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March 20, 2008

What is a Lifestyle Magazine

What is a Lifestyle Magazine?


Return to Lifestyle Magazines Hub


Introduction



What is Lifestyle?


The originates in sociology but has changed in its primary meaning since it was first used towards the end of the 1960s. Then it was more about how the ways in which people live are indicative of thier class position in society.  


In more recent work, the concept has been used more widely still to designate the tastes, attitudes, possessions or ways of behaving of any social group which distinguish it from any other social groups. In this sense anyconnectionbetween the concept of that and social class has been severed. (Abercrombie et al. Penguin Dictionary of Sociology).  


Consumer Culture


To fully understand the notion of lifestyle we need to have an understanding of what is meant by consumer culture.  This term argues that societies are increasingly organised around modes (ways) of consumption. The main charctersitics of the discussion within sociology and cultural studies has been organised arounfd the following points:


Rising Affluence. It is argued that the inhabitants of Western Societies now have far more money to spend on consumer goods, holidays and leisure.  

Working hours have been falling. Arguably this is leaving far more time for leisure pursuits.

Identity.  People are now taking thier identity more from what they consume and their activities as consumers and in their leisure. Previously people's work used to a far greater marker of identity. This particualr notion of identity works well with the arguments of sociologists like a?nthony Giddens who argue that as the older key factors influencing identity decrease in importance so self-reflexivity of people who thinl about thier identity and work to develp or change it increases. The older forms of identity such as class and work and also place are breaking down because of globalisation. 

The Aestheticisation of Everyday Life. There is far greater interest in the presentation of an image and construction of a lifestyl. The acquisition of certain goods are used as markers of a certain social position. 

Positional Goods.  These goods or services have desirability because they are scarce and therefore in short supply. Scarcity can be in both price or through cult status. Paradoxically the more people acquire them the less desirable they become. (The Burberry hat which became a 'Chav' symbol is perhaps an extreme example). Ownership of a Bentley/Aston Martin or a Hermes handbag are clear examples of positional goods. Of course there is a clear hierarchy in each range of products. Sometimes other goods will try to position themselves in relation to these goods. The relationship between Breitling watches and Bentley is a good example.

Consumption Cleavages. In the 19th and earlier part of the 20th century social class, race and gender were the major sources of social division. It is argued that these social divisions have been replaced by consumption cleavages describing the patterns of consumption above.

Growth of Consumer Power. It is argued that in consumer societies the consumer gains power at the expense of the producers. These producers may provide goods or be professionals offering services such as doctors, lawyers or teachers. The economic position of the consumer can in some respects be seen to be replacing political rights and duties - the consumer is replacing the citizen? 

Increasing Commodification of Everyday Life. The market is extending into all areas of life, shopping has become a leqaisure activity rather than a chore. 


These arguments tend to focus on the fact that in the past sociologists focused too much on issues of production in society including work experiences and the effects of paid work and not enough on issues of consumption. 

However many argue that this is not the case and that the increasing focus upon consumption rather than empowering consumers merely extends capitalist values. Ultimately it further polarises society into rich and poor.


Lifestyle Magazines and Branding  


If one applies the categories of lifestyle applied to consumption as discussed above then it is important to have role models to help generate the desire to consume. The generation of the desire to consume goes beyond what might normally be expected of people in that it can encourage people to aspire to certain ways of living that can easily be reached provided one is prepared to spend money. It then is a matter of how the individual is prepared to spend that money. Magazines and other forms of media which can encourage the branding of goods are an extremely important mechanism for this.  


Lifestyle Magazines and Gender

The markets that are created for lifestyle magazines frequently revolve around the issues of gender construction. The frequent use of nearly naked women on the front of GQ is an excellent example of the continuing predominance of a constructed male gaze despite or more likely as a backlash response to feminism which at its core demanded women to be accepted on their own terms rather than being constructed as sex objects. Below is an extract from arecent Guardian discussion about lifestyle magazines:

Nicole Kidman is an award-winning actor. So too is Maggie Gyllenhaal. So why do they - and other talented female Hollywood stars - still have to expose their bodies in order to get into the public eye? Kira Cochrane despairs


Kira Cochrane in August 2007 was pleased to see that the Lad's mags especially Loaded suffered a severe downturn in their circulation. She notes that it was magazines like Loaded that rapidly caused GQ to change its policy about naked or near naked women on the front cover. The fact of the matter is that these magazine were very much a backlash against the demands of feminism to be treated as normal humans rather than objects of the male gaze:

So it was at the end of last week, when I read about the problems facing the "lads' mags" sector. ABC circulation figures for the first half of this year painted a bleak picture for those weekly and monthly paeans to beer, birds, cars and football, with a year-on-year sales drop of 25.9 per cent for the market bestseller, FHM, 18.1 per cent for Zoo and 9 per cent for Nuts. But the magazine that recorded the biggest sales plummet, with readers deserting it in droves, was Loaded, which suffered a 35 per cent drop in circulation from the same period last year.

Here are some before Loaded and after Loaded GQ front covers:


First Issue of GQ Cover

The first ever issue of GQ with politician Michael Hesseltine on the cover
1991 GQ Cover with Major
A 1991 GQ cover with Prime Minister John Major

GQ 1999 Cover

GQ 1999 had long since revoked on its promise never to put nude women on its cover


June 2008 Cover

The recent GQ practice does seem to be having near naked intelligent women on the cover, which supports Cochrane's arguments


Web Comments on Lifstyle (notes)


At the end of the day, magazines are about communities of interest, whether professional or lifestyle driven. If magazines keep that driving mantra in mind, and use the Web for all its is worth, things could begin to look brighter and bigger on the monetary side soon. (Magazines Online: A Brief EssayBy Rafat Ali - Sun 09 Sep 2007)


THE teenage lifestyle magazine market is in “serious decline”, with ABC results next week expected to reveal a significant fall in circulation numbers, according to industry sources.

The findings will be released just days after Emap, the media group, closed Sneak, the teenage celebrity gossip magazine, conceding that teenagers were now getting their showbiz news on the internet. Smash Hits magazine was also closed by Emap six months ago after 30 years in business. (August 12, 2006)

ABC Case Study on 89 Magazine


Webliography

Times September 2006 on Men's Weeklies challenging the Monthlies

Cultures of Masculinity Google extract of book by Tim Edwards

Guardian on top Ten Lifestyle mags of 2006

Environment and planning D:  Making Sense of Men's Lifestyle Magazines

BBC launch Pre-Teen Lifestyle Magazine Amy 2006

UK Youth Lifestyle magazines

ABC consumer Lifestyle Magazine Report 2006

Representations of Gender in Lifestyle Magazines

Intelligent Life is the new quarterly magazine offering from The Economist, a lifestyle magazine that, says the accompanying blurb "will be more than just a catalogue of the things for readers to buy". Oops. From Guardian Organgrinder.

Interview: Sarah Joseph, Emel magazine (Evening Standard) Sarah Joseph edits Britain's only Muslim lifestyle magazine. She says it can help show there is more to Islam than prayer and politics. By David Rowan

A2 Media Studies notes on Gender and Magazines


Marketing tosh from brandlab UK about Men's Lifestyle Mags

Green Lifestyle Magazine (Consume in order not to consume? )

Ethnic diversity in UK Media

April 30, 2006 Site test: Havens for busy women

Design Week Mag-Power

'Intelligent Life', an offshoot of the renowned title, aims to be warm, people-centred and philanthropic. Ian Burrell reports.  The Independent September 2007

David Gauntlett, Media, Gender and Identity:An Introduction. Review in Journal of Consumer Culture

Laurei Taylor on consumer culture BBC Thinking Aloud

Bibliography

Benwell Bethan (Ed)  Masculinity and Men's Lifestyle Magazines. Oxford: Blackwell

Horsley Ross.  Men’s Lifestyle Magazines and the Construction of Male Identity. PhD thesis which can be downloaded in its entirety.



March 17, 2008

Humphrey Jennings (1907–1950)

Humphrey Jennings (1907-1950)

Under Construction  

One always hopes - without too much presumption - that one is helping to keep the work alive...Yet as the years pass these films, which should be familiar to every schoolboy and girl in the country, seem to be seen and known by fewer and fewer people. (Lindsay Anderson, cited Drazin 2007 p 159-60.)

Jennings Swiss Roll

Above Humphrey Jennings' Swiss Roll which is in the Tate collection

Introduction

It is only recently that there has been some attention paid to the legacy of Humphrey Jennings yet many consider him to be one Britain’s best filmmakers if not the best yet the medium of documentary shorts that he worked in doesn’t gain the attention of the more flamboyant aspects of feature film narrative cinema. It was gratifying to find a comment which I very much agree with in book which arrived yesterday by Charles Drazin (2007) who draws attention the the fact that Sir Dennis Foreman who was director of the BFI in the early 1950s put on an exhibition of British films for the Italian government showing only Jennings films. Foreman reported that:

The Italians were absolutely stunned. They said "This is neorealism 10 years before we invented it"' (Foreman cited in Drazin 2007 p160)

Jennings was renowned for his very ‘poetic’ style of documentaries. Jennings studied English at Cambridge working as a poet and painter specialising in surrealism. 1934-36 he worked as a designer, editor and actor at the GPO Film Unit. Jennings was one of the least likely people to be in the British Documentary Movement given that’s its style of documentary realism was very distant to the sort of activities Jennings participated in. His restless eclecticism meant his energies were spread across a range of activities. Jennings partook in intellectual activities and was a poet, painter, critic, an organiser of the 1936 International Surrealist Exhibition which famously featured Salvador Dali speaking in a deep-sea diving outfit. In 1936 he also founded the Mass Observation Movement with two others. On top of all this he was a film maker.

Jennings: from GPO to Crown Film Unit  

In 1936 he was one of the three founders of the Mass Observation movement along with Madge and Harrison. In 1939 he made Spare Time for the GPO film unit. It was only around ten minutes long yet its Kazoo band scene is highly memorable for Jennings’ more than almost any other film maker was able to capture the surrealism of everyday pastimes in which strange juxtapositions and ‘found objects’ are but a natural cultural occurrence.

