strange_complex: (Alessandro tear)
This film was directed by Federico Fellini, which is reason enough to watch a film in my book. But that wasn't why I watched it.

It's also set in Rome, which is reason enough too. But again, that wasn't why I watched it.

I watched it because it features the one and only screen appearance by a certain Giulio Moreschi: nephew and adopted son of my beloved Alessandro Moreschi )

As for the actual film, the plot revolves around a small-town newly-wed couple, Ivan and Wanda, who have come to Rome for their honeymoon. He is conventional, fastidious, and obsessed with honour, status and prestige. He has come to Rome mainly to show off his new wife to his well-connected uncle, who has an important position at the Vatican and can get them in to meet the Pope. She is sensitive, idealistic and innocent, and has come to Rome hoping to meet the star of a photo-strip which she follows: the dashingly handsome White Sheikh.

At the first opportunity, while he thinks she is taking a bath, she sneaks out to the office from which the photo-strip is produced, where she ends up accidentally getting swept off to the day's location shooting on a beach outside Rome. There she meets her hero - but discovers that he is nothing like the dashing romantic figure she had imagined, and ends up disillusioned and stuck miles away from Rome with no way of getting back to the city. Meanwhile, the husband is desperately trying to hide the fact that his wife has gone missing from his uncle's family, and pretend that she is simply ill in bed.

It's a gentle social comedy with a healthy dose of farce, but some sombre notes as well. For Fellini, it is an early effort - his first time as sole director, in fact. But his later signature touches are definitely recognisable - the caricaturing of ordinary everyday eccentricity, the ribbing of the pompous and the bureaucratic, the interest in sexual hypocrisy, Catholicism and the process of cinematic production. For me, the funniest scene was one set in a police office, where the husband had come to report his wife missing, but was terrified of the whole story ending up in the papers and bringing his name into disgrace. As one policeman questioned him, and he gradually and reluctantly divulged the details of the whole torrid affair, another sat close by with a typewriter, thundering out every name and sensitive personal disclosure in stark black and white, as the husband writhed with discomfort.

Obviously there won't be that many people out there who will be as excited as me by Giulio Moreschi's role in the film. But I know there are a few Fellini fans on my flist - and I would definitely recommend this film to them.

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strange_complex: (Vampira)
I saw this early yesterday evening at the Hyde Park Picture House with [ profile] ms_siobhan and [ profile] planet_andy, to the accompaniment of a 'live re-score' by a Sheffield outfit named Animat. It stars Vincent Price, and is the earliest adaptation of Richard Matheson's 1954 book, I Am Legend. Later versions of this book are generally better-known: The Omega Man (1971) with Charlton Heston and I Am Legend (2007) with Will Smith. But all of them tell the same basic story of the last man left alive (here Vincent Price's character) after the rest of human-kind have either been killed or turned into vampires by a deadly plague.

I'm afraid the general consensus was that the film was great, but that we would have preferred to see it with the original music. The sound-balance wasn't very carefully handled, meaning that the music was slightly too loud for the film the whole way through, and frequently drowned out bits of dialogue. And although it was funny and post-modern for five minutes to hear tracks like Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' while the vampires were attacking Vincent Price's house, complete with his own spooky voice-over, on the whole the joke wore thin pretty quickly. We agreed afterwards that we'd have preferred to hear the original gramophone records which he listens to during that sequence (in order to drown out the voices of the vampires calling him by name), as they probably added a lovely period atmosphere to the film which we didn't get to experience.

I'd also hoped to come away from the film with some idea of how one inserts new music into a film which already had its own original music, but without removing the dialogue. It's obviously easy to do for films from the '20s which didn't have any soundtrack in the first place, but I thought that most films with soundtracks were released with the dialogue and the music inextricably mixed together as part of the same recording, so I don't really understand how you can strip the music out while still keeping the voices. Anyway, I'm afraid I am still none the wiser on that front. All I can tell you is that the film was played from a DVD (I know, 'cos we saw the title menu at the beginning and end), and all the music we heard came from these two chaps sitting off to one side with laptops and a keyboard. Maybe this particular DVD somehow has the option of turning off the music? I don't know.

