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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Via T-Mobile

Wednesday, 27 June 2007 13:36
strange_complex: (Urbs Roma)
Had lunch with [livejournal.com profile] white_hart. Much Who geeking and lovely to catch up with her.

Then went Roman coin shopping. Meant to replace ones that got stolen - but ended up buying rather better ones! Actium issue made by Mark Antony to pay his troops, lovely Claudian bronze and beautiful Republican silver denarius of Roma. Better not carry these ones round in my purse!

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: (Corpus Agrimensorum colonia)
I bought myself a copy of CivCity: Rome in mid-April, but hadn't dared play it until I knew I had some proper free time to devote to it. This weekend, I've been finding out how wise that policy was!

Late-night gaming )

What I thought of it )

On dialogue between gamers and academics - or the lack of it )

So the right sort of noises are beginning to be made on the academic side, and the interest is clearly flourishing on the gaming side. We just need to stretch our hands out - that - little - bit - further...

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: (Corpus Agrimensorum colonia)
Wow - could this be my ideal computer game? CivCity: Rome.

The screenshots are promising: hardly a historically-accurate rendering of Rome's topography, but, then again, if the user is getting to build their own Rome, then why shouldn't the Colosseum, Circus Maximus and Pantheon all be right next to each other? And the renditions of each are very nice (although if they're to scale, the people in the Colosseum must be about twenty feet tall!).

Good thing it doesn't come out until the summer, really, or I could kiss goodbye to the book...
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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