During the war he made many ‘propaganda’ documentaries including London Can Take It!, Words for Battle (1941), Listen to Britain (1942) as shorts. His full length drama documentaries were Fires Were Started (1943), The Silent Village (1943) reconstructing the destruction of the Czech village of Lidice by the Nazis. Diary for Timothy was shot in 1944 and the beginning of 1945.

MacDougall has commented that documentaries influenced by the Grierson School had been the film maker confronting reality rather than exploring the process of reality as a ‘flow of events’. They could be seen as a style of synthesis which used images to develop an argument or impression. In this style comments MacDougall:

Each of the discrete images... was the bearer of a predetermined meaning. They were often articulated like the images of a poem, juxtaposed against an asynchronous soundtrack of music or commentary. Indeed poetry was sometimes integral to their conception, as in the The River (Lorentz, 1937), Night Mail (Wright and Watt, 1936), and Coalface, (Cavalcanti, 1936)”. (MacDougall in Nichols, 1985 p 277).

On this argument it can be seen that JenningsListen to Britain - for many his ‘masterpiece’- belongs to this sub-genre of documentary. Certainly it was entirely observational in attitude as might be expected from one of the founders of the Mass Observation Movement. It is also clearly a propaganda film but one with a ‘voice’ which is very different from the propaganda documentary of a Leni Riefenstahl. As Dalrymple who became head of the Crown Film Unit commented:

“When we make propaganda we tell, quite quietly, what we believe to be the truth. The Nazi method is to bellow as loudly and as often as possible, what they know to be absolutely and completely false…We say in film to our own people ‘This is what the boys in the services, or the girls in the factories, or the men and women in the civil defence, or the patient citizens themselves are like and what they are doing. They are playing their part…be of good spirit and go and do likewise.” (Dalrymple cited Aldrich and Richards 2007 p 219)


Listen to Britian 4

Above a range of stills from Listen to Britain. At the bottom the Queen listening to Dame Myra Hess playing Mozart in the National Gallery which is bereft of pictures as they have been sent to the safety of old slate mines.

Whilst the approach of Dalrymple is clearly very patronising towards the ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ it is also a denial of the myth-making of national ideologies that is essential to a propaganda agenda - where propaganda can be taken to be having specific aims and objectives or a strong preferred reading. What is especially interesting about Jennings’ wartime output is how they tended to avoid making direct reference to the Nazis altogether the fact that the Queen was in the National Portrait Gallery listening to a concert of German composers strongly signified an internationalism not an anti-German position. In Listen to Britain, Britain effectively became the defender of the civilised world for at the time it was made Britain and Greece which was about to fall were the only two European countries not under Nazi control apart from neutral countries. One must remember at that moment the Hitler – Stalin pact was still in force. But what Dalrymple said can certainly be applied to Listen to Britain for Jackson (2003) points out it is ‘free of these Riefenstahlian properties’ (bombast, overblown rhetoric and melodramatic theatricality). It seems to be commonly accepted that his wartime output were probably his best films.

"Voice" in Documentary

Bill Nichols suggests that as the documentary has developed one of the major contests between different forms has been centred upon the question of “voice”. “Voice” he argues is a narrower concept than style. It gives a sense of the text’s social point of view and of how the materials are organised to present the materials. Therefore “voice” isn’t restricted simply to one code or feature - spoken commentary for example: “Voice is perhaps akin to that intangible, moiré-like pattern formed by the unique interaction of all a film’s codes, and it applies to all modes of documentary”. (Nichols.B, 1985, p 260-61).

Nichols points out that very few documentary filmmakers are prepared to accept that “through the very tissue and texture of their work that all film making is a form of discourse fabricating its effects, impressions and point of view”. JenningsListen to Britain is clearly a documentary form which isn’t reflexive in the way that the work of Dziga Vertov is and is clearly in a different ‘voice’. Man With a Movie Camera isn’t merely a symphony to the modern industrial city, or modernity in general it is modernistic in its reflexivity about the very making of a film itself as well as incorporating audience and exhibition. By comparison Jennings’ work has a deeply poetic quality which seduces the viewer. With strong justification the filmmaker and critic Lindsay Anderson described Jennings as “the only real poet the British cinema has yet produced

Pat Jackson another director who was working with the Crown Film Unit at the time described him as a painterly director:

It was terribly like a painter in a way; it wasn’t a storyteller’s mind. I don’t think the dramatic approach to a subject, in film really interested him very much. It was an extension of the canvas for him. Patterns, abstractions appealed to him enormously, and those are what people remember most you know”. (Jackson cited Aldgate and Richards 2007 p 220)

Jennings went to Germany in 1945/46 and made the short documentary A Defeated People (1946)

The film is an excellent piece of visual reporting, ably assembled and edited with a pointed and impartial commentary. There is no attempt to work up pity for the Germans, only a desire that we should realise what the war they started has brought back to them on recoil. The film ends with shots of children dancing in their schools, alternated with shots of German judges being sworn in to administer justice in the new Germany of democratic control. (Monthly Film Bulletin review March 1946)

Jennings' Postwar Period 

Many suggest that his post-war period was less fruitful than during the war where he reached the height of his powers. Jennings’ last film before his tragic fatal accident falling of a cliff in Poros Greece whilst doing location work for a film was a documentary short for the Festival of Britain in 1951. Graeme Hobbs in a MovieMail review describes it as follows:

a film ‘on the theme of the Festival of Britain’, it is propaganda for the nation that urges the nourishment of tolerance, courage, faith, discipline and mutual freedom. Jennings’ central conceit is that the fabric of the nation takes its texture a mixture of poetry and prose, the poetry of imagination combining with the prose of industry and engineering, with its culmination coming in an invention such as a ship’s radar, which perfectly matches the two. Jennings took his cue for the theme from one of the Festival displays, that of the Lion and the Unicorn symbolising the two main qualities of the national character, ‘on the one hand, realism and strength, on the other, fantasy, independence and imagination.

Conclusion  

Seemingly Jennings was always engaging with the enigma that is the ‘national’ character. Certainly he was never patronising towards those he represented and he carried his brilliance lightly able to empathise with his subjects who were ordinary people well before the Italian neo-realists started to carry out their post-war aesthetic approach. Arguably Jennings was a neorealist in methods before his time his content was far more poetic represented than Rossellini’s and was probably a more powerful representation of nation and a call for unity than a film such as Paisa. Hopefully Jennings will not always remain so under-recognised and hopefully he will be inspirational to new film makers who could do worse than to study Jennings closely.

Filmography

  1. The Changing Face of Europe (1951) (segment 6 "The Good Life")
    ... aka The Grand Design (UK)
  2. Family Portrait (1950)
    ... aka A Film on the Theme of the Festival of Britain 1951 (UK: subtitle)

  3. The Dim Little Island (1949)
  4. The Cumberland Story (1947)
  5. A Defeated People (1946)
  6. A Diary for Timothy (1945)
  7. Myra Hess (1945)
  8. The Eighty Days (1944)
  9. V. 1 (1944)
  10. The Silent Village (1943)
  11. Fires Were Started (1943)
    ... aka I Was a Fireman
  12. The True Story of Lilli Marlene (1943)
  13. Listen to Britain (1942)
  14. The Heart of Britain (1941)
  15. This Is England (1941)
  16. Words for Battle (1941)
  17. London Can Take It! (1940) (uncredited)
    ... aka Britain Can Take It!
  18. Spring Offensive (1940)
    ... aka An Unrecorded Victory
  19. Welfare of the Workers (1940)

  20. Cargoes (1939)
  21. The First Days (1939)
    ... aka A City Prepares (UK)
  22. Spare Time (1939)
  23. S.S. Ionian (1939)
    ... aka Her Last Trip
  24. Design for Spring (1938)
  25. English Harvest (1938)
  26. The Farm (1938)
  27. Making Fashion (1938)
  28. Penny Journey (1938)
  29. Speaking from America (1938)
  30. Farewell Topsails (1937)
  31. Locomotives (1934)
  32. Post-haste (1934)
  33. The Story of the Wheel (1934)

Webliography

Only Connect: some aspects of the work of Humphrey Jennings: Lindsay Anderson on Humphrey Jennings: Sight & Sound, Spring 1954

Screeonline Biography of Humphrey Jennings  

Channel Four. Humphrey Jennings: The Man Who Listened to Britain

British Film Resource page on Humphrey Jennings  

Guardian: Derek Malcolm on Humphrey Jennings

Kevin Jackson in the Guardian on Humphrey Jennings

Humphrey Jennings The Man who Listened to Britain. Channel Four documentary available on DVD

Telegraph on Jennings 2007. "True Poet of Cinema"

English Heritage awards Jennings a Blue Plaque. (Recognition at Last).

Simon Garfield on his book Our Hidden Lives about the Mass Observation Movement 

The Mass Observation Movement archive

Film Quarterly, Vol. 15, No. 2, Special Humphrey Jennings Issue (Winter, 1961-1962)

Guardian: The Buried Secrets of British Cinema  

BBC The Film Programme Radio 4. You can download a Realplayer file here of a discussion with Kevin Jackson Biographer of Jennings 

BBC David Puttnam on Movies With a Message. You can download a Realplayer talk here on Diary for Timothy

Radio Prague pages in English on Lidice and Jennings portrayal of the Nazi massacre there. Many Associated links.  

