‘During his lifetime, Visconti changed his spots as often as Tancredi. Born into one of the wealthiest and noblest families in Italy, he flirted with Fascism before becoming a lifelong Communist who was imprisoned by the Nazis for his involvement with the resistance. In his work, too, Visconti did more about-faces than the soldiers who appear in many of his movies. He went from being the poster boy for Italian neorealism to being pilloried for sacrificing the political content of his films at the altar of melodramatic excess. As one critic wrote of Visconti, he was “a walking oxymoron of operatic realism, bisexuality and restrained extravagance.”
‘The director’s oeuvre is now being re-evaluated and may finally be moving out of the margins of highbrow camp. “Visconti set the bar, he was the mark of quality,” says Caterina d’Amico, the organizer of a recent major retrospective of Visconti’s work, “Visconti e Il Suo Tempo” (“Visconti and His Time”). “People like Bertolucci would never have dreamt of making the kinds of films they did if it wasn’t for Visconti. But among the young, his influence is more subconscious — most of these kids don’t know that they are Visconti’s cultural grandchildren.”
‘Luchino Visconti was born in 1906, into one of the oldest families in Milan, a lineage that is said to go as far back as Charlemagne. Visconti’s family was part of the inner circle of King Victor Emmanuel III and Queen Elena, and he and his siblings often went riding with the children of the royal family. Visconti’s love of horses extended into his adulthood, and, ever the dilettante, he spent eight years as a young man racing and breeding them.
‘In the mid-1930’s, however, he moved to Paris and met the photographer Horst P. Horst and Coco Chanel, both of whom are widely believed to have been his lovers. Chanel introduced him to the filmmaker Jean Renoir, for whom Visconti worked as an assistant director and a costume designer. While Renoir, the director of La Grande Illusion, undoubtedly shaped Visconti’s aesthetic, he and his Marxist circle also molded Visconti’s politics. Visconti swung to the left and maintained his allegiance to the Italian Communist Party for the rest of his life.
‘The films of Luchino Visconti are among the most stylistically and intellectually influential of postwar Italian cinema. He integrated the most heterogeneous elements of aristocratic sensibility and taste with a committed Marxist political consciousness, backed by a firm knowledge of Italian class structure. Visconti worked effectively and repeatedly with Anna Magnani, Silvana Mangano Claudia Cardinale, Marcello Mastroianni, Alain Delon, Dirk Bogarde, and Helmut Berger. He turned out films steadily but rather slowly from 1942 to 1976. His obsessive care with narrative and filmic materials is apparent in the majority of his films.
‘Visconti was incredibly well read, and his fixation with 19th-century realist fiction — Stendhal, Balzac, Dostoyevsky — is evident in the granular attention to detail he brought to his movies. Although the themes of his films would evolve from the sociopolitical to the psychological — from the relative economical simplicity of Ossessione to the operatic grandeur of Ludwig — his obsession with exactitude remained constant. Visconti’s final film was The Innocent (1976), in which he returns to his recurring interest in infidelity and betrayal. He died in Rome of a stroke at age 69.’ — Horacio Silvia, BFI
Luchino Visconti Website (in Italian)
Luchino Visconti Fan Site (in Italian)
Luchino Visconti’s films on DVD & Blu-ray (UK)
Luchino Visconti’s films on DVD & Blu-ray (USA)
Luchino Visconti @ mubi
‘Visconti’s Cinema of Twilight’ @ Senses of Cinema
‘Visconti Revisited Take 2’
‘Luchino Visconti’s Rocco and His Brothers: Poverty and Possibility, Heroism and Decadence in Italy’
‘Of masterpieces and costumes: on Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard’
‘Haunted frames: history and landscape in Luchino Visconti’s Ossessione’
Luchino Visconti Filmography
C’était quoi Luchino Visconti ? – Blow up – ARTE
LUCHINO VISCONTI ON ACTING AND FILMMAKING
THE HIDDEN ANGELES OF LUCHINO VISCONTI- Trailer
by Guy Flatley
Mr. Visconti, is it true that you threw a tantrum at the Cannes Festival because ‘Death in Venice’ did not win first prize, that you threatened never to return to Cannes, and that the only way the jury managed to calm you down was by coming up with a brand new prize called the 25th Anniversary Award?
