12 July 2006 | debblyst
Can't be done in 60 minutes
Question: how can you make a documentary about Luchino Visconti in just 60 minutes? Answer: You can't. No matter how special the archive material and interviewees, or sincerely good the intentions (differently from the exploitative, bitchy and vulgar 2002 film directed by Adam Low). The short duration is the main problem with this documentary directed by veteran Italian director Carlo Lizzani, who knew Visconti since pre-WWII days, when the young bohemian aristocrat was concentrating in horse-breeding and highbrow jet-setting (with Chanel, Picasso, Cocteau, Matisse, etc), not even dreaming of becoming one of the colossal artists of the 20th century in films, opera and theater, or embracing the Marxist ideals which, on the one hand, led to groundbreaking political films like "La Terra Trema" and "Rocco e Suoi Fratelli", on the other hand made him a walking paradox (a Marxist aristocrat?!).
It's a wasted opportunity: here we see some of his great collaborators -- many of them now dead, like Mastroianni, Marais, Girotti, Gassman -- who had a lot to tell but whose testimonies are cut to a few sentences. Poor Claudia Cardinale, lovely star of "The Leopard" and "Sandra/Vaghe Stelle", doesn't even get to speak, just stands there smiling against a "3D" photograph of the extraordinary ball sequence of "The Leopard". And there are important stars missing who should have been summoned (Alida Valli, Farley Granger, Maria Schell, Annie Girardot, Ingrid Thulin, Giancarlo Giannini, Laura Antonelli, Björn Andresen and, well, the inevitable Helmut Berger).
Sadly missing too are clips from Visconti+Callas' now classic TV interview, and from Visconti's own documentary "Alla Ricerca di Tadzio" (q.v.), a making of the auditions for the role of Tadzio in "Death in Venice". And -- unforgivably -- there are NO film clips from the Anna Magnani episode in "Siamo Donne", nor the Romy Schneider episode in "Boccaccio 70", nor from the controversial "Sandra/Vaghe Stelle" and the underachieved "Lo Straniero". Furthermore, the film clips that ARE included are not especially well chosen, some of them from trailers or washed-out copies and not always from important scenes.
Anyway, Visconti's fans will not want to miss this; others will probably remain indifferent. You'll learn much more about Visconti's aesthetics and "modus operandi" from, say, the extras of the Brazilian DVDs of "Ludwig" and "Conversation Piece" (by Versátil) than from what you'll see here. There are, however, rare photographs (photographs, mind you) of Visconti's theater work, where you can spot a very young Gassman as Kowalski from Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire", or an even younger Mastroianni in 18th century costumes, powdered wig and all. My vote: 6 out of 10 -- it could have been a lot longer (after all, Visconti fans are used to long duration!) and a lot better.