April 11, 2007

Luchino Visconti

Luchino Visconti

Return to Italian directors hub page

(Please note this posting is still under construction)

I have now decided to open the page although it is still 'work in progress', however I have noticed that a few visitors are finding this page anyway.  There are now a good range of hyperlinks provided and it is now functioning as a 'web-hub' from the Chronology of European Cinema Page for work on Visconti. My apologies to visitors for any inadequacies. Hopefully you will still find it useful for your purposes and better than anything else on the web currently available in English.  

NB Hyperlinked filmography below 

For all those visiting from the 'Chronolgy of European Cinema' page there is a hyperlinked filmography as well as a webliography below.  The former takes you to the best articles I could find on the web on that particular film in English at the time of construction. If you have come across anything else which you consider better please drop a message in the comments box and I will relink if appropriate.  


Forget Rossellini and Fellini - no one did as much to shape Italian cinema as Luchino Visconti. So why is he so underrated, asks Jonathan Jones





Audiences are always stratified and it crudifies the situation to suggest that there are only two of them, a “mass” and an “elite”. Many film spectators (not to mention readers of books or visitors to art galleries) do not fall into either category and would find insulting suggestions that they did’ (Nowell-Smith 2003: 219).


Below is a YouTube extract from BBC 4 Arena documentary The Life and Times of Count Luchino Visconti. The full two hour version is available with the BFI version of The Leopard.



A Brief Overview

Introduction 

The role of this article is to provide an overview of Visconti and to act as a web-based hub for visitors to gain more information about Visconti in a more organised way. Hopefully this will provide researchers at whatever level as well as people generally interested in Visconti with a useful service. More in depth articles on specific films are posted elsewhere and have been hyperlinked. As I come to consider Visconti's cinematic oeuvre in more depth I am increasingly coming to the conclusion that there is a strong case to be made for him being considered as one of the greatest of the World's directors. Obviously it is a contentious argument and one can immediately criticise it by pointing out that in terms of film form his work was not especially avante garde in the way that of his near contemporaries such as Antonioni's was, neither in terms of the Marxist that he was did his films focus upon class formulations in ways that promoted the working class as the historical agent of change in a didactic sort of way.

My case is being developed built on his attempts to develop a vision of the processes of historical change in a thoroughly artistic way following the work of Lukacs and using realism as a tool to examine key turning points in history as experienced through representatives of their class who were often aristocrats and royalty rather than horny handed sones of the soil. Yet Visconti has represented the Risorgimento very effectively firstly in Senso and later in The Leopard. With The Leopard I argue elsewhere that Visconti successfully brackets what many saw as the positivity of European Liberal nationalism of the 19th century and the demise of nationalism as a force for progress in the representation of the coming to power and the consolidation of that power in Germany as it falls under the power of the Nazis in The Damned. In this last mentioned film Visconti is not afraid to use more operatic approaches within his art shifting momentarily out of realism modes of expression through the Bazinian long take into moments of melodrama a term which is perhaps best thought of attached to a more Italianate meaning of the term which simply means music with drama rather than an over the top approach to everything exemplified in British TV soap operas for example. 

It should not be forgotten that Visconti effectively represented many aspects of the marginalised and the working class in contemporary society as well firstly in Ossessione in an indirect fashion then in La Terra Trema which was originally designed as the first of a trilogy and interestingly represented regionalism as well with the film having to be subtitled into Italian for Italian rather than Sicilian audiences. The consolidation of the political right in power in Italy brought about a need for changes in approach and Bellissima starts to tackle the ideology of celebrity and the growing power of the media. In Rocco and His Brothers Visconti  made an insightful critique of the economic forces which underly the processes of diaspora and migration something which contemporary British film makers are dealing with today

Viscont's later films have often been associated with decadence and also his own personal predilections and history coming from an aristocratic background. Here it is important to differentiate between studies of decadence as an historical problem which often signifies a turning point in history manifest in the art and culture of the moment and associating the artist critiquing this type of society. Ludwig can be seen as a good exemplar of the historical film as the cultural impetus behind mid-19th century monarchy is represented as the end of an era. The rise of instrumentalism and bourgeois bureaucracies for modern industrial society were pushing aside the old regimes and Ludwig is as much about the rise of a German nationalism and Bismarckian realpolitick as a 'biopic' of the real Ludwig. 