Luchino Visconti: Such gossip! The prize they gave me at Cannes was much more important than the one they gave to Joseph Losey. They make special prize for me–-not just for Death in Venice, but for all my films. So far, it goes very well with this movie. In London, there are long queues, lots of young people with guitars and beads. It makes me very happy that the young people can understand the movie’s point of view, that they can understand this kind of love.
Some people feel that “this kind of love” is homosexual love, that Visconti’s movie, even more than Thomas Mann’s story, is simply the study of a repressed homosexual who is suddenly seized by an overwhelming desire for a stunning adolescent boy.
LV: The love is not homosexual. It is love without eroticism, without sexuality. And young people today know that love is the most important sentiment. Sex is important, too, but it is a consequence of love. The boy in the story represents the sentiment of love; he is the symbol for beauty. Aschenbach pursues the idea of beauty and when he sees that this perfection really does exist, it is a great consolation. But it has its fatal aspect.
In Thomas Mann’s story, Aschenbach was a writer, but in Visconti’s movie, Aschenbach–-brought boldly to life by Dirk Bogarde-–is a composer.
LV: It was easier for me to give the impression I wished by making him a musician, and also I wanted to use the music of Gustav Mahler. I believe that Mann was thinking of Mahler when he wrote Death in Venice. There is much evidence to support this theory; Mann’s daughter thinks the story is about Mahler. When Mahler’s daughter learned that I was making the film, she became anxious about her father’s reputation. I heard from her a week ago. ‘I have found my serenity once again,’ she told me. She had seen my movie and her mind was set completely at ease.
‘The Damned’ is Visconti’s bone-chilling portrait of that German industrialist family and its role in the rise of Nazism. One typical scene showed Helmut Berger, as the clan’s most enterprising pervert, brutally raping his murderous mother, played in chalk-face by Ingrid Thulin. That celebrated bedroom scene has already been made to look slightly old-hat by recent developments in the American New Wave.
LV: We see now a great flowering of American films. There are many scenes that make the one between Helmut and Ingrid look like a piece of sugar-–a family matter. Like Andy Warhol’s Trash. That was a little stronger than incest, wouldn’t you say?
The sea of sadism, incest and homosexuality that surged through ‘The Damned’ was surely an artistic exaggeration?
LV: There is invention in the film, but the invention is in the direction of reality. That family was the Krupp family, and all those S. A. troops were homosexual. The way I showed The Night of the Long Knives-–the slaughter of the young boys in their beds-–is exactly the way it was reported by witnesses. Above all, The Damned is a social and political document.
Although he is a member of an aristocratic family and once held the title of count and is even reported to be a millionaire, Visconti denies the charge that he votes left but lives right.
LV: Italy is a republic now. I am not a count; I’m nothing. My family was very rich, yes, but not me. I work all the time. I do like to live comfortably, but that does not prohibit me from having ideas about social reform. I don’t have to wear a burlap bag and live in a stable to feel that way, do I? I feel that we are heading toward a better society-–with the proper equilibrium, without Maoist extremism. The world can’t go backward, it must go forward.
