Tag Archives: Luchino Visconti

XL Popcorn – The Leopard / The Eagle

We appear to be in the home stretch here. The pain is not as it once was, but it still means I can not type for longer than a few minutes without my wrist hurting or my fingers from going numb. So the dictated reviews and a ridiculous posting schedule continues on.

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”Title: Il Gattopardo (The Leopard)
Director: Luchino Visconti
Year: 1963
Country: Italy

I’ve been remiss by having too many English language films in a row when so many of the films left for me to see are in a foreign language. I guess that when you are watching films all day it is easier to binge on those in your native tongue compared to reading subtitles. I know that their is a dub out there, but The Leopard was meant to be enjoyed in Italian and that is what I did.

One thing that I feel shortchanged about in my school history lessons is that with the exception of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia for GCSE every lesson was about England. It’s a real weakness in our educational system that this is how is. There are still monumental gaps in my knowledge which are only filled by my own reading and video games.

The history of Sicily is one of those things that I’ve picked up piecemeal over the years. The fact that it was, for a short time, the Muslim caliphate and has changed hands numerous times was where my knowledge pretty much ended. The Leopard gave me the final piece of the puzzle. It does so were some of the most sumptuous set design and costuming that I have ever seen. Actors Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale only add to the beauty.

The beauty of two of the lead actors and the setting is in strange conflict with the overarching theme of death and decay. Burt Lancaster (who appears onscreen nearly all the time) plays that noble Prince of Salina – the head of the long established noble house that received patronage from the Spanish house of Aragon.

Over the course of the 3 hours we see this man hold himself in such dignity as he watches the world he knows fall apart around him. With the unification of the Italian provinces there is not much use for a minor prince anymore. He knows this and the bulk of his actions in the second third of this film is him ensuring that his family’s name can still live on in some way. And yet when he is offered the position of power in the new unified Italian government he declines because he knows his shortcomings. It does a lot to show that he is a good man, but having been born into a life of privilege he will find it hard to adjust to New Italy.

I see many people calling The Leopard a masterpiece and whilst I don’t agree on it being a perfect film and I see a lot of merit in it. There are very few films that are made like this anymore. There are so many reasons that this makes a good watch just make sure you give yourself an interval. I made the mistake of not doing that which probably negatively affected my view.

Title: The Eagle
Director: Clarence Brown
Year: 1925
Country: USA

Okay so the pairing of The Eagle with The Leopard is extremely tenuous, but what can I say: there is nothing like a silent movie when the sound of rain banging on your window is able to drown out the television.

I can think of two reasons why The Eagle appears on the 1001 list. Firstly, it allows us to see an example of the work of legendary cinematic sex symbol Rudolph Valentino. Then again if that was the case surely they would have included The Sheikh is there really was one of this most beloved characters. Another possibility is because of a rather interesting shot nearly halfway into the film. Nowadays it wouldn’t look as interesting but the shot where we gradually pour out over the banquet table is something rather interesting.

The Eagle was the film that saved Rudolph Valentino’s career. He plays the role of the Black Eagle – a former lieutenant who is being hunted by the czarina after he rejected her romantic advances. He becomes an outlaw not unlike Robin Hood and seeks revenge on the nobleman who has taken his lands.

Being a Rudolph Valentino flick this film descends into a romance which becomes a bit less interesting than the initial premise. The thing is this was what Rudolph Valentino was and so you come in expecting something a bit more sappy. He isn’t Errol Flynn after all.

Now, the main reason I wanted to see this was to try and understand how Rudolph Valentino was this legendary heartthrob. I understand it with Errol Flynn (Captain Blood), Alain Delon (Le Samouraï) and Cary Grant (His Girl Friday), but I don’t get it with Valentino. He’s good looking… just not to the standard that his level of fandom lets on.

The Eagle clocks in at just over 70 minutes and it’s simple to follow story makes for a good silent film for beginners (do not do what I did and watch Intolerance as one of your first silents…). However, compared to the grand scope of The Leopard and other films I have looked at in the last few weeks this is fluff. Entertaining fluff, but fluff nonetheless.

Progress: 566/1007

XL Popcorn – Senso / Peking Opera Blues

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Title: Senso
Director: Luchino Visconti
Year: 1954
Country: Italy

So I’m continuing my journey around the cinematic world as pain is progressing from the middle of my wrist into my elbow. After the somewhat lavish world of of an Indian music room I find myself looking at an Italian film with shots that belong on canvas rather than celluloid.

Senso is sumptuous. You have to hand it to the director, he knows how to make a film that is a cross between a renaissance painting and an opera. There’s a very good reason that the first sequence takes place in opera house for it sets the tone for what follows.

As we entered the film Venice is readying a movement to kick the Austrian occupation out of its city and become part of a free Italy. This matters for the film for we see a proud Italian countess lose everything for the sake of a manipulative Austrian lieutenant. She knows full well that she is being manipulated or she cannot help herself. Of she longs for passion and finds it in the arms of a very attractive soldier.

Much like any Greek tragedy we’re watching her fatal flaw undo her life. The performance of lead actress Alida Valli is outstanding. You see every emotion written on her face; the sheer desperation of her inevitable breakdown exists in microexpressions from nearly the very beginning.

In many ways this melodrama can feel a bit dated, but this is opera in film form. I now wish to see more films by this director. However, I’m aware that I’m on a roll and this is my fourth different country in a row. So I will hold off for a while.

pekingoperabluesTitle: Peking Opera Blues
Director: Tsui Hark
Year: 1986
Country: Hong Kong

From one world of opera to another eh? It has been too long since I saw a film from Hong Kong. Watching this has made me realise that I really should see more.

It is one of those weird mixes of slapstick comedy, musical performances and rather serious drama. The film is set in 1913 with three women as the central characters. Whilst the crux of the film is rebellion against the political order, a lot of this is actually about women going up against the patriarchy.

Sure one of them is a mercenary and is only out for the gold, but the other two have bigger goals. One of them is a woman who seeks to break into the male dominated world of theatre and the other dresses like a man for the sake of moving through society with greater ease. Surely this is a movie that would pass the Bechdel test with flying colours.

Like a lot of Hong Kong films but I’ve seen you need to suspend disbelief. Then again most of the action takes place in opera house, so you are halfway there already. The costumes as always are spectacular in the scenes. Same goes for the choreography. This is easily one of those films I would never have even heard of without the list. I’m thankful for have a chance to see this weird piece of film history.

Progress: 474/1007