One cannot ignore Visconti's masterliness in the realm of mise en scene. Known as a perfectionist in the construction of props and clothing he was also a perfectionist in his use of music as a fundamental facet of mise en scene.  Much of his work is also about music itself either directly or indirectly. Mahler, Wagner and the  failure of culture to stand up to the pressures of the new barbarism at the core of Nazism are just some of the musical themes present in visconti's work. The theme of music and memory is present in Vaghe Stelle dell' Orsa / Sandra through the use of  the late-romantic music of Franck and the use of American pop music to make an anti-Facist point in Ossessione amount to just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Visconti's in depth of understanding of the use of music in his cinema. Perfectionism too was present in his dealings with actors. Whilst Visconti is known to have had a stormy relationship with Burt Lancaster in The Leopard mutual respect grew out of this and Lancaster supported Visconti in Conversation Piece as well as Bertollucci in 1900. The rise of Maria Callas as an opera star is attributed to Visconti and actors turned into stars such as Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale have much to thank Visconti for. 

Visconti then, became masterful in his film art which was informed by his widespread experience of theatre and opera directing. Visconti undoubtedly had personal vision and the determination to organise and develop his projects often against severe odds such as unsympathetic producers and a hostile political climate. The latter made it hard for him to make and to exhibit films such as Ossessione, Senso and Rocco and his Brothers

It is the commitment to artistic integrity as well as his intellectual approaches combined with a deep knowledge of aspects of European history and culture which give his films such depth. Of course he worked with the best people he could find and many people were regular members of his team. It is this which precisely defines the successful auteur. There can be few people who attend screenings of Visconti films or buy the DVDs who are driven by the genre considerations of watching a costume drama. Visconti had an artistic and political vision that was expressed in the way his films were made as well as the content of these films. To provide deep readings of these films requires of the viewer an engagement with many important features European political and cultural history. However, it must be remembered that at the time of the making of films such as Rocco and His Brothers there would have been many Italians who identified with the economic migration that was such a strong feature of Italian life in the post-war "Economic miracle". Part of Visconti's genius was his ability to engage with and represent different facets of European society in different ways which still related to his political understanding of the world. If this was less obvious in his later work it doesn't make this work any less important and it challenges the viewer to engage with the periods of histoty and culture represented. 

Visconti's films are perhaps perfect for the DVD era although most of his films are best experienced on the big screen. Their length is frequently inordinately long for a cinematic system geared to commerce rather than art and reliant upon the safe creation of genre output. Ludwig for example is aroung 4 hours long and the Leopard around three hours. The length of course relates more closely to operas and Italian audiences were far more used to this form across the classes than in most other countries. It is this cultural diifference which may have influenced Visconti to make such long films. They are films to which a viewer can comfortably return and gain new insights and meaning. They are unlikely to appeal to those brought up on the artifically dynamic editing styles prevalent in Hollywood. Visconti was a follower of the long take and the development of a complex mise en scene as methods of creating meaning in his films. Wholehearted engagement rather than just entertainment was at the core of his films but it is this approach which will help them to stand the test of time. 

Below are some brief bigraphical notes and an overview of his main films. Where appropriate links are provided to more in depth approaches to individual films or perspectives. Some of the comments are thin as the films are not currently available in the UK on DVD or Video. These will be developed in due course. A hyperlinked filmography is provided and a webliography will take you to the best places in English on the web about Visconti and his work. A bibliography is now included  and other bibliographical references can be accessed on the Italian Cinema Bibliography page.   


Biographical Notes

Luchino Visconti died on March 17th 1976 just before he reached 70 years old. His health had been deteriorating since he suffered a stroke nearly four years earlier in July 1972. Visconti’s death can be seen as part of the end of an era within Italian cinema.  De Sica had  died the previous year and Rossellini the year afterwards.

Visconti made 14 full feature films, contributed episodes to several others as well as directing nearly twenty operas and over forty plays. As such Visconti can be said to have an understanding of the role of the arts well beyond the capacity of most film directors. Visconti also had a theoretical understanding based upon his own readings of the Marxist writers Gramsci and Lukacs which were reflected within his work. 

Visconti was the son of a Milanese aristocrat on his father’s side and the daughter of a successful new industrialist on his mother’s side. Visconti was also gay. As an artist Visconti was interested in addressing a variegated audience who would be able to engage with the films at a number of different levels. As Geoffrey Nowell-Smith points out:

Audiences are always stratified and it crudifies the situation to suggest that there are only two of them, a “mass” and an “elite”. Many film spectators (not to mention readers of books or visitors to art galleries) do not fall into either category and would find insulting suggestions that they did’ (Nowell-Smith 2000: 219).