Bibliography 

Aldgate, Anthony and Richards, Jeffrey.2nd Ed. 2007.   Britain Can Take It: British Cinema in the Second World War. London: I. B Tauris

Jackson, Kevin (ed.) 1993. The Humphrey Jennings Film Reader. Manchester: Carcanet

Jennings, Humphrey (ed.).1987. Pandaemonium. London: Picador

Jennings, Mary-Lou (ed.)1982.  Humphrey Jennings: Film-maker, Painter, Poet. London: British Film Institute

Lovell, Alan and Hillier, Jim. 1972 Studies in Documentary. London: British Film Institute/Secker and Warburg,

Nowell-Smith, Geoffrey. 1986. 'Humphrey Jennings: Surrealist observer'. In Charles Barr (ed.). All Our Yesterdays (London: British Film Institute,

Orwell, George, 'The Lion and the Unicorn', in Sonia Orwell (ed.) Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell. Volume 2 (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1970)

Russell, Patrick. 2007. 100 British Documentaries. London: BFI


February 09, 2008

Senso, 1954. Dir. Luchino Visconti

Senso, 1954. Dir. Luchino Visconti

(Original run-time 121 minutes)


Links to Visconti's historical films The Leopard and The Damned


Senso Poster





Introduction


Senso was the first feature film Visconti made after Bellissima (1951). Already Bellissima had been accused of breaking with the precepts of neorealism but this was nothing to the criticism which Senso received. Senso has been seen by noted critics such as Richard Dyer and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith as extremely important film. Despite this the film was beaten by the more commercially 'art' oriented La Strada at the Venice Film Festival that year. Richard Dyer voted for it as a top ten critics choice film for the BFI and Nowell-Smith (2003) when introducing the film comments that:

... Senso is beyond question one of the greatest, and also the most Viscontian, of all Visconti's films.

As with much of Visconti's work there was a battle with the censors. The film was a critique of the dominant discourse and creation of the triumphalists myths surrounding the Risorgimento fight for unification of Italy. A key scene which would have helped show that the Risorgimento was a also a popular movement was cut. As a result as Marcus (1986) notes this "succeeded in removing the film's true revolutionary sting". The currently available Optimum DVD is only 116 minutes long whilst the original running time of the film was 121 minutes long. The original version shown in the UK was little more than 90 minutes long! In order for the film to be able to represent its main thrust the missing scenes are crying out for restoration.

Senso is the first of three films which deal with European nationalism very directly the others being The Leopard (1963), and The Damned (1969). By linking these three films together based upon analysing their underlying theme of European nationalism and its effects upon the social structure of modernity it is beginning to read Visconti's ouevre differetly to Bacon (1998) for example who categorises Senso along with The Leopard as straightforwardly films of the Risorgimento. Whilst this is self-evidently the case Visconti was too powerful a thinker to stop there. Much of the rest of his work was concerned with various elements of exposing the various power structures within society and there was a continual level of conflict and tension expressed between the nation state and the rise and decline of older empires and newer governmental forms.  

Senso explores the myth underlying the unification stories of the Risorgimento in the years leading to the the removal of the Austrian Empire from its control of much of Northern Italy. The Leopard goes back to a slightly earlier time in 1860 when the Bourbons are ejected from Sicily. In 1866 when the events of Senso are taking place a revolt in Palermo is crushed on orders from the government of Italy based at the time in Turin.  In Senso the potential for a popular movement is effectively denied by those in command of the Italian forces although a key scene is censored which clearly shows this.  Both these films show the complicity, compromises and collusion and processes of hegemony taking place amongst the fractured ruling elites. Nationalism can still be seen as progressive in the Marxist sense of modernity ushering in a more dynamic social order. By comparison The Damned can be seen as a closure on Visconti's artistic explorations into European nationalism which as I argue elsewhere can clearly be seen as Visconti's critique of the limits of nationalism and the dead end which it ultimately leads to at a structural level within society.


Plot Summary

The plot is very different from the book which it is nominally based upon by the writer Boito. The opening scene takes place in La Fenice the Opera House in Venice in 1866 just a few months before the Veneto is freed from the control of the Austrian Empire.

The opera being enacted is Verdi's Il trovatore where the third act is coming to a climax. The mounting tension on stage and the the declarations of being prepared to fight to the death are enhanced by the chorous shouting All 'armi, All 'armi (to arms, to arms). This defiance is mirrored in the audience as the audience is shown bundles of leaflets being passed forwards to those wanting to resist the Austrian occupation.

Suddenly a rain of green, white and red leaflets flutter down from the balconies onto the Austrian officers who are sitting in the best stalls. Small sprays of flowers of the same national colours are thrown or warn by the women on their dresses.  an Austrian officer makes a disparaging remark about that was the way the Italians like to resist occupations- through bunches of flowers and leaflets. He is challenged to a duel by an Italian. The officer is Franz and the Italian spectator Ussoni who is a leader of the underground resistance.

Austrian Officers at the Opera

In the opening scene at La Fenice the Austrian officers have the best seats at the opera whilst the Italian elites are at the back and in the balconies. They are soon to rain down leaflets on the unsuspecting Austrians 


The Marquis Ussoni is the cousin of Livia the Countess of Serpieri who is in a loveless marriage to a man much older than her. Serpieri it turns out is just an aristocratic opportunist happy to change sides from Austria to Italy when it becomes increasingly clear who is going to win control of the Veneto. Franz uses his position to ensure that Ussoni rather than fighting a duel is exiled for Franz has no interest in duelling: like Livia he prefers his melodrama onstage rather than offstage.  

Livia and Ussoni at La Fenice

Livia is with Ussoni at La Fenice after he has made a challenge to a duel to Franz. Here he is looking for a way out. Livia has told him how foolish he was to raise his head above the parapet. Here it is obvious that Livia's personal concerns are not reflected in Ussoni's mindset. Any desire is inevitably a chaste one.



Livia has professed an interest in meeting Franz who has a reputation for being very handsome, ostensibly this meeting is to help out Ussoni but one can sense an ambivalence. Soon after Ussoni is exiled Livia and Franz become lovers. However the war is coming increasingly nearer. Franz is posted to the front and the Count Serpieri takes Livia to their summer villa to avoid the fighting. Before they leave Livia is summoned to an address where she meets up with Ussoni who is planning an uprising. Ussoni charges her with the safekeeping of some funds in order to supply the rebels at a later date.

A while later Franz breaks into the villa and seeks refuge with Livia who hides him. The discussion is moved around to the possibilities of Franz being able to bribe a doctor to get himself discharged from the army. To do this Livia betrays the nationalist cause and gives Franz the money and jewels intended for the rebels. In the process of this the audience is shown what Livia cannot see; the expression on Franz's face is one of pure opportunism. He has enjoyed Livia, but love isn't part of the equation for him. 

Franz then manages to bribe his way out of the army and sends a note to Livia. Livia can't bear to be emotionally imprisoned in her marriage any longer and makes a dangerous journey to find Franz. When she arrives she is greeted by a decadent and dissolute Franz who is drunk and with a prostitute. Franz regales her with unpleasantries forcing her to leave. Livia reports him for desertion to the Austrian army. Franz is arrested and summarily executed. The last we see of Livia is her slowly walking in the shadows shouting Franz out loud.


A Gramscian History of the Risorgimento

The plot outline tells us little of the importance of the film which seeks to historicize the Risorgimento in an entirely different way to the official hisories of the period. this also opened up the possibility for audiences to mount a critique of the postwar situation in Italy which had failed to enact any genuine transformation in the class relationships of society. With its main target audience being Italians often with a lot of basic knowledge about the Risorgimento this was an ambitious film.  The film was a target of the censors and had many critics from both the right and the left of the political spectrum. Whilst the criticisms from the Right were to be expected the ones from the left showed up the limitations of the left-wing imaginary of the time.

Key critical opponents of the film were Zavattini and Chiarini who took a fundamentalist approach to the neorealist ethic. For them  Senso was a total betrayal of neorealism as it eschewed the harsh moments of the present in a return to the past. As Marcus notes:

...neorealism constitutes the absolute standard against which Senso is measured and found wanting, by Chiarini and Zavattini who fault Visconti for abandoning the modern subject matter and stylistic transparency of the postwar school. (Marcus 1986 p 171)

The left-wing critic Aristarco on the other hand defended the film arguing that Senso represented an extension and evolution of neorealism. Rather than negring neorealism it marked the return to realism proper in the 19th century sense of the term. In reality Aristarco is effectively accusing neorealism of being a surface aesthetic rather than an aesthetic which is probing below the surface to explore the social forces which shape society throwing up various social forms which can be either recorded or analysed. This was a return of the old argument between the French Naturalists (Zola for example) and the Realists.

Chiarini however took the position that neorealism's immediacy contained a moral imperative which raised public consciousness about social conditions and could help formulate policy change.  Both neorealism and the sense of postwar social solidarity which welcomed Rome Open City(1945 ) was long since past. The reality was that neorealist films had frequently failed in the box office and failed therefore to capture the popular imagination. In the meantime a right-wing government supported by the Americans and the British and the promise of Marshall Aid had been installed some time before the release of Senso. Chiarini and Zavattini were seemingly driven by a head in the sand idealism.

It is here that Visconti's Marxism comes to the fore because Senso in its very essence is a recognition of the importance of history and who controls and owns history. History for Visconti was a powerufl ideological tool in the control of the intellectual elites. It was Gramsci's recognition of the importance of creating working class or organic intellectuals who could challenge the hegemonic ideas of the elites which was one of the factors driving Visconti. At the level of aesthetics and how it worked with politics he had been increasingly convinced by the Lukacsian arguments about the realist and its role in exposing class relations.

Visconti's relationship to Lukacsian thought is crucial when it comes to the construction of his characters. Here it is important to develop a 'type'. Lovell (1980) notes that :

The most appropriate type of character, for purposes of typicality, is neither the statistical average nor the great hero, but an unexceptional individual caught at the centre of conflicting social and political forces. (Lovell, 1980 p 71) 

Lovell cites Lukacs directly and whilst we can think about this in relation to the novel it seems pertinent to suggest that this is the problematic that Visconti was wrestling with when he reinvents the character of Livia in quite a different way to the character originally envisaged by Boito who wouldn't fit the 'type' very well:

The problem is to find a central figure in whose life all the important extremes in the world of the novel converge and around whom a complete world with all its vital contradictions can be organised. (Lukacs: Writer and Critic cited Lovell 1980 p 71)
The Role of Women in the Age of Bourgeois Nationalism

Feminist historians have noted that in the 19th century rise of nationalism women were ususally excluded from the bid for more democratic rights based upon the nation state for those who could be classed as citizens. Women in the rise of Greek nationalism were largely chattels and baby-bearers of potential new citizens (women got the right to vote in 1952 in Greece and in Italy in 1945). Of course in the 19th century no women had a vote anywhere except New Zealand in 1893.


