strange_complex: (Claudia Cardinale fan)
IMDb page here. Watched on DVD from Lovefilm.

This is a long, slow epic of a film; large and grandiose, but with a great deal of small detail and personal intimacy, too.

I watched it partly because one of the main characters is played by the delectable Claudia Cardinale. Indeed, many moons ago I made this icon of her character holding a fan to use when registering my appreciation of LJ posts which I sincerely liked but did not have anything specific to say about in a comment. (It fulfils, of course, the same role now served by the 'Like' button on Facebook - and oh I do wish they would get on and implement something similar for LJ!). But I also watched it because it deals with one of my favourite periods of Italian history, the Risorgimento, here seen specifically from the point of view of a noble Sicilian family.

The head of that family, Don Fabrizio - the 'leopard' of the title, somewhat surprisingly but very powerfully played by Burt Lancaster - takes a sanguine view of matters. He speaks a great deal about the antiquity of Sicily, very much focussing on the longue durée, and fundamentally believes that the unification of Italy will make little difference to the everyday experiences of the Sicilian people. But at the same time a clear contrast is drawn between the old ways which he represents and the new ways of his nephew Tancredi - an energetic and passionate young man, who fights actively for the revolution and willingly throws himself into the politics of the new regime. By the end of the film, Tancredi is deeply in love with Angelica (Claudia Cardinale's character), who is vital and spirited but distinctly ignoble. There is a frisson of attraction between Angelica and Don Fabrizio, too - but ultimately it is something which cannot be pursued. While she and Tancredi swirl ardently together at the ball which forms the climax of the film, Don Fabrizio, now tired and somewhat dejected, walks out into the streets of the small town beyond, finally disappearing from sight altogether into a dark archway. He has done his bit - but the future belongs to Tancredi and Angelica.

The cinematography and direction of the film are very typical of the 1960s. The colour palette revolves around Glorious Technicolor, while the direction is very much theatrical. This has its own charms, but I felt that the landscape of Sicily perhaps wasn't shown off to its best advantage as a result. A modern director would have given us lots of aerial shots of the landscape, capturing the rolling shapes of the hills and coastlines by flying over the scenery. Visconti, though, treats the landscape above all as a backdrop, always static behind scenes of human action. Perhaps that is what he wanted to capture - a sense of Sicily as still and unchanging while its people act out their small-scale human dramas. But I felt that something of its potential majesty was lost as a result.

I wouldn't recommend this film to everyone - it is slow-paced, and assumes a pre-existing interest in the circumstances of the characters rather than seeking to establish one. But if you happen to like 19th-century Italy, 1960s cinematography or indeed Claudia Cardinale, Burt Lancaster or Alain Delon (who plays Tancredi), it is definitely a fine example of its kind.

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strange_complex: (La Dolce Vita Trevi)
Seen at the weekend on DVD. I've watched quite a few Fellini films before, but not since I've got into the habit of recording everything systematically here. So, for my own reference, the other ones I've seen are La Dolce Vita (1960), Fellini - Satyricon (1969) and Roma (1972) - amongst which the latter is probably my favourite.

This one is very much in the now-familiar vein. The story is impressionistic and open-ended, full of dream sequences, fantasies and childhood flashbacks, and it is of course also strongly autobiographical - the main character, played by Marcello Mastroianni, is a director trying to plan his latest film while grappling with his own personal lack of direction. The line between art and life was clearly very blurry for Fellini - which is part of why his films are so good, of course. The cinematography is also very beautiful, with lots of shots from interesting angles, compositions which speak volumes about the emotional space the characters are inhabiting and so forth. Also, it does not hurt to have Claudia Cardinale about the place, looking all doe-eyed and beautiful.

Perhaps most striking, though, was the in-story meta-commentary. Throughout the film, Mastroianni converses with a cinema critic: ostensibly about the film his character is planning, but in fact it is clear from the content of their conversations that they are actually discussing the film we are watching. Arguably this is a bit self-indulgent, since it allows Fellini to pre-empt the real critics before they can speak by showing that he is quite aware of their narrow-minded little views, thank you, knows what he's doing and has an answer for them. But it's also bold and self-assured, and helps to guide the viewer through what is otherwise quite a fragmented narrative, so on balance I rather liked it.

Overall, not quite on the same level as Roma for me, but a very accomplished piece of pure Fellini all the same.