Visconti the formative years: from the 1930s to Ossessione (1943)


Visconti’s first work had been as a race horse trainer, an occupation in which he was successful. Visconti had a restless mind and he was never going to be totally satisfied with this as a career. In the early 1930s he was increasingly drawn to Paris and as the decade proceeded he visited more frequently and for longer periods.

As an aristocrat is was fairly easy to access the artistic and intellectual circles of Paris. Compared to the cultural straightjacket of Mussolini’s Italy Paris was seething with experimental ideas and it proved to be formative for Visconti intellectually, politically and sexually.

Coco Chanel

Above Coco Chanel  



Through Coco Chanel Visconti was soon in touch with many leading lights of the Parisian avant-garde such as Jean Cocteau, Kurt Weill, and Marlene Dietrich. Being in Paris afforded Visconti the opportunity to see films banned in Italy. These included works of the leading avant-garde film makers such as Bunuel, Dali, Cocteau, Pudovkin and Eisenstein.

Politically the decade was a formative one for Visconti as the political polarisations in Europe deepened. Initially he had a tendency to favour the right which was growing in France as elsewhere however he moved away from:

“false nationalistic pride, Fascist rhetoric and his habit of emphasising his aristocratic background” notes Bacon (1998, p 6).

1936 was the major turning point in Visconti’s life. The Popular Front in France had won a significant election victory that year which stemmed the growing tide of right wing nationalism amongst the French. Coco Chanel had introduced Visconti to Jean Renoir and his film making colleagues. All were strongly sympathetic to the Popular Front and this helped develop a different perspective on politics for Visconti. At the same time Renoir was pioneering new aesthetic methods. Toni (1935) had become a turning point in cinema described by Raymond Durgnat as:

… the point at which the whole documentary movement of the French cinema achieved its fullest coalescence with the fiction film. (Durgnat, cited Bacon 1998, p 7).

Renoir has commented about his objectives through this technique:

My aim was to give the impression that I was carrying a camera and a microphone in my pocket and recording whatever came my way, regardless of its comparative importance. (ibid)

Although Visconti’s aesthetic style turned to be very different to Renoir’s some of the underlying aesthetic principles became important to Visconti:

From the moment I realised the importance of unity I tried never to shoot a scene without some background movement more or less related to the action… Another of my preoccupations was, and still is, to avoid fragmentation, and by means of playing longer shots to give the actor a chance to develop his own rhythm in the speaking of the lines. To me this is the only way of getting sincere acting. (Renoir “My Life and My Films” cited Bacon 1998, p 7)


First Films

Visconti had made his first film in 1934 which Bacon describes as a little 'Bunuelesque', however the film hasn’t survived and the evidence suggests that it was an amateur affair. Visconti had learnt some photographic techniques from his current partner Horst who was a photographer. Visconti’s first professional acquaintance with the cinema appears to have been as Third Assistant Director to Renoir on the set of Une partie de campagne (A Day in the Country) in 1936. The film wasn’t released until after the war in 1946. Visconti’s role was to design and produce the costumes.


Visconti has claimed it was through politicisation that he started to make films with Renoir. However Bacon cites Ronolino’s book 1981 book on Visconti which argues that he took no strong political views on any pre WW II events including the Spanish Civil War.

Writer and Set and Costume Designer

At this time Visconti also played with the prospect of being a writer and two drafts for novels still survive. Bacon notes that these drafts: reveal Visconti’s obsession with detail. This level of detail can bog down the flow in a novel however in a film through mise en scene it can considerably enrich the cinematic experience and this points to the importance of using mise en scene criticism when studying Visconti’s films.

Visconti also started to work in theatre at this time. In 1936 he designed the sets and costumes for a production of Carita Mondana (Mundane Charity). This production took place in the Teatro Sociale in Como. This was followed by a production of Jan Mallory’s (Joyce Carey) Sweet Aloes. This was also produced in 1936 and ran at the Teatro Manzoni in Milan.

Visconti followed this by a trip to Hollywood. However it seems that this wasn’t a successful time and both Stirling in his Screen of Time and Servadio in Luchino Visconti both note that he never talked much about the experience.

