R.I.P. Alvaro Mancori

Alvaro Mancori

Alvaro Mancori with Marcello Mastroianni

Thanks to Tom for reporting the death of Alvaro Mancori, one of the last great patriarchs of italian cinema. A director of photography, production manager, actor, distributor and director, he became involved with cinema as a boy and worked with the likes of Orson Welles (on Othello), Alberto Sordi, Marcello Mastroianni and Toto (with whom he shot over twenty films).  In the 1950s and 60s he worked on over 50 films as a director of photography, in which capacity he is possibly best known, and is accredited as director of two films: the peplum Hercules the Invincible (64) and a comedy called Racconti a due piazze (64), which he co-directed with Gianni Puccini (some of whose films he had previously shot), Jean Delannoy & François Dupont-Midi

In 1963 he also built the ELios Studios in Rome, including the first european western village, as a way of competing with the power of Hollywood; it was in these studios that several of the most important spaghetti westerns were filmed in the 1960s and 70s, making a huge contribution to the success of the Italian film industry at the time.

His brothers Guglielmo and Sandro were also cinemaptgraphers, and his nephew Davide appeared in some of the films shot in Elios (including Seven Dollars on the Red)

He died on June 24th, aged 87.  The fact that his death doesn’t seem to have warranted any attention from the Italian press is disappointing, to say the least.

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Ghosts of Rome

Ghosts of Rome

Ghosts of Rome

1961
Aka Phantom Lovers, Fantasmi a Roma, Les joyeux fantômes
100 minutes
Italy
Based on an idea by Sergio Amidei
A Franco Cristaldi production for Lux Film, Vides Cinematografica, Galatea Film
Distributed by Lux Film
Director: Antonio Pietrangeli
Story: Sergio Amidei, Ennio Flaiano, Antonio Pietrangeli, Ettore Scola, Ruggero Maccari
Screenplay: Ennio Flaiano, Antonio Pietrangeli, Ettore Scola, Ruggero Maccari
Cinematography: Giuseppe Rotunno
Music: Nino Rota
Editor: Eraldo Da Roma
Art director: Vincenzo Chiari, Vincenzo Del Prato
Cast: Marcello Mastroianni (Reginaldo/Federico di Roviano/Gino), Vittorio Gassman (Giovan Battista Villari, aka “Caparra”), Sandra Milo (Flora), Tino Buazzelli (Fra’ Bartolomeo), Eduardo De Filippo (Principe Annibale di Roviano), Belinda Lee (Eileen), Claudio Gora (Telladi), Evelyn Stewart (Carla), Franca Marzi (Nella), Lilla Brignone (‘the queen’), Enzo Maggio (Fricandò), Alberto De Amicis (manager of “City Song”), Enzo Cerusico (Cascamorto), Claudio Catania (Poldino), Michele Riccardini (Antonio, the caretaker), Bruno Scipioni (Otello, the plumber), Grazia Collodi (Marisina), Duilio D’Amore (Sor Augusto), Mario Maresca (Randoni, the art critic), Graziella Galvani (maths teacher), Luciana Gilli, Anna Maria Di Pace (schoolgirl), Antoinette Weynen, Elvira Tonelli, Antonella Della Porta, Nadia Marlowa

Here’s another excellent comedy from Antonio Pietrangeli, the well respected – but rather forgotten – director of classics such as Adua e le compagne and Io la conoscevo bene.  Made in 1961, at just about the peak of his career, Ghosts of Rome was a high-profile release, put together by Franco Cristaldi for a prestigious trio of production houses (Galatea Film, Lux Film and Vides Cinematografica), which between them had a hand in most of the high-points of Italian cinema of the 1950s and 1960s.  With such backing, it’s not surprising that it managed to attract an astonishing selection of talent, from scriptwriters (Fellini regular Ennio Flaiano, Oscar nominated neo-realist Sergio Amidei and Pietrangeli regulars Ruggero Maccari and Ettore Scola) to the quite astonishing cast.

Marcello Mastroianni, Sandra Milo and Tino Buazelli in Ghosts of Rome

Marcello Mastroianni, Sandra Milo and Tino Buazelli in Ghosts of Rome

A whimsical fantasy with bite, the story follows Don Annibale (Eduardo De Filippo), the elderly Prince of Roviano and custodian of the crumbling family pile in the heart of Rome.  It’s a palace with a not inconsiderable history and, as Don Annibale is very aware, home to a not inconsiderable amount of family ghosts, all of whom have prowled around the environs for many years.  There’s Reginaldo (Marcello Mastroianni), a two-bit Casanova from the eighteenth century; Flora (Sandra Milo), a doomed romantic from a few generations later who drowned herself after an unfortunate love affair; and Father Bartolomeo (Tino Buazzelli), a greedy monk who died in an unfortunate accident – eating poisoned meatballs intended for rats – way back in 1653.