Livia and Franz at the Opera

Franz (Farley Granger) meets Livia (Allida Valli) for the first time at La Fenice. Livia wishes to negotiate with him over thefate of Ussoni who has challenged him to a duel


Bearing this in mind it is worth thinking about this in relation to the character of Livia the Countess. Livia by being a woman is largely sidelined from the great political and social causes of the day. She is in a typical arranged aristocratic marriage to a much older man, which is loveless and even childless. As a woman she is little more than a chattel, after all the progressive nationalist movement of the day says nothing about the position of women in society, why should she care? Rather she is at the mercy of emotional whims. Her admiration of her cousin might well be sexual as much as it is based upon someone who is an ideological doer. But at heart it is an nationalist ideology which effects her little. She has no great antipathy towards Austrians otherwise why after the protest in the opera house would she wish to meet a handsome Austrian officer, and with her husband she is continually in the company of Austrians. She is part of a more internationalist aristocracy.

On their first meeting Franz quickly establishes that he isn't an idealogue, melodrama on the stage is best kept where it is not extended into real life he points out.  Livia is quickly attracted to him becuase of his easy going ways and his attentiveness to her. By comparison the only times we see Ussoni with her he is proclaiming in a melodramatic way that it is the nation and if necessary death which must come first. Franz is a romantic of sorts but not a Byronic one, for courtly love as Marcus points out has a strong code in which the male must:

...be a warrior as well as a suitor, spurred onto deeds of military prowess by the desire to please his lady. (Marcus 1986 p 177)


In this sense there is a sense of decline and decay between the lovers and when Franz exempts himself from the virile world of the military he loses all the things in life which structure his identity, romantic love cannot exist outside of time and reality it is based in a materiality which is income based and class based. Franz has lost both. Unlike Boito's original novella which is an 'ahistorical love story' (Marcus 1986), Visconti's version lives up to Lukacs' definitions of the historical novel where suggests Marcus:

the personal destinies of a number of human beings coincide and interweave within the determining context of an historical crisis. (Marcus, 1986 p 178)


The issue of gender and nationalism has been effectively highlighted in this this film although perhaps at an unconscious level. Livia as a synechdoche for women as well as a de facto member of the aristocracy through father and then husband is counterpoised to the the nationalism of Ussoni who fits in with the description of nationalism provided by Anthony Smith:

The concept of nation, then, is not only an abstraction and invention, as is so often claimed. It is also felt, and felt passionately, as something very real, a concrete community, in which we may find some assurance of our own identity and even, through our descendents, of our immortality. But transcending death is what the world religions sought in their different ways; so, we may ask, does this not make of nationalism some latterday religion in secular disguise? (Smith 1998p 140)


Compare Smith's analysis with the comments of Ussoni in the scene where he unceremoniously places the funds raised for the partisans into Livia's care. Livia, please note, wasn't overkeen but wasn't given an opportunity to refuse:

...we must forget ourselves...Italy's at war...It's our war...our Revolution



senso_2.jpg

Above. After breaking into the country villa Franz is opportunistically throwing himself on Livia's sense of love and fear for him.


Livia is torn between a betrayal of trust and her own individual desires, for events have unfurled in a way which she could not have imagined. But in the end she undergoes little in the way of personal risk for she is a member of the aristocracy and she is allowed to pass by both sides to reach her lover. Franz has an historical premonition of the passing of the Austrian elite to which he belongs, also a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. By comparison Livia effectively survives the chain of events because we are always given a voice over. We can assume that she goes back to her husband chastened by the course of events at least at the level of the emotions. Serpieri of course has switched sides, at no time is the position of Livia fundamentally threatened in the film. Her romantic gesture of running away to her lover was flung back in her face. She is embedded in a social structure as much as Franz. Marcus points this out very effectively:

...the primacy of the Livia-Franz plot over the Livia-Ussoni one constitutes a Gramscian criticism of the Risorgimento in melodramatic terms. (Marcus  1986 p 185)

In Marcus' estimate Livia is introduced to the audience 'on a moral pedestal so lofty that her decline occasions surprise as well as distaste'. (Marcus p 181). However on reading the film more closely this is perhaps being overly judgemental of Livia for as stated earlier her position is a weak one, she is dependent upon men and is married to one who is uninterested in her. Marcus here seems to be almost identifying with the nationalist cause because Livia really her 'fall' only comes when she uses the monies for her own purposes. But as a woman she has no money of her own.

When Livia asks for an introduction to the officer on the grounds of the fact that all the young women are talking about Franz. At this point given that she has kissed a nationalist bouquet we can imagine that this is a cover in order to get her cousin out of trouble but we could take it as a sign of ambivalence. Ussoni is told off by her for being entirely foolhardy jeopardising his own position and others by his over-reaction to a trite insult. In contradisinction to Anthony Smith's almost impassioned plea Livia doesn't feel the nationalism of her cousin passionately at all, it is the attraction to her cousin which is the dominant concern as Nowell-Smith makes clear:

Her (Livia's) devotion to the cause is personal, and she betrays it becuase sexual passion has more power over her than devoted admiration and friendship. But her attraction to Franz has its own social motivation. Through it she realises a nostalgic longing for the lover to whom as a member of her class she was entitled, but never had. Against this patriotism has nothing to offer......It is not a cause which can fully satisfy her aspirations or appease her regrets. (Nowell-Smith, 2003 p 70)


Here we see a marked difference in approach between Nowell-Smith and Marcus. Livia is rebellious but there is nowhere to go she cannot escape history or society as an isolated individual. As the film progresses her uneasy position between all the conflicting male elements which is apparent in the opening theatre scene becomes more apparent. Gradually she becomes more and more isolated with the acardian villa leaving her only with the complicit maid to support her. Stealing the money means that she will become totally isolated from the partisan struggle and physically she will become isolated from her lover. In this scene she is faced with the core contradiction which the film is building up to: she must sacrifice herself  for the nationalist cause and betray her lover who it appears is the only person ever to have brought her true joy. The alternative is that she must sacrifice Franz to a likely death or serious injury on the battlefield. It is here that Visconti turns to melodrama in ordr to highlight the importance of the scene, there can be no turning back from here: which must she reject?

Nowell-Smith importantly points out that one cannot legitimately equate the position of Franz with that of Livia. Franz knows that his Austrian Empire is teetering and on the wane: his tirade against Livia is as much a bitter recognition of this passing, a Byronism turned sour suggests Nowell-Smith. Franz is genuinely a decadent he argues. Nowell-Smith  points out that the poitiions of Livia and Franz aren't comparable, however his comment about Livia having 'a freedom to abuse' rather goes against the structured role as a woman caught between patriarchal forces:

He is quite clearly seen as a representative of a dying class. she represents nothing so simple. Her character is all her own, and the conflicting external determinations that work on her are not sufficient to fix her in any mould. At least she has the freedom to abuse, which Franz never has. (Nowell-Smith 2003 p 69)


The representation of women in Visconti's films is seriously underwritten: instead critics focus on Visconti's homosexuality and his aristoctratic background. It would of course be foolish to ignore Visconti's homosexuality and there is little doubt that it played a role in his filming and also in his understandings of sexual politics in general, an area in which more work needs to be done. Nowell-Smith (2003 p 214) points out that almost all of his films are about the family and that only in Bellissima does the family emerge in strengthened form. Senso is one of those films which can be read as a critique of the bourgeois family. 

Visconti's representations of women are extremely important. On the grounds that critics have endlessly discussed Visconti's aristocratic background one might well ascribe his representations of women to his relationship with his mother which was a very positive one. His mother came from a bourgeois industrialist's background and marriage to Visconti's father brought the wealth necessary for him to carry on with his aristocratic ways including his philandering. It would appear that Visconti's mother was a vehicle for the transfer of money just as Angelica was in The Leopard.

Visconti fequently represents prostitutes and prostitution.  For Visconti sexual relations frequently centre around money and power. Just as Livia gets to hold the purse strings -albeit temporarily- in Senso so does Giovanna in Ossessione. Franz in Senso and Gino in Ossessione both then turn to prostitutes to assert their masculinity and illusory control. But the women are punished for breaking the male codes. Visconti is clear that under capitalist society women are extremly repressed. Certainly prostitution is seen as something which women have little choice but to turn to occasionally, as did Giovanna before she married Bragana in Ossessione. There is a Marxist analysis of family relationships which runs through Visconti's work as well as more straightforward themes of class and history, nationalism and its historically determined failures. It is a theme which will be returned to in the future.  


Demythologising the Risorgimento

A core preferred meaning for Visconti's Senso was to demythologise the Risorgimento and to draw parallels to present day Italy.  Several projected scenes were censored because Visconti was going far too close to the bone of the official versions of history. Coming at a time when the Italian right had managed to reimpose their political control an influential film-maker such as Visconti wasn't going to be given much leeway. Whilst the position of the Serpieris explains the opportunism of many of the aristocrats as well as some of the issues around the relationship of women to the nationalist project it is in the figure of Ussoni that many of the most poignant political issues revolve around.

A question posed by Nowell-Smith was whether Visconti was posing a double question, suggesting on the one hand that the attempts to change Italian post-war society had failed in a similar way to those of the popular movement of mythology around the Risorgimento. An alternative take was even more radical: whether the failure of the Risorgimento to install a proper popular government which concerned all the people was a direct result of the ability of the new and old elites to create a hegemonic position which ensured that the working and peasant classes were largely left in the same poverty stricken position.  The position of poverty  is amply represented by later films such as Olmi's Tree of Wooden Clogs (1978) set in 1898, and also Bertollucci's 1900 (1976).