By 1938 Visconti was back in Italy and involved in theatrical production this time producing sets and costume design for Il Viaggio (The Voyage) by Henry Bernstein whom he had met in Paris.


Tosca (1940)

Puccini

Giacomo Puccini the composer of Tosca

The next film that Visconti became involved in was Tosca (1940). This turned out to be a particularly odd production. Jean Renoir was formally invited to make the film by the Italian government despite the fact that La Grande Illusion (1937) was banned by the Fascist government because of its political sympathies. According to Bacon the idea had originated from Mussolini directly. Mussolini in fact held a copy of La Grande Illusion in his private collection. As far as consistency in Fascist cultural policy was concerned this was: a prime example of its arts policy (Bacon p 9).

At the time this formal invitation was extended Mussolini had become a formal ally of Nazi Germany and at this time France had already declared war on Nazi Germany in September 1939. Renoir had already been called up and was serving as an officer in the French Army. The French government sent Renoir to Italy in the hope that this might allay any outbreak of hostilities.




Massimo Girotti

The Tosca starred Massimo Girotti (seen above in a different role in Ossessione). Girotti was the leading actor in Visconti's first full length feature film Ossessione.





Visconti worked on the script of Tosca with Renoir and his main assistant Carl Koch. However the international tension was mounting and Nazi Germany was making an increasingly obvious presence in Italy to pressurise Italy to declare war in support of Germany. As a result Renoir and all his French team returned to France shortly before hostilities broke out. Koch who had a German passport and Visconti were left to finish the film. This they did although Visconti has described it as a a ‘horrible film’. One important stepping stone for Visconti was that making it introduced him to the powerful Italian critics and other parts of the circle around cinema.

Tosca Poster


Visconti became increasingly drawn into this circle based around Cinema which had amongst its contributors several important critics who were to become important film directors. These included Giuseppe de Santis and Michelangelo Antonioni. Most of the critics were left of centre while Vittorio Mussolini (Mussolini’s son) was the editor in chief. Politics wasn’t discussed openly and Vittorio wasn’t around for a lot of the time and didn’t deal with day to day editorial decision making according to Bacon.

Effectively the magazine became a site of fracture within Fascist cultural policy as it afforded the opportunity to write more critically yet at the same time to have the veneer of official approval. It can be seen that cultural policy was applied unevenly sometimes with Liberal writers such as Carlo Levi being sent into internal exile (Christ Stopped at Eboli being his memoirs of this which was later made into a film by Rosi). Martin Clark has suggested that intellectuals were usually bought off and flattered rather than repressed as was the case in Germany

Ossessione & La Terra Trema

Visconti's films Ossessione and La Terra Trema respectively marked the precursor to neorealism as a movement whilst La Terra Trema is a core film of the neorealist movement. I have currently no time to provide a fuller evaluation of these films however they are both partially covered in the entries 
Italian Neorealism: an Introduction
and the review Italian Neorealism: Rebuilding the Cinematic City 


From Neorealism to Neorealism Rosa: Bellissima

The well known post-war history Italian Cinema by Peter Bondanella surprisingly fails to mention the film Bellissima at all. This film is very important for a number of reasons. It marks a transition from Neorealism to post-neorealism within Italian cinema; it is a meta-cinematic film which deals in a biting comedy a critique of the institution of cinema itself – it thus predates Fellini’s well known La Dolce Vita (1959) by several years; it can be taken as a strong indirect critique of the political direction Italy was taking at the time as well as a critique of the Christian Democratic government's relationship to America  it gives many insights into the way Visconti worked as a director with his performers (Anna Magnani & Alessandro Blasetti); lastly and by no means least as a film it is good viewing – it appears as a favourite of Richard Dyer’s in one of Sight & Sounds surveys about favourite films of critics. For an in depth dicussion of this film please go to my review of the 2007 release of Bellissima by Eureka Video.




Cultural Context










It is important to emphasise that Visconti was also working within an Italian framework. The Italian audience has an operatic culture which is popular across all classes. The binary division of opera into an elitist art form doesn’t operate in this culture as it does in Britain. Indeed one can point to the operatic form as becoming associated with the Risorgimento the emergence of the Italian nation in the 19th century itself. Visconti’s texts are knowingly multidimensional. Despite many criticism of the auteur within film criticism which seems to deny that a director can be an inspirational power behind a work of art Visconti is clearly exceptional. Arguably this is the time for a thorough re-examination of his work at least in the Anglophone countries. As Nowell-Smith has pointed out there has been a paucity of critical work and the films little seen.

