Visconti in Open Access

•August 30, 2019 • Leave a Comment

As of today, 30 August 2019, I offer the digital version of my book Reframing Luchino Visconti: Film and Art (Sidestone Press, 2018) in Open Access. You can download the pdf of the book here or order the paper version on the editor’s website.

As this is my birthday, this is my birthday present to the world. Enjoy!

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Piero Tosi (1927-2019)

•August 10, 2019 • Leave a Comment

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Today, I read the news that Piero Tosi had died at the high age of 92 years. With his passing, an epoch disappears, I’d say. Others will surely write about Tosi’s paramount importance for film costume design, and I would fully agree. But Tosi also had an important part in my own life. When I started my MA thesis research on Luchino Visconti and visual arts decades ago, in 1983, Caterina D’Amico, daughter of Visconti’s regular screenwriter Suso Cecchi D’Amico but also the organizer of many exhibitions and publications on Visconti, told me I absolutely needed to see Tosi, in addition to Umberto Tirelli, Mario Chiari, Mario Garbuglia, Vera Marzot, Giuseppe Rotunno, Caterina’s mother, and others. So, when in 1984 I came to Rome to do my research, I met him, at the famous Caffé Greco. The interview was very important to me, as it showed how important the talent and expertise of Visconti’s collaborators had been, and how closely knit they contributed to Visconti’s films, of which we can say they were true Gesamtkunstwerke. After I had finished my Ph.D. in 2000 and published the commercial edition in 2003, I went back to my Visconti research, intended to renew, expand and reframe it. So in 2004, I was back in Rome, back at the Royal Dutch Institute (my temporary home for so many years of research). Apart from spitting through the Fondo Visconti at the Istituto Gramsci, I renewed my interviews, including ones with Rotunno, Garbuglia, Vera Marzot (Tosi’s assistant for e.g. Il Gattopardo), and with Tosi himself. This time we met at his elegant little apartment in Via Monte Brianzo, not far from Piazza Navona and filled with painting. Apart from deepening our discussion on Visconti’s films and visual art,  we also talked about the importance of photography, of Visconti’s professional rigor, Tosi’s own training, the Italian divas and Duse, and the preparation of the Proust Project. Afterward, we sometimes had telephone conversations on details. I learned Tosi was a goldmine of recollections, even if I also learned they were not always true.

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In 2006 I had the good fortune of having Piero Tosi and Caterina D’Amico as speakers at my symposium Visconti e le arti visive, held at the ballroom of Palazzo Visconti in Milan and co-organised with Federica Olivares. Tosi, who wasn’t a big traveler and simply refused flying, did a big effort to travel to Milan and attend the symposium, followed by a screening of Senso. He whispered me he was so excited to see Palazzo Visconti, as during the collaborations with Visconti he had never been there. He was also very happy with a booklet on the Italian divas, written by Angela Dalle Vache and produced by Olivares Edizioni. The morning after, in our hotel, we had a relaxing and humorous conversation, about his work, his background in Florence, but also about being a gay man in Rome back in the 1950s-1960s. From 2007, when I lived six months in Rome thanks to an award of the Dutch institute and worked on my book while also teaching a course on Rome in film, I met Tosi at times at the film academy of the Centro Sperimentale. Here he was teaching for decades, enjoying to be surrounded by bright young people and free of the stress of film production. One summer, we had an appointment after his teachings, but it was terribly hot. He still had taken the metro to Subaugusta to teach at the film academy, but he understandably had to shower first before talking. Afterward, we enjoyed the gelati I had brought.