In Senso the position of the peasantry is made abundantly clear during the battle scenes based upon the Battle of Custoza. Whilst the peasants are going about their business transporting what appears to be hay on their carts the Italian army is racing about, forcing gun carriages past the carts of the peasants who are oblivious to the proceedings. It is a clear denial of the myth of a popular movement espousing all members of the  'community' who are according to Smith impassioned by the 'very real concrete community'. It was a point that Aristarco made in Visconti's defence as Bacon (1998) points out:

Politics of power continue but it doesn't bother them. It is as if they were saying: ' you do what you want gentlemen, it doesn't concern us. It's not our war.' (Aristarco in an interview with Bacon. Bacon 1998 p 81) 

Aesthetic objections to Senso and also Visconti's thorough way of working

But the Gramscian argument fails to address the most troublesome objection to Senso - that of its spectacular elements, which ally it with the more retrograde examples of prewar production... the criticism is hard to refute because it rest on the  assumption that  aesthetic form  determines  thematic content and that a luxurious , self-congratulatory style full of extracinematic conventions will necessarily compromise any aspirations the artis may have to  revolutionary meaning. Marcus 1986 p 187)

Marcus notes that despite the scepticism from many on the left side of the critical establishment Visconti's insistence that the mise en scene must be appropriate to the position of the class being represented eventually allowed a better critical reception for a newer generation of film makers such as Wertmuller, Bertollucci and Cavani.

It is difficult to think of any director who has had so many complaints about the expense and details of the sets. Whilst those who tried to adhere more strictly to what they understood as the fundamentals of neorealism which was closer to an ethnographic mode of filming the poor, Visconti had much greater artistic ambitions. Those who took on board Brechtian Marxist ideas would also have been less concerned with the verisimilitude of the sets for Brechtianism is a deliberately ascetic aesthetic approach.  Visconti's Marxism based upon Lukacsian realism was concerned with verisimilitude in its mise en scene indeed the precision demanded by Visconti in his sets was legendary, whether it was the dinner plates in The Leopard or the parquet flooring in The Damned. to try and get away from this sour and fruitless so-called critique of Visconti it is worth dwelling for a moment on his aesthetics and the poetics of his oeuvre.  

Viscontian Aesthetics & Poetics 

It is isn't popular to discuss the poetics of cinema or even its aesthetics yet these are fundamental aspects of cinema. Some aspects of Visconti's can be equated to that of Angelopoulos that other great film maker who has embedded his film making as a conscious effort to historicize and thus politicize the present, yet just as Visconti began to do later in his life so Angelopoulos became more distanced from politics. Later works in both directors take up elements of nostalgia. Here it is important to come to some definition of nostalgia for Visconti is frequently accused of being nostalgic about former aristocratic times. 

In an interview with Andrew Horton "What do our Souls Seek?" Angelopoulos explians how one night he was in the same building as Tarkovsky who was shooting the film Nostalgia at the time. Tarkovsky argued that it was a Russian word but in fact it comes from the Greek 'homecoming'. Angelopoulos then puts the notion of 'home' within a national context nevertheless he points out that home:

...is a place where you feel at one with yourself and the cosmos. It is not necessarily a real spot that is here or there. (Angelopoulos in Horton 1997 p 106)


Although Angelopoulos is usually associated with the modernism of Antonioni in particular the link to nostalgia is interesting:

...almost all the films, and the later ones most particularly, are suffused with a nostalgia for the family as an institution. (Nowell-Smith, 2003 p 214) 


Although the historical projects are different for Visconti explores particularly the mechanisms of history in a period of transition on the 1860s the search for 'home' is crucial for Visconti's leading characters live in a world of the unheimlich. Visconti is not at home in life any more than his characters are. Livia in Senso is plainly not at 'home'. In the conversation in the bedroom of the Venetian boarding house at the begining of the relationship  Livia wishes to step outside time which is very significant:

In their different ways, both Franz and Livia have attempted to step outside of history and to blind themselves morally, either by decision or deception, to the way they exploit other people in dedicating themselves to hedonism on his part, to romantic fantasies on hers. (Bacon, 1998 p 80)


History, Visconti seems to be saying, is a motor of change which is impossible to evade. Frequently that change is very limited despite all the underlying political idealism represented in Senso by Ussoni. In Ludwig, Ludwig's homosexuality combined with the duties and expectations of  kingship  place him  in an  'unhomely' position.  Perhaps a key difference between  Visconti's aesthetics and that of Angelopoulos is that the latter anchors much of his work within Greek culture particularly upon the myth of Odysseus. This gives his work a more spatial and geographical grounding than Visconti's which has far more interior work.  The return of the old Communist in the  Voyage to Cythera (1983) and the lack of recognition for him within a society which should have been 'home' plays with history in a different way but the situation is 'unhomely'. Visconti's aesthetic is more Proustian and Angelopoulos' more Brechtian in the ways they deal with time both also have an approach which is inevitably suffused with their own national cultures.

The richness of the Renaissance and the painterliness of Visconti's work is in sharp contradstinction to the distancing of Angelopoulos' camerawork and the highly stylised set-pieces which make the latter's work 'modernist' rather than 'realist', yet both are deeply engaged with historical processes. Just as Senso was a critical attack upon the canon of Risorgimento history so Travelling Players from Angelopoulos was a 'fundamental revision of Greek "official" history...' Georgakas 1997 p 29-30). Whilst the aesthetic forms are quite different, both directors chose to embed within their form an historicisation which opened up dominant discourses and also made the audience work. Angelopoulos seems to bridge the gap between Visconti's sense of aesthetics which are far more implicit compared to Godard's very explicit approach noted by Nowell-Smith again. Visconti chose to subvert the well established forms of melodrama and opera and in doing so was challenging well established audiences familiar with much of the content, for it must be remembered that in Italy even Gramsci recognised that opera played a very different role in the formation of a 'national popular' than it had in other countries.  The petulant criticisms of Visconti from the left failed to understand that art has many ways of challenging dominant norms not least through the handling of history. Visconti's contribution to embedding theories of history within his cinema has yet to be fully recognised just as his determination to combine realism with other older aesthetic forms such as melodrama great works of art which perhaps will come to be appreciated above those contributions of his contempories such as Fellini and Antonioni who will perhaps come to be seen as very much film makers of their time. 

In both aesthetic routes there seems to be a phenomenology of vision at work which can make many critics of all persuasions uncomfortable:

We are not usually aware that an unconscious element of touch is unavoidably concealed in vision; as we look, the eye touches, and before we even see an object we have already touched it. 'Through vision, we touch the stars and the sun', [10] as Merleau-Ponty writes. Touch is the unconsciousness of vision, and this hidden tactile experience determines the sensuous quality of the perceived object, and mediates messages of invitation or rejection, courtesy or hostility. (The Architectural Review  |  Date: 5/1/2000  |  Author: Pallasmaa, Juhani)


Interestingly Pallasmaa has completed a book on cinema and architecture The Architecture of Image: Existential Space in Cinema which includes chapters on the work of Tarkovsky and Antonioni - Having only had a very brief look at it it is something to return to. Through them we can examine the work of Angelopoulos in relation to history and also think about the existential meaning of the mise en scene in the work of Visconti for we must remember Visconti too has exterior spaces the dry dustiness of Sicily, the frozen alps and the arcadian pastoralism of northern Italy in summer. Architecture too is redolent with meaning in the work of Visconti. This could prove to be a fascinating area of comparison in terms of the social ontology of the characters who people the films. This phenomenology can also be thought of in terms of metaphor when we start to talk of "the feel" of a film or having 'the touch' of a certain director. Here we re-enter the debate about the auteur but that is for another day.  


Conclusion

Visconti  is arguably the film director who has treated history and the theory of history along with a discourse that recognises history to be an intellectual area of competing ideologies. Even Angelopoulos doesn't seem to have done that. Senso was the first of Visconti's great trilogy of films relating to history and arguably we can add his Ludwig into this a fourth historical film. Certainly all the four film: Senso, The Leopard, The Damned and Ludwig use family relations as a synechdoche for other features of societies in change. Whilst the treament may be a little different between them being more of a Verdian nature and moving towards a Chekovian one suggests Bacon (1998 pp 60-62).

This piece argues that there are great implicit depths to Visconti's work and one which I have started to tease out here is in relation to the position of women in Visconti's films and in particular there relationship to the 'great' events unfurling around them. Livia in Senso understands that  nationalism will really make little difference to her. This piece also recognises the importance of realism in its Lukacian sense to Visconti's project which is one designed with an Italian audience very much in mind. The piece also cross -references Visconti's handling of history to that of Angelopoulos another Mediterranean film maker who also started his film worl in France as did Visconti. There are some similarities between the two in terms of long films and the slowness of pace use of longer shots and longer takes, yet for all that there are large aesthetic differences between the two. Both in their own ways bring out the materiality of the surroundings, both are renowned perfectionists as well. There is certainly more room for comparison here however currently this will be difficult as most of Angelopoulos' films are currently unavailable in the UK. 


Of course there is much more that can be said about this film. For the interested reader Nowell-Smith, Marcus and Bacon all have differetn insights into the film and all come as recommneded reading. There is also a chapter on Senso in the Wallflower Press "The Cinema of Italy" which is a useful first stop.   

Notes on the Cinematography of Senso


Senso is unusual -to say the least- in that three cinematographers were involved. Nowell-Smith (2003 p 78) provides a full explanation. G.R. Aldo (Real Name Aldo Graziati) was Visconti's chosen cinematographer; sadly he died in a car crash before the films completion. Nowell-Smith notes that according to the published screenplay Aldo shot all the scenes in and around the Villa Valmara as well as the battle scenes and the retreat.

Robert Krasker was then hired. Krasker shot most of the rest of the film inluding the opening scene at La Fenice, most Venice exteriors, interiors of the Franz's lodgings, Livia's house, Ussoni's house and the home of the Austrian General in Venice.

Rotunno who had been the camera operator shot the executions scenes and 'a few bits and bobs'.

Nowell-Smith also notes that these cinematographers all had different ways of working resulting in a different feel.  Nowell-Smith defends Krasker's work in his shooting of La Fenice and the opening scenes suggesting that Krasker achieved exactly the effect needed by Visconti for these scenes:

Indeed, the use of different lighting effects, due to different cinematographers but co-ordinated by Visconti himself, is essential to the formal articulation of the film. Particular sequences and locations each have a tonality of their own, inspired often by different styles and genres of nineteenth-century painting.