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strange_complex: (Penny Farthing)
I read this book on the canal, and for a book group which has just started up at work. I'm actually not too sure how long I'll stay in the book group, for two reasons: 1) I didn't feel particularly drawn to any of the other people in it at our initial meetings, and 2) I was in a book group once before in Oxford, and ended up letting it drop because I read so slowly that as soon as I have to read one book a month for a group, I find that I have almost no spare reading time left over to read anything else that I want to read for myself. But I'll give it a proper chance for a few months, anyway. And in the meantime, I count myself better off for having read this as our first group choice.

It's basically the story of a terrible crime, told from the point of view of a nine year old boy who is slightly too young to really grasp the full enormity of what's going on, but nevertheless sees and discovers enough for an adult reader to put together the pieces which his narrative voice can't. This lends a great pathos to the story, because frequently it is quite clear to the reader that the entire quiet-if-impoverished lifestyle which he has known to date is about to be ripped apart - but he does not know this yet, and remains preoccupied with his childish hopes, fears and adventures as everything unfolds around him. I've rarely read a book which carries off a child's-eye viewpoint so convincingly and to such clever effect. The language used, the events emphasised, the emotions experienced, the narrow physical horizons of the story were all entirely those of childhood - and yet an utterly adult story was conveyed by them all the same.

Actually, given the child-like language especially, I rather wished that we were reading it in the original Italian instead of in translation, as I think that the short, simple sentences would have been at just the right level for me. Still, I can always read the Italian version for myself if I want to - and as I say, the English translation is well worth reading.

strange_complex: (Urbs Roma)
IMDb page here, Wikipedia page here, rather good article about it here. Watched at home on a DVD borrowed from the Edward Boyle library.

Pasolini's name comes up quite a lot in the context of high-quality Italian cinema, but this was my first experience of him. Like Ieri, Oggi, Domani, I had to watch it without English subtitles, because it didn't have any, but with the Italian ones to help me, I think I managed well enough to at least follow the plot - though I'm sure there were subtleties of the character interactions that were lost on me.

In essence, Mamma Roma is a prostitute, who's retired from business, collected the son she'd borne years before in a marriage of convenience from the country, brought him to a new housing development in Rome, and is trying to support the two of them by selling vegetables on a market-stall. The son, Ettore, however, is awkward, innocent and directionless - a fatal combination, given the shady (yet also curiously innocent) characters who hang around on the waste ground opposite the housing estate. Her efforts aren't enough to save him from a downward spiral which culminates in his death under restraint in a secure hospital, after being convicted of stealing a radio.

Of course, she is the city - its faded past glories rendered particularly visible by broken aqueducts crossing the wasteland where the youths wander - and he is its post-war, post-Fascist youth. But it's not actually as gauche as that makes it sound. There's a lot of symbolism going on - particularly Christian stuff surrounding the figure of Ettore as a sort of doomed anti-Messiah, but also some interesting hippy-ish things about his instinctive affinity with nature and the 'earthy' barefoot young prostitute, Bruna, with whom he becomes besotted. Yet it also 'works' as a straightforwardly moving story of a struggling mother and dysfunctional son, and as a view into early '60s Rome. And Anna Magnani (also of Roma, Città Aperta fame) is absolutely crackling as the title character!

Not sure it's inspired me to trace Pasolini's work further - but it's certainly given me a sense of what all the fuss is about.

strange_complex: (Penny Farthing)
IMDb page here. Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] rosamicula for helping guide me towards it. Watched at home on a video borrowed from the Edward Boyle library.

After finally securing a tape of it that worked from the library on Thursday, I watched Ladri di Biciclette in the afternoon, in preparation for my Italian exam. I'd seen a Chinese film inspired by it, Beijing Bicycle (2001), a few years ago with [livejournal.com profile] mr_flay, so I already knew the basic set-up. In the Chinese version, a boy from the country comes to Beijing to get work, secures a delivery job which requires him to have a bicycle, gets one as an advance on his salary, but then has it stolen. He can't do the job without it, and it's already become a great symbol of his upward aspirations, so he spends the rest of the film hunting it down through Beijing, and becoming more and more obsessed and unhinged as he does. In the end, it's not about the bike at all, but his frustrated ambitions and sense of being trapped in a hopelessly unfair socio-economic dead-end, as well as a way of portraying the social make-up of the city as a whole. But although the boy's difficult position and the unfairness of having his bicycle stolen make you feel sympathy for him initially, by the end of the film he has all but completely alienated the viewer through his obsession and his own willingness to wreak violent revenge on the people he views as responsible for his plight.

