Rocco and His Brothers 
Please join us as we celebrate our 50th screening alongside Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center with Luchino Visconti’s Italian masterpiece Rocco e i suoi fratelli [Rocco and His Brothers] . This two-night 4K restoration engagement is part of the gallery’s 20th annual Long Nights, Bright Screens series.
February 8th’s screening will be introduced by riverrun Global Film Series curator and SUNY at Buffalo professor of Film & Media Theory Tanya Shilina-Conte. Will we also be giving away a digital copy of Ivo Blom’s Reframing Luchino Visconti: Film and Art thanks to Amsterdam University Press.
February 9th’s screening will be introduced by The Public‘s chief film critic M. Faust.
- Screening Date #1: Wednesday, February 8th, 2017 | 7:00pm
- Screening Date #2: Thursday, February 9th, 2017 | 7:00pm
- Venue: Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center
- Specifications: 1960 / 177 minutes / Italian with subtitles / Black & White
- Director(s): Luchino Visconti
- Print: Supplied by Milestone Films
- Tickets: $8 general, $6 students & seniors, $5 members
- Deal: Join us for post-screening drinks at Buffalo Proper for $5 glasses of wine, beer, or their cocktail The Mr Mule with ticket stub.
341 Delaware Ave, Buffalo, NY 14202
Courtesy of the Toronto International Film Festival:
Released in the same anno memorabile as Fellini’s La Dolce Vita and Antonioni’s L’Avventura, and long ensconced on Martin Scorsese’s short list of must-see films (it greatly influenced his Mean Streets and Raging Bull), Luchino Visconti’s magisterial family saga opens as an impoverished Sicilian clan arrives in dreary, mid-winter Milan in search of a better life. Their fiercely protective matriarch, who dreams of returning to what one son calls “the land of olives, moonshine and rainbows,” proves no match for the corrupting forces of the alien industrial north, and the five fratelli of the title variously fall victim to its depredations. “Among all my activities in the cinema, my favourite is working with actors,” Visconti declared in his lovely essay “Anthropomorphic Cinema,” a contention that is amply corroborated by Rocco; the film’s cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno reports that he had to master a new method of shooting with three cameras simultaneously in order to capture the best performances in every take. While Rocco confirms Andrew Sarris’ claim that Visconti was “the best director of actresses in the world” (Annie Girardot is particularly affecting as the doomed prostitute Nadia), it also reveals that his actors were equally capable of histrionic heights: witness the sculptural potency of Alain Delon as Rocco, the sepulchral sexuality of Paolo Stoppa as a predatory sports impresario, and the injured emotionalism of Renato Salvatori as the naive boxing champion Simone. Only oxymoron suffices to describe the contradictory Visconti — communist patrician and reactionary modernist — and the teeming intensity of Rocco derives in part from the film’s seemingly irreconcilable mode of operatic neorealism. With two previously censored scenes included in this glorious restoration, Rocco more than ever qualifies as a colossus.
- Venice Film Festival – 1960 – Winner: Special Jury Prize
Although it is possible to see Rocco and His Brothers as a sequel to Luchino Visconti’s earlier movie on Italy’s south, La Terra Trema, there were many literary influences on the script which was written for the most part by Luchino Visconti; his frequent collaborator, the legendary scriptwriter Suso Cecchi d’Amico; and the novelist Vasco Pratolini.
Three of the stories in Giovanni Testori’s Il ponte della Ghisolfa served as major inspiration for Rocco and His Brothers (the short story collection is acknowledged in the film’s credits), including the milieu of boxing culture for young Italian men and the love triangle.
“In one of the episodes entitled “What are You Doing Sinatra?” Dario, a young man nicknamed Sinatra because of his good singing voice, becomes the lover of Gina, a young prostitute who formerly ‘belonged’ to Dario’s brother Attilio. The latter, in the presence of some friends, having surprised Gina and Dario making love in the night near the bridge of Ghisolfa, rapes the girl and ‘teaches the brother a lesson,’ by hitting him. Testori’s dialogue between the two brothers is strikingly similar to the words exchanged between Rocco and Simone, the action seen on screen closely follows the scene in the book.” — Claretta Micheletti Tonetti, Luchino Visconti
Giovanni Verga’s novel I Malavoglia, or The House by the Medlar Tree chronicled the saga of the hardworking Toscano family with five sons (one named Luca) struggling to survive poverty, terrible misfortunes, and despair in the Catania region.