The kind of film-making in which Visconti was engaged throughout his career... was a kind which put the director at the centre. The director chose the scriptwriter, the actors, the leading technicians, the editor. The director even chose the producer... Visconti’s films were all his in a way which other directors, not only in Hollywood but also in Italy, could only envy. Under these circumstances, auteurism and anti-auteurism become irrelevant categories’ (Nowell-Smith, 2000: 221-222)



Rocco & His Brothers

Visconti’s cinema always constituted a sophisticated analysis of these processes of social change. Rocco and His Brothers (1960) is a logical step from La Terra Trema (which is dealt in more detail below). A family from the mezzogiorno (deep south) have arrived in Milan a new centre of industrial expansion feeding the Italian economic miracle sucking in labour from the periphery. The response to this forced structural change by each of the four elder brothers corresponds to the range of individual responses which this enormous transition embodied.

The eldest brother had already become established in Milan, with a fiancé. The family arrival caused disruptions of loyalties causing a temporary split. The Sicilian machismo of Simone represents an ideology of the past unable to accept the necessary individual sacrifices to industrial disciplining either through education or within the professionalising cultural industry of boxing. Initial success came easily as Simone had strength and natural talent and was attractive to women. Seduced by a fellow immigrant turned prostitute, another side of the ‘cultural industry’ complex, Simone finds he cannot ‘own her’, and that whilst she like the detective is able to cross formal boundaries of society through hypocritical sexual mores Simone is excluded from refined society. Simone’s inability to control the situation causes a crisis of masculinity and his ultimate decline into alcoholism and the basest of acts. Simone ends up killing Nadia who had left him to return to prostitution and a level of independence. In between Nadia had fallen in love with Rocco. Simone on learning of this had raped Nadia in front of Rocco who was held back by Simone’s lumpen-proletarian acquaintances. Rocco is then beaten up by his brother to assert traditional male dominance. Rocco accepts this traditional dominance and also becomes a boxer mortgaging his future earnings to try and keep Simone’s debts under control.

Rocco’s quietitude and a 'Christian' martyrdom in the face of traditional family ‘values’ and Sicilian masculinity are contrasted with Ciro. Ciro has understood that the way forward is to establish himself through education. He struggles hard at night school to get the qualifications for a good factory job. Eventually he becomes a skilled worker at Alfa-Romeo. The industrial disciplining of the factory system signified by the factory whistle at the end of the lunch-break also represents the solidarity of the workforce who are supportive to Ciro when he is upset in a talk with his youngest brother Luca. Ciro sees the future in Luca telling him he will be the one who will have the luxury to return to their original homeland in recognition of the processes of modernity change the balance of society. Ciro also supports the growth of modern institutions seeing in them a force of progressive change. It is Ciro who ‘betrays’ the traditional familial quietitude about gross and murderous behaviour by reporting Simone to the police. The rational rule of law can work in favour of the working class and is superior to the outmoded and archaic attitudes of the past. It is Ciro who has recognised that a fundamental adaptation is required if the family is to successfully survive at the other end of this enormous transition.

It is worth noting that a new version of Rocco is due out in February 2008 from the Eureka Masters of Cinema Series and this may provide some useful insights into the film.

Il Gattarpardo / The Leopard (1963)

Visconti’s intellectual, political, historical and cultural concerns then bring us to what are frequently described as his films of the Risorgimento, the Italian bourgeois revolution. Firstly Senso then The Leopard. Based upon the historical novel of the same title, The Leopard was set in Sicily and starred Burt Lancaster. As such, the film had a large budget and was aimed towards an international audience. Bondanella describes the film as ‘ a meditation of death, historical change, and the demise of a social class to which the director also belongs to.’(Bondanella, 2002 p 200) . The aristocratic prince whose son has just married the beautiful daughter of a rising bourgeois notes ironically and with a romantic nostalgia that the older aristocratic ruling class had an imaginary of the big cats, whilst the changes were now the ushering an order of jackals and sheep. Certainly it this had an autobiographical ring to it for Visconti’s parents were from exactly that heritage with his mother the daughter of a bourgeois industrialist, his father an heir to the aristocratic family that had ruled Milan in an earlier period.

