Luchino Visconti

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The Leopard Review


Extraordinary
1963's The Leopard, directed by the Italian Count Luchino Visconti and based on the best-selling novel by countryman Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, tells the story of an Old World aristocrat - the Sicilian Fabrizio Corbera, Prince of Salina - as he faces the changes forced upon his embattled social class by the Italian Risorgimento of 1860, a revolutionary social movement (and armed conflict) that brought about the end of that country's feudal monarchies and united its states into what now is the country of Italy. The vision of both the novel and the film is epic, and the politics of the thing are intricate enough that even a native Italian likely found it a challenge in 1963, and would likely find it even more so today. The politics are also central to the film, and this undoubtedly contributed to its uneasy stateside reception in '63 and its virtual unavailability on video until now.

My hope is that Criterion's marvelous new three-DVD edition will change that. Unlike many special editions, there's no superfluous material here: The set includes the original, 187-minute Italian version of The Leopard, the U.S. theatrical release (because Burt Lancaster starred, 20th Century Fox had American rights to the film; not knowing what to do with it, they trimmed 16 minutes, dubbed it into English, and distorted - in the interests of "accessibility" - Giuseppe Rotunno's gorgeous widescreen cinematography), enlightening commentary by film historian Peter Cowie, and video essays that provide important historical context for the action alongside new interviews with surviving cast and crew members.

Continue reading: The Leopard Review

The Damned Review


OK
Think of it as The Magnificent Nazi Ambersons. Luchino Visconti (Death in Venice) weaves a fictionalized account of 1933-34 Germany as the Nazis rise to power. He follows one family in particular, a wealthy upper-crust bunch of industrialists who throw their lot in with the Nazis, despite some clear abuses in the horizon. These are the titular damned -- having sold their souls pretty much literally in the pursuit of even more wealth.

Along the way Visconti tosses a litany of decadence at us. As if Nazism wasn't enough, we get incest in the family, a little pedophilia, and some cross-dressing and homosexual hijinks. It all culminates in a bloodbath -- the historical "Night of the Long Knives," a one-night, bloody purge of dissidents in Hitler's old private army, the SA (predecessor to the SS), brought on by fears of a coup against his budding rule. Hitler's rule would be solidified after this history-making event.

Continue reading: The Damned Review

Death In Venice Review


OK
Dirk Bogarde's mustache in Death in Venice stands as one of the most disturbing hairstyles ever put on film. Combined with his semi-shaggy banker's do and his 1910s attire (say, sitting on the beach in a white three-piece suit), his appearance is unforgettable even if this movie is relatively otherwise.

Hopelessly abstract to the point of silliness, Death in Venice follows Bogarde's Gustav, a composer, on a holiday to Venice where he's meant to relax. Instead he becomes obsessed with the very idea of "beauty." It's hard to blame him -- he encounters a procession of ugly goons throughout his stay, and the already crumbling city is under seige by an outbreak of cholera. You can almost understand why he's looking for something pretty, but when his gaze lands on an androgynous teenage boy (Björn Andrésen) the film becomes beyond troubling. Gustav chases after the kid for the remainder of the film, obsessing about the cholera but subconsciously engineering ways to keep himself from having to leave Venice.

Continue reading: Death In Venice Review

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