“Probably my major inspiration for Rocco, a story I have been thinking about for a while, is I Malavoglia. I have been obsessed with this novel ever since the first time I read it. The principle core of Rocco is the same of Verga’s novel: in the novel, Ntoni and his family in order to survive and free themselves from material necessities, start a business of their own, while in Rocco, Rosaria’s sons try boxing, which in a way is a business. This is how this film is related to La Terra Trema — which is my interpretation of I Malavoglia — and may therefore be considered its second episode. Two more elements can be added to my ‘obsession’ for Verga’s major novel: the desire to make a film on a mother, who feels she is the owner of her sons and wants to exploit their energy to free herself from the problem of ‘daily necessities,’ without considering the young men’s differences in character or possibilities; a mother who, by aiming too far is defeated.” — Luchino Visconti
Paralleling his fascination with Verga, Visconti was strongly influenced by the work of the Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci. Gramsci’s analysis of the economic stagnation of southern Italy and the meaning of the mass migration of laborers from that region to northern cities like Milan brought an added dimension to Visconti: “The mythological vein which I had found in Verga no longer seemed adequate to me. I felt an impellent urge to find out for myself what were the historic, economic and social foundations on which that Southern drama had been built. Reading Gramsci I learned the truth that is still waiting to be resolved. Gramsci did not only convince me by the acuteness of his historical and political analysis but his teaching also explained to me the character of Southern Italy as a great social rupture and as a market for a colonialist type of exploitation by the ruling classes of the North.”
Thomas Mann’s Joseph and His Brothers resonated heavily with Visconti and helped shape his perception of family dynamics. The tale of a brother betrayed and sold into slavery by his own family is “inverted” in the film:
“Whereas in the novel the brothers sell Joseph to get rid of him, thus inadvertently serving a divine plan, in the film Rocco’s act of self-sacrifice for the benefit of the family is futile and destructive. The point is not just that Joseph lives in a world governed by divine Providence, whereas in the modern urban world God would be dead or simply silent. Mann’s Joseph has a remarkable ability to live in the present, to have no regrets of the past, and to reach toward the future step by step…The tender, simple Rocco is not a man of such spirit; he is a man of the past. He has the innocence of a pure fool, but he is at the mercy of time. He can bring momentary consolation to Nadia, but because she yearns for a permanent change in her life, a different kind of future, the fleeting moment of hope and happiness with him leads her to ever deeper spiritual desperation and destruction.” — Henry Bacon, Visconti: Explorations of Beauty and Decay
Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Idiot was another powerful influence on Visconti. The plot of Rocco and His Brothers mirrors the novel’s relationship of the saintly Prince Lev Nikolayevich Myshkin and the violent and jealous Parfyon Semyonovich Rogozhin who both fall in love with the same woman, Anastassya Filippovna Barashkov.
“In both stories the woman inadvertently leads the men to compete for her, which in the end drives all three to misery. The women also die in the same way, stabbed by the more violent of their two lovers. And in both cases the two men meet after her murder and are joined in a brotherhood of pain that is beyond rational understanding.” — Henry Bacon, Visconti: Explorations of Beauty and Decay
In 1958 Luchino Visconti directed Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge and several aspects of the play can be seen in Rocco and His Brothers.