Bondanella reads Visconti as having sympathy with the Prince who in front of a painting The Death of a Just Man, imagines his own death. In this sense the film is a ‘Chronicle of a Death Foretold’, the recognition of the passing of an historical period and the inception and establishing of a new social order. However the sound of the volleys of a firing squad in the distance as the Prince walks home, indicate that the new order is already establishing itself by brutal means, and the hopes of the peasants and workers are foreshortened. Whilst for Bondanella the ‘epic sweep’ of the sets and costumes threatens to overwhelm the historical message, it is quite reasonable to suggest that the historical paradoxes are heightened by the mise-en-scene.


A Hiatus of Content and Criticism

After The Leopard there seems to be a general hiatus in both criticism and the availability of Visconti's work to watch and to develop further ideas about his ouevre. Hopefully this blog will contribute to a wider discourse which seeks to re-establish and re-view afresh this work of Visconti's from the middle period of the 1960s. The films concerned include Vaghe Stelle dell' Orsa / Sandra 1965 and Lo Straniero (The Stranger / The Outsider) (Italy 1967). Currently (December 2007) neither of these films appear to be available in English. 

Vaghe Stelle dell' Orsa / Sandra was a modern interpretation of the Electra myth in which the Torjan War was replaced by the concentration Camps of the Second World War. Instead of Agammemnon being murdered by Aegisthus and Clytemnestra here Sandra (played by Claudia Cardinale) suspects her mother and her lover of betraying her Jewish father to the Nazis. Bacon (1998) comments that:

In Sandra the fate of the Jews in the Second World War functions as a metaphor for the entanglement of victimization and groundless accusations practised in the end by Jews and non-Jews alike. (p121)

Visconti himself notes the deep ambiguities in the film:

All the characters excpet Andrew are ambiguous. He would like to find a logical explananation for everything, instead of which he finds himself in a world dominated by the most profound, contradictory and ineplicable passions... (Cited by Bacon 1998 p 120).  

These are not dissimilar themes to ones which were eplored by Bertollucci firtstly in The Spider's Stratagem and then in The Conformist. When one adds Bellocchio's fascinating first feature into the mix - Fist in the Pocket - one can see that themes of the family in crisis were apparently being played out to quite an extent in the Italian cinema of the 1960s. At the same time there was a reckoning being made with the fading memories of Nazism and Fascism which had been cut short with the return of a right wing government at the end of the 1940s. 



The 'German Trilogy'

The Damned (1969) Death in Venice (1971) and Ludwig (1973) are known as Visconti’s ‘German Trilogy’. Here Visconti examines the decadence of the Belle Epoque, the corruption and confusion behind the rise of Nazism in Weimar Germany, and the story of Ludwig II of Bavaria who has been viewed as very eccentric and was the patron of Richard Wagner. Whilst some critics have marked this down as Visconti’s ‘decadent’ period, and noted an increasing pessimism in the themes that he dealt with this has frequently been over-personalised. Visconti has argued that what interested him was the analysis of a sick society, and in these films the historical forces of modernity versus counter-modernity are being played out.

Some critics have managed to conflate a representation with a notion of sympathy in the director. This has the effect of undermining the subtle Marxism of Visconti from those either unfamiliar with or hostile to that particular intellectual heritage. Bondanella reviews the critical outputs on these films as follows:

Many European critics have tried to interpret Visconti’s German trilogy as a serious, historical vision of Germany’s flirtation with romantic idealism and its subsequent perversion in the Nazi era. But the three films fail to provide any coherent explanation of such a complicated process. It is far more accurate to conclude that in this trilogy Visconti has allowed his taste for visual spectacle, as well as his own personal preoccupation with old age, solitude ugliness and death to overwhelm his philosophical or cultural intentions.’ (Bondanella , 2002 p 20


In The Damned the representation of the infamous ‘Night of the Long Knives’ when the SS slaughtered the leadership of the sexually transgressive SA of Eric Rohmer, links the growth of Nazism to a crisis of masculinity, and also explores the homo-erotic bonding of militarism which repress its own sexual excess instead transferring that into compulsory heterosexuality in tandem with patriarchal family values.

Death in Venice links Thomas Mann and Mahler, artists of the period, with a desire for youth represented as homosexual longing which was an impossible desire at that time. Representing a crisis where the new generation will be fundamentally different whilst the once resplendent Venice the most dynamic city in Europe of the Early and middle Renaissance is decaying, riven by a pestilence of a more Mediaeval type. This isolation of the wealthy and their retreat to decadence is a representation of modernity as conquering the old, marginalising the ancien regime.