Anyway, music aside, Vincent Price was everything you would expect, and I can certainly see how the film had an influence on later zombie films like those of George A. Romero. In fact, having recently seen 28 Days Later, I could see quite a few shared topoi - e.g. general scenes of Price's character moving about in deserted urban spaces; a scene of him going into a supermarket and pushing trolleys aside to get in; and a church sign reading 'The End Has Come', which reminded me of the words 'The End Is Extremely Fucking Nigh' daubed on the wall of the church in 28 Days Later. It follows the book reasonably faithfully, but also establishes a legacy for Charlton Heston's The Omega Man in the ways that it deviates from the novel. Two things which they certainly share are a) the main character getting hunted down and killed in a rather Christ-like fashion, rather than imprisoned and committing suicide and b) the possibility of a happy ending of sorts, in that although the main character is dead, he has already passed on a proper cure for the disease to others before this happens. I haven't seen the Will Smith version, so can't comment on what happens there.

The film is set in America, and nearly convinced as such, but a scene set on the steps of the Colosseo Quadrato gave away the real location in Italy. I wished I'd known that when I went in, in fact, so that I could have looked out for other iconic buildings from around Rome, but I only realised while I was watching (and confirmed it afterwards from t'internet). Now that I've seen the film, I can also report that the Gothic mansion depicted on the publicity poster for it is rather misleading, since no such building features at any point during the film. It's far from the only movie poster from this era to feature generic images which have nothing much to do with the film, of course, but it's interesting to see in this case what particular image was chosen. It seems pretty clear to me that the poster was trying to evoke the Roger Corman-style Gothic horror numbers that Price was most famous for in order to get bums on seats. It suggests that contemporary audiences were being assumed to have pretty conservative tastes, given that in fact the whole point about Matheson's story was that it broke away from the Gothic legacy, and tried to update vampire mythology by making it more modern and scientific.

Anyway, a lovely evening out - but as I say, we came away resolved to get the DVD and see it in its original format for ourselves. Live re-scoring may be good for silent films, but it would have to be absolutely brilliant to make it worthwhile for films which already have their own original soundtrack - and this really wasn't.

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strange_complex: (La Dolce Vita Trevi)
So, why watch one film about Rome in a weekend when you could watch two? I have been meaning to watch this for like a million years, actually - I don't know why it took me so long.

It's lovely, isn't it? It's a classic story, for both Audrey Hepburn's character and Gregory Peck's. She explores the relationship between duty to others and her own happiness while he weighs up self-interest against love for another; and each achieves personal growth along the way. And I particularly loved the way that the ending didn't attempt to manufacture Disney-style against-the-odds happiness for them. In the press interview at the end, both got to say (in coded language because of the other listeners) what they needed to say to each other. But she had decided that duty to her country mattered more than her own happiness, while he let her know that he respected that, and loved her, and would keep the secret of their day together. It was lovely, and both of them were brilliant - as indeed were Audrey Hepburn's beautiful long swishing 1950s circle skirts!

It is so hugely different from insiders' views of Rome, though. Hepburn and Peck's Rome is a city of charm and delight, full of cafés, dances and tourist spots, and where the only poverty (Peck's) is mild, comic and temporary. What a contrast with, for instance, Ladri di Biciclette (1948), where Rome is a city of unemployment, desperation and squalor, and poverty is real and grinding and inescapable.

I think films about contemporary Rome have always been thus, though; in fact, so have novels and poetry. On the insiders' side, there are films like Roma, Città Aperta (1945), La Dolce Vita (1960), Mamma Roma (1962), and Roma (1972). On the outsiders' (usually American) side, there are films like this one, Three Coins in the Fountain (1954), Only You (1994) and the Olsens' When in Rome. (I'm sure there are loads more in both camps - these are just the ones I'm familiar with).

The insiders' films show the city as conflicting and complex - great yet also terrible. But the outsiders' ones use it mainly as a fairly simple symbol for culture and a device to prompt personal growth - as indeed it has also long served in novels such as Middlemarch (for Dorothea Brooke / Casaubon) and Portrait of a Lady (for Isabel Archer - whose plot arc is actually rather like the princess's in Roman Holiday). The result is that the outsiders' views of Rome are not really about Rome in any very profound way. They are about their characters' personal stories, and those stories could actually be driven in the same way by almost any setting with cultural status and plenty of beautiful and interesting things to do and see.