“The play involves not only incest and ‘brotherly’ jealousy, but traditional Southern Italian ‘honor’ put at risk in a modern urban setting, close to what occurs in Rocco.” — Sam Rohdie, Rocco and His Brothers, BFI Film Classics
In Miller’s play, a possessive and jealous uncle suspects that his niece’s charismatic immigrant lover may be gay. The theme of homosexuality is also explored in Rocco and His Brothers through the relationship of Simone and his boxing manager, Duilio Morini. During their first meeting, Morini’s motivation in hiring Simone is apparent — he appraises the young man as he would a racehorse. In the beginning their partnership is mutually beneficial — Simone’s body can win money and in return Morini enables Simone’s poor decisions and bad behavior. Simone is aware of the appeal his body has to both Morini and later to the owner of the dry cleaning store where Rocco works. In turn, Morini knows that Simone is a loose cannon who is bound to burn out his energy and the goodwill of others — in fact he depends on it. When he becomes Simone’s last resort, Morini sexually exploits the young man as he has long desired.
In “Representing the Un(re)presentable: Homosexuality in Luchino Visconti’s Rocco and His Brothers” (Studies in European Cinema Volume 7 Number 3) Eugenio Bolongaro writes:
“Simone has asked to see Duilio because he needs money, and accepts an invitation to the latter’s apartment. Once there, the conversation quickly degenerates into a brawl, which ends when Simone is knocked to the ground. In film, this kind of violence is a common means of releasing sexual tension that cannot be acknowledged, but in Rocco the sexual element is ‘elaborated’ on no less than three levels of representation: in the dialogue (which barely alludes to homosexual desire and primarily by indirect denial); in the physical interaction between the two characters (which Visconti goes to great lengths to disguise under the rhetoric of boxing); and finally and most unexpectedly in the uncanny images appearing on the brightly lit television screen that is at the center of many of the shots. These images and their strange behavior intimate to the spectator that this is not a banal homosexual encounter, but a crucial moment in the tragedy of Simone (and Rocco) and in the attempt by Visconti to forge a cinematic language adequate to that tragedy.”
A scene that was cut from the film (but appears in the published screenplay), echoed these homoerotic tensions. When Rocco returns from the army and is first noticed by Cerri (called Cecchi in the screenplay) at Simone’s gym, the two brothers talk in the locker room after sparring. While he is being massaged, Simone calls out to Rocco who is in the shower: “Don’t let that Cecchi seduce you. He gave me the same line, like he does to everybody. He’s a bastard.” He then teases Rocco about going out “wenching” — does he even know how? “Rocco,” Simone tells him, “be careful! Women are dangerous.”
The screenplay also includes an important deleted scene leading up to Simone’s meeting with Morini outside the boxing arena. Originally, the sequence began with the Cerri and his team inside, waiting impatiently for Simone to show up for his match. Simone, sweating and terrified, stands in the street outside with Luca as the fans enter. When he sees Morini get out of his car, Simone tells Luca to go ask him to meet him in a nearby cafe. Simone’s cowardice and shame underscore the stigma conveyed in the seduction in Morini’s apartment — a scene that does not exist in the screenplay at all.
Sketches by Mario Garbuglia.
“Rocco and His Brothers is one of the most sumptuous black-and-white pictures I’ve ever seen: the images, shot by the great Giuseppe Rotunno, are pearly, elegant and lustrous — it’s like a simultaneous continuation and development of neorealism. Thanks to Gucci and The Film Foundation and our friends at the Cineteca di Bologna, Luchino Visconti’s masterpiece can be experienced once again in all its fearsome beauty and power.” — Martin Scorsese, Founder and Chair, The Film Foundation
Rocco and His Brothers was restored in 4K from the original camera negative shot on two different film stocks: DuPont LN (1959) and DuPont LS (1960). The impetus for restoring this film arose when the analysis of the elements revealed that some parts of the original camera negative were seriously compromised by fungi growing on the lightest areas of the image (those with less silver salts). Unfortunately, a few shots of the original camera negative were so badly damaged that they had to be replaced with a vintage contact-printed interpositive film. The original negative was compared with all available original elements: two first-generation interpositives printed on DuPont film stock (1960 and 1961), a second-generation duplicate negative, and the first-generation projection print shown at the Venice Film Festival in 1960 and preserved by the Archivio Storico delle Arti Contemporanee of La Biennale di Venezia (ASAC).