In Ludwig the king is seen as amusing himself with musical projects whilst his generals are unable to act as the Prussian Army under Bismarck will ultimately defeat Bavaria allied with Austria. For Germany this was their equivalent of the Risorgimento. Bismarck was to unify the squabbling and corrupted principalities in the name of a greater Germany nation, one which was able to organise industrially and administratively to enter the modern period. In these works Visconti’s predilection for opera and melodrama shines through, and the treatment of these dramatic social changes is artistically portrayed through the responses and activities and thoughts of representatives of those moments. Ludwig’s homosexuality can be seen as indicative of the passing of a monarchical system reliant upon hereditary and therefore compulsory heterosexuality. This dovetails two themes. Patriarchal systems based upon physical reproduction have become outmoded and unstable. A newer form of patriarchy is necessary to achieve stability. For Ludwig to express his desire even as a monarch means to regress from the social reality of the moment only when Bavaria has been subjugated to Prussia leaving a token monarchy can Ludwig act out his desires in a limited. But kings are now subject to controls and he is deposed. The war with Prussia was taking place at the same time as Austria’s war with the Italian process of the Risorgimento. Austria was fighting both wars.

Whilst in Italy there was some hope for progress, in a more democratic sense, both Bavaria and Prussia have acted to forestall a more democratic revolution and its attendant risks, the memories of 1848 still burning strongly in their memory. The modernisers represent ‘realism, calculation, negotiation, countering rival modernisers such as Bismarck by playing a similar game’ (Nowell-smith 2002 p 186). Nowell-Smith suggests that there are some links with Shakespeare’s Richard II and Marlowe’s Edward II which have homosexual motifs. Nowell-Smith reads this link as suggesting that legitimacy is itself a burden upon the individual, but while noting that Shakespeare was an apologist for the Tudors he fails to note that under Elizabeth the First the issue of inheriting the crown was one of the gravest concern. Just as Elizabeth played marriage possibilities diplomatically she was at heart a political animal. Even then stability was only a temporary event as the English Civil war was to show.



Gruppo di Famiglia in un Interno (Conversation Piece): (1974)

(Apologies still under construction)


L'Innocente (The Intruder): (1976) 

(Apologies still under construction) 

Visconti decided to do an adaptation of D'Annunzio's L'Innozente. This was his last film for he died on March 17th 1976 whilst was in its editing stage. As Bacon points out these later works of Visconti's reading Sandra as a turning point in his approach have frequently been read as 'decadent':

...an expression of an aging director's morbid fascination with the themes of sickness, decay and death. On the whole it has not always been clear whther the label of decadence is a reference to the subject matter, the style or both, or whther it is used simply as a perjoritve term. (Bacon, 1998 p 214)















Filmography

Short

Appunti su un fatto di cronaca (Italy 1951) Director


Features 

Ossessione (Italy 1943) 

Giorni di Gloria (Italy 1945 - Director of one episdode) 

La Terra trema (Italy 1948) 

Bellissima ( 1951)

Siamo donne (We, The Women) Italy 1953 (Director of 1 part in 5)

Senso (Italy 1954)

Le Notti Bianchi (The White Nights) (Italy 1957) 

Rocco e I suoi Fratelli (Rocco and his brothers) (Italy 1960) 

Boccaccio '70 (Episode title Il Lavoro / The Job) (Italy 1962)

Il Gattopardo (The Leopard) (Italy 1963)

Vaghe Stelle dell' Orsa (Of a Thousand Delights) (Italy 1965). I was unable to find one good or even reasonable entry in English on this film despite looking under the Italian and French titles on the search engine. It is clearly a gap which need spaying attention to!

Le Streghe (The Witches) (Italy 1967). 1 part in 5 episode title La Straga Bruciata Viva)

Lo Straniero (The Stranger / The Outsider) (Italy 1967). This is the only vaguely reasonable link I could find on the search term The Stranger / The Outsider which shows that this film is need of publication and a radical reassessment. 