12 of Luchino Visconti’s 21 films
‘Visconti’s intepretation of James M Cain’s novel “The Postman Always Rings Twice”. This poetic mixture of noir and neorealism forces the audience to sympathise with the central act of murder as an impulse as much as a decision, identifying it with the intense, smouldering sex appeal of the perpetrating couple – especially Gino (Massimo Girotti), whose every movement (shaving, taking off his singlet, feeling his stubble) is both lovingly fetishised, and defined against the sweaty, repulsive corpulence of his victim. This sex appeal is, in turn, integrated into a more general sensual impulse, of which the narrative crises are mere instances, and whose most obvious corollary is the amorphous crowd against which those crises tend to occur.’ — A Film Canon
La Terra Trema (1948)
‘ Luchino Visconti’s early neorealist classic La Terra Trema (The Earth Will Tremble) was commissioned from Visconti by Italy’s Communist party, who originally wanted him to make a documentary about Sicilian fisherman to be used as propaganda in the upcoming election. After falling in love with the Sicilian fishing village of Aci Trezza Visconti decided not to make a documentary, but opted instead to use the real people and locations he observed there to tell a fictional story, a loose adaptation of Giovanni Verga’s novel I Malavoglia which Visconti fleshed out with liberal amounts of original material.’ — Pop Matters
‘As with much of Visconti’s work, ‘Senso’ caused 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. ‘Senso’ is the first of three films which deal with European nationalism very directly the others being ‘The Leopard’ (1963), and ‘The Damned (1969)’. ‘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. 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. The potential for a popular movement is effectively denied by those in command of the Italian forces. The film shows 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.’ — Kinoeye
Le Notte Bianchi (1957)
‘Centring on a sustained testimony and the composition of a crucial letter, Dostoyevsky’s iconic novella makes for an unusual translation into cinematic language, as Visconti uses it both as a convenient transition between his earlier, testimonial neorealism, and the aristocratic, melodramatic formalism of his subsequent works, and, more strikingly, as the pretext for elaborating a nexus between speech and sight. Visconti simultaneously compresses and distends space, suffusing the evocative streetscapes with an inky blackness that flattens everything outside of the lover’s faces, and expanding even the most shallow interior spaces (most poetically a series of shop displays), until the most panoramic vantage point is gained by gazing in at the lovers through a foggy window – at least in realistic terms, since the correspondence between this impossible spatial requirement and the anamorphic world of fairy tales is explicated in the final sequence.’ — A Film Canon
Rocco and His Brothers (1960)
”Rocco e i suoi fratelli’ (Rocco and His Brothers) is a 1960 Italian and French film directed by Luchino Visconti. Set in Milan, it tells the story of an immigrant family from the South and its disintegration in the society of the industrial North. The film stars Alain Delon, Renato Salvatori, Annie Girardot, and Claudia Cardinale, in one of her early roles before she became internationally known. The plot revolves around the prostitute, Nadia (Annie Girardot), who is pursued and desired by both Simone and Rocco (Alain Delon). The pivotal scene in the film comes when Simone rapes Nadia in front of Rocco, who then gives her up to his brother out of a tragic, misplaced desire to do whatever it takes to keep his family whole. During shooting, the film was seized and Visconti asked to delete the scenes showing Nadia’s rape and murder. Visconti was not vindicated until a court judgement of 1966.’ — Wikipedia
The Leopard (1963)
‘Luchino Visconti was the aristocrat of Italian cinema, and also an avowed Marxist. That fact alone makes his films intriguing, none more so than ‘The Leopard’, one of the grandest widescreen historical epics. There is a sensuousness about the direction that perfectly matched the ideas behind the film, the most sophisticated of which was that, even when the old order was able to reach an accommodation to the new, it brought a kind of corrupting decadence with it. All this was very different from the orthodox Marxism of films like ‘La Terra Trema’. But then Visconti was as full of ambiguities as many of his films. He viewed the world as a kind of melodrama in which passion and destiny predominated.’ — The Guardian
Vaghe stelle dell’Orsa… (1965)