After the film’s debut at the Venice Film Festival in 1960, two shots were edited by order of the public prosecutor’s office and the board of censors. In this restored version, both sequences are unabridged. A previously removed scene from the last reel, found in the Venice print is also included in this restoration.
The color correction work was supervised by Maestro Giuseppe Rotunno, the film’s original director of photography, using the Venice print as a reference. The entire restoration process took more than 3,000 hours and was completed in April 2015.
Luxury Italian brand, Gucci, has been a supporter of the Film Foundation for nearly a decade. Rocco and His Brothers is the third Visconti restoration (following The Leopard (1965) and Senso (1954)) and the tenth overall film funded by Gucci. The Gucci partnership with The Film Foundation demonstrates the company’s ongoing commitment to restoring and preserving the work of artists and legacies. While statistics about the number of films lost to damage and deterioration are staggering, there is no more powerful way to make clear the preservation message than to provide audiences with the opportunity to experience cinematic treasures firsthand.
Created in 1990 by Martin Scorsese, The Film Foundation (film-foundation.org) is dedicated to protecting and preserving motion picture history. By working in partnership with archives and studios, the foundation preserves and restores cinematic treasures — nearly 700 to date — and makes these films available to international festivals and institutions. The foundation’s World Cinema Project restores, preserves and distributes neglected films from around the world. Twenty-five films from Mexico, South America, Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Central and Southeast Asia have been preserved and are available for a global audience.
TFF is also teaching young people about the language and history of film through The Story of Movies, its innovative educational curriculum used by more than 100,000 educators nationwide. Joining Mr. Scorsese on the board of directors are Woody Allen, Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, Francis Ford Coppola, Clint Eastwood, Curtis Hanson, Peter Jackson, Ang Lee, George Lucas, Christopher Nolan, Alexander Payne, Robert Redford, and Steven Spielberg. The Film Foundation is aligned with the Directors Guild of America, a key partner whose president and secretary treasurer also serve on the Foundation’s board.
“I took a round trip around Hollywood because I think it frightened me. I didn’t want to get burned in that glare.”
Courtesy of press-kit:
Luchino Visconti’s life was filled with dualities. Born Count Don Luchino Visconti di Modrone into ancient nobility and a follower of Fascism in the early 1930s, he became a devoted Marxist and a member of the Italian resistance during the war. One of the founders of neorealism (with Ossessione and La Terra Trema), his films became more and more operatic in tone in the 1950s and 1960s. A womanizer when he was young, later in life Visconti’s only important and lasting romantic relationships were with men. The journey from leisured aristocrat to one of cinema’s greatest directors was a long and convoluted road.
Visconti’s family was one of the most powerful and celebrated leaders of Milan going back to the Middle Ages and was even mentioned by Chaucer in “The Monk’s Tale.” His ancestor, Duke Carlo (1770–1836) was the first impresario of the La Scala. When the famous opera house became privately financed in 1897, the Visconti family led the efforts to support it. As president of the theater, Visconti’s grandfather Duke Guido hired a distinguished young conductor by the name of Arturo Toscanini and then supported him during his turbulent first years there while he changed the face of opera.
In 1899, Don Guido’s second son, Don Giuseppe married one of the richest women in Milan, Carla Erba, heir to a pharmaceutical company. This fortune kept their seven children in considerable wealth throughout their lives — although Luchino always seemed to find a way to spend it all. Don Giuseppe and Dona Carla were famous for their elegance and their taste for social life and culture. They introduced the young Luchino to all forms of art and theater and insisted that he study the cello. Toscanini became a major influence on Visconti’s musical upbringing and they later collaborated in the 1950s. The conductor’s daughters Wanda and Wally were his lifelong friends.
In his childhood home in Milan, the young Visconti created a theater by hanging a sheet where he and his brothers and friends would stage weekly productions, always with Luchino as director. Visconti was educated at home and later in private schools in Milan and Como, but had no plans for his future. He was a poor student and though he read voraciously, he refused to study. He discovered the cinema as a teenager and became an avid fan, first at the Cinema Centrale and later at the Palace. Rebellious, Visconti ran away from home several times. After one incident, he was sent to the boarding school of the Calasanzian Order — but even the monks failed to impress him and he never completed his education.
