Happy 59th Birthday to Disneyland


One of my favorite places is celebrating a birthday today. Disneyland park in Anaheim, California celebrated its grand opening 59 years ago on July 17, 1955. I love this picture of Walt Disney walking through the park early one morning. Great stuff. Happy Birthday, Disneyland! Thanks for the happy memories. And hopefully there will be lots of happy memories to come.

Cinema Italiano 2014: ‘Il gattopardo’


Burt Lancaster of all people stars in this epic Italian historical drama from 1963, Il gattopardo (The Leopard). Directed by Luchino Visconti, and based on the 1958 novel by Giuseppe Di Lampedusa, the film tells the story of a wealthy Sicilian family living in the 1860s during a time of great political revolt in Italy. Lancaster plays the family patriarch who can see that his family’s days of isolated wealth and privilege are coming to an end and does what he must to keep his family’s legacy alive.

Burt Lancaster and Claudia Cardinale in the ball sequence in 'Il gattopardo' (1963)

Burt Lancaster and Claudia Cardinale in the ball sequence in ‘Il gattopardo’ (1963)

Turner Classic Movies (TCM) gives some interesting background to the one of the great sequences in the film, the ball scene in Act III:

Over a month was devoted to the ball sequence alone (it had to be filmed at night, because of the summer heat), with results that fully justified Visconti’s perfectionism. The ball is one of the great set pieces in cinema, an astoundingly fluid and complex sequence in which all the themes of The Leopard converge, together with the three classes of the aristocracy, the bourgeoisie, and the military. According to screenwriter Suso Cecchi D’Amico, “At heart, the novel is the story of the first time that different social classes mix.” The ball sequence brilliantly dramatizes this historical moment, staging it as a spectacle that unfolds under the view of the pensive Prince, who, loathing the shallow, self-satisfied guests parading before him, retires privately to contemplate his own death.

Il gattopardo is widely praised for its elaborate historical recreations, lavish costumes, and marvelous filming locations (mostly in and around Palermo, Sicily). And I would concur–I found the film to be beautiful, compelling, and thought provoking.

Burt Lancaster delivers a phenomenal performance as the Prince of Salina. The international supporting cast does a terrific job as well, particularly Alain Delon (from France) who plays the Prince’s nephew Tancredi, and Claudia Cardinale (who is actually from Italy) who plays Tancredi’s intended Angelica. I’m not sure if Burt Lancaster actually delivered his lines in Italian or not during filming, but his voice is dubbed in the finished film along with many others (I rented an Italian language version of the film with English subtitles from Amazon Instant Video).

Non abbiate paura (never fear), it all works. If you’re interested in a beautiful historical drama with some interesting things to think about, definitely check out Il gattopardo.


Burt Lancaster in 'Il gattopardo' (1963)

Burt Lancaster in ‘Il gattopardo’ (1963)

Cinema Italiano 2014: ‘We Have a Pope’


2011′s We Have a Pope (Habemus Papam) poses an interesting scenario: what if the newly elected Catholic Pope has a panic attack and flees the Vatican before taking on the job?

This comedy/drama, written and directed by Italian filmmaker Nanni Moretti, is part social commentary and part human drama. It tells the story of Cardinal Melville (played by famous French actor Michel Piccoli), a humble man of God just doing his duty at the papal conclave after the passing of the beloved (and now canonized) Pope John Paul II. When it turns out that he is the one elected by the College of Cardinals to be the next pope, Melville immediately turns to feelings of his own inadequacy, self doubt, and apprehension about taking on the incredible burden, particularly at his advanced age. His indecision causes him to literally run away from the Vatican and roam the streets of Rome in street clothes as he tries to figure out which steps to take with the remainder of his life.

Director Moretti displays his own views in the film about the constant associations in Italy between religion and the media. He also juxtaposes the narrative of the film with a volleyball tournament between the cardinals while they wait to hear from the absentee pope along with the play “The Seagull” by Anton Chekov (Melville runs into a group of actors in Rome getting ready to put on the play). While “The Seagull” might seem an odd choice, its themes of unhappy and unsatisfied people and the element of human folly involved capture Melville’s thought processes and, most importantly, his humanity.

Although the film’s realistic portrayal of many sites within the interior of the Vatican (the Sistine Chapel, etc.) look real, the scenes were actually shot on sets created at the famed Cinecittà Studios in Rome.

It was fun to see some current Italian cinema, particularly this well-made and thought provoking film. We Have a Pope is available to rent on Amazon Instant Video.

Michel Piccoli in 'We Have a Pope' (2011)

Michel Piccoli in ‘We Have a Pope’ (2011)

Cinema Italiano 2014: ‘L’avventura’


The 2014 Italian film festival continues, this time with director Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1960 classic Italian art film L’avventura (The Adventure).

When wealthy but disillusioned Anna (played by Lea Massari) goes missing while on a yacht trip in the Mediterranean, her lover Sandro (played by Gabriele Ferzetti) and best friend Claudia (played by Monica Vitti in her feature film debut) try to find her. In the process, they find strong feelings for each other, too.

Shot in black and white and employing a minimalist style, the film was groundbreaking in the use of cinematography and visual imagery to convey human emotion. The Criterion Collection DVD (which I rented from Netflix) has a wonderful commentary track provided by media arts scholar Gene Youngblood. He explains this about the visuals in L’avventura:

“Antonioni’s great achievement was to put the burden of narration almost entirely on the image itself, that is, on the characters’ actions and on the visual surface of their environment. He uses natural or manmade settings to evoke his characters’ state of mind, their emotions, their life circumstances. We learn more about them by watching what they do than by hearing what they say. We follow the story more by reading images than we do by listening to dialogue. The settings are not symbolic or metaphoric—they are extensions, manifestations, of the characters’ psyches. Physical landscape and mental landscape become one.”

The film’s imagery shows Antonioni’s view of the impossibility of human relationships; that people are like islands, and that modern life has created empty people with empty lives. While the character of Claudia appears to have some moments of clarity as she takes the journey to self knowledge, the other sad sacks in the film are like the desolate island where Anna disappears in the first place. And with Sandro, the oft-used statement that “men are pigs” is an understatement in his case.

If you’re up for a cerebral, visually stunning, slow moving, but thought provoking cinema adventure yourself, give L’avventura a looksie.

Gabriele Ferzetti and Monica Vitti in 'L'avventura' (1960)

Gabriele Ferzetti and Monica Vitti in ‘L’avventura’ (1960)