‘An admitted steal from Electra, Luchino Visconti’s modernized story is set in a small Italian town where Sandra (Claudia Cardinale) brings her new husband, Andrew (Michael Craig), for a visit to the old family palazzo. Family’s disintegration, not to say degeneracy, emerges in rapid strokes, via an explicitly told tale of a far from chilled love affair between Sandra and her brother, Gianni (Jean Sorel), plus their mother’s near-insanity, their father’s mysterious death at Auschwitz, and the new and fairly sinister presence of their mother’s second husband, Gilardini (Renzo Ricci).’ — Variety
The Damned (1969)
‘Luchino Visconti’s The Damned may be the chef d’oeuvre of the great Italian director—a spectacle of such greedy passion, such uncompromising sensation, and such obscene shock that it makes you realize how small and safe and ordinary most movies are. Experiencing it is like taking a whiff of ammonia—it’s not conventionally pleasant, but it makes you see the outlines of everything around you with just a little more clarity. The Damned, while having validity as a political and social parable, is mind-blinding as a spectacle of fabulous corruption, detailed within the family organism that so fascinates Visconti. The entire film evokes a sense of makeup and masquerade, both physical and emotional. Color also is important. The first shot of the movie is a close-up of the orange flames of a blast furnace, after which the light seems to dim progressively to a twilight, set off by splotches of red, first a flower in a buttonhole, then Nazi armbands and flags and, finally, blood.’ — The New York Times
Death in Venice (1971)
‘At the close of Visconti’s Death in Venice the presence of the camera on the beach appears to point to its own capacity for illusion. But the paradox goes beyond questions about artistic deception. It concerns “art on the verge of its own impossibility,” as Heller says. Form that is constantly threatened with formlessness: this is the irony that confronts Kierkegaard’s “moralist incognito.” And in every detail of this film, which records the dissolution not only of the central character, but of a city, of art – in fact, of civilized existence – there is evidence of the artist’s determination to form. All artists attempt it; a few, like Mann and Visconti and those they emulate, convince us that they can shape it in their work. They show the last change of mind: how to win from the irremediable a measure of hope and time.’ — Culture Court
‘Visconti has suggested when discussing his filmic style that a prowling eye (in this case Visconti’s camera) can discover almost everything it needs to know just by looking. In ‘Ludwig’ there are wonderful sequences where the camera glides slowly, over the landscapes, the castles, the ceremonials of the royalty, looking at all the quirks of behavior and social etiquette with such attention to detail like a patient sociologist taking notes. It is here where the richness of Visconti’s work becomes most apparent. Visconti achieves a stately narrative pace suggesting the slow deterioration of this society. We look at all the possibilities that Ludwig had when he assumed throne and then look at the damage that precedes and wonder what could have happened. Visconti’s images are full of information. The dominant images are of brooding sadness and of slow and inevitable decay. Even thou we know exactly how Ludwig arrived at these conditions, it is still hard to believe what we are seeing, but we continue to stare at the disaster with fascination.’ — The Spinning Image
Conversation Piece (1975)
”Conversation Piece’ is a disaster, the kind that prompts giggles from victims in the audience who, willingly, sit through it all feeling as if they were drowning in three inches of water. The film continues to explore concerns that occupied Mr. Visconti in both ‘The Leopard’ and in his later screen adaptation of ‘Death in Venice.’ The barbarians, the forces that represent social and political change and that acknowledge their physical passions, are attacking a citadel of the intellect, a place where reason has reigned at the cost of any possibility of love or commitment. It’s one of Mr. Visconti’s more dubious propositions that a person of taste and intelligence must always sleep alone in sterile splendor.’ — The New York Times
‘Coming after the dissolute wackiness of Ludwig and the cavorting valedictory of Conversation Piece, Luchino Visconti’s swan song L’Innocente is something of a genteel and stately affair. Tullio (Giancarlo Giannini) is a jaded aristocrat in late 19th-century Italy, a Byronic brooder whose melancholy both torments him and makes him feel alive: “An ill person who rejoices in his own illness” is how he’s described by his neglected young wife Giuliana (Laura Antonelli), who struggles to keep up a cool façade as he casually ditches her at a concert to visit his mistress, the widowed Countess Teresa (Jennifer O’Neill). Tullio’s interest in Giuliana is reawakened upon discovery of her fling with a handsome writer (Marc Porel), yet his newfound passion is tested when she gives birth to an illegitimate son. If Burt Lancaster’s