After failing at a job in the family business (the women secretaries were distracted by the handsome young man — and he by them), Visconti’s only option left was the army, which was already a family tradition. After a successful year in Piedmont’s cavalry school, Visconti became an officer in the Reggimento Savoia Cavalleria. He was an excellent rider and loved horses. During the period, he became close friends with Umberto of Savoia, the Prince of Piedmont and heir to the throne. On his release from the cavalry, Visconti started his first career as one of Italy’s most famous trainers and breeders of racehorses.
The young man’s passion for racing expanded into automobiles and he bought a Lancia Spider, which he liked to drive fast and recklessly at a track in Monza. On September 30, 1929, Visconti decided to take the car out and bullied his family’s chauffeur into joining him. Rounding a bend in the fog, Visconti was forced to brake suddenly and the car crashed, killing his passenger. Tortured by guilt, he did not drive again for twenty years and financially supported the chauffeur’s children for the rest of his life. Withdrawing from society, Visconti journeyed to the remote Tassili region of the Sahara. The mysterious (and seemingly mystical) two months he spent with the Touareg people there altered his life forever.
After returning from the Sahara, Visconti began to spend more time in Paris where he met and became friends with Misia Sert, Jean Cocteau, Jean Marais, Serge Lifar and other members of the artistic world. There, he wrote a one-act comedy, started a company designing chintz fabrics for upholstery and began to explore films that were banned in fascist Italy, including Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel.
Visconti was able to travel internationally because he possessed a rare and precious document — an Italian passport. Very few citizens were granted passports under Mussolini, but Visconti was able to obtain one because his cousin was the Podestà of Milan, the representative of the Fascist party. While his family found Italian fascism both boorish and nationalistic, Visconti was curious about the new Nazi regime and fascinated by German culture. In 1933, he visited Munich and Berlin and was impressed by some of the changes he saw in Germany. He later explored the period and his own reactions to the rise of Hitler in his 1969 film, The Damned.
Returning to Paris, Visconti became the constant companion of Coco Chanel. The great couturier was infatuated with the young and handsome Count and introduced him to the cultural and intellectual world. Through her, Visconti met the famous German photographer Horst Horst, who became Visconti’s lover for many years and opened his eyes to the evils of fascism. It was during this time that Visconti made his first short film, as was the fashion among his French friends, starring his brother’s charming wife, Niki. Never finished and later destroyed when his palazzo was bombed during the war, the story of the film involved an adolescent boy who has three failed love affairs with three completely different kinds of women and finally commits suicide in despair.
In 1935, while skiing in Kitzbühel, Visconti met and fell in love with Irma Windisch-Graetz, a 21-year-old Austrian princess. The two corresponded and planned to marry, much to the delight of their mothers. However his fiancée’s father ordered the couple to wait until Visconti decided on a profession. Around the same time, Visconti had fallen in love with Horst Horst. Hoping that marriage would be a way to “save” himself, he issued an ultimatum: Irma must marry him at once despite her father’s misgivings. When she could not go against her father’s wishes, Visconti broke off the engagement.
That same year, Visconti met filmmaker Gabriel Pascal who later directed screen versions of Pygmalion and Major Barbara. The Hungarian was impressed with Visconti and proposed that they work together on a film based on Gustave Flaubert’s November to be produced by Alexander Korda. Visconti traveled to London to sign a contract as Pascal’s assistant director only to discover that the film was a tentative project and that there was no job.
Depressed, he returned to Paris where Chanel again had a hand in changing his life. She introduced Visconti to Jean Renoir and suggested that the young Italian should observe the great director while he was shooting La Vie Est à Nous, a film produced by the French Communist Party. It was on this film set that Visconti started both his professional cinema career and his lifelong devotion to the Communist Party.
