Monday, October 31, 2011

A Lesson in Cinema by Michael Mann at Rome Film Festival

Michael Mann at the Rome Film Festival
Queues started forming early outside Sala Petrassi at the Auditorium Parco della Musica on Saturday afternoon for what was clearly one of the most eagerly awaited events in the Extra section of this year's International Rome Film Festival – a Lesson in Cinema by American film director Michael Mann. In fact, the small theatre was quickly filled to capacity leaving many disappointed fans outside.

Hosts Antonio Monda and Mario Sesti are familiar faces to cinema fans in Rome as the regular presenters of the Auditorium's Journey Through American Cinema series of encounters with contemporary American actors and directors. Whilst these events have typically encouraged an anecdotal approach in which informal conversation and questions are interspersed with film clips, the evening with Michael Mann was, instead, far more focused on the technical aspects of film making – true to its title, this was a lesson in cinema.

Michael Mann pioneered new techniques in cinema by shooting the gripping 2004 thriller Collateral in HD digital video and it was particularly interesting to hear his comments on the technical possibilities of digital - the freedom from cost constraints, which allows the director to keep filming and exploit very long takes, and also technical advantages such as nighttime shooting under street lights, perfect for a movie such as Collateral, where the entire action of the film takes place over one night driving around L.A.

Collateral was a film that cast Tom Cruise against type for the first time and in response to a question from the audience, Mann explained that he particularly enjoyed pushing actors out of their usual safety zones and into unknown territory – "it gets their pulses racing!" – referring not only to Cruise, but also Daniel Day-Lewis in the physically demanding role of Hawkeye in The Last of the Mohicans, and Will Smith, a child of hip-hop, who needed to immerse himself in 1960s and the history of the Black Power movement, before tackling the part of iconic boxing legend Muhammad Ali in Mann's 2001 biopic Ali.

Asked about his distinctive use of colour in another highly interesting question from the audience, Mann's response was very simple: "Colour? Use it!" Elaborating further, he said he uses colour to enhance the action, and as an example referred to the stunning Al Pacino beach sequence from The Insider we had just seen, in which the deep cyan blues of the shoreline were contrasted with the complimentary hues of the tungsten lighting in Russell Crowe's hotel room.

In the 1980s Michael Mann was the producer of the enormously successful TV show Miami Vice and after bringing that series to cinema screens in the 2006 movie of the same name, his latest project sees him return to the small screen once again as both producer and director of the pilot of a forthcoming HBO series called Luck. Praising the HBO cable channel as being at the forefront of a "golden age of television", as a special treat for the audience at the Rome Film Festival the encounter closed with a sneak preview trailer of the series – from the few minutes we were shown it looks to be a visually stunning piece of work.

The director then managed to sign a handful of autographs and shake hands with some of the numerous admirers who had approached the stage after the talk, before being hurried away by the organisers.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Rupert Everett, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Peter Sarsgaard on the Red Carpet at the International Rome Film Festival

Maggie Gyllenhaal, Tanya Wexler
and Rupert Everett
Rupert Everett and Maggie Gyllenhaal, together with director Tanya Wexler, were at the International Rome Film Festival yesterday evening for the presentation of the in-competition movie Hysteria.

The actors were joined on the red carpet at the Auditorium Parco della Musica by Maggie Gyllenhaal's husband Peter Sarsgaard, where they signed numerous autographs and posed for photographs, graciously obliging the large number of fans who had turned out to see the stars in person.

To get a taste of the event watch the video of Rupert Everett, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Peter Sarsgaard below (or click here to watch on YouTube).