This doesn't necessarily make them bad stories - it's a valid thing to do with Rome, especially if you are viewing it as an outsider. And amongst the outsiders' films, Roman Holiday really is seminal. It was the first time Rome had really appeared as a tourist destination on the big screen, and the other films I've listed above are very much dependent on it, echoing particular scenes, like the Bocca della Verità scene, which have since become clichés of films of this type. One standard trope is missing, though - Roman Holiday does have a Trevi Fountain scene, but it doesn't include anybody throwing any coins into it. That particular tradition, of course, was brought to the popular consciousness the following year by Three Coins in the Fountain.

I should add that there are of course exceptions to the insiders / outsiders dichotomy I've drawn here, and the major one I know of is Peter Greenaway's Belly of an Architect, which manages to combine the strengths of both traditions. Perhaps that is why, as an outsider myself, it remains very firmly my favourite of all films about the city. But this one is definitely good too, and I'm glad I finally saw it.

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strange_complex: (All roads lead to Rome)
Yes, yes - you may point and laugh as much as you like. This is a Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen film, after all. But it is set in Rome, and I've been curious for a while to see how that would play in the world of manufactured American preteen fashion. And anyway, I 'watched' it more as background wallpaper while browsing LJ this morning than anything else.

So, Rome in the world of the Olsen twins was in practice mainly about food, fashion, sunshine and boys - as you would expect. But the ancient ruins and Renaissance monuments did feature quite heavily, albeit mainly for their picturesque value, and the girls did enthuse at the beginning of the film about 'all the history' in the city, including Caesar - 'and I don't just mean Caesar salad!' There were also some (fairly basic) attempts to explore cultural differences, and show how the American characters and the Italian characters each had valuable perspectives to contribute - nothing very deep, but a creditable attempt at least.

The story was fairly pappy - the Olsens were summer interns in a fashion company, where they initially messed up. But the big boss (basically a kind of God-figure who had infinite riches and really just wanted to open an artists' colony) plucked them from the bottom of the barrel and gave them one more chance - and guess what? They soon turned out to have hitherto-unsuspected talents in photography and fashion design, which, coupled with their positive, can-do attitude, helped them not only to win an internship for the following summer in New York, but also to save the entire company from the evil machinations of the boss's corrupt deputy. Hooray!

Obviously there was quite a lot of heterosexual coupling-up at the end - 'cos that's the real definition of happiness, right? The big boss asked the attractive female head-of-design who he'd been secretly in love with for years to marry him, and one of the twins (don't ask me which) looked forward to spending the following summer with an Italian fellow-intern who had accompanied her on her journey to success. But I was actually quite impressed with the other twin. She had been spending quite a lot of time with the big boss's nephew, who was basically a wastrel who wanted nothing more than to bum around and surf - and she had been telling him to get some motivation and self-respect all the way through the film. At the end, inevitably, he turned into a team-player and helped to save the company - but when he tried for a kiss in the final scene, she still told him that she didn't think so, and a hug would do. Which is hardly a cultural revolution - but I still thought it was nice that they showed at least one female character choosing independence and career goals over some guy who didn't really look like he was going to be very compatible with that.

So, fundamentally lightweight candyfloss - but quite well-meaning in a limited sort of way, and with some very nice location shots. And at least I've seen it now.

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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: (Sleeping Hermaphrodite)
I'm back from Verona. Very tired, but I had a brilliant time. In theory, I've gone all the way back through LJ to where I left off before I flew out, but it meant going back to skip=260, so it was very much skim-reading.

I'll post a proper report tomorrow, but in essence, after the initial flight cancellation tedium, it was all good. Students fine, my opposite number in Verona a real sweet-heart and very enthusiastic host, Verona wonderful, hotel welcoming, food excellent, and I have been to Venice! Wow.

In all honesty, I'd rather still be there than back in Britannia. But the good news is that the weather there is exactly as horrid as it is here, so I do not need to feel I am missing the sunshine. Only the warm internal glow of Italy and its people. :-(

I have many pictures, but for now you just get my favourite two:

My little friend from the theatre in Verona )

Have you hugged a tetrarch today? )

strange_complex: (Purple and black phone)
What a brilliant day. Shown around Venice by my own private cicerone (Prof Mastrocinque). He was born there, so knew about everything.

strange_complex: (Purple and black phone)
I am sat in the Roman theatre, watching the sunset, with a cat on my lap. In Italy, wherever there are Roman remains, there are cats, too.

strange_complex: (Purple and black phone)
Well, yesterday may have been a bit trying, but today I have woken up in Italy, and I can see a Roman city gate from my window. Win.

strange_complex: (Room with a View kiss)
IMDb page here.