In 1936, Visconti was hired as the assistant director on Renoir’s Les Bas-Fonds and a year later he worked on Une Partie de Campagne. On the second film, he also designed many of the costumes and during the filming; an appreciative Renoir presented Visconti with a typed translation of James M. Cain’s novel The Postman Always Rings Twice.
In a 1961 interview with London’s The Observer, Visconti said: “Renoir helped me to understand that unless the cinema is nourished by a profoundly human idea, it is empty. Man must always prevail in the landscape. A wall can only be beautiful in a film if there is someone in front of it: otherwise it says nothing.”
After Une Partie de Campagne, Visconti returned to Italy and started working in the theater. Shortly afterwards, Renoir came to Rome to make a French-Italian production of La Tosca. Visconti became his assistant again and helped on many facets of the production. But Italy’s declaration of war on the Allies ended Renoir’s involvement. In My Life and My Films, Jean Renoir wrote: “My farewells to my collaborators were sad occasions, and I particularly regretted parting from Luchino Visconti because of all the things we might have done together but did not do… I was never to see Luchino again, despite the great friendship between us. Such is life.” Carl Koch, who was working with the two on the script, took over the directing. Now lost, the film received lackluster reviews when it opened.
During the early years of the war, Visconti was actively involved with Cinema magazine, which, although published by Mussolini’s brother Vittorio, “managed to smuggle the more radical ideas of those who were anxious to abandon the ambiguity of Fascism,” according to filmmaker Carlo Lizzani. Visconti started a search for material to make his own film. He commissioned many scripts and bought the rights to three works by the 19th-century Sicilian author Giovanni Verga. But Visconti’s own hesitations and delays by the Italian government stalled the projects.
Then Visconti remembered Jean Renoir’s gift. The novels of current American writers such as William Faulkner and Cain were not banned in Italy, as the government believed that they demonstrated the decadence of American society. The Postman Always Rings Twice was the perfect vehicle for Visconti. He cast the very young Anna Magnani in her first dramatic role as Giovanna, but was forced to replace her with Clara Calamai when Magnani became pregnant. Visconti took the novel as inspiration and molded the story into an Italian neorealist cinema classic, which inspired directors such as Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini to follow in his footsteps. Ossessione was a remarkable change from the country’s ultra-glamorous “white telephone” films of the 1930s. In 1943, Visconti wrote:
“I was impelled toward the cinema by, above all, the need to tell stories of people who were alive, of people living amid things and not of the things themselves. The cinema that interests me is an anthropomorphic cinema. The most humble gestures of man, his bearing, his feelings, and instincts are sufficient to make the things that surround him poetic and alive. The significance of the human being, his presence, is the only thing that could dominate the images. The ambience that it creates and the living presence of its passions give them life and depth. And its momentary absence from the luminous rectangle gives to everything an appearance of dead nature.”
As it became evident that Italy was losing the war and the threat of German occupation grew, Visconti hid escaped prisoners and political refugees at his villa in Rome. His royal birth and prestige kept the Italian and German fascists from discovering his actions for several years. In March 1944, as part of the retaliation for a partisan bomb explosion, Visconti was imprisoned, beaten, and denied food for twelve days. Actress Maria Denis has been credited with intervening and saving Visconti’s life. “That was probably true,” Cecchi d’Amico said in a 1992 interview, “she had important friends among the fascists.”
During the war years, Visconti wrote several screenplays with the young Michelangelo Antonioni. Visconti also entered the world of theater in 1944 and for two remarkable years, presented brilliant renditions of plays that had never been seen in Italy before. Because of the starkness of the plays he chose and the intense realism of his staging, he became known as “the director of the soiled beds.”
After Italy was liberated in 1945, an American psychological warfare group approached Visconti and asked him to film the trials and executions of Pietro Koch and Pietro Caruso, both leaders in anti-partisan activities and murders during the war. His work became part of Mario Serandrei’s documentary history of the resistance and liberation, Giorni di gloria (Days of Glory). Serandrei went on to edit some of the great Italian classics including Visconti’s Senso and Rocco and his Brothers.