The production of my book took many years, including rewrites, endless waiting for peer reviewers and editors, and finally changing publisher. In the meantime, on September 2017, I had in London a great conversation with costume designer Janty Yates, on occasion of the Alma-Tadema exhibition at the Leighton House in which I was involved and of her involvement in Ridley Scott’s epic Gladiator. Yates and I proved to have the same big admiration for Tosi’s work, so our talk went on for a long time. Also, by 2017 I knew that my book would be dedicated to Garbuglia, Rotunno, and Piero Tosi. On 20 March 2018, I had the first presentation of my book, of course in Rome and at the Royal Dutch Institute. Here Caterina D’Amico was officially handed the book, preceded by a round table with distinguished Roman scholars, and – despite stormy weather – with selected guests such as Mario Garbuglia’s daughter and family, Nicoletta Mannino (Visconti’s niece), Antonella Montesi (coordinator of the bibliovisconti project), Prof. Giovanni Spagnoletti, and others. The next day, I brought my book to Piero Tosi, accompanied by a giant bunch of tulips. Tosi by that time was getting blind and feeble, so we had a nice little chat and caffè. He was really impressed by the book but was sore his eyes were starting to abandon him. Typically Italian, he would call me by my last name: Caro Blom, he said when I left, come up and see me when you’re around in Rome if I am still there then. I haven’t been to Rome sinch March 2018, alas, so it was our last meeting. I also missed the exhibition on Tosi’s years at the Centro Sperimentale, Fall/Winter 2018 at the Palazzo Delle Esposizioni, but thanks to Caterina D’Amico I could enjoy the special issue of Bianco & Nero dedicated to Tosi.

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As an homage, after my last visit to Tosi on 21 March 2018, I went back to Caffé Greco, where it all began that 21 September 1984: “Signor Blom?” The circle was round.

 

Cinema Ritrovato in retrospect

•July 7, 2019 • Leave a Comment
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My collection

It was embarras de choix again at Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna, and this year even more so than before. Of course, for the silent cinema lovers, there were the programs with films from 100 and 120 years ago, so 1899 and 1919 this year, including the 1899 Biograph films in the Dutch and British collections and home movies of the French aristocracy, and well-known and hardly known titles for 1919, such as Anders als die Anderen, Back to God’s Country, and Sir Arne’s Treasure (Herr Arne’s Pengar).

I missed the Musidora’s and Buster Keaton’s – you have to make choices. Also, I missed the immediate post-war German films (1945-1948), which was a pity as I will co-curate a program on Dutch and German cinema next year myself, at the 2020 Cinefest in Hamburg. Instead, I was glad to have a seen a few of the lesser known films with French tough guy Jean Gabin, such as Litvak’s underworld and prostitution film Coeur de lilas (with songs by Gabin, Fréhel and Fernandel), René Clément’s Au-delà des grilles/Le mura di Malapaga (with the postwar ruins of Genoa as setting, and with Italian actress Isa Miranda as the independent, single mother), and En cas de malheur (with a young Brigitte Bardot, who doesn’t want to choose between wealthy, adulterous lawyer Gabin and poor, hot-headed Franco Interlenghi). I planned to see a few of the Eduardo de Filippo films, but in the end, I only saw Napoli milionaria, with Totò in an important supporting part. From the film noir films by Felix Feist, a director unknown to me, I only saw one, but it was an interesting one: The Man Who Cheated Himself, with a slightly overacting John Dall discovering his elder brother Lee J. Cobb isn’t such a role model at all.

Within the Technicolor program, the scheming and sharp-tongued social climber Miriam Hopkins in Becky Sharp was one of my favorites, though I enjoyed Under Capricorn as well because of its actors and mise-en-scene (such as the eerie manor and the impressive and expressive costumes), and despite the political incorrectness of the film. Margaret Leighton’s evil housekeeper gave the plot the thriller element, but basically, this was a love triangle and class conflict, which critics despised at the time but was no problem to me. The Hitchcock film was a challenge though,  as the Arlecchino cinema was packed to the rim, imitating the Australian heath on the screen. At times, the often packed cinema had hampering airconditioning, so later in the week, little fans were even distributed. With outside temperatures going to 41 Celsius on Thursday and Friday, we were happy to stay inside in the ‘cool’ cinemas.