Prince of Salina in The Leopard was a classical man witnessing his world vanishing into modernity, Giannini’s Tullio is a modern man trying in vain to detach himself from classical morals through atheism, hedonism, and a last, monstrous act against innocence. Reportedly directing from a wheelchair, the dying Visconti suppresses his penchant for heightened dramaturgy in favor of languid severities that, thanks to expressive sequences such as Tullio and Giuliana’s elegiac visit to the villa where they fell in love, stay on the right side of Merchant-Ivory stodginess. The maestro’s fastidious fixation on sumptuous décor remains intact, however, with the camera doting on the way a noblewoman’s veil is pinned in place and lingering on the dozens of contrasting bearskins that cover a couch. While marveling at the scarlet velvet wallpaper, Visconti regrettably fails to realize that Giannini in fin-de-siècle frock coats looks like a mildly hung-over gigolo who got off on the wrong floor. (By contrast, Italian softcore queen Antonelli is sexy and delicately touching.) L’Innocente is a peculiarly adagio note on which to close a career with so many fortissimo gestures, though, by exploring the desires seething under society’s lacquered surfaces, it proves also to be a fitting one.’ — Slant
p.s. Hey. ** _Black_Acrylic, All thanks to the three originators wherever they may be. That FS book looks cool. So nice that there are people dedicated to his legacy. ** David Ehrenstein, MacDonald was a prose stylist of the highest order. ** Steve Erickson, Wow, okay, then I’ll definitely see what I can find of it. That series. ** Bill, Yes, that post is quite ancient. 9 years, 10 years? I forget. Thank you for the seasons greetings, Bill. I finally scored a buche yesterday after having left it so late that most of the best ones were already sold out. But I think mine’ll work. It has a sparkler inside it that you light and which then supposedly redesigns the buche as it sparkles or something. Oh, I’m guessing you’re on your way to the East? (Or maybe it’s west from where you are.) Have fun. Nice you’re reading Kevin as today would have been his 67th birthday. ** Nick Toti, Thanks, Nick. High five. Really, about ‘Cats’? I don’t know, man, based on the footage I’ve seen, I don’t think I can do it. Or not until I have the option of turning it off. But that’s very interesting to know you found the unexpected in it. You’re the first to make that particular case that I’ve heard/read. Okay, rain check then. Have a great tomorrow whatever it involves. ** Ferdinand, The German versions had nice covers. They were published by a press that mostly published theory and philosophy books, so they had that look. Which I liked. Oh, wow, seriously? Congrats about the wedding. And about the Paris honeymoon. Let’s coffee or something. ** Paul Curran, Hi, Paul! Happy happy Xmas! I assume you’re doing it up for your kiddo? Things are okay, thanks. Nothing firm on Japan yet, but nothing standing in the trip’s way. Just need to sort it. Zac and I are on a deadly deadline to finish the gruesome TV series script in the next two weeks, and my brain is mostly in that quicksand. Oh, whoa! Gary Shipley is republishing ‘Left Hand’! Did you change things? Man, that’s fantastic news! It’s alive, or almost! When’s the pub date? So nice to see you, man, and hopefully again the flesh before too long. ** Misanthrope, Holidays will do that to you, assuming you’re on one. Oh, I see, you are. Novel editing, good, check. Requisite visit to the new Timothy Chalet vehicle, gotcha, check. I hope you have a super swell Xmas tomorrow or tonight or whenever you Wines people do that shit. ** James, Funny, my father didn’t have a hidden porn stash, but my mother did. Several of them, in fact, ‘hidden’ in various rooms in our house. Complicated woman. Yes, I got the pdf. Thank you very much! I look forward greatly to read it! Happy Xmas to you! I’m going to eat a buche and walk around in deserted Paris enjoying the post-apocalyptic vibe and that’s pretty much my Xmas day. Much love, me. ** KK, Hi, man! Happy Xmas and all that good stuff. I haven’t seen the Lil Peep doc yet. I want to, mostly for obvious Malick-attached reason, although LP is interesting too. Huh. Okay, I’ll go find it wherever it is. Thanks, buddy! ** Grant Maierhofer, Hi, Grant! Well, of course, re: your book. Uh, I don’t think ‘Peripatet’ reached me. I’m pretty sure I would know if it had. You bailed on social media? Good on you. Yes, do feel more than free to transfer your online present to here as often as possible and likeable. I will continue to try to keep the hysteria and Trump addiction and related blah blah out of here as best I can. I hope your holidays are treating you like a magic wand. ** Right. I thought asking you to spend your local Xmas Eve with Luchino Visconti was a nice idea for some reason. And, yes, Xmas de damned, I will see you tomorrow.