La Caduta degli Dei (The Damned) (Italy 1969)

Morte a Venezia (Death in Venice) (Italy 1971) 

Ludwig (Italy 1973)

Gruppo di Famiglia in un Interno (Conversation Piece) (Italy 1974)

I' Innocente (The Intruder) (Italy 1976)










Webliography 


The British Film Institute Luchino Visconti Feature


BBC Arena Page reporting on the very good BBC documentary the Life & Times of Luchino Visconti


Ossessione Review by Richard Armstrong on the Kamera Site 

Johnathan Jones The Guardian 2001 asks why Visconti is so neglected?

David Thompson Guardian article The Decadent Realist

This article by David Thompson is possibly the worst article on Visconti I have ever seen from somebody who is reputedly meant to have a good understanding of cinema. Whatever else, this is a vituperative piece of nonsense. Make sure you break the NHS prescribed amounts of salt when you read this. I have included it because the writer is well known however inclusion does not amount to a recommendation, it does show what Visconti was up against in terms of the petulant jealous petit-bourgeois failed intellectuals (maybe there are advantages to being an aristocrat after all :-) ).

Derak Malcolm  Guardian article on The Leopard

Pete Bradshaw Guardian on Death in Venice

Phiip French Observer on Death in Venice

Guardian / NFT Question and Answers with Claudia Cardinale

Guardian / NFT Part 2 with Claudia Cardinale 

San Francisco Film Society Dennis Harvey on Visconti

Strictly Film School Blog on Visconti 

Premuda, Noemi Luchino Visconti's Musicism (You will need a JSTOR account to access this article) 

BBC 4 Arena article about the 2 hour documentary on Luchino Visconti

Film and Literature. The Case of "Death in Venice": Luchino Visconti and Thomas Mann
Hans Rudolf VagetThe German Quarterly, Vol. 53, No. 2 (Mar., 1980), pp. 159-175doi:10.2307/405628

This article requires JStor access.  

Marxism and Formalism in the Films of Luchino Visconti Walter F. Korte, Jr.Cinema Journal, Vol. 11, No. 1 (Autumn, 1971), pp. 2-12 doi:10.2307/1225346

This article requires JStor access.

Dr. Ivo BlomPainting, theatre, cinema: Intermediality in the work of Luchino Visconti

Visconti Conference


Peter Brunette in film and Philosophy: Review of Nowell-Smith's third edition book on Visconti


Visconti's Cinema of Twilight by Maximilian Le Cain in Senses of Cinema site

Brief article by Gary Morris  

The Incompossible Languageof Natural Aristocracy:Deleuze's Misreading of Visconti's The Leopard

by Privitello on Senses of Cinema site. 

Bertellini, Giorgio : A Battle "d'Arriere-Garde": Notes on Decadence in Luchino Visconti's "Death in Venice" . (This requires JSTOR access)

Frieze Magazine: Forever Changes Dan Fox

Hide in Plain Sight: An Interview with Piero Tosi. Drake Stutesma. Project Muse PDF from Framework 47


Visconti Revisited: Take 2 . Senses of Cinema Review of Nowell-Smith's 3rd re Visconti 2003.





Bibliography

Bacon, Henry. 1998. Visconti: Explorations of Beauty and Decay. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Bertellini, Giorgio Ed. 2004. The Cinema of Italy. London: Wallflower Press

Bondanella, Peter. 3rd edition. 2002. Italian Cinema: From Neorealism to the Present. New York and London: Continuum

Hipkins Danielle. "I don't want to die": Prostitution and Narrative Disruption in Visconti's Rocco and His Brothers', in Women in Italy 1946-1960, ed. by Penny Morris (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), pp. 193-210

Hudson, Anne. ‘Rocco E I Suoi Fratelli / Rocco and His Brothers. Bertellini, Giorgio. 2004. The Cinema of Italy. London: Wallflower Press

Landy, Marcia. 2000. Italian Film. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Marcus, Millicent. 1993. Filmaking by the Book. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press

Marcus, Millicent. 1986. Italian Film in the Light of Neorealism. Princeton: Princeton University Press

Nowell-Smith, Geoffrey. 2003 3rd edition. Luchino Visconti. London: British Film Institute

Rohdie, Sam. Rocco and his Brothers. London: BFI

Sellors, Paul. C. 2004. 'Senso'. In Bertellini, Giorgio Ed. 2004. The Cinema of Italy. London: Wallflower Press

Wood, Michael. 2003. ‘Death becomes Visconti’. Sight and Sound , May 2003 Volume 13 Issue 5 , pp 24-27



DVD Availability in the UK


This link to Moviemail gives a list of Visconti films currently available on DVD in the UK



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