While I loved Henry King’s silent film The Winning of Barbara Worth, with the excellent actors Ronald Colman, Vilma Banky and a dashing and jealous young Gary Cooper, good sidekicks, and astounding special effects creating a flood in the desert, I later saw a 1950s Henry King movie because we couldn’t get in at the Piazza’s screening of Keaton’s The Cameraman (not even 30 minutes in advance was  enough). But Wait Till The Sun Shines, Nellie, evolving in smalltown life in a village near Chicago, was a provincial, conservative drama with quite an unimpressive actor in the lead. Moreover, the main character, supposedly sympathetic, was such a jerk and cheat you could well understand why his wife left him. Within the Fox program, a masterpiece was John Ford’s Three Bad Men, in which not only the leads were interesting (tough and witty George O’Brien looking very dandy in his chaps and bad guy Lou Tellegen presented as the only man who shaves in the West), but also the three horse thieves and persistent alcoholists (Tom Santschi, J. Farrell McDonald, Frank Campeau) who help the damsel in distress and select possible husbands for Olive Borden were great fun to watch. Of course, as usual, the scenery was tops with Ford.

George O'Brien, Iris, Fox

We had learned our lesson, so we were one hour in advance with Chaplin’s The Circus on the Piazza, and boy, was it a treat: both the incredibly witty film in a splendid restoration by l’Immagine Ritrovata), and the orchestra led by Timothy Brock. Other highlights for me were the two Mauritz Stiller films. Song of the Scarlet FlowerSängen um den eldröda blomman, starred Lars Hanson (aka Large Handsome, thank you Pam), performing breathtaking stunts on logs floating in the river and having a splendidly filmed confrontation with his conscience through a mirror. Also, Stiller’s classic Sir Arne’s Treasure was a feast for the eye, with the setting of snowy Scandinavia of centuries ago and a ship stuck in the ice, Mary Johnson discovers she has fallen in love with the murderers of her family and adopted sister (the ghost of the sister leading her to wisdom). But then, leading bad guy Richard Lund is such a lovable man. Sure, but wait until he uses you as a human shield. While I saw a few lesser films in the 1919 program too (one was a curious Protazanov that looked like a lesser Bauer from 1915), the Stiller was absolutely a highlight.

I saw some more modern stuff too, ranging from the first Bond film Dr. No – a guilty pleasure but a print with some problems, alas – to revisiting A Bigger Splash on David Hockney and his circle – I had just visited the Hockney-Van Gogh-exhibition a few months ago – and to Varda par Agnès, the swan song of the recently died French filmmaker, who proved to be ego-centered but also warm and endearing.  On my last day, I was less impressed than others with La maschera e il volto, an Italia Almirante vehicle about a woman declared dead who returns (rather Feydeau than Pirandello). Instead, I was heavily struck by Jean Epstein fishermen’s drama Finis terrae, with amateur actors – very well – playing themselves on the coast and islands of Brittany, with all the roughness of the climate, the scenery, and the morals, and with images reminding at times of Visconti’s La terra trema, both in subjects (e.g. the women on the rocks) and in – excellent and innovative – cinematography.

Main title designed by Maurice Binder, animation by Trevor Bond.

WSS10/Eye International Conference 2019 – Sisters

•May 17, 2019 • Leave a Comment

 

Coming up soon is the EYE International Conference 2019, “Sisters”. This is the tenth edition of the Women and the Silent Screen conference, focusing on female film pioneers all over the globe. While I am not presenting a paper, I am very curious about this conference. Presently my research goes in a bit different directions, i.e. early Italian cinema and its relationships with either the arts (visual arts in the first place) or popular culture (postcards, tourism, etc.). Still, I am very aware of the importance of women in the early film industry, and not only as film actresses or stars.

Because of our Flickr site, Truus, Bob, and Jan too! (visited nowadays by some 100.000 viewers per day), and our blog European Film Star Postcards (some 1000 viewers per day), we have established biographies of many female actors who also have been directors, producers, and screenwriters. While some biographies may not have been as profoundly researched as the ones on the website of the Women Film Pioneers Project, we always compare existing biographies on Wikipedia with other sources online, such as IMDB, Filmportal, the Early German Film Database (alas, almost obsolete now), the websites of film archives such as those from Denmark and Sweden, or paper sources such as the reference books on Italian silent cinema by Bernardini and Martinelli. We have been able to trace thousands of vintage postcards of actresses who also worked as directors, producers, and screenwriters, expanding our horizons, and learning about the rises and falls of these women in their various professions.