It turns out that the Chinese version is pretty faithful to the Italian original in general outline, but that there are some significant differences. Most importantly, the Italian main character, Ricci (a deliberately ironic play on ricchi (riches)?), isn't a teenage boy - he's one of late 1940s Rome's great mass of unemployed adults. This is partly just a reflection of the different cultural context - each is a plausible character for the situation in their respective times and places. But it also makes for quite a different tone of film. Most of the Chinese boy's actions can be viewed as driven by fiery teenage emotions, and this makes them fairly easy to dismiss as simply immature. But Ricci's increasingly questionable behaviour appears much more serious, coming as it does from a grown man - and especially a grown man with his young (but frighteningly old for his years) son following him around, witnessing his father's disintegration.

We watch Ricci gradually progressing through a serious of increasingly questionable actions - harassing an elderly man in church, completely neglecting his son, rashly spending money his family can ill afford to try to make it up to him, starting fights in the street, and finally trying to steal a bicycle himself. And far more so than in the Chinese equivalent, we can understand the apparent logic in each step he takes, even as we recognise that it is hopeless, foolish and driven by desperation. Yes, we lose sympathy for him as he loses his grip on where the line between right and wrong lies - but never quite as entirely as in the Chinese film. We understand, even if we don't condone. And perhaps this is most of all because the son is there with him - to remind us of just how much is at stake for this man, who cannot support his family without this bicycle.

I can't remember how Beijing Bicycle ends, and can't find out from online reviews, either. But I think Ladri di Biciclette is just slightly less bleak in its denouement. Ricci is caught in the act of becoming a bicycle thief himself, and surrounded and slapped by a knot of concerned citizens (who of course had not been there when the same thing happened to him). But it is at this point that he gets his first break of the film. The owner, seeing Ricci's son looking on, and recognising his desperate circumstances, decides not to press charges and lets him walk away. He's still lost his bicycle, his job, his economic future and his respect in his son's eyes. But his problems have not been compounded further, and he has the chance at least to rebuild his life and his relationship with his son. He has also learnt through example of the possibility of compassion - something he had not been able to demonstrate himself earlier, as he continued to seek revenge even when all hope of recovering his bicycle had clearly been lost. It's a very humane ending, really, and also has the important effect of putting Ricci's situation back under a wider social gaze: allowing us to step out of his blinkered obsession and reminding us that he is just one of many people trapped in a completely desperate situation.

As a result, it feels more powerful than the Chinese remake did. We've watched a man being broken by a combination of his circumstances and his own warped sense of justice, and we haven't been able to write off his behaviour as hormonal sounding off. Instead, he's remained entirely human in our eyes - and we know that Rome is full of people going through much the same trials as he has. Just like Roma, Città Aperta it comes across as a very honest example of Italian self-examination - and makes me feel all the more in love, always and ever, with Rome. What a relief that, by 1962, De Sica felt able to make films like Ieri, Oggi, Domani - which I don't think is as good, but is certainly testament to a much happier Italy.

strange_complex: (Sophia Loren lipstick)
IMDb page here. Watched at home on a DVD borrowed from the Edward Boyle library.

This is basically a sequence of three short stories about women, with the main female character in each played by Sophia Loren, and her male opposite number by Marcello Mastroianni. I found it harder to follow linguistically than Roma, Città Aperta, largely because the DVD didn't have English subtitles - only Italian ones. I put those on, and they helped a lot - although obviously that meant I wasn't entirely performing an exercise in listening, which is what my test on Friday is all about. Still, I suppose it made me work harder than watching Città Aperta with English subtitles (which couldn't be turned off because it was a video) anyway, and I'm hoping the language I read and the language I heard will have reinforced one another.

The first story, about a woman called Adelina who sells contraband cigarettes in Naples, and continuously avoids a jail sentence by ensuring that she is constantly pregnant for several years in a row, was even harder to follow, because it was packed full of what I presume were Neapolitan dialect words. I'm sorry, but 'jamme', 'cà', 'mo', 'nun' and 'nù' just aren't in my Italian dictionary, so even seeing them written in the subtitles wasn't much help. Sometimes, I could figure them out from context, as in phrases such as 'Attenti ù tram!', where I guess ù = al or 'Vieni a cà', where cà looks like qua. (NB I may not have the accents right). But it really didn't make life easy.

I'm never sure what these dialects are like for native speakers of standardised Italian. I mean, is it like me hearing someone speaking Scots, where I'd be perfectly familiar with 80% of the words, recognise another 10% as characteristic of the dialect and only be puzzled by about another 10% at most (which I could probably understand from the context)? Or is it more like me listening to some of the African dialects, which are presented for English viewers of programmes like The Real No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency with subtitles that are at first extremely necessary, but do become a bit less so as you watch and tune into the accent and vocabulary?

