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Archive for September 30th, 2011

by Sam Juliano

Franco Zeffirelli achieved what no other had managed before or since.  He scored major successes on the opera stage, in the theatre and the cinema, and eventually brought these forms together to become the greatest director of “opera films” in a prolific run in the 1980’s.  Once a student of art and architecture, Zeffirelli reportedly turned to the theatre after watching Olivier’s visually arresting Henry V, and while working as a scenic painter in Florence was hired to work as an assistant director under renowned film director Luchino Visconti, for the film La Terra Trema, released in 1948.  Zeffirelli later worked with Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini, and in the 1960’s achieved moderate success directing and designing his own plays in New York and London.  His special gift was remarkable visual design and he eventually crafted extraordinary sets for the works of Verdi, Puccini, Bizet and Mozart on opera stages and directed some lush period films based on Shakespeare and religious figures.  In the latter pursuit Zeffirelli’s 1968 Romeo and Juliet, a stunningly beautiful color film that has retained it’s popularity in schools and on internet chat boards decades later,  featured attractive teens in the lead roles.  While that film remains the one the director is principally known for among film fans, he achieved no less a critical success the year before that with another Bard standard, The Taming of the Shrew, which starred Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.  In 1973 he again produced visual ravishments with Brother Sun Sister Moon based on the life of St. Francis of Assisi, and then directed a mini-series, Jesus of Nazareth that still hold high ratings when aired today.  But Zeffirelli to the delight of the purists has always been a staunch traditionalist.  This has endeared him to the brass at the Metropolitan Opera and for those who strongly favor the period trappings and the original intentions of the works’ creators.

The director’s celebrated run of four opera films (two by the master Giuseppe Verdi) was accomplished during a period where he was directing stage productions at the Metropolitan Opera.  One of the films, La Traviata, based on one of Verdi’s five irrefutable masterpieces is considered by many if not most as the greatest opera film of all-time, and the one that above all others stands as the model.  Featuring the then matinee idol singer Placido Domingo, and a model of operatic intensity, the soprano Teresa Stratas in the leads, the resulting film is a benchmark of sumptuous imagery in the service of what many see today as the most all-encompassing art form. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(UK 1943 35m) not on DVD

Achtung, achtung!

p/d/w  Humphrey Jennings  ph  H.E.Fowle  ed  Stewart McAllister

What does one think of when one thinks of the Welsh in the movies?  I hear the answers – Stanley Baker, Richard Burton, Sian Phillips, Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta Jones, Michael Sheen, even Ray Milland technically.  Let’s rephrase the question; what does one think of when one thinks of Wales on screen?  The obvious answer, especially across the pond, would be Ford’s How Green Was My Valley.  Ford’s fans would see it as poetic, when it is actually merely fanciful claptrap.  For a really poetic study of Welsh mining, one needs to look elsewhere.  Lindsay Anderson once said that Humphrey Jennings was Britain’s one true poet.  He was understating some. 

            If one looks for mentions of Jennings’ work in film books, one would most likely find reference to Listen to Britain, Fires Were Started and A Diary for Timothy.  A film that often gets overlooked – not helped by the fact that it was for long periods impossible to see – is The Silent Village.  It tells the story of the Czechoslovakian village of Lidice, whose small population hid the perpetrators of the assassination of the Deputy Reich Protector Reinhard Heydrich.  In response to their conspiracy, the Nazi occupiers shot all the men in the village, marched the women off in wagons to concentration camps, took the children to the appropriate authorities and razed the village to the ground, literally obliterating it.  This is all re-enacted by the villagers of the Welsh mining community of Cwmgiedd who provide the epitaph; Lidice was not obliterated so much as immortalised.  (more…)

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