Dreyer’s word for it is passion, “my only”. Renoir is supposed to have handed Cain’s book to Visconti with a recommendation. A passel of screenwriters fashioned the script, working out the same problem at once in the course of pre-production or perhaps even later, during. It can be stated thus.
Renoir is seen by us as Visconti sees him, but Visconti sees more, he wants that camera in La Grande illusion to continue out to the springtime landscape, Lotte at her table to have a more ample sustenance of irony, the comic figures who populate La Règle du jeu to demonstrate their perfectly round characters more directly for the camera. He has all but a fraction of the technique required in his first try, he only needs to kill, as one might say, Renoir.
Kill Renoir, kill the cinema. And so, we have a perfect congruence of theme and pattern. Visconti achieves the impossible and atones for it.
The fascisti burned the negative, not appreciating Papa Haydn’s reflection on the author of A Musical Joke.
La terra trema
“A born filmmaker,” Howard Thompson observed in the New York Times, but the review dribbles out in nonsense.
The momentum of the thing carries it onward in Visconti’s impossibly perfect rendering. Fishing village in Sicily, peasants’ revolt, which means a mortgage on the family hovel to buy a boat of their own and sell their catch in the city, a storm wrecks it, the family fortunes turn.
What sets it off is one son’s military service, he’s conscious of injustice.
The wholesalers who pay a pittance win in the end, the name of Mussolini stenciled on the wall behind them.
“Strike!”, as Harold Clurman would say. On the Waterfront is only a few thousand miles away. Visconti has no cast but the fishermen of Acitrezza, no crew but geniuses, and all the filmmaking ability in the world.
Flaherty’s Man of Aran and Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath are precedents, although Visconti has other fish to fry.
One’s child is the most beautiful thing in the world, here it represents less the work than the talent, the gift, consigned to Cinecittà and flouted there, the business has so many pitfalls, though Blasetti as the director of Oggi Domani Mai orders the screen test to be shown again and sees through all the blatherskite to a usable performance, the one he wants.
So Visconti squares accounts with the studios, and stage mothers, and the artist’s responsibility, and a lot of other things, the rift (La Terra Trema) is there, it can be bridged or not.
A.W. of the New York Times wrote a headnote for the malentendu by describing this as “a basically simple story” somewhat “tangled” by the writers, but a “tour de force” for Anna Magnani. Time Out Film Guide follows suit with “curiously sentimental”, leaving Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader to lament an “unjustly neglected” film.
“Very noisy”, says Halliwell’s Film Guide, “exhausting.”
The verses recited by little Maria are addressed to plague-stricken Venice, long before Visconti took up the theme in earnest.
“Anna Magnani” in a version of the vaudeville routine known as “Pay the Two Dollars” (a locus classicus is Minnelli’s Ziegfeld Follies).
The film seems always to have been taken as a tragic love story (A.H. Weiler in the New York Times, for example) rather than as the most perfectly expressed and laconic form of Occupation.
The Venetian countess has a husband in the government, a cousin in the resistance, and a lover in the Austrian Army.
It stands to reason that a critic like Weiler would find the romance tedious, the cousin malapropos, and the entire venture rather foolish.
Le notti bianche
The great gloss on this is Fellini’s Amarcord, which ends in the marriage of Gradisca.
Lubitsch’s The Shop Around the Corner is something of a foretaste, Rossini’s La Cenerentola is another feint, Reisz’ Saturday Night and Sunday Morning gets a tryout, Stevens’ The Only Game in Town and Kazan’s The Last Tycoon show the breadth of the thing, and Mastroianni’s dancing turns up in Woody Allen’s Sleeper.
The story is “absurd”, it ends the way Gilbert’s Alfie ends, Nino Rota takes his motif from Debussy (“Des pas sur la neige”).
Rocco e i suoi fratelli
It is exhaustively long, to be fair, and like Griffith in The Birth of a Nation, Visconti has ringers for his caricatures.
It stands with Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath, Crowther said, though in truth Pound’s deliberate comparison of Mussolini and Jefferson is more to the point.
Mamma always wanted to leave the South, where her husband has died tilling the soil, “now I can touch the sky, they call me Signora”.
It’s cold in Milan, snowfall gives a chance to shovel. Francesco is already there, the family break up his engagement, he marries secretly.
Simone takes up with a whore, tries boxing, falls into crime and kills the girl.
Rocco tries to recover the loss, loses the girl, but wins fights in the ring.
Ciro gets a job at Alfa Romeo after studying at night, he has a fiancée and turns Simone in.
Luca might someday return to the South.
The style is studied from the Americans and Mascagni or Leoncavallo, and is not especially significant.
Does it change its spots? Events covered in De Sica’s Un Garibaldino al convento and Rossellini’s Viva L’Italia.