Anyway, I managed - not least because all three stories were pretty light-hearted and packed with very visual humour. Although I'm not altogether sure it was a particularly profound experience. I mean, it was a fun exercise in character studies, and gave a nice window into 1960s life in each of the three cities where the stories were set (successively, Naples, Milan and Rome). And maybe the point was just that life goes on, day by day, and often it's funny, but generally it's pretty trivial except to the people who are living it. But I didn't feel myself particularly moved by it in any way beyond 'Oh, that was quite amusing'. Let's just hope it did my listening abilities some good!

strange_complex: (Rick's Cafe)
IMDb page here; Wikipedia page here. Watched at home on a video borrowed from the Edward Boyle library, as practice for my Italian listening exam next Friday.

I picked this up fairly randomly in the Edward Boyle library, on the basis that it had that seductive word - Roma - in the title, and looked from the testimonials on the box as though it was probably quite hard-hitting, cinematically important and historically interesting. It's a portrait of Rome and its people under Nazi occupation in 1944, and was shot on a shoe-string budget with only two professional actors and four sets just six months after the city had been liberated. That soon after the events it portrays, and in such impoverished circumstances, you'd think it wouldn't be up to much. Surely it would be sensationalist, sickeningly patriotic or maybe just not very good? But no. That would be English war films.

Instead, what we have here is a subtle and compelling view into the lives of a small group of very human characters. The genre is (apparently) neorealism - and certainly the feeling was of simply being shown the unfolding of events, rather than being told a story. Notably, one thing which this meant was that although there were some seriously awful things going on (a man being tortured to death; a woman being shot in front of her child while the man she was about to marry is carted away), there were also moments of humour placed alongside them (where to hide the bombs while the Germans are coming?! under the table? under the sick man's bed? in the sick man's bed!). This, of course, gives a heightened sense of realism by presenting a life-like balance, and makes the horror of what's also happening to these people - in itself never over-played; just shown - all the more profound.

OK, so there are some clichés. Like the predatory-lesbian!Nazi (srsly!), or the kind, mild-mannered priest who tells the Nazis that God is on the side of those who fight for truth and justice, and closes the film by dying in front of a firing squad while actually saying 'Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do'. The ageing Nazi Captain who'd been an executioner in the First World War, and was so jaded he was openly questioning German supremacy in front of his rather more enthusiastic colleagues also looked too much like a piece of wishful thinking to fit in with the realism of the rest of the film. But hey - I was expecting nothing but that kind of thing, and to find a little of it here and there is entirely understandable given the context.

The IMDb suggests that if viewers enjoyed this film, they might also like Casablanca. And well they might - I do. But now I've seen both, I honestly believe this to be the superior film. It's no surprise to me to find that it won Best Film at Cannes in 1946. And it was no surprise, as the final credits rolled, to see the name "F. Fellini" amongst the writing credits. What a formative experience for him! And well done, Roberto Rossellini.

All in a day's work

Wednesday, 7 March 2007 11:00
strange_complex: (Cathica spike)
Yesterday, leaving work at around 7pm, I realised that I had spent three hours of the day teaching (lecture on sources for Julius Caesar; lecture on Roman houses; seminar on issues and problems with Pompeii) and three and a half learning things (2-hour Italian class1; 1.5 hour Leeds Classical Association lecture on ancient entertainments as illuminated by inscriptions from Aphrodisias and Ephesus). And I wasn't even going home, either - I was going to have dinner with some colleagues and the lady who had delivered the Classical Association lecture, Prof. Charlotte Roueché.

I'd not met her before, but wow! She was amazing. A firebolt of energy, fantastically interested in everything and everyone around her (related to her subject or not), extremely insightful and superbly well able to communicate her specialist area in all its complexity to non-experts, and have them laughing along and utterly absorbed in what she had to say. That's what I want to be like when I grow up, please.

It was a great day, though. One of those where you feel wrapped up and stimulated by everything going on around you, and it's all so exciting that you don't feel tired at all. Well, not until the end of our meal, anyway, by which time I had faded like a wilting violet, and was fighting unsuccessfully to suppress yawns...

Now today I have just spent the whole of the last two hours writing important emails and filling in a rather silly risk assessment form for the trip I will be taking students on to Lincoln: "Is the area politically stable?"; "Are at least two members of the party competent in the local language?"; "Have the local police been consulted?". Um... I know Lincoln has its dodgy areas, just like any town, but seriously - the most dangerous thing my students will be doing on the trip is crossing the road... just like they do every day.

Time for a bit of lecture preparation, I think.
---------------
1. During which we made origami penguins and told each other how to make our favourite recipes.

