Monday, May 11, 2009

Italian Cinema Style Part Two: Travelogue

What better backdrop than Italy? From the Tuscan hills to the Spanish Steps to the Mediterranean waters of the Amalfi Coast, it's no wonder filmmakers leave Hollywood to shoot on location. 

The following films are pure travelogue, offering an armchair view of the most beautiful country on the planet. Here are a few classics....

American audiences are introduced to Audrey Hepburn who plays a runaway princess in Roman Holiday (1953) with Gregory Peck as her journalist/accomplice. Iconic sights include the Mouth of Truth (a face carved in stone which is said to cut the hands off of liars -- go figure), the Colisseum, the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain and the Piazza del Pantheon. The film was shot in black and white as not to upstage the sights of Rome. 

Roman Holiday also has the distinction of being the first American film shot in Italy. And not only did Hepburn get to keep all her costumes from the film, she won Best Actress that year as well. Imagine what a different film it would have been if they'd originally cast Cary Grant and Jean Simmons.

Roman Holiday (1953) 

The infamous scene at the Mouth of Truth was copied years later in another romantic comedy Only You (1994) with Marisa Tomei and Robert Downey Jr. They even look like a modern day Hepburn and Peck.

The magnificent staircase skyline of the Amalfi Coast has been the landscape for many a film. Only You, Under the Tuscan Sun and The Talented Mr. Ripley are a few productions to utilize the popular beach towns of the Mediterranean.

Amalfi Coast

Under the Tuscan Sun (2003)

Cortona, Arrezo, Florence, Positano and Rome were natural locales for Under the Tuscan Sun. Viewers might recognize Montepulciano where the wedding took place, Cortona where the Mayes character purchased her farmhouse and the shoreline of Positano where she is courted by her Italian friend.

Tuscan Hillside

Sun's garden wedding

Clifton Webb courts Dorothy McGuire in various settings of Rome and Venice -- most importantly the Trevi Fountain -- in  Three Coins in the Fountain (1954). (Try getting that theme song out of your head!)

The exotic locales of Positano, Siena, Venice and Rome take center stage in the romantic comedy of soul mates who meet and eventually fall in love in Only You (1994).

Only You Film Poster 

Le Sirenuse hotel was used for the scenes in Positano. A must stay if you ever visit by the way. Breathtaking views from the pool and the old world lobby are worth the visit alone.

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) is probably the most picturesque of the films made in Italy. Rome, Positano, Naples and Venice are beautifully captured and viewers will recognize Venice's famed Caffe Florian and the Hotel Europa, Rome's Le Grand Hotel and the Via Condotti.

Cate Blanchett as Marge and Matt Damon as Tom Ripley at the Spanish Steps
 in The Talented Mr. Ripley 

Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Freddie Miles makes his grand entrance

La Dolce Vita (1960) celebrates the decadence of society in sixties Italy among numerous nightclubs and the Via Veneto. The infamous Trevi fountain scene with Anita Ekberg and Marcello Mastroanni is a film classic and recreated in Under the Tuscan Sun...proving once again imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Anita Ekberg and Marcello Mastroanni in the Trevi Fountain
in La Dolce Vita

Other Italian films of note are Il Postino, A Room With a View, My House in Umbria, Rome Adventure, 8 1/2, Godfather One and Three and The English Patient. 

And of course, anything Lina Wertmuller or Fellini.

P.S. Writer (and ex-Los Angelino now living in Rome) Joie Davidow's website In Rome Now: beyond the guidebooks is a fabulous and unique insider's guide to everything from arts and culture to weekend getaways. Also catch her book I Wouldn't Leave Rome for Heaven -- it's the story of three expats and their adventures. Wonderful!

Photo Credits: Margaret Herrick Library, Columbia Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Le Sirenuse Hotel, Touchstone Pictures, Pathe-Consortium Cinema, Twentieth Century Fox, Miramax.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Italian Cinema Style: Part One -- The Designs

My good friend and Chicago interior designer Nora Marra remarked the other day how foreign films often look better than American ones. Designs are simple, colors appear brighter and of course, the locations are always more exotic. Even the music sounds better. Or maybe European cinema simply takes us away from our current reality. Whatever the reason, I couldn't agree more.

Italian films of the late fifties/early sixties and those filmed in Italy in the past decade tend to be my favorites.  They are part adventure, part travelogue and always filled with atmosphere, style and yes, la dolce vita ("the sweet life"). 

Here are a few sets of distinction...

What woman doesn't want to run away, renovate a house and fall in love in Tuscany? Based on Frances Mayes best selling novel of the same name, the house of Under The Tuscan Sun (2003) is worth the price of admission alone.

"What are four walls, anyway? They are what they contain.
 The house protects the dreamer."

Details from the writer's desk

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) gave us a look at the interiors and gardens of Italy in the late fifties. Along with Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon and Jude Law, Italy becomes a fourth character of the film. 

A garden courtyard in southern Italy

Guestroom by the sea

"So bourgeois"

Production designer Phillip Messina and wife, set decorator Kristen Messina created lavish interiors from scratch for the scenes of Oceans Twelve (2004).  The image by the title is the Toulour character's mansion overlooking Lake Como in the city of Bellagio (as you may recall, the Bellagio casino was the scene of the heist in Ocean's Eleven). 

Death, seduction and betrayal take a backseat to the house and interiors of  Up at the Villa (2000):

La Dolce Vita (1960): The definitive sixties Italian film is considered famed director Federico Fellini's masterpiece. Over eighty interiors, nightclubs and locations were constructed and it is reported that Balenciaga's sack dress was the inspiration behind the film.

Next blog post will cover Italian locations on film. 

Photo Credits: Margaret Herrick Library, Touchstone Pictures, Warner Brothers, Kristin Messina, Universal Pictures, V&A, Pathe Consortium Cinema.