Sicilian hills, Sicilian sunlight, Sicilian dust in the air. A Velazquez view of gods and mortals.
A place called Donnafugata.
The great house, palazzo.
The Magnificent Ambersons is an example of the work, to marry beneath one also figures in Wyler’s Mrs. Miniver.
To grow old gracefully, a difficult art professed by Lancaster and Godard.
Satyajit Ray takes another tack in Jalsaghar. Visconti’s fish run in schools that never vary. Bergman takes a clue for Fanny and Alexander.
Vaghe stelle dell’Orsa...
The resistance, the useless knowledge, all that pertains to the Fascist era, bound up with the Oresteia and Leopardi’s “Le ricordanze”, to get the most out of it for the screen.
A Parisian soirée, home to Volterra, crumbling.
Papà died in Auschwitz, mother is mad, César Franck is her music and the film’s.
Verdi without music, Tom Milne (Time Out Film Guide) thought, and not much of a tragedy.
A small park remembers the victim, Orestes is dead, Electra’s American husband is waiting in New York.
The constellation, flickering nervously at first, steadies and grows clear in the course of the film.
In Kitzbühel, above the mountain peaks, the movie star and Vogue feature passes from La dolce vita to Magnani in La voce umana (L’Amore), the first of five times Mangano.
A constellation to steer by.
“A simple case”, yet he goes to the guillotine.
Critics who always complain that the movie is not the book changed their tune, Visconti’s film is Camus’ novel, they were obliged to observe, and that was the trouble, they said. “Either way one was in for it.”
In the English dub it’s especially clear that the flashback method and the narration enable a pure transposition within the minimal confines of a film noir, paradoxically.
The Catholic News Service Media Review Office, “a painstaking and often beautiful translation of the Nobel Prize Winner’s object lesson in existential absurdity.”
Don Druker (Chicago Reader), “a totally schematic vulgarization”.
TV Guide, “an utter failure.”
La Caduta degli dei
The entire workings of the Nazi regime are figured in the drama (The Damned), with every cog and wheel having its symbolic function.
Hitler’s personality cult defeats him personally, as inimical to his ideal. Germany herself proclaims a New Germany that will sweep the world, and therefore perishes.
The artist is eclipsed, the artiste is buried and resurrected as New Germany’s expression, with the result heretofore described.
Sternberg’s Der blaue Engel and Lang’s M are visible. The Night of the Long Knives is a gangland killing.
Death in Venice
The main thrust of the satire is an arrangement of Der blaue Engel, Visconti then moves to a newer plane by adding the coruscating example of Mahler to his rote, Ken Russell’s film, so that the clown in his perishing makeup on the Lido should be Herr Fin de Siècle.
“You are a semi-Daliist,” Dali tells Bosquet. “Once you are dead, you’ll be a thousand-percent Daliist.”
Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” exhibits that remarkable movement observed with approbation by Borges, from the cold news of “Hop-Frog” to a stylistic equilibrium.
Donatello’s David, it may be, is the last sight of Visconti’s Aschenbach, the lad is seen from the rear striking the pose of the Apollo Belvedere.
Mahler’s Adagietto is a love duet, but what it owes the Liebestod it pays the anagogy over and over again.
The mocking structure is from Losey’s The Servant, this allows similar structures to proliferate on a descending scale. The three movements (Wagner, Kainz, Cockaigne) have a counterpoint of Bavarian and German political affairs.
American critics were offered a version trimmed by one-fourth, an hour, and were bewildered by the result.
Gruppo di famiglia in un interno
Conversation Piece is a variant of Death in Venice, the fool in this instance would be a father to the young man (they are ten years older, the time is the present).
The Polish family now has the penchant of the Von Essenbecks in La Caduta degli dei to represent symbolically a contemporary political situation.
The filming is magisterial, despite the oblivious remarks of writers such as Canby (in 1975 on the English version, again in 1977 on the Italian).
Idleness of the wife, artistic salons.
Passion of the husband, whose mistress makes him suffer.
Reconciliation. The wife is pregnant by the novelist D’Arborio, dying in Africa.
The husband kills the child and himself, a monster in his mistress’s eyes.
The achievement of a painterly cinema (the extraordinary score by Franco Mannino deserves mention, his main theme is a double of the Mahler “Adagietto”), after D’Annunzio.
Vincent Canby of the New York Times saw “an upper-class Roman wife who manages to betray her philandering husband in a way that confers upon him an unbearable innocence.”
Hal Erickson (Rovi) has it that “outside of Erich von Stroheim, few directors were as masterful at combining lavishness with depravity as Luchino Visconti.”
Time Out, “after several misguided projects... understated melodrama... novelistic... uninflected... almost painfully sincere”.
TV Guide expounds on “the decadence of the aristocracy in late 19th-century Italy.”