GIP

Sunday, 4 March 2007 13:05
strange_complex: (Pompeii sundial)
I've been filling in the latest two icon slots that LJ has bestowed on permanent users. Now at last I have an icon about time - and it manages to combine Apollo, Pompeii and a line from one of my favourite Siouxsie and the Banshees tracks as well, all in one big cross-overy love-fest! Hooray.

I do wish I'd bothered to go out and look at the lunar eclipse last night, now I've seen everyone's photos of it this morning. I was vaguely aware of it, but didn't quite register that it was actually going to be a total eclipse, at a perfectly civilised hour of the evening. Oh well - your photos were good, anyway, all of you.

This morning I saw the episode of Angel from season five where just in case... and there are House spoilers under here, too )

Right. Now I am going to spend the rest of the day catching up with my Italian. We're supposed to hand in homework every couple of weeks, but I think I've done so about twice so far over the whole course. Bad Penny!

strange_complex: (Leeds owl)
...keeping me up all night!

Actually, they aren't really owls, but apparently some openings in the roofing of the flats where I live, which make hooting sounds exactly like owls when the wind blows through them. Which was most of last night. Still, it gives me a great opportunity to introduce my latest icon (man, I just love the way us permies get yet another new one every few months!).

This particular owl may be found outside Leeds' Civic Hall, where he and a feathery friend stand as proud emblems of the city - whose patron goddess must therefore logically be Minerva. Now that I actually live in Leeds, I felt the need for a 'Leeds - town' icon to supplement the 'Leeds - gown' aspect represented by my Parkinson building one. So that's his job. Meanwhile, in the background, is Shelley's rendering of the Homeric hymn to his mistress, the first few lines of which run thus:

I sing the glorious Power with azure eyes... )

Hooting aside, I am having a very lovely weekend, which so far has included:
  • Going shopping and buying a very lovely fifties-esque dark purple party frock for upcoming Christmas dos
  • Getting the flat properly clean and tidy
  • Painting my toe-nails
  • Dying my hair (that one's happening right now)
  • Doing some very fruitful and rewarding Alessandro Moreschi research
  • Making lots of interesting notes (so far in English) for the Italian presentation I have to give on Tuesday
  • Some cracking lie-ins
Later on, [livejournal.com profile] my_mundane_life will be coming to stay over en route to an interview she has here tomorrow, and we will be going out for dinner with [livejournal.com profile] hieroglyphe. And in the meantime, I'd better get this dye off my hair and start turning those notes into an actual presentation, that's actually in Italian...

strange_complex: (ITV digital Monkey popcorn)
Recent days have seen:

Sunday afternoon - Oculus and The Call of Cthulhu )

Sunday evening - Mavis' bonfire party )

Tuesday evening - GamerZ )

Wednesday evening - Ange, Cat and Anche Libero Va Bene )

Tonight sees pintage with [livejournal.com profile] big_daz, and the weekend a jaunt down to Oxford for the nuptials of [livejournal.com profile] boblink and Tree. And then, d'y'know - next week I think I will stay in a bit!

strange_complex: (Sleeping Hermaphrodite)
Or, Why I Cannot Stop Listening To This CD.

For one thing, I have waited a long time to hear the voice I am listening to now1. Without even knowing I was waiting, for much of that time.

My long journey to the Vatican )

Moreschi - a critical appreciation )

A scraggy brown tail-feather, in which Penny demonstrates her remarkable aptitude for excessive over-romanticisation - with pictures! )

Well, if you’ve read all of the above, you deserve a medal. I don’t mind if you didn’t. I wrote it for me, primarily, because I wanted a reason to think closely about this music and why I like it, and I want to remember my reasons and initial reactions in years to come. But the least I can do either way is to let you judge Moreschi for yourself by leaving you with the link for an mp3 I found while Googling for pictures of him and details about his life. It only takes about 20 seconds to download over broadband, which, for a three-minute track, tells you volumes about the quality of the original recording before you even listen to it. And I must say that then going on to listen to it over tiny, tinny computer speakers doesn’t do Moreschi any favours. Still, for whatever you may make of it, I give you Gounod’s Ave Maria, after a theme by Bach, performed by Alessandro Moreschi.

(And an alternative source if that one isn't working – just click on 'escuchar').

Goodnight.

-----------
1. As its length makes obvious, this entry ended up being written in several sections over a series of evenings. I did listen to Moreschi's CD for most of the time I was writing. But any use of words such as 'now' should be taken as applicable to the specific sentence concerned, not necessarily the whole piece.

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