Thursday, October 30, 2008

Liza Minnelli | The Auditorium, Rome | 29 October, 2008

Liza Minnelli was in stunning form on the opening date if her Italian Tour in Sala Santa Cecilia at the Auditorium in Rome last night. I had bought the tickets in order to pay respectful homage to a living legend and hadn't been expecting such a dazzling performance - instead I was left, quite simply, in awe of the woman!

After years of ill-health Liza is well and truly back in a wonderful show in which she sings and dances with mesmerizing energy and enthusiasm, supported on stage by a 12 piece orchestra and four brilliant singers and dancers who play the part of the Williams Brothers in an affectionate tribute to her godmother Kay Thompson's review of the 1940s.

A natural raconteur, she shared personal reminiscences of her mother Judy Garland and father Vincente Minnelli between songs which included classics such as Cabaret and of course, her signature tune and concert closer, New York New York, as well as as some lesser known numbers – songs written for Chicago and Cabaret that never actually made it into the movies.

And what a voice – vulnerable and powerful all at once, she gave a faultless performance last night. The standing ovation and continued cheers from the audience at the end of the concert were rewarded by an extraordinary acapella version of I'll be seeing you – just Liza, no orchestra - you just HAD to have been there!

As a footnote...with Rome lashed by torrential rains and monsoon-like storms last night getting to the Auditorium involved wading ankle deep through flooded streets and praying that the bus we were on didn't aquaplane out of control! Some how we managed to get so very glad we did!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Ben Barnes and Jessica Biel at 'Easy Virtue' Premiere at Rome Film Festival

A recent online survey named Jessica Biel as one of the worst red carpet autograph signers on the scene right now and indeed, true to form, she swished briskly down the red carpet last night at the premiere of Easy Virtue in Rome and although she did smile and wave briefly at the handful of waiting fans, her attention was focused firmly on journalists and official photographers and anybody after an autograph was left disappointed. Ben Barnes aka Prince Caspian, on the other hand, her charming co-star in the movie, stopped to chat to fans and signed numerous autographs along the red carpet route. They were both joined by the director, Stephen Elliott (of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert fame) for the red carpet photo call before entering Sala Santa Cecilia for the premiere. The film itself, an adaptation of Noel Coward's roaring twenties play of the same name, was met with an extremely warm reception. Diva or not, Biel gives an excellent performance in this sparkling comedy of manners, as the sexy American racing driver who marries into an upper class English family and finds herself at odds with the hypocrisy and stuffiness of the household and in particular, with her new mother-in-law played by a wonderfully droll Kristin Scott Thomas.

Viggo Mortensen in Conversation at the Rome Film Festival

Viggo Mortensen at the Rome Film Festival 2008

If this year's Rome Film Festival has seen a paucity of international A-list stars on the red carpet Viggo Mortensen has single-handedly done much to redress the balance appearing in no less than three events here this year! After two walks up the red carpet for the presentations of the films Appaloosa and Good earlier this week, yesterday he spoke to fans and film goers in Sala Petrassi in an encounter organised by Mario Sesti and Marco Giovannini. These conversations are always designed to encourage an intimate atmosphere and actors or directors are left to speak as freely as they wish, however, yesterday's afternoon with Viggo Mortensen seemed particularly special with a relaxed Mortensen talking at length in both English and Italian (and even, in response to a question from a member of the audience, in Norwegian) ostensibly about his film career, although the general impression afterwards, was that one had been left with an insight into his philosophy for living.

During the encounter clips from some of his key movies were shown and Mortensen was quick to praise his onscreen partnerships as being fundamental to the success of each performance, citing in particular the work done by Patricia Arquette in The Indian Runner, Sean Bean in The Lord of the Rings, as well as the intelligence and intuition of TJ, the horse which played the title role in Hidalgo and which he purchased after the film. There were also clips from Carlito's Way, A History of Violence – the highly intense sex scene on a staircase with Maria Bello, after which Mortensen quipped “Don't try that at home!” - and Alatriste, in which he speaks Spanish. Incredibly warm, genuinely interested in people and conversations, this charismatic actor then spent a good half hour after the event signing autographs and individually greeting his admirers.

Friday, October 24, 2008

David Cronenberg in conversation at The International Rome Film Festival

If the presence of iconic actor Al Pacino on Day One of the Rome Film festival was admittedly a tough act to follow, the presence of iconic film director David Cronenberg on Day Two was an equally thrilling encounter for fans of the maestro of body horror who was the star attraction yesterday afternoon. After a leisurely stroll up the red carpet where he signed numerous autographs and posed for photographs, he then spoke at length about his work as both director and occasional actor with Antonio Monda and Mario Sesti in front of a packed and enthusiastic audience in Sala Petrassi.

Following the familiar format for film meetings at the Auditorium the director spoke in between clips from some of his most famous movies – The Fly, A History of Violence, Dead Ringers and eXistenZ – as well as the extraordinary fight sequence featuring Viggo Mortensen in Eastern Promises which the curators paired with the Turkish bath house sequence in Orson Welles' Othello and which, curiously, Cronenberg said he'd never seen until that moment.

