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luchino visconti
(1906-1976)

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visconti


v i s c o n t i  :   b i o g  ]


"In 1944, his anti-Fascism earned Visconti
a spell in a Gestapo prison."

- Paul Page


biography | books | dvds | videos
visconti
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alfred hitchcock | jim jarmusch | aki kaurismaki
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visconti


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biography

  • Born - Milan 1906
  • Died - Rome 1976

    Italian director. Born into a distinguished patrician famiy, Visconti developed an early interest in music which would resurface later in his films and operatic work. At the age of thirty he moved to Paris, immersed himself in international film culture, and assisted Jean Renoir on Une Partie de campagne (1936).

    After a brief visit to Hollywood, he returned to Rome, where he became part of the goup around the journal Cinema which was beginning to lay the theoretical groundwork for a new realism based on the literature of nineteenth- century verismo, typified by the novels and stories of Giovanni Verga. When his proposal for an adaptation of Verga's story L'amante di Gramigna was rejected by the Fascist censors, Visconti turned instead to an adaptation of James Cain's thriller The Postman Always Rings Twice. The resulting film, Ossessione (1942), shot on location in the Po valley, was subsequently hailed as a precursor of neo realism in its location shooting and naturalistic treatment of ordinary men and women. In 1944, his anti-Fascism earned Visconti a short spell in a Gestapo prison.

    After the war he went to work in the theatre before accepting funding from the Italian Communist Party to make what was planned to be a series of three films about the fishermen, miners and peasantry in Sicily. In the event, only the Episode of the Sea was made under the title La terra trema (1948). Based on Verga's novel I Malavoglia, La terra trema was a paragon of neo-realist purity in its location shooting and use of non-professional actors speaking a local dialect so incomprehensible that it had to be supplemented by a voice-over narration in standard Italian. The film's disappointing performance at the box office forced Visconti to accept a less than congenial script by Cesare Zavattini for the film Bellissima (1951). The opportunity of working with Anna Magnani, however, overrode his distaste for the screenplay and the film emerged as both a fine satire of Cinecitta and a convincing portrait of a working-class woman.

    Visconti's first colour film, Senso (1954), triggered a storm of controversy in its exploitation of the star system (Farley Granger and Alida Valli), its recourse to historical reconstruction (the Risorgimento), and its lush, aristocratic milieu. Against those who called Senso a betrayal of neo-realist populism, the influential Guido Aristarco defended the film as the logical progression of neo-realism towards a critical realism based on a rethinking of the nineteenth-century origins of the Italian state.

    Visconti's 1963 adaptation of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's Il Gattopardo/The Leopard deepens his critique of the Risorgimento by filtering events through the consciousness of a Sicilian prince who is aware that his class is doomed and is resigned to accept change. It is this character, played with great subtlety by Burt Lancaster, who best expresses Visconti's own plight as a man temperamentally bound to the old order but ideologically committed to its demise. Visconti's command of spectacle - his power to reconstruct in glorious detail a lost aristocratic world and to direct hundreds of extras with naturalness and grace - is admirably displayed in the film's hour-long ball sequence, mutilated by US distributors but fortunately restored to its full splendour in the film's 1983 re-release.

    In La cadula degli dei/The Damned (1969) - a chronicle of the Krupp family whose steel empire supported Hitler's rise to power - Visconti takes to decadent extremes his fondness for recreating privileged worlds on the verge of extinction. Class demise is also the theme of his adaptation of the Thomas Mann novella Morte a Venezia/Death in Venice (1972), where Gustav von Aschenbach's (masterfully played by Dirk Bogarde) fatal bondage to aesthetic purity and homoerotic desire allegorises the aristocracy's inertia in the face of historical obliteration.

    The protagonist of Ludwig joins Gustav as an autobiographical projection of Visconti's own tormented aestheticism. The badly cut (from 246 to 150 minutes) 1972 version of the film regained its integrity on its re-release in 1980 as an epic account of the Bavarian king more given to art than politics.

    Gruppo di famiglia in un interno/ Conversation Piece (1974), made during Visconti's last illness, stars Burt Lancaster again as an intellectual confronted with a revolution (this time, the sexual and political revolution of 1968) into which he is unwillingly drawn.

    The aristocratic protagonist of Visconti's last film, L'innocente/The Innocent (1976), an adaptation of Gabriele D'Annunzio's novel, chooses withdrawal through suicide as a commentary both on his own interpersonal failure and that of the belle epoque whose end is both merited and mourned.

    Forerunner and practitioner of neo-realism, Visconti was instrumental in transcending its limitations by incorporating influences from the other arts (primarily literature, but also opera and theatre) as well as legitimising forays into historical subject matter. He had an enormous impact on successive generations of Film-makers, including Bernardo Bertolucci, Franco Zefferelli, Francesco Rosi, Liliana Cavani, and Stanley Kubrick.


    Other Films Include: Siamo donne/We the Women [ep. Anna Magnani], Le notti bianche/White Nights (1957); Rocco e i suoi fratelli/Rocco and His Brothers (1960); Boccaccio '70 (1962, ep. Il lavoro); Vaghe stelle dell'orso/Sandra (1965); Le streghe/The Witches [ep. La strega bruciata viva], Lo straniero/The Stranger (1967).


visconti



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biography | books | dvds | videos
visconti
frank capra | jean cocteau | fritz lang
alfred hitchcock | jim jarmusch | aki kaurismaki
f.w. murnau | wim wenders | orson welles

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