So, for the International Women’s Day of 8 March, we launched a blog post with a selection 20 postcards of American women who both worked in front of and behind the camera, including Leah Baird, Bessie Barriscale, Grace Cunard, Marie Dressler, Gene Gauntier, Lilian Gish, Corinne Griffith, Florence Lawrence, Cleo Madison, Mae Murray, Alla Nazimova, Mabel Normand, Mary Pickford, Anita Stewart, Gloria Swanson, Constance and Norma Talmadge, Alice Terry, Pearl White, and Clara Kimball Young. All with short bio’s, and linked to the research on the Women Pioneer Project website. During the Sisters conference, we will launch on 25 May a new blog post with 20 postcards of 20 European film stars, including Sarah Bernhardt, Francesca Bertini, Carmen Cartellieri, Diana Karenne, Musidora, Aud Egede Nissen, Fabienne Fabrèges, Asta Nielsen, Rosa Porten, Anny Ondra, Rita Sacchetto, Peggy Hyland, Hella Moja, Erna Morena, Wanda Treumann, Zorka Grund, Fern Andra, Olga Tschechowa, Elena Sangro, and Elettra Raggio.

Elettra Raggio in Seduzione

 

Workshop early Italian cinema at EYE Film Museum

•December 22, 2018 • Leave a Comment
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Poster for Vittoria o morte (1913), designed by Pier Luigi Caldanzano.

Yesterday night, we finished our workshop in early Italian cinema within the collection of the Amsterdam EYE Film Museum. On behalf of my university, I was co-organizer of the workshop, with Céline Gailleurd (Université Paris VIII, Paris) and Elif Rongen (EYE Filmmuseum). The workshop is part of a large international research project,  Le cinéma muet italien à la croisée des arts, led by Céline Gailleurd, and in which various French, Italian and Dutch universities and film archives are united.

This two-day workshop brought together researchers of different nationalities, in order to explore and comment on the film and non-film collections related to Italian silent cinema, held at the Eye Film Museum. All these topics were introduced and commented upon by a group of international experts, who also acted as moderators for the discussion with the audience. We worked on a corpus of films preselected by the researchers and the organizers, either presented in their entirety or by use of indicative fragments.

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Vittoria Lepanto, in Lucrezia Borgia (Gerolamo Lo Savio, Film d’Arte Italiana 1912).

First, after introductions by Giovanna Fossati (EYE) and Céline Gailleurd, we had two sessions of 35mm screenings of hitherto little-shown prints of early Italian films, not only full films (only one- and two-reelers), but also a fragment of La vita o  la morte, and a weird hodge-podge of nonfiction officially on Rome but in reality, rather showing more of Turin and even the Capitol in Washington. The difference between comic film and comedy became already clear in the difference between the action-driven film Kri-Kri e il tango (which has some weird special effects) and the quite daring situational comedy Acqua miracolosa, starring Gigetta Morano and Eleuterio Rodolfi. The two-reelers were recomposed of multiple original prints. Lucrezia Borgia started as a black-and-white film (due to a part based on an original negative from Paris), and then halfway spurted glorious stencil-coloring (thanks to a nitrate distribution print in EYE’s holdings). Amore bendato combined two incomplete British and Dutch prints in one complete one. We had our share of actors, such as Leda Gys in Amore bendato, and a pre-diva Francesa Bertini in the romantic comedy Panne d’auto.

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Kri Kri senza testa (Cines 1913), poster design by Marchetti.

Our first slots set the tone for the subsequent slots, where discussions were made from the point of view of the close relationship that Italian cinema has with other arts or popular culture, such as visual arts (e.g. with the slot on the Italo-French company Film d’Arte Italiana, moderated by Andrea Meneghelli, Olivier Bohler, and Marion Polirsztok), burlesque (comedy, moderated by Laurent Guido and Emmanuel Dreux), dance (Elisa Uffreduzzi, echoing her fascinating PhD), and theatre (melodrama, moderated by Stella Dagna and Céline Gailleurd). Different acting styles in comedy and drama, and their developments became clear, as well as such topics as recycling in set design, the 1913 tango craze, the role of the family, the monstres sacrés of the stage in film (Ermete Zacconi, Italia Vitaliani), and the discovery of a film like La Madre (Giuseppe Sterni, 1917), considered a counterreaction to Duse’s Cenere, but also a nice pendant to Padre (1912) with Zacconi. A special section was dedicated to Italian non-fiction from the teens, which Luca Mazzei presented with me. Here we had an e.g. fruitful discussion on nationalism and colonialism versus tourism and a craving for beauty, but also on individual cameramen, and on the importance of the Italo-Turkish war for the rise of early Italian non-fiction.

