Archive for Sophia Loren

Neapolitan Flavour

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 1, 2019 by dcairns

Among the many things I missed in Bologna was the screening, as part of the fairly exhaustive Eduardo de Filippo retrospective, of his chapter of the portmanteau film GOLD OF NAPLES, directed by Vittorio De Sica. But Fiona saw it and liked it and so we watched the whole thing the other day.

It’s great, of course. It might even cause me to re-evaluate VDS’s WOMAN TIMES SEVEN, which I found weirdly pointless. But the stories in GOLD are nearly all “pointless” in a way, and certainly none of them wraps up in a neat conclusion that makes you go “Ah-ha!”

More like “Huh?”

But in a good way.

It’s an all-star affair (Alessandro Blasetti inaugurated this kind of thing with ALTRI TEMPI and TEMPI NOSTRI, both of which Vittorio was in), produced by De Laurentiis and Ponti and featuring their wives, Sophia Loren and Silvana Mangano (who gets the meatier part). Also appearing are Toto and his amazing performing chin, but De Sica himself gives the best performance, alongside a wee boy rejoicing in the name of Pierino Bilancioni. They play cards together, De Sica (a real-life gambling addict — thanks, David E) loses comprehensively, and he’s a lousy loser. That’s basically their whole story. The little boy doesn’t even want to play cards, he listens poignantly to the sound of his chums playing in the street, but De Sica’s count insists, and the kid’s dad is an employee.

At the end, having trounced his director through a whole series of hilarious reaction shots, and refused to admit to being lucky (“The cards know their master,” he shrugs, infuriatingly) he sits alone, bedecked with the cards his aging opponent has flung at him, then picks up a kitten by the scruff of the neck and cradles it tenderly. It’s such an odd, inappropriate ending to a piece that could easily have ended with him running out to play in the streets (which would have MADE SENSE and CONNECTED) that I had to consider it superior to any logical or organic conclusion.

Then there’s the very funny Felippo episode in which he teaches disgruntled neighbours how to blow a raspberry, and an episode showing a hearse bear a child’s body towards the cemetery. We see it leave, we never see it arrive, and that’s essentially it. The clip-clop of the horse’s hooves becomes hypnotic, the tight cluster of smartly turned out tinies parade through sidestreets and then along the main coastal road — and there’s one stunningly bold visual gag as we pass a window and see through a window a furiously rowing couple, who stop to cross themselves, one after the other, as they notice the procession, then get back to screaming and flinging imprecations at one another.

De Sica, on form, is hard to beat — the closest successor to Chaplin there’s been.

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Bagman

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 6, 2018 by dcairns

I Cinema Ritrovato keeps reminding me to get into the Commedia All’Italiana school of social/sex comedy. MARRIAGE, ITALIAN STYLE (De Sica) and TEMPI NOSTRI (Blasetti) were my belated intros to the genre, which has no real definition but depends on a shared set of assumptions about what an Italian comedy is likely to entail. This year we saw DIVORCE ITALIAN STYLE and LUCKY TO BE A WOMAN, which sealed the deal. So I’ve started seeking out more.

Here’s a bit from PECCATO CHE SIA UNA CANAGLIA (TOO BAD SHE’S BAD), directed by veteran Alessandro Blasetti.

De Sica, in overcoat and mustache, has a trick valise with no bottom, capable of swallowing up smaller baggage when lowered onto it. He’s hunting for a suitable target while his equally criminous daughter, Sophia Loren, who owes it all to spaghetti, distracts attention, which she was always good at.

Nice long take starting at 50 secs mark — amazing comedic choreography of actors and camera — and, my God, De Sica is a fine comedian. How can one guy have so many talents?

Director Alessandro Blasetti had a weird career, with a lot of epics early on, a first film destroyed by the Nazis (the opening alone survives) and later works popular under fascism. In the fifties he turned to comedy and never looked back. ALTRI TEMPI introduced the idea of the compendium film to Italy, where it thrived, or do I mean throve? Doesn’t sound right. It’s a form which originally meant multiple short films by the same director, and was corrupted into those multi-part, often multinational abominations where if you were lucky you got two decent episodes out of five.

PECCATO stars Marcello Mastroianni but did not screen in the Il Cinema Ritrovato season of his many works. He plays an honest cabbie who falls for congenial congenital thief Sophia Loren, whose entire family, presided over beneficently by De Sica, is crooked to the core. The vision of Italian society presented is of a conglomeration of rapacious swindlers and imbeciles — probably an accurate one, allowing for Blasetti’s cynicism. Marcello is honest and not dopey, but love blinds him, so he is in a continual state of outrage at Loren’s low-down activities. The movie finds equal amusement in her blithe reactions — doesn’t this poor man understand the way the world is?

Flashback Friday: The Reign in Spain

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 12, 2015 by dcairns

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Continuing my trawl through past glories — I did an “Anthony Mann Week” some years back — Fiona complained bitterly that it was all too Mannly, but she did like WINCHESTER 73 a lot. In general, she’s had bad luck for these themed weeks, dropping in on films she couldn’t get along with (eg Losey’s BOOM!) and missing a few she would probably have loved (Mann’s A DANDY IN ASPIC, MAN OF THE WEST). She does like THE TALL TARGET, TWO O’CLOCK COURAGE (screwball noir!) and REIGN OF TERROR, but I haven’t ever gotten around to writing about the first two.