In 1947, Visconti started what he hoped would be a trilogy of Sicilian life entitled La Terra Trema. Inspired by the novels of Verga, Visconti journeyed to Acitrezza in eastern Sicily with assistant directors Franco Zeffirelli and Francesco Rosi. The film focused on the lives of local fisherman and their fight for survival. Without a script and using no professional actors, Visconti shot a three-hour film of incredible imagery that created great controversy wherever it was shown. When the film lost money, Visconti simply went back to the theater.
Visconti had a busy year in 1951. In addition to making a short documentary for Marco Ferreri, he shot Bellissima, one of his most important feature films. Here, the director finally was able to cast Magnani. It was on this film that Visconti first collaborated with several artists who would remain with him professionally for many years. Visconti co-scripted Bellissima with Francesco Rosi; famous neorealist writer Cesare Zavattini, who would work with Visconti several more times; and Suso Cecchi d’Amico, who would work on almost all of Visconti’s screenplays through L’Innocente — the director’s last film. Bellissima was also the first film with designer Piero Tosi, who would be responsible for costumes throughout the great director’s career.
In 1953, Visconti finished Senso, based on a short story by Camillo Boito, starring Alida Valli and Farley Granger. It was a lyric melodrama set in 1866 Venice inspired by the music of Giuseppe Verdi. The film, Visconti’s first color production, featured 1,394 actors, 2,100 horsemen and 8,000 extras. The next year, Visconti started another career as he directed the opera La Vestale for La Scala starring Maria Callas. Visconti talked about Callas in a 1968 New York Times article:
“I first saw Callas in Parsival, as the gypsy Kundry, in a rehearsal. She was horribly costumed and wore a little pill-box hat that she kept batting back on her head as she sang. I said to myself right then, ‘One day I’ll work with you and you won’t have to push hats out of your eyes.’”
It was the beginning of a great collaboration that lasted only a few years but became legendary for its artistic achievement. Visconti continued to create magnificent opera and ballet productions throughout life. He once said of his work:
“It has been said that my films are a little theatrical and my theater a little cinematic. Every means of expression is good. Neither the theater nor the cinema should avoid whatever serves it. It is possible that I have exaggerated by using techniques not typical of the cinema. But avoidance of the theatrical is not a rule.”
White Nights (Le Notti Bianche), Visconti’s next film in 1957, was a superbly romantic version of Dostoyevsky’s story, starring Maria Schell, Marcello Mastroianni, Jean Marais and Clara Calamai. It is about a humble clerk who courts a woman while she awaits the return of her lover. Financed by Visconti and three of his friends, it was supposed to be a low-budget film shot on location. Instead, Visconti decided that an artificial look was needed, so he had huge sets built on the Cinecittà lot. Considered to be one of his minor efforts, the film lost a good deal of money for the participants.
With Rocco and His Brothers, Visconti finally had a worldwide success that gave him access to Hollywood studio money. The Leopard (Il Gattopardo, 1963) with Burt Lancaster was financed by 20th Century Fox, but was brutally edited by the studio for its American release. It finally gained the public and critical acceptance it so richly deserved when the original version was restored and released by the Fox Classics’ division in the 1980s. Sandra (Vaghe Stelle Dell’orsa, 1965) and The Stranger (Lo Straniero, 1967) followed but did little for Visconti’s reputation. It was his investigation of a wealthy family in Nazi Germany in The Damned (La Caduta Degli Dei, 1969) that reaped Visconti great commercial rewards.
With Death in Venice (Morte a Venezia, 1971), the Italian director was finally able to adapt a novel from Thomas Mann who was one of the great influences of his life. His last three films, Ludwig (1973), Conversation Piece (Gruppo Di Famiglia In Un Interno, 1974) and finally, The Intruder (L’Innocente, 1976) all suffered from unfortunate casting decisions and a lessening of his directing skills and health. After suffering a stroke while editing Ludwig, Visconti directed The Intruder from a wheelchair (he stated that he’d probably direct his next film from a stretcher). On March 30, 1976, Visconti died in his villa in Rome from influenza complicated by a cardiac ailment.