I'm a huge admirer of Cronenberg so this really was an enthralling experience. He discussed themes familiar to all his films – human violence, ageing, disease and mortality – in short, the human condition; it was also particularly refreshing to hear him speak in Italy, a country that dedicates huge amounts of space to what the Pope says and does on the main news most days, and to hear him declare himself as unashamedly atheist and as a person who doesn't believe in the human spirit existing outside the human body. He defined himself early on in the conversation as an “existentialist'”– however unfashionable that term may be nowadays! “Genius” will do nicely.

At the Palazzo delle Esposizioni there is also an exhibition of digitally elaborated photographs taken from stills from his films - Chromosomes. Cronenberg beyond cinema and an accompanying retrospective of his films

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Al Pacino in conversation at The International Rome Film Festival

The road to this year's Rome film festival – now in its third edition – has been a somewhat rocky one with the controversial resignation in April of its president Goffredo Bettini and a great deal of discussion about shifting the focus of the festival away from glamorous A-list stars and Hollywood movies to European, and specifically Italian, cinema. The most notable change was that of its name – what was once the Rome Film Fest became The International Rome Film Festival – all rather ironic in the light of the organisers' desire to give the event a stronger Italian identity.

As it happens, the festival opened yesterday with one of the greatest international stars of all time (albeit of Italian descent) and a true Hollywood icon – Al Pacino – who was presented with the Marc'Aurelio Alla Carriera, an Acting Award given to the Actors Studio, of which he is one of the presidents.

After a lengthy stroll up the red carpet to cheers and scenes of general pandemonium outside the Auditorium Parco della Music, Al Pacino then spent the next couple of hours in conversation in Sala Sinopoli, where he chatted about his acting career and working techniques. With Pacino's wry sense of humour, enormous humility and generosity of spirit this was a wonderfully entertaining encounter. The audience were treated to some classic moments from some of his defining roles kicking off with Dog Day Afternoon, followed by Scarecrow, Scarface, Carlito's Way, The Merchant of Venice, Looking for Richard, The Godfather and The Devil's Advocate, and finally - with a respectful nod to Italian legend Vittorio Gassman's interpretation in Dino Risi's Profumo Di Donna - Scent of a Woman. Pacino discussed each film in turn and then answered questions from the audience – in answer to one in question about achieving iconic status in Hollywood the actors he named as being true greats in the younger generation working today were...Sean Penn, Johnny Depp, Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio.

The evening was rounded off with two pieces previously unseen in Italy – a 7 minute clip from Al Pacino's current project as writer and director - Salomaybe? This was followed by Chinese Coffee, also directed by Pacino, a bittersweet film that felt more like an intimate play, beautifully acted by Al Pacino and the late Jerry Orbach who are on screen together for almost the entire film. In fact, Pacino introduced it as his “off-off-Broadway movie”.

Festival del cinema di Roma © Alessandro Serranò 127
Originally uploaded by ErMaphia

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Cranes | Circolo degli Artisti, Rome | 21 October, 2008

The Circolo degli Artisti is one of those small and sweaty standing-only venues where packed audiences are crammed into a tiny space and can almost touch the artists on stage – the perfect intimate setting for new and emerging musicians or more famous indie bands with cult status such as was the case with Cranes last night, on a European tour after a long hiatus to promote their new eponymously titled CD. The downside of the venue is that bands inevitably have to compete against the background drone of inane chatter from the people at the back who for mysterious reasons known only to themselves, have bought tickets for a concert but prefer to hang around the bar and talk all over the music! Romans, incidentally, win the prize for this – whether it be at concerts, the theatre or movies, shutting up and listening seems a major challenge in this city, so major kudos to Cranes who managed to quickly win over the entire audience last night. Admittedly, most people at the front where I was standing seemed to be hardcore fans and at times I felt conspicuous as a Cranes ingénue as they performed their classic songs to ecstatic cheers. I really enjoy going to shows as a way of discovering music that I don't actually know that well, however, and was so pleased that I'd been persuaded to go – Cranes are an amazing band to see live! I was completely won over by their fusion of jangly guitars and electronic pop - I was often reminded of Joy Division or New Order with a dash of Cocteau Twins – all held together by the ethereal vocals of the captivating Alison Shaw.

After playing two, maybe three encores – I actually lost count - they were immediately back out on stage after lights up to sign CDs, posters and chat and shake hands with fans. Great band, nice people – catch them if they're playing near you!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Poverty in Rome for Blog Action Day

Today, 15 October 2008, is Blog Action Day when tens of thousands of bloggers around the world write a post about one important topic. This year the focus is on poverty.

This blog usually looks at art and music and features concert reviews short, it highlights the best of Rome. This post looks at homelessness, poverty and degradation in a city in which - according to city council estimates last year - approximately 7,000 homeless people are sleeping on the streets.

I didn't take the five photographs here - if you'd like to comment on any of the images please click on them or the links below and you'll be taken to the Flickr pages of the photographer.

Io Vagabondo...
Originally uploaded by ibernato67

Flower Girl
Originally uploaded by vangruvie

In ricchezza e in povertà
Originally uploaded by Eleanza

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