I never got around to EL CID, i think because I didn’t have a widescreen copy. It’s a film I’d glimpsed over the years in pan-and-scan abomination form, and like most widesecreen epics, it seemed dull on TV. That’s because the composition of the shots is the whole show — it’s very dynamic in its framing, and the storytelling obeys a visual logic of shape and movement and cutting that’s quite unreal, rather comic book, and wholly glorious. And it’s almost totally dead on a human level, despite having Sophia Loren, a magnificent actress when cast in something human. here she’s used more as a shape, like Chuckles Heston himself, an impressive piece of sculpture.

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Terry Jones said that in preparing LIFE OF BRIAN he looked at epics and they all seemed to have something that might be called “epic acting,” which he then impersonated by putting on a declamatory, Sam the American Eagle voice — pure Heston. And if that’s what the film is, Heston is your man. Co-star Douglas Wilmer told him he was “a great journeyman actor” and Heston got all offended and Wilmer smoother his eagle feathers by saying that “journeyman” wasn’t an insult and that Olivier was also a great journeyman. Heston was happy to be named in that company.

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He was called an “axiom of the cinema” too, but maybe he’s more of an axis — a sturdy compositional element around whom a shot can pivot. He’s like a pillar, but poseable. The strongest emotion he can project is STRAIN, strenuous seriousness or a dynamic tension of the emotions in which he’s simultaneously holding back and putting it all out there. Wyler got a great effect from him in THE BIG COUNTRY, by telling Carroll Baker to pull her wrists free from his great ham-hand which held her, and telling Cheston not to let go. Her wrists got red raw, and the agony of hurting a lady brought him to life — you saw the strain turn inwards and sort of ripple out across the veins in his head and the sinews in his arms.

For this kind of thing, if you’re going to make it and I’m not saying you should — he’s somehow perfect. An advance on the he-men of German epic cinema, the “bounding idiots” of DIE NIBELUNGEN and METROPOLIS. Chiseled beefcake with more visible bone than the bodybuilders of Italy, and a far more convincing ability to move about.

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Spain! Where the diopters are as plentiful as paella. For some reason, the Samuel Bronston sword-and-sandal sagas reach for the split-focus lens more than any other films. Though Nick Ray’s pair of bloaters deploy the effect self-consciously, daring you to notice that while the foreground and background are sharp, the midground is a blur, an effect impossible to achieve with the naked eye. Mann disguises the joins so well you often aren’t quite sure there’s hanky-panky afoot.

Mann’s epic phase saw him work with both stars of BEN-HUR, and feels quite reactive to that blockbuster. SPARTACUS, which he shot the opening scenes for before Kirk Douglas fired him, was also a response to BH, an attempt to show you could make that kind of thing on US soil without taking advantage of cheap labour and tax breaks on the continent. The Samuel Bronston films (this and FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE) arose from the bizarre historical accident that the Hollywood studios were making a lot of money at the Spanish box office but were unable to take that money out of the country, so they had to invent films to shoot in Spain as an excuse to spend money. EMPIRE and 55 DAYS AT PEKING are surreal at times (especially the latter) because they have no sane reason to be Spanish films, and because they’re throwing money at scenes that don’t matter, with colossal overblown sets which dwarf the actors — in fact, “dwarf” is too weak a word. They ANT the actors.

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Here, at least the Spanish castles are real, so it’s only the dementedly huge crowd scenes that beggar belief, fancy dress extras staked out in the sun to bake, contributing nothing save slight distraction, swelling scenes already overstuffed with Herbert Lom or Frank Thring. Despite the authentic setting and the constant twirlings of Miklos Rosza’s score, the world of the film never feels remotely Spanish, because look at who’s in it. The Spanish are Americans and Italians and English and Scots. The Moors are Czech and English and Australian.

A good thing about EL CID is that although it’s all broadswords and bluster, it has bits that are western and bits that are noir, the two genres at which Mann excelled (I’ve never see his two musicals. Anyone?) When a patrol of Spaniards is ambushed by dusky (painted) archers, we’re a stone’s throw from THE LAST FRONTIER. The early part of the story where Sophia is betrothed to Charlton and wants him dead is good doom-laden romance. The wedding night is a symphony of expressionist angst — alone at the dinner table, Heston paces like Garbo memorizing her room in QUEEN CHRISTINA, only clutching frustratedly at every phallic object in reach except himself.

Mann said that the ending of the film was his sole reason for doing it, that with an ending like that you could get away with almost anything. He’s sort of right — but even he, using the highly stylised approach he’s established, and a leading man whose natural destiny might seem to be as a carry-on prop, can’t entirely stifle the giggles as Heston is mounted on his horse, dead, a wooden framework holding him in position like a fake house in a western street. It’s too hideously apt as a piece of satire.

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“Please tell me this was a colossal flop,” groaned Fiona, wearied by the length and annoyed by Sophia’s headgear. Afraid not: the world has bad taste. But I dug it on a shot-by-shot basis.