Theses aspects of mise en scene in Visconti's work are incredibly important to in dpeth analysis of his multi-layered approach to meaning. Ivo Blom an art historian is currently working on many aspects of painting and its relationship to Visconti's films.

Film Crew

It is particularly worth noting that both:

  • Franco Rosi
  • Franco Zeffirelli 

were  assistants on this film just as they had both been Visconti's assistants on La Terra Trema (1948)

Cinematography 
Actors 
  • Alida Valli
  • Farley Granger
  • Massimo Girotti
  • Heinz Moog
  • Rina Morelli
  • Marcella Mariani
  • Christian Marquand


Screenwriters
  • Luchino Visconti
  • Suso Cecchi D'Amico
  • Carlo Alianello
  • Giorgio Bassani
  • Paul Bowles
  • Tennessee Williams


Links to Visconti's historical films The Leopard and the damned

Webliography

The entries below represent the best in English I could find on a Google search down to page 30. Very disappointing. It is clearly an underwritten and under watched film!

BFI gallery on Senso  

Visconti Website: Senso a Palimpsest

Luchino Visconti and the Italian Cinema Gianfranco Poggi Film Quarterly, Vol. 13, No. 3 (Spring, 1960), pp. 11-22. (JSTOR article needing the readies or instiutional access)

Luchino Visconti's "Musicism" Noemi Premuda International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music, Vol. 26, No. 2 (Dec., 1995), pp. 189-210. Another JSTORarticle with no buy option so instituional access required.

Useful site on a lecture series and screenings of Italian films representing the Risorgimento

Bibliography

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

Horton Andrew. 1997."What do our Souls Seek: An interview with Theo Angelopoulos". In Horton Andrew E. 1997. The Last Modernist: The Films of Theo Angelopoulos. Trowbridge: Ficks Books

Lovell, Terry. 1980. Pictures of Reality. London: British Film Institute

Marcus, Millicent: "Visconti's Senso The Risorgimento According to Gramsci". In Marcus, 1986. Italian Film in the Light of Neorealism. Princeton: Princeton University Press

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

Sellors, C. Paul. 2004. "Senso". In Bertellini, Giorgio ed,, 2004. The Cinema of Italy. London Wallflower


January 31, 2008

Nanni Moretti

Nanni Moretti (1953-)

Return to Italian directors hub page

Under construction 


Nanni Moretti


Filmography

(All bar Il caimano taken from Mazierska & Rascaroli. 2004. The Cinema of Nanni Moretti)
  • Il caimano (2006)
  • La stanza del figlio (The Son's Room, 2001)
  • Aprile (1998)
  • Il Giorno della prima di Close Up (1996 short)
  • L'unico paese al mondo (1994)
  • Caro diario (Dear Diary 1994)
  • La cosa (1990)
  • Palombella rossa (1989)
  • La messa è finita (1985)
  • Bianca (1983)
  • Ecce bombo (1978)
  • Io sono un autarchico ("I Am Self Sufficient", 1976)
  • Come parli, frate? (1994)
  • Pate de bourgeois (1973)
  • La sconfitta (1973)


Videos on Web



Extract from Caro Diario (Dear Diary) about visit to site of Pasolini's discovered body. 



Extract from Palombella rossa (1989) [In Italian no subtitles]


Webliography

Scope Review of The Son's Room

Independent on New Italian Directors

Nanni Moretti Darling of Italy BBC Story

Guardian on Nanni Moretti Interview 2001

Film Comment : Deborah Young on Moretti

Peter Byrne on Il Caimano.

Euroscreenwriters interview with Moretti

Analysis of Moretti's Caro Diario (Dear Diary)

Films currently available on DVD in UK (Very Few of course!)

Moretti interview on The Caiman


Psychoanalytic Analysis of The Son's Room in Psychomedia

Daily Telegraph on The Caiman

Marcus, Millicent: Caro Diario and the Cinematic Body of Nanni Moretti
Italica, Vol. 73, No. 2,
Film (Summer, 1996), pp. 233-247 doi:10.2307/479365.  You will need institutional access to this JSTOR article. (It is also available in Marcus 2002 see bibliography below)

World Socialist review of The Caiman

International Herald Tribune Moretti directs Turin Film Festival  

RAI International Online Biography of Nanni Moretti  

CineEuropea Interview with Nanni Moretti

BBC Interview with Moretti on The Son's Room

Sight and Sound Review Aprile  

Article in The Roman Forum on Nuovo Sacher independent cinema owned by Nanni Moretti 

Google Book Extract on Masculinity an Fatherhood in Aprile  (Book can be purchased from Wallflower Press

Senses of Cinema on The Son's Room  

American Cinematheque on Moretti

Toronto Film Festival The Caiman

Washington Post The Caiman Review

European Film Promotion: Jasmine Trinka Nanni Moretti chose her to play one of the leading roles in IL CAIMANO, which was in competition at the Cannes Film Festival 2006. On this occasion, she received the Chopard Trophy-Female Revelation.





Bibliography 


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

Marcus, Millicent. 2002. After Fellini: National Cinema in the Postmodern Age. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press

Mazierska & Rascaroli. 2004. The Cinema of Nanni Moretti. London: Wallflower Press





January 30, 2008

iPhone Bows to Winds of Recession

iPhone Bows to Winds of Recession

iphone_apple_logo.jpg

Who is going to be tempted by this little offer ?

Better deals for UK users of Apple's iPhone are being launched as operator O2 overhauls tariffs less than three months after the mobile hit the stores.

The lowest £35 monthly tariff is to offer about three times as many texts and minutes, while the current £55 deal will be cut to £45 from Friday.

In the US only two months after the iPhone's launch in July Apple slashed the price.  Obviously you don't this when sales are steaming ahead! Nevertheless  Apple tried to put a good face on the situation by announcing that it had sold one million iPhones keeping ahead of its target date of the end of September. 

The same thing is happening in Britain. Sales are obviously slowing fast after the busy Xmas period as the credit card bills come in and houses continue to decrease in value. O2 tried to put a good face on the situation according to the BBC: 

Sally Cowdry, O2 UK marketing director, said: "The iPhone is already our fastest ever selling device and this added value will allow us to appeal to an even greater segment of the market - it is an unbeatable proposition."

Just hang on what is this "added value"? Loads more texting? The people good at texting are my students: behind their backs, blindfolded, under the tables naturally they will all be rushing out to spend £280 to get more texts.....

People texting

Looks like iPhone is the top texting mobile !  

January 29, 2008

Music Industry Protectionism Stopped in its Tracks

Music Industry Protectionism Stopped in its Tracks

BBC CD Image

Excellent news for those concerned with the protection of privacy in a contemporary information society which everyday is developing into "surveillance society". The BBC reports that the EU's Court of Human Justice have ruled against a case brought by the Spanish music compan.

Internet service providers do not have to divulge the names of users suspected of illegally sharing music files, Europe's top court has ruled....
In rejecting the complaint of Spanish trade body Promusicae, the court sided with Spain's largest telecoms group, Telefonica.

Quite right too! The incursions of rabid commercialism have already gone far too far. The music industry has brought this crisis upon itself being the only media industry that has been prepared to condemn almost everybody who listens to music as a "pirate" quite frankly nobody beyond the music industry has ever taken its ludicrous cliams seriously. The reality is large international drugs companies who are usually accused of charging ludicrous prices for new drugs hqave a better case. They cannot protect their patents for very long before the generic drug companies are allowed to produce their own versions. By comparison purveyors of feuilltons are able to copyright these artefacts for decades. No wonder nobody takes this copyright stuff very seriously. Maybe architects and bricklayers should get paid for intellectual labour everytime someone opens the front door! The essence of popular musci which is what we are largely talking about is its immediacy, its sense of Zeitgeist. Try and control it too long and the underlying spectre of the real zeitgeist - commercialism- comes to the fore. 

It's a commercial Zeitgeist which is underpinned by the whingeing of the U2 manager Paul McGuiness:

The manager of rock band U2 has urged internet service providers (ISPs) to help end illegal music downloads, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Manager of rock dinosaurs U2 emulates Dinosaurus Metallicus

Just as Metallica were the music industry stooges in the battle against Napster so Paul McGuiness has decided to emulate this exersise in defacating upon naive fans. As the Financial Times reports McGuiness launched a tirade against ISPs and companies like Microsoft at the Midem rock music get togther in France. Naturally it was timed to conincide with the European Court of Justice ruling in a shameful attempt to try and influence natural justice commenting:

that they (the industry) had concerned themselves for too long with the small fries who organised illegal peer-to-peer file-sharing on the internet.

Desparately Seeking a Revenue Model (For the Champagne Lifestyle)

McGuigan suggested that there could be a productive partnership with ISPs in the future.

“For me the business model of the future is one where music is bundled into an ISP or other subscription service and the revenues are shared between the distributor and the content owners,” he said.

Of course you would have to buy into his ridiculous analogy of internet service providers being in some way responsible for spawning nations of thieves. Telecommunications lines, shipping lanes, roads and motorways are all arteries and those who build and maintain them  aren't responsible for the myriad of different agendas of the people who use them. I strongly suspect that many of the people in that conference have partaken in serious amounts of drugs around thier arterial highways. Drugs which are probably illegal in most countries and they would be the first to complain about having their pockets and luggage turned out or being under continuous surveillance yet they want this to be done to millions of ordinary people out of pure greed. 