Hollywood Screenwriter Stewart Stern at the International Rome Film Festival

For fans of film director Nichloas Ray who attended the showing of Francesco Zippel's documentary Hollywood Bruciata: Ritratto di Nicholas Ray on Day 2 of the Rome Film Festival yesterday evening were most likely expecting an evening of respectful homage to a Hollywood legend. Whilst Zippel's interesting, if rather pedestrian documentary reconfirmed the given portrait of him as a brilliant, difficult man, the audience were in for quite a surprise when special guest Stewart Stern, legendary screenwriter of Nicholas Ray's most famous movie Rebel Without a Cause, spilled some less savoury beans about the director's sometimes unscrupulous working methods. Refused an original story credit for the movie, the eighty-nine year old writer has clearly never forgiven Ray for this slight. When asked by hosts Antonio Monda and Mario Sesti about the director's popularity with European audiences, he admitted that he thought such high regard was unwarranted. According to Stern, Nicholas Ray may have aspired to being as great as European directors such as De Sica or Pasolini, but simply wasn't of the same calibre. He did have high praise, however, for Ray's ability to capture the spirit of the times, and in particular, his representation of a postwar generation, which found itself either fatherless or unable to communicate with its traumatized father-figures, adding that Ray had been passionately driven to make Rebel Without a Cause to expiate his own guilt about his inadequacies as a somewhat absent father to his own children.

Stewart Stern's warmest recollections were reserved for some wonderful anecdotes about his first meeting with the iconic actor James Dean, full of those tiny, yet intimate details that bring memories colourfully to life, such as the fact that Dean gave him a strange half smile because he was actually missing his front teeth at the time, or the way that he spun around in the revolving arm chair in which he was sitting, watching his own reflection in a glass window. Fans of Rebel Without a Cause will remember the moment when Jimmy Dean's character Jim Stark moos during the planetarium lecture. What is less known is that this idea came directly from the first time that the screenwriter and actor actually met, when to break the awkward silence Dean let out a moo, and then Stern replied with a bigger, better one of his own. When he retold the story last night, to the delight of the audience, we were also treated to his amazing impressions of a flock of sheep and, finally, three different pigs feeding in a trough together, that he had also shared with James Dean at that first meeting!

Soon after Dean took Stern to a special screening of East of Eden and not since seeing Brando on stage had he seen such inspiring work from an actor. His lasting admiration for James Dean's enormous talent was palpable.

A handful of admirers approached him after the talk and he graciously chatted to us, even signing autographs for the lucky few who were able to get one before the staff rather rudely interrupted us and whisked the star away. The evening was over far too soon – a fascinating raconteur, I could personally have listened to Stewart Stern talk for hours.

Friday, October 28, 2011

'The Lady' opens the International Rome Film Festival 2011

Michelle Yeoh at Rome Film festival
The sixth edition of the International Rome Film Festival opened yesterday evening and saw the dazzlingly beautiful Michelle Yeoh grace the red carpet at the Auditorium Parco della Musica for the first Out of Competition movie of the Official Selection, The Lady by Luc Besson. She was accompanied by co-star David Thewlis and the director, with both actors taking the time to meet fans, sign autographs and generously pose for photos before entering the Sala Santa Cecilia. I've been a huge Michelle Yeoh fan ever since her Hong Kong action movie days, so I was thrilled to have tickets for the film and for the chance to see the actress up close.

Both Michelle Yeoh as Burmese pro-democracy activist and Nobel Peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi and David Thewlis as her Oxford academic husband Michael Aris, give wonderfully measured and often moving performances in The Lady, the true story of the personal sacrifices the couple were forced to make for the sake of the wider political cause. The film received warm and protracted applause from the audience in Rome last night and a standing ovation for its stars.

To get a taste of the event watch the video of Michelle Yeoh in Rome below (or click here to watch on YouTube).

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Georgia O’Keeffe at the Museo della Fondazione Roma

Summer Days ©Whitney Museum of American Art
Last year's Edward Hopper retrospective at the Museo della Fondazione Roma (formerly Museo del Corso) was one of the city's most enjoyable shows of 2010. This year the consistently excellent gallery on Via del Corso has brought another absolute icon of twentieth century American art to Rome – Georgia O’Keeffe. In what is the first major retrospective ever of this hugely important and influential artist to be held in Italy, the Fondazione Roma has worked in collaboration with the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to present over 60 works, not only from the Santa Fe collection, but also loaned from major galleries and private collections around the world, as well as personal objects and numerous photographs.