Just a quick write-up of this before I go to bed.

The trailers promised a 'fresh look' at Forster's novel, and to a degree this was true. Mr. Beebe was played as explicitly gay (well, as explicitly gay as anyone can be in Edwardian England), which I don't think is true of his character in the 1985 version with Helena Bonham-Carter. And actually Elaine Carter rather outshone the latter as Lucy Honeychurch. Somehow, when characters around her said how wonderful she was, and how exciting it would be for everybody when she at last began to live, it was actually quite believable in her case. She played her many confusions very convincingly, and her piano more truly passionately, whereas Helena Bonham-Carter sometimes came across as simply petulant. In fact, now I come to think of it, the portrayals of Cecil Vyse, George Emerson and Mr. Emerson were all profoundly human and believable, too - and if Sinéad Cusack annoyed me as Eleanor Lavish, and Sophie Thompson as Charlotte Bartlett, that probably just shows they were doing their jobs well, as those characters are supposed to be annoying.

But something was lacking, and I suspect it was the subtle artifice of Forster's novel. His characters are beautifully delineated, and his plot smooth yet inevitable. You couldn't call either of them unrealistic. But each character stands for something specific, as does each place, and what's being played out isn't entirely a drama between individuals but a drama between attitudes and ideas. And that felt lost in this production - especially given the rather bizarre ending they tagged onto it. Far from the story coming full circle, so that Lucy and George offer their rooms with a view to another young girl on the brink of self-discovery, we see a few brief and steamy sex scenes between the two of them, then him lying dead in a First World War bomb-crater, and finally her returning to Florence to take up with the Italian carriage-driver who had propelled her into the arms of George Emerson in the first place. I'm sure it's a very literal representation of Lucy's emancipation. But it doesn't convey the sense that her story is only representative of a wider, continuous truth that Forster's ending does.

I'm also sorry that, by forswearing the captions used in the 1985 film, my favourite chapter heading from the entire book (which practically tells the whole story in itself) did not appear on screen:
"The Reverend Arthur Beebe, the Reverend Cuthbert Eager, Mr. Emerson, Mr. George Emerson, Miss Eleanor Lavish, Miss Charlotte Bartlett, and Miss Lucy Honeychurch Drive Out in Carriages to See a View; Italians Drive Them."
A worthy use of an evening, but what it's really made me do is want to read the book again. Which just ain't possible right now with so many other things queuing up to be read.

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 [ 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 [ 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.

strange_complex: (Urbs Roma)
Some very interesting new research is reported over at Rogue Classicism today.

The origins of Etruscan culture have long been debated - was it imported into Italy by immigrants from Lydia (in modern Turkey), as Herodotus claims; was it imported by immigrants from somewhere else; or did it just develop out of the existing indigenous Villanovan culture?

Well, now some people from the Università di Pavia in Italy have applied DNA evidence to the problem. It seems that in the small town of Murlo, at least, an unusually high proportion of the population (17.5%) have 'Near Eastern mtDNA haplogroups' - which apparently points towards 'a direct and rather recent genetic input from the Near East'.

It's still a bit of a leap from there to saying that Herodotus was correct, and the immigrants came specifically from Lydia, as the authors of the report seem to do (though I've only seen the abstract, so don't know exactly how strongly they're pushing the case for that link). But still, this is much more persuasive that any of the existing evidence, and quite the opposite of what I'd been expecting. Previously, I fell largely into the established 'evolvement from Villanovan culture' camp - although I'll admit that that's partly because of personal emotional prejudices in favour of Italy as a cradle of civilisation in its own right, and a more rationally based general dislike of overly-simplified models of 'civilisation' spreading in linear fashion from culture A to culture B. And of course, the new evidence doesn't in the least rule out the involvement of the Villanovans in the creation of a new culture based on ideas imported by a small number of immigrant easterners.

In any case, I'm surprised. And, of course, rather excited and eager to hear more. I'll look forward to seeing how this 'settles in' with the existing scholarship over the next few years.
strange_complex: (Purple and black phone)
Sitting by the Trevi fountain. Children playing in the water. All around the basin feet dangle over the edge. I don't ever want to leave!

Rome sweet Rome.

Thursday, 15 June 2006 10:08
strange_complex: (All roads lead to Rome)
OMG I'm going to Rome!
OMG I'm going to Rome!
OMG I'm going to Rome!



Back late on Sunday.
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').


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.


strange_complex: (Default)

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