The reality is most people think that musicians should be paid a reasonable amount of money but baulk at being ripped off by the industry which is more interested in profits than diversity. Why should they pay for this:

Normally, business at Midem is conducted from yacht to yacht, but seasoned veterans of the industry’s most prolonged schmooze have already detected a certain restraint in spending this year. Maybe it can be laid at the door of EMI. When Guy Hands of Terra Firma first gained entrance to the venerable institution, he declared it a mountain of waste. (Ben Fenton)

Webliography

U2 manager urges ISPs to help fight web piracy.By Ben Fenton in Cannes. Published: January 28 2008 22:45 | Last updated: January 28 2008 22:45

FT on Qtrax


January 28, 2008

The Model of the Music Industry Continues to Crumble

The Model of the Music Industry Continues to Crumble

There is no doubt that online piracy and file-sharing has decimated the recorded music industry, which has been struggling to find an alternative business model in order to meaningfully survive. Interstingly the Jazz and Classical markets appear to be less affected when it comes to downloading. Usually the audiences are olde, better off and fussier about the music quality. Currently there are few sites that allow customers to download music files which provide even the equivalent quality to CDs. Linn the hi-fi company is one of the few. It can even offer studio quality masters at a price. 

Global Music sales in 2007 fall by 10%

Leona Lewis
Leona Lewis helped boost online music downloads
Global music sales fell by an estimated 10% last year, despite the growing popularity of the digital music market, according to an industry report. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) said. This is despite the fact that music downloads rose by 40% in 2007.  

The organisation blames music piracy for the shortfall. It is calling on internet providers to disconnect people who repeatedly download illegally.

The (Music) Empire Fights Back  

Today was meant to see the launch of Qtrax which is an online only site which is going to allow visitors to listen to any of up to 30 million trqacks perfectly legally. This content would be paid for by advertising. Before every track ordered can be listened to the listener must undergo a barrage of advertising. Qtrax claim to have got the support of all the big four record companies:

But Warner, EMI and Universal all say they have not licensed their music. (BBC article)

Qtrax screen

Despite the hype Qtrax failed to meet its great opening on the announced day. checking it site today only got a beta version as announced in its logo.  There is a lot of opposition out there not least from Apple who do not wish Qtrax to become compatible with its iPods.

Qtrax Logo

More online shopping for music: not all deals are "good deals"!

Amazon has announced the international rollout of its digital music store. Already operating in the US customers can download music without any digital copying protection. Soon millions of songs will be sold without Digital Rights Management (DRM) software, allowing - for example - customers to burn their own CDs freely. Amazon says it is the only retailer to offer DRM-free MP3s for the four major record labels as well as thousands of independent record labels.  However this offers no real advantage over buying a CD  and has the disadvantage of  being recorded at a lower level of quality than a CD.

How far are the Music Industry's "Problems" of its own making? 

Perhaps the music industry needs an even more radical overhaul than just finding alternative models of making as much profit out of music as before. We have now entered the era of user generated content. Very high quality recodings of  music can be made relatively cheaply as the price of sophisticated recording technology continues to drop. But with most music downloads being listened to on inferior sound systems there seems to be little point in making huge efforts to provide such high quality original sound and "adding value" i.e. trying to put up the profit margin. People quite literally aren't buying into it. Sell a lot more music a lot more cheaply and have more bands working and cut out the super star celebrity bit. Instead lets just get back to the music and the culture that surrounds that music. 

The music industry has for decades being accusing the very people it relies upon for its existence as being 'pirates' or thieves. If people weren't feeling so ripped off and if music was sold at a fair price then it wouldn't be a problem.  Popular music by its very nature is ephemeral it belongs to the moment it is part of the Zeitgeist. Making more of it more available as the Zeitgeist moves would help profit, help the industry and provide audiences with what they want. The Music industry has failed the great test of all media enterprises: keep your audiences happy. what the media consumers are regualrly being accussed of thievery?

The shake up at EMI promises to cut a lot of the fat out of the music industry, it will be leaner, fitter and all the better for it, but it is still at its heart a celebrity / star model of music selling.

Branded Bands?

15 Jan 2008 - Could EMI's latest idea to get specific sponsorship for bands change the face of music in the future?The new boss of EMI, Guy Hands, has announced job losses of up to two thousand which is about aiming to save the label £200m a year. EMI was taken over by the private equity firm, Terra Firma, last summer but this new development about sponsorship suggests brands could become more involved with music. (My emphasis BBC)

Webliography

(Sorry this is work in progress at present)



January 21, 2008

Control: Anton Corbijn

Anton Corbijn

Anton Corbijn

Control, 2007: Anton Corbijn. (116 Mins, B&W)

This posting is currently acting as a hub site for the film Control which is being released on DVD on the 11th of Feb 2008 in the UK. As can be seen the film has won a range of crtiical accolages and as such is an interesting one to consider in relation to contemporary British Cinema. It belongs to a long line of Rock Biopics. It is the second film about Factory Records and the Mancunian music scene with Michael Winterbottom's 24 Hour Party People released in 2001. 

Trailer from YouTube 

Audience / Critical Reception

2007's best films
As voted by the Guardian's film writers

Friday December 7, 2007

1 Control
dir Anton Corbijn
What we said: "Control is a film about England, about music, about loneliness and love. There is melancholy in it, but also a roar of energy. I thought it might depress me. Instead, I left the cinema walking on air."
5 stars

Control Poster UK

Joy Division biopic scoops five prizes: Bleak tale of life and death of Ian Curtis wins best film and best director categories

Bristish Independent Film Awards (BIFA), 2007

BBC Cannes 2007 report on the reception for Control

BBC Joy Division Dominate Film Awards

Webliography 

Interviews

Control : BBC Collective Interview with Anton Corbijn

Control: Indie London Corbijn Interview

Control: Time Out Corbijn Interview 

Edinburgh International Film Festival Video Interview with Corbijn

Guardian discussion with the remaining band members

Reviews

Control is great, but where are the women? Guardian blog on Control

New Statesman on Control

Telegraph review of Control

Times Online Control Review

Comments from the Watershed on Control and Corbijn

Guardian Film Blog on Control

Guardian (Bradshaw) on Control

Other

On the set of Control

Ian Curtis' daughter Natalie in the Observer on Control

Anton Corbijn reflects upon his life in the Guardian

New Statesman article on the 'Rock Biopic' Genre

Samantha Morton Guardian feature 


January 19, 2008

iPhone Sales: Time for Schadenfreude?

iPhone Sales: Time for Schadenfreude?

It is difficult to avoid a feeling of Schadenfreude as one looks at the sales figures of the Apple iPhone since its UK release and faiure to reach the projected sales forecasts of 200,000. One might think that selling 190,000 was pretty good going as they cost about £280 quids and you have to take out not a 12 month but an 18 month contract at £35 per month. Well the latter fee used to be not so bad but now prices have dropped considerably. The fact of the matter is that Jobs launched the iPhone into the gathering storm of an economic recession and the reality is that the aspirants buying into designer this that and the other are going to suddenly think twice about these expenses as other things suddenly become a priority.

Jobs has already had to drop the price of the iPhone in the USA quite soon after its launch and today's FT reports that some analysts are expecting the same to happen in the UK:

Some analysts, who had regarded the original 200,000 prediction as a conservative estimate, said Apple might have to cut the price in the UK if it wanted to maintain sales momentum. The iPhone’s headline price is £269, but customers must also take out an 18-month contract starting at £35 a month, meaning a minimum outlay of £899. (My emphasis)

iPhone Launch Jaunuary CES 2007

Look out for some appearing in TK Maxx if the recession really bites!

In the US, 10 weeks after its launch, Apple cut the iPhone’s headline price from $599 to $399, which angered customers who had bought the handset. Steve Jobs, Apple’s chief executive, subsequently apologised. On Tuesday, he said 4m iPhones had been sold worldwide. (ibid) 

As the FT points out Apple is facing the fact that mobile operators in both the UK and the US subsidies the handsets and claw back the costs through the subscriptions or relatively highly priced pay as you go calls.  

If you thought touchscreen is where it is at then check this out coming fairly soon near you (maybe): 

Nokia has also developed an interface method that doesn’t even require you to touch the screen where the phone reacts to hand gestures made in three dimensional space and can even track the movement of your hand. (From Pocket Picks)

In the meantime you will just have to suffer with these Nokias the excitingly named N81 and N82: 

Nokia N81  N82

The box says they do this lot which is a pretty good scorer on the convergence front:

The 140g N81 is an 8GB music phone with wi-fi, HDSPA, quad-band, 2MP camera, Bluetooth stereo, 3.5mm headphone jack, 16 million colour 240 x 320 pixel screen and dedicated music and gaming keys. Word from the Guru is that this will be one of the N-Gage Gaming Platform launch handsets. The 120g N82 takes all that and adds TV-out, GPS functionality, FM radio, a microSD slot, and raises the game with an N95-matching five-megapixel camera then bungs a xenon flash on top of all that. (ibid)

Customer Choice: The Nokia Nobrainer or the iPod Nano?

Well 8 gb is as much as an iPod Nano with a few other gizmos thrown in - like making a phone call.  Unlike the state of the market when Apple stormed the MP3 downloading market with the iPod the mobile phones is a sophisticated and hig hly competitive market with a lot of very experienced operators. It appears that Nokia's fight back for the premium phone market is going to be based around a very new model of consumption which involves free music downloading from a choice of around 2 million 'tunes'. You will be able to keep the music even if you drop the contract. This might not only hit iPhone below the waterline it could significantly effect iTunes itself. A quick trip to the Nokia site I couldn't find any Nokia phones which supported iTunes.

Phone for Internet Junkies from 2007

Now with upgrade 

Forthcoming Nokia N800

Phone for the YouTubers

Sounds like this Motorola has plenty of appeal for the budding film director promising instant uploading to YouTube:

Motorola Z10 Movie Phone

...the ‘mobile film studio’ aspect comes from the phone having the ability to let you instantly upload photos and videos to YouTube, Google, Yahoo and Shozu. So it’s not quite a proper ‘film studio’ but its still an appealing new handset.

That might mean Apple have to go back to their origins and try and flog computers, the trouble is Microsoft seem to have pretty much caught up.... (aside: well got to say something controversial it is a blog after all).  


Paul Greengrass

Contemporary British Directors: Paul Greengrass

Return to Contemorary British Directors hub page here.  