The Museo della Fondazione Roma has distinguished itself over recent years through its curatorial choices and in the creative, even theatrical way in which works are hung. A retrospective at Palazzo Cipolla is never an ordinary art show – it is a fully interactive wander through an artist's life which seeks to fully contextualize the artist's oeuvre and help us better understand how the work came to be made.

Blue Hill No. II 
© Georgia O'Keeffe Museum
The Georgia O'Keeffe exhibition is no exception – turn the corner just beyond the ticket office and you will find yourself in an elaborate reconstruction of Fifth Avenue in New York in the early 1900s, the city where the young O'Keeffe started out in the early years of her career, first as a student of Arthur Wesley Dow at Columbia University, and then as the collaborator and wife of the photographer and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz. Stieglitz was one of the first people to champion her strikingly original early abstract charcoal drawings and watercolours, exhibiting them at his 291 Gallery in New York, and it is these works - including the gorgeous Blue Hill No. II - which open the show. The hanging of a black and white photograph of the Moon from the Equivalents series by Stieglitz alongside O'Keeffe's 1916 watercolor Evening Star No. VI is particularly effective, as is a photographic nude of O'Keeffe by Stieglitz flanked either side by two Nude self portrait watercolours (Nude Series VII and Nude Series VIII) in this first section.

The influence of the architectural shapes and skyline of New York on both artists is also explored in the juxtaposition of several Stieglitz's New York Street photographs with O'Keeffe's stunning New York Street with Moon from the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum of Madrid.

Jack in the Pulpit No.IV
 © National Gallery of Art,
Washington, DC
As hugely important as Stieglitz was to O'Keeffe, however, his erotic photographs of the painter would serve to negatively influence critics, who to the painter's horror, would subsequently apply Freudian sexual interpretations to her own abstract work and, as a response, see her turn towards more realistic, natural forms. Georgia O'Keeffe, of course, took those natural subjects such as fruit and flowers - alligator pears, petunias, lillies and jimson weeds – and quite simply revolutionised the genre, creating some of the most famous and influential flower paintings ever made, with her close up and enlarged blooms painted as if seen through a macro lens.

No O'Keeffe show would be complete without these flower paintings and there are plenty here to keep her fans happy – Jack in the Pulpit No.IV from 1930 is particularly fine – but perhaps one of the greatest strengths of this show is its emphasis on landscape and the enormous impact that the open spaces and sky, dazzling colours and unusual rock formations of New Mexico and the appropriately named Painted Desert had on the artist's life and work from 1929 onwards. I would have happily spent all afternoon staring at the 1940 landscape Untitled (Red and Yellow Cliffs) and the exquisite beauty of her signature animal bone paintings – for O'Keeffe a symbol of the beauty of the desert, not death as was once again wrongly assumed by critics at the time - such as the 1936 Summer Days from the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Untitled (Red and Yellow Cliffs)
 © Georgia O'Keeffe Museum
With the later rooms transformed into the style of the adobe house that would be her home in Ghost Ranch, as well as a reconstruction of her studio at her Abiquiu home, and two short but highly informative educational videos playing on a loop, the curators have almost pulled off the impossible and brought O'Keeffe's beloved desert to Rome. Short of flying to Sante Fe to visit the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in person, this exhibition really is the next best thing, bringing the visitor closer to the artist, with a show that is both intimate and awe inspiring at the same time.


Georgia O'Keeffe is curated by Barbara Buhler Lynes and continues at the Museo della Fondazione Roma, Palazzo Cipolla (Via del Corso, 320 ) until 20th January 2012.

Copyright on all images in this post as indicated (web-resolution, fair use rationale).

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