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A scene from La Madre (Giuseppe Sterni, Milano Films 1917). Emmanuele overpaints the portrait of his model, as he needs it to paint his mother’s portrait.

Soeluh van den Berg, finally, gave an overview of the so-called film-related material objects in the EYE Collection, first of all in the Desmet Collection, but also some recently found 1910s posters, discovered under the shelves of a closed down cinema, including e.g. one of Marco Visconti. In a mini-presentation, I highlighted myself the richness, modernity, sensationalism, and originality of the early Italian posters in Desmet’s collection, such as those by designers such as Mauzan, Nicco, Terzi, Caldanzano, Metlicovitz, and others.  Our goal was to rediscover this cinema, through an academic confrontation with several disciplinary fields, but also we widely benefited from the presence of various Italian and Dutch archivists to discuss archival issues as well, and the interconnections between these two fields. In the very end, we had two quick visits to the life of a film within the EYE Collection Centre, which Catherine Cormon kindly showed to us, with all the time constraints we had by then, but a real highlight was Soeluh van den Berg’s showing of the vintage paper objects from the EYE collection, including vintage stills, bills with artistic letterheads, brochures, distribution leaflets, and as coup de theatre, the wonderful posters, such as the burning ship on Vittoria o morte, designed by Pier Luigi Caldanzano.

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Posters for La tutela (Ambrosio 1913) above the entrance of the Rotterdam Parisien cinema (1913).

This workshop served as a basis to open research tracks on e.g. the Film d’Arte Italiana and Italian comedians, as a prologue for future research and a conference to be held in December 2019. The debates have been recorded, and thanks to a subvention of the Research School CLUE+ (Vrije Universiteit), will be transcribed and published. I say thank you to all the persons involved in this workshop, which I consider to have been a great success: all the moderators and workshop participants, all the people of EYE Film Museum helping to realize the workshop (in particular Soeluh, Catherine, Hadley and Martin), transcriber Lexie Davis, and of course, the two co-organizers Elif Rongen and Céline Gailleurd.

 

Workshop at EYE

•December 5, 2018 • Leave a Comment

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I am co-organizer for this workshop.

More Visconti presentations

•July 5, 2018 • Leave a Comment
Ivo AAIS Sorrento 2018

Courtesy Francesco Pitassio

After presentations of my new book Reframing Luchino Visconti: Film and Art in Rome in March, in Amsterdam in April and in Milan in May, additional presentations followed in June. First I presented the book, together with Francesco Pitassio, at the conference of the American Association for Italian Studies (AAIS) at the Sant’Anna Institute in Sorrento.  Though we were a small group, responses were very good, including by Letizia Bellocchio, whose article on Visconti was a key text to my book, and Francesco Pitassio himself. I also gave away the book to a few people who will write reviews on the book: Giorgio Bertellini, Vito Zagarrio and Giuliana Muscio.

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Courtesy Cineteca di Bologna

Next, the book was sold out at the book fair of Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna, and the organisation kindly added a webpage to their site, announcing my book. Here you will also find a link to a filmed conversation between prof. Gianpiero Brunetta and myself on the book (in Italian).

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Lastly, I presented the Visconti book, together with prof. Agnes Pethö (Sapientia University, Cluj), at the NECS conference Media & Tactics & Engagement, at my own university (Vrije Universiteit/VU, Amsterdam). Again a small but refined audience, with whom I raised the glass afterwards, just before the keynote of Henry Jenkins at the VU Initium Auditorium.

Ul till now, reviews have been promised to appear in e.g. Screen, The Journal for Italian Film & Media Studies, Burlington Magazine, Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film, Leonardo Reviews, Imago, and Medienwissenschaft.