Paul Greengrass


Biographical Details  

Paul Greengrass has had a history of working at the cutting edge of documentary and also writing making firstly with the Granada World in Action TV documentary series. Although he should not be regarded as politically radical his career has been one which has sought to make liberal democracy become more transparent and it appears as though he sees the role of media as making a powerful contribution towards this. His treatment of events in Northern Ireland, his contribution to the Spycatcher book, which tore into the British establishment in the 1980s. His documentary United 93 underpinned the power and determination of ordinary people who will sacrifice themselves for others in the face of a totalitarian terrorism expressed on this occasion by the despised Al Quaida. Most of his early work has trodden where many other filmmakers and creative people have feared to tread. As as John Patterson in The Guardian puts it:


Five years ago, Paul Greengrass was an avowedly political, low-budget British filmmaker working within the documentary-style tradition that constitutes the core - the deepest, oldest thread - of British cinema; now he's a big-name director making kinetic, visceral Hollywood movies that are eagerly awaited at multiplexes worldwide. Ultimatum, budgeted at $125m (£62m), looks set to become one of the biggest hits of the summer. Funny how things turn out.



Born Aug. 13, 1955 in Cheam, Surrey, in the United Kingdom, Greengrass showed an interest in film at an early age. While still in secondary school, he directed several short Super-8 films. He attended Cambridge University and afterwards joined Granada Television.

Greengrass went to school in Kent, winning a scholarship to Sevenoaks School, and started his film-making career with a super 8 camera he found in the art room. He made a series of animated horror films, using old dolls and bric-a-brac props. He went on to Queens' College, Cambridge, and then, inspired by the story of Woodward and Bernstein's uncovering of the Watergate scandal in All the President's Men, decided to become an investigative journalist. (Guardian overview of Greengrass).


He worked with the "World in Action" (ITV, 1963-99) - TV documentary series. The series itself gained a reputation for being cutting edge and hard hitting often being more controversial and less mainstream than the main BBC competitor of the time which was Panorama. As Greengrass commented in a Guardian interview:

I arrived there 1978-79. The great days of World in Action had been the 1960s and it had lost its way somewhere, somewhat, in the mid-70s, but the onset of Margaret Thatcher gave it this tremendous new lease of life. (ibid)


During the 1980s, Greengrass also co-authored the controversial book Spycatcher with former MI5 Assistant Director, Peter Wright. The book, which detailed Wright's attempts to ferret out a Russian spy from the ranks of the British intelligence agency, was banned by the government and held from release until 1988. In the mid 1980s Greengrass met the controversial filmmaker Alan Clarke who had made Scum and had had a strong influence upon his thinking. Greengrass has also been influenced by the realism of Ken Loach particularly Kes and also Peter Watkins’ controversial documentary The War Game.

Spycatcher Cover


It seems as though Greengrass’s film Resurrection (1989) taught him a lesson about drama and film making which allowed him to break with the strongly social realist mode of his previous work enabling him to film an event which it wouldn’t be possible to witness – a brutal mock court martial. It allowed him to take his aesthetic approach to a different level. The film was nominated for a Golden Bear winning some jury awards at the Berlin Film Festival.

We were using the dispassionate, observational documentary eye I had developed, if you like, on recreated events, and the collision between the two allows you to get at a bigger truth than you could by using just the one approach or the other. (ibid).


From Gritty documentaries to Hollywood Action Adventure with an Edge


For many  followers of Greengrass who seemed to be following a path well trodden by many British directors working within a social realist mode it came as a great surprise when Greengrass was chosen to direct the Bourne Supremacy (2004). It was so successful - apparently netting $175 million in the box-office that he directed the Bourne Ultimatum (2007). It hasn't won Greengrass friends everywhere as a summariser from the Independent on Sunday noted in an interview with Harold Pinter and Time Out magazine which was scathingly critical: 

I saw a film, The Bourne Ultimatum," Pinter begins, "and I thought: Fucking hell! This guy is clearly the strongest man in the world. He can beat up about 12 people in about 35 seconds and kill half of them.

"The whole thing is totally unreal. I was stupefied by it, it was so lacking in intelligence." He adds that he sat in the cinema "seething, thinking: What am I doing here, being bombarded by this sound? It knocks you out."

The interviewer pointed out that Oscar-nominated Greengrass is considered a master of dramatic realism.

"Paul Greengrass?" replies Pinter. "I saw Bloody Sunday, I also saw United 93: that fellow is no chump."But: "I've never been able to write a film which I didn't respect, I just can't do it."

John Patterson in the Guardian was rather more sympathetic to the project than Pinter and in doing so comes to a position which finds cross-overs between auteurism and genre cinema almost identifying a British hybrid genre of the 'political-realist action-action thriller':


Bloody Sunday may be political and tragic, but it's also an action-movie manqué. Indeed, the idea of a left-progressive action-movie director isn't even that novel: in Britain it's almost a mini-tradition. Peter Watkins is an action director without compare - witness Culloden or Punishment Park. And no one shot mayhem and violence more compellingly than Clarke. Given such forebears, the move from Bloody Sunday to Jason Bourne is an entirely natural and seamless one.  (My emphasis; Guardian ibid).


Patterson has a point for it is clear that Pinter has little notion of the action adventure genre and in this sense we can point to  the subversion of the sterotype.

And instead of the usual boringly indestructible, mindless right-wing macho man in the lead, the left-leaning Matt Damon plays the isolated and existentially solitary Bourne as a man whose memory may have been erased, but not his sense of morality or his essentially liberal strain of patriotism. It's all subtly embedded within a framework of thrills and violence, but it's there none the less. Greengrass wouldn't be Greengrass if it wasn't.

Whilst Pinter from a more realist mode is right to criticise the impossibility of Bourne being able to whisk aside several hardened CIA operatives just like that this is merely a convention of this type of  film. This can be seen in films such as Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. It is a dramatic device for when Bourne meets the Arabic operative sent to kill him in a hand to hand he only just makes it similarly he only survives the car chase by chance. Here he is taking on his own kind the super-killer of which he is the Ur-figure gone wrong. As a political thriller there is a long tradition of defending the supremacy of the American political system against corrupt methods which would ultimately undermine the very raison d'etre of the United States Constitution itself.   This appears on John Gresham novels and  films and older films such as Clear and Present Danger dealing with drug cartels. Although not directly dealing with an American theme these kind of highly secretive undercover operations by states are also critiqued in films such as Spielberg's Munich.

What Greengrass brings to this more American sub-generic category is a decidely British aesthetic which arguably has its heart in European cinema itself. Greengrass brings a gritty realism which belongs to the tradition of the British gangster-heavy (Chibnall) tradition which hasdeveloped thought films such as Brighton Rock, Get Carter (made by Mike Hodges who also worked for World in Action), The Long Good Friday. All of these involved corruption of some sort usually amongst police and local government. Greengrass is well placed to deal with higher level governmental corruption because of his involvement with the Spycatcher affair. all those British gangster films are strong on a sense of place. This is an aesthetic that Greengrass has brought wioth him. One can compare the car chase scene in the Bourne Ultimatum with the ridiculous street shoot out in Heat, to gain a real sense in the difference aesthetic which as Patterson notes is one which is a:

... patented newsreel-style, quasi-documentary, highly organic aesthetic - non-professional casts, few effects or soundstages, lots of hand-held and SteadiCam, much wobble and blur, extremely long takes, cut together in sequences often made up of hundreds of microscopically attenuated shots -... (ibid)


In the Guardian interview with Patterson Greengrass comments that he sees the Bourne character as analagous to Patricia Highsmith's Ripley character becuase there is a duality:

I love Matt in it. He's not only a brilliant actor, but also brilliant in that part because he's a wonderful player of duality - you think of [Tom] Ripley and other parts he's played. You don't know which side of that duality he's on at any moment. And that's Bourne: a duality, a killer who's redeemed himself, the man on the run with a dark past, so he's perfect. You couldn't ask for a better actor in the part than Matt.

I don't think that this is a good analogy at all because Ripley is an entirely amoral opportunist. The comparison revolves around the issue of individual agency. Ripley sees an opportunity and takes it and gradually becomes involved in murder and then serial murder and his character declines. Bourne is an allegory for the honest truly democratic USA which has literal agents within who are suborning the true nature and aims of the country. Bourne represents this tension, this duality. We know he has truly broken with this dark instilled past when he fails to kill the other super-agent at the end of the car chase. When this person is positioned to kill Bourne a little later he lets him go asking why Bourne failed to kill him. Here the conversation allows for self-reflexivity for it is a question which many americans including their military are asking themselves: is what is going on in Iraq just? Are we making things better or worse? By what authority are we here? Given the CIA information about "Weapons of Mass Destruction" was the excuse for the USA to go to war and for the British Government to follow suit despite there being no clear evidence then means that we can see the Bourne Ultimatum as an allegorical critique of American foreign policy.

It is this lack of recognition by Pinter of the necessity to work within popular genres in order to subvert them if one is able to amount any critique at all within the American cinematic system. It is a reading that will have flown over the heads of many viewers of the film inevitably but audiences have many ways of viewing a text.


Other recent non cinema work

The Murder of Stephen Lawrence (1999). ITV Documentary. Directed by Greengrass.

Omagh Channel Four TV Documentary. Greengrass was the producer and writer of this.


Filmography

The Bourne Ultimatum, 2007

United 93, 2006


The Bourne Supremacy,2004

Bloody Sunday, 2002

The Theory of Flight, 1998

The Sweetest Thing, 1995

Resurrected, 1989

Indie London interview with Greengrass


Webliography

BBC the Writer's Room a Q & A with Paul Greengrass

BBC Interview on United 93

A Times overview of Greengrass's work

Guardian:  Hollywood's Favourite Brit

Guardian overview of Paul Greengrass

Independent on Sunday. Noting Harold Pinter's disgust at The Bourne Ultimatum

Working Title entry on Greengrass winning BAFTA with United 93

Sight and Sound Review of Bloody Sunday

British Independent Film Awards (BIFA) for Bloody Sunday 

An interesting comparative review by the well respected David Tereshchuk who was actually at the Bloody Sunday Event reporting for the BBC


Return to Contemorary British Directors hub page here.

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