“I never knew anyone like him, certainly not in the world of cinema, who could speak of Klimt, Karajan, Proust, “Peanuts,” Mozart, and Mantovani (he liked the Eurovision song contest), Duse and Doris Day.” — Dirk Bogarde, actor and writer, 1990
Visconti was often criticized for “voting left and living right” and he led a somewhat lavish lifestyle, decorating his many villas with antiques that he would buy by the dozen. But his devotion to the Communist Party was sincere. He once stated “I do like to live comfortably, but that does not prohibit me from having ideas about social reforms.” Visconti’s passion for realism was also sincere despite his “operatic” films. Ironically, his operas were famous for bringing realism to the stage —singers were asked to economize their gestures, sing with their backs to the audience, and act, as Visconti said, “like people.”
“He was terribly good looking. When he entered a room, no one could ignore him. He had a low, solemn way of moving; there was always something very solemn about him… Luchino could be very cruel; he was a very strong character… He was not a man of our time. He was a kind of Renaissance condottiere…He had no sense of money. He was the most generous man I ever knew, and when it was his own money at stake he didn’t care at all.” — Suso Cecchi d’Amico, Sight and Sound, Winter 1986–1987
- L’Innocente (1976)
- Conversation Piece (1974)
- Ludwig (1972)
- Death in Venice (1971)
- Alla ricerca di Tadzio (1970)
- The Damned (1969)
- The Stranger (1967)
- The Witches (1967) – “The Witch Burned Alive”
- Vague Stars of Ursa… (1965)
- The Leopard (1963)
- Boccaccio ’70 (1962) – “The Job”
- Dommage qu’elle soit une putain (1961)
- Rocco and His Brothers (1961)
- Of Life and Love (1958) – “The Lapdog”
- White Nights (1957)
- Senso (1954)
- Appunti su un fatto di Cronaca (1953) (short)
- Siamo Donne (1953) – “Anna Magnani”
- Bellissima (1951)
- La terra trema (1947)
- Giorni di Gloria (1945) – “Lynching Of Carretta “Caruso Trial”
- Obsession (1943)
Here is a curated selection of links shared on our Facebook page for additional insight/information:
- 12/28/16 – “Rocco is one of the most sumptuous black-and-white pictures I’ve ever seen. The images, shot by the great Giuseppe Rotunno, are pearly, elegant and lustrous – it’s like a simultaneous continuation and development of neorealism. Thanks to Gucci and The Film Foundation and our friends at the Cineteca di Bologna, Luchino Visconti’s masterpiece can be experienced once again in all its fearsome beauty and power.” Martin Scorsese – link
- 1/7/17 – “Visconti’s 1960 epic Rocco and His Brothers has had a stealthy but perceptible influence in the 55 years since its release, most prominently in the thematics of Martin Scorsese movies such as Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Casino, and The Departed, all of which involve cohesive units gradually destabilized by forces both within and without.” Scott Eyman, Film Comment magazine – link
- 1/29/17 – “With the emotional sweep of a Verdi opera and the narrative density of a 19th-century novel, Rocco and His Brothers by Luchino Visconti represents the artistic apotheosis of Italian neo-realism. Visconti embedded his schematic sense of history in sensual and emotional detail — you don’t observe his characters so much as live alongside them. Its richness is inexhaustible. Neither the neighborhood intimacy of Mean Streets nor the grandeur of the Godfather movies is imaginable without Visconti’s example.” A.O. Scott, The New York Times – link
- 2/4/17 – Forget Rossellini and Fellini – no one did as much to shape Italian cinema as Luchino Visconti. “So why is he so underrated?” asks Jonathan Jones – link
- 2/6/17 – “The film’s initial fame was also partly caused by its scandalous content, causing serious problems with censors (the original cut was not broadly seen until restored 40 years later by cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno). Rocco and His Brothers by Luchino Visconti is still shocking, if perhaps less for the reasons that appalled conservative politicians at the time, and rather more for its particular deconstructions of masculinity played-out within the context of larger historical forces.” Hamish Ford, Senses of Cinema – link