Sunday, February 28, 2010

Susan Sarandon in Conversation - A Journey Through American Cinema

The fifth edition of the International Rome Film Festival may still be some eight months away, but in the meantime The Fondazione Cinema per Roma kicked off its 2010 series of encounters with Hollywood actors and directors - Viaggio nel cinema americano (A Journey Through American Cinema) – yesterday evening, with an interview with Susan Sarandon in the sold-out Sala Petrassi at the Auditorium Parco della Musica.

Seen in person, Susan Sarandon really is stunningly beautiful, yet her droll, often self-effacing sense of humour, combined with a down to earth attitude, made for a relaxed conversational atmosphere with the evening's hosts, Antonio Monda and Mario Sesti, who asked questions mixed with clips from some of her screen performances, although on this occasion at her own request, there was a far longer Q & A session with members of the audience too.

The opening clip from the iconic Ridley Scott road movie Thelma & Louise led to probably the most detailed discussion of the evening about the specific development of any one role, as she discussed changes to the script and her own input as an actress in the shaping of Louise's character. Other clips - The Rocky Horror Picture Show (paired, somewhat bizarrely, with Shall We Dance); Atlantic City and Pretty Baby (both directed by Loius Malle); The Client and her Oscar winning performance in Dead Man Walking - served more as springboards to wider discussions about the state of cinema today. Asked what impact her older movies have on her when she watches them again, she laughed and said that very often she hadn't even watched them first time round, and instead preferred to focus her attention on her work on the set, rather than thinking too much about the final result. As a mother of three children, she also said that it was pretty much impossible to remain in character off a film set although challenging roles such as that of Sister Helen Prejean in Dead Man Walking stayed with her more than others.

Susan Sarandon is certainly no stranger to Rome, having lived here during the mid-1980s. Indeed, she had her first child here – actress Eva Amurri - with Roman film director and writer Franco Amurri after having been told she would never be able to conceive. I always tell people who have been trying to have a baby that they should just go to Rome and eat good food and it will happen – she joked at one point, and also pointed out members of her Italian family who were present in the audience.

At the end of the evening she seemed in no hurry to leave the stage and generously signed numerous autographs, shook hands with the fans who rushed to the stage and posed for photographs.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Galleria Sciarra

Galleria Sciarra, Rome
On a wander through the centre of Rome the other day, I took a short cut through the recently restored Galleria Sciarra. Situated very close to the Trevi Fountain on Piazza dell' Oratorio, this gorgeous and utterly surprising arcade is easily missed, so I thought I'd post something about it here in our Discover Rome section, where we take a closer look at some of the hidden treasures in the Eternal City that are sometimes overshadowed by the city's more famous landmarks.

The arcade is named after the building's original owner, Prince Maffeo Sciarra, who in the late 1880s commissioned the architect Giulio De Angelis to design a glass-domed galleria to serve as a fashionable shopping centre for Rome. Painter Giuseppe Cellini decorated the space and the frescoes he produced are a wonderful example of the influence of English pre-Raphaelite art on Italian artists at the end of the 19th century, in their mixing of Renaissance decoration with images of contemporary women. In fact, the role of women in middle class society is very much at the heart of the fresco cycle, albeit in the traditional roles of mother, wife and housekeeper, as well as personifying the female "virtues", some of which are seen in the photo below:

Galleria Sciarra, Rome - Frescoes by Giuseppe Cellini

  • Amabilis - streches out her arms in welcome;
  • Fidelis - points to her faithful heart, with a dog symbolically placed at her feet;
  • Misericors -is cutting her long hair and thus making a sacrifice.
Look out for this hidden gem next time you're in Rome!

Photos © Deborah Swain - All rights reserved

Friday, February 12, 2010

Snow in Rome!

At the time of writing this post, watery sunshine and the palest of blue skies may have returned to Rome, yet earlier today the city looked very different - Romans and tourists were able to enjoy the rare treat of seeing the major landmarks of the Eternal City under a picturesque covering of snow!

Saint Peter's after heavy snow - 12 February, 2010

It is extremely unusual for snow to fall in Rome – in fact, the last time the capital saw any significant snowfall was back in 1986.

Saints on collonnade at Saint Peter's Square in the snow

The saints in the snow here are (from left to right): St. Francis of Assisi, St. Bernard, St. Benedict, St. Ignatius Loyola and St. Remigius.

Photo © Deborah Swain - All rights reserved

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Josh Ritter and The Swell Season - Strict Joy Tour | The Auditorium, Rome | 6 February, 2010

When I first read that the opening act for yesterday evening's The Swell Season concert at Sala Sinopli at the Auditorium Parco della Musica was going to be Josh Ritter, my expectations for the event were instantly raised. With an opening act of such a high calibre this had all the potential for being an incredible evening. Unfortunately, his presence wasn't heavily advertised, and he was forced to play with house lights up and the constant comings and goings of people taking their seats – and that unbreakable rule which says that an audience should always chat throughout the support act holds true in Rome too. It's to Josh Ritter's enormous credit, therefore, that with just voice and guitar (and a huge smile that was visible even from the gallery) he won over enough of the audience to elicit cheers and applause after each of his gorgeous and quirky folk songs – Kathleen, Snow is Gone, Girl In The War, Harrisburg are just some that I remember - and managed to silence most of the others impatiently waiting for the main event. I could have listened to him all night!

As one of the few people on the planet who hasn't yet seen Once, the movie that catapulted The Frames' front-man Glen Hansard and Czech singer and pianist Markéta Irglová into worldwide stardom as the group The Swell Season, I'll admit that I bought the tickets for the concert out of pure curiosity. As Glen and Markéta took to the stage, however, and were joined by The Frames to play Low Rising from the band's new album Strict Joy, I quickly realised I'd made the right call! Shifting between older and newer songs, mixed in with lots of chat from the charismatic Hansard, this was an evening of consummate musicianship combined with heartfelt intensity and passion. One of the many highlights of the evening – with a clear nod to his busking days – saw Hansard step away from the mic and play a totally unplugged Say It To Me Now, breaking the song midway to tell the story, at once funny and terribly moving, of his meeting an elderly woman who had lost a son in the 9/11 attacks. It's hard to imagine anybody even daring to cover Van Morrison's Astral Weeks – but Glen Hansard took that chance last night...and it was astoundingly good! Traditional musical influences were also given a moment in the spotlight when The Frames' violin player Colm Mac Con Iomaire played the haunting traditional Irish violin solo The Court Of New Town.

It was surely no surprise to anybody when the couple came back out on stage during the encore and sang two of the songs that so perfectly showcase just how well their voices fit together - Falling Slowly from the film Once - it won an Academy Award for Best Song - and Lies. As a brand new Josh Ritter fan I was thrilled to see him invited back out on stage during the encore for a stunning version of Come and Find Me, which this time saw him playing with both The Swell Season and the Frames. If the audience response to Hansard's attempts to get us to sing along to Back Broke and High Hopes earlier in the evening had been a little shy – uncharacteristic for a Roman crowd – that was all swept away during the closing number. Powerless to resist, we all stood up when ordered, shook ourselves and sang (and clapped and danced) to High Horses. A fantastic live band – highly recommended!

Watch Falling Slowly and Lies below or click here to watch on YouTube.

Watch Josh Ritter's Kathleen below or click here to watch on YouTube.

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