Everything changes when Don Annibale is killed in an unfortunate plumbing incident.  His gadabout nephew, Federico (Mastroianni again) turns up with his stroppy stripper girlfriend, Eileen (Belinda Lee), and the first thing they do is contact a rich engineer, Tellandi (Claudio Gora), who has been trying to buy the palace for years in order to knock it down, build a department store and make a hefty profit.  The ghosts are, unsurprisingly enough, rather upset with this turn of events, and decide to do their best to stymie the developers’ plans. They start off by instigating a series of minor irritations – hindering the workmen, etc – but then hit upon a master-plan: co-opting the ghost of a renaissance artist (Vittorio Gassman) to paint a fresco in the attic, hoping that when it’s discovered the building will be declared a place of historical interest and therefore subject to a conservation order.

Vittorio Gassman and Sandra Milo in Ghosts of Rome

Vittorio Gassman and Sandra Milo in Ghosts of Rome

This is a delightful film which, as with the best of the commedia all’Italiana, masks some incisive comments about Italian society under its amiable exterior.  There’s some visual humour – such as when Reginaldo falls for a transvestite nightclub singer – but on the whole it’s a character driven piece which relies on dialogue and comic interplay.  A lot of the comedy comes from the ghost’s attempts to come to grips with the modern life which is increasingly encroaching on their world; something which both perplexes and invigorates them.  Underneath this, though, it has interesting things to say about modern society: the search for profit above art and culture, the corruptibility of supposedly estimable figures (such as the art historian who accepts a bribe in exchange for claiming il Caparra’s painting is a fake) and the superficiality – albeit enjoyable superficiality – of La dolce vita.  It also has a slightly melancholic undertone, with both Don Annibale and his ghosts being representative of a way of life that’s a thing of the past.  Although, ironically, Federico ends up as a virtual carbon copy of his uncle, frequenting the same restaurants, preserving the same dusty family mementos and living with the same ghosts; despite all the changes, everything remains pretty much the same.

Beyond that, it’s beautifully photographed by Giuseppe Rotunno (The Leopard, Amarcord etc. etc.) and has lovely art direction.  Pietrangeli’s direction is spot on, and possibly the only criticism that I can come up with is that the second part of the film – in which the ghosts seek to foil the developers and Federico slowly reconnects with his family heritage – passes too quickly and is possibly a little underplayed.  In any other film, this would have provided the meat of the story, but here it’s almost secondary to the build up.  But that’s a minor quibble, it’s a neat idea, well made and fabulously performed.  The ghosts are beguiling creatures, for which credit is due to Mastroianni, Gassman, Milo and Buazzelli, and there are entertaining cameos from the likes of Enzo Maggio (as an angry chef) and Lilla Brignone (as a nutty old woman who thinks she’s a Queen).

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Piero Livi

Piero Livi

Piero Livi

Just watched a curious Sardinian crime film, Pelle di bandito, and decided to do a little bit of research into its director, Piero Livi.  According to the IMDB, he was born in Olbia (Sardinia) on April 1st, 1925, and only directed four films:

1969: Pelle di bandito
1977: Dove volano i corvi d’argento
2001: Sos Laribiancos – I dimenticati
2004: Maria si

As well as acting as a production manager on Roberto Natale’s Il mio corpo con rabbia (72).

A little digging around, though, reveals that his career was a little more extensive than that.  His connection with the cinema began in the late 1950s, when he helped establish the Mostra Internazionale del Cinema d’Amatore, which lasted for ten festivals before becoming the Mostra Internazionale del Cinema Indipendente, which lasted until 1974.  He began his career as a director in 1957 with the short film Marco del mare, following it with several more shorts, including Visitazione (58), Il faro (61), Una storia sarda (62), I 60 di Berchiddeddu (65) and Il cerchio del silenzio (66). He also made documentaries, but little information is available about this side of his work.

His first full length feature Pelle di bandito, a vague retelling of the same events that also inspired Lizzani’s Barbagia, was shown at Venice, and it’s a fascinating tale of Sardinian banditry, told with a neo-realist’s attention to the details of everyday life and folk customs.  But it was a long time until his next film, Dove volano i corvi d’argento (77), another Sardinian tale of blood feuds and vengeance.  This was followed by an even longer gap until he released two films in the 2000s: Sos Laribiancos – I dimenticati (about a group of Sardinian soldiers fighting in the Russian campaign of the Second World War) and Maria sì (about a man suffering a mid life crisis).

Livi appears to be something of a big cheese in Sardinia, and Pelle di bandito definitely shