’s strictly sexual. And it’s one of very, very few films to show married people having sex. With the possible intent of having a child. And the censors still went after it. THAT’S the obscenity.

(See also: THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST.)

3) Yes, cinema has influenced my erotic life. It has BEEN my erotic life for more of the time than I care to discuss. It seems unfair to blame any kinks or hang-ups on the movies, though — although James B. Harris, at Lyon, stated unequivocally that the theme of his deeply weird SOME CALL IT LOVING is that people get sexually imprinted by their first encounter with sex, in which case BARBARELLA has a lot to answer for and the continuing unavailability of an affordable Excessive Machine is a major problem.

I am trying to master that thing Donald Sutherland does with his arm in DON’T LOOK NOW. Am certain it’ll revolutionize my bedroom existence when I’ve got it down.

I am extremely lucky to be wed to a very impressive Louise Brooks type, and an even more impressive Fiona Watson type, Fiona Watson. Our shared love of movies is part of the bond.

4) I’m not at all sure how I’m supposed to define “erotic significance”. But I could list objects: The Excessive Machine (one wants to call it an Orgasmatron but it’s not); the windscreen in COOL HAND LUKE; the chair in CABARET; Joel Cairo’s cane in THE MALTESE FALCON; the boa and the numbered cards in IL MAGNIFICO CORNUTO; actually, this is harder than I thought — I guess I’m not much of a fetishist.

5) The embodiment of eroticism? My screen harem is too extensive to enumerate (picture Guido’s mental farmhouse in EIGHT AND A HALF but extending for at least a city block). Cardinale and Bardot both drive me berserk for reasons hard to justify on any higher plain. Ann-Margret in her (extensive) prime also. On a subtler note, Grace Kelly was my first love on the big screen. Louise Brooks is an obsession. For some reason, Elsa Martinelli is leaping unbidden to the forefront of my mind, but on another day it might be the Geeson sisters. Clara Bow. Romy Schneider.

Embodiment of male beauty: Horst Buchholtz. My idea of un vrai homme: James Coburn.

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6) The opportunity to be mean: the negation of erotica… Bo Derek never did anything for me. Her breasts seemed boring. Sharon Stone too artificial: la Welch a blushing ingenue by comparison. Madonna, always and forever unappealing, though Fincher tried in the videos. I see the glamour of Garbo and Dietrich but not only don’t want to but can’t even imagine engaging in any kind of passionate interaction with them. They are abstract creatures of light and I admire them enormously. Mickey Rourke always seemed disgusting. Tom Cruise never projects any sense of desire or desirability. Most of these people have other good traits though.

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7) At one point, Roman Polanski wanted to adapt the porno comics of Milo Manara as an animated feature. This strikes me as the worst combination possible, but Manara’s comics might be a suitable source. The lousy Jean-Louis Richard film of CLICK is quite good, even though it’s totally lousy, if you know what I mean. Unfortunately, Manara is a deeply sexist idiot, and there’s a nastiness to his work I’d prefer to avoid — plus his real talent is his drawing, so why adapt him to another medium? His adaptation of unfilmed Fellini scenarios was a better way for him to engage with cinema.

Bertrand Blier and Alain Robbe-Grillet were both masters of the perverse who really get into their fantasies and make even the most obnoxious imaginings photogenic, but can they be trusted? Nic Roeg was more sound, you could even hand him something like The Story if the Eye. Jane Campion has a wonderful erotic imagination which can create powerful effects out of small, seemingly almost innocent things. Given her flair for the Gothic, Geoffrey Lewis’s The Monk?

The glimpses seen of THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND suggest that Welles could have been a great director of sexy stuff.

Plans for another version of Jean-Claude Forest’s Barbarella have stultified for years, and by the way Robert Rodriguez is the wrong man. Incidentally, if you read the original comic, the lines that sound most like Terry Southern scripted them (the best lines) are already there. I’d love to see a BARBARELLA that had to aim for PG-13, so there was something to struggle with and smuggle through, some necessity for restraint. The original’s combo of American star, Italian design and French director was a neat selection, but they had the wrong Frenchman. Clouzot would have been better!

Keanu would have been a great Pygar.

Imagine Von Sternberg’s DRACULA, with Charles Boyer.

John Barrymore as CASANOVA for Cecil B. DeMille.

Now I want to hear from YOU. Regular commenters and people I never heard from before. Shadowplay just became the Kinsey report of the movie blogosphere. Spill it!

Claudia Cardinale’s Sex Tombola

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on November 24, 2012 by dcairns

Antonio Pietrangeli’s IL MAGNIFICO CORNUTO is a marital comedy that plays kind of like a sixties Italian EYES WIDE SHUT — it’s all about fidelity, there’s an exchange of fantasies/affairs, the complacent male is thrown into a whirlpool of angst, there are scenes in a hotel and a big country house… Ugo Tognazzi (you remember the child-catcher in BARBARELLA who takes off his big fur coat to reveal an even bigger, furrier chest?) cheats on his impossibly gorgeous wife, Claudia Cardinale, and is tormented, not by conventional guilt, but by impotent fantasies of her cheating back.

The climactic, is I may use the word, fantasy, is a prolonged and luminously atmospheric striptease, with Cardinale stripping away her seven or so veils according to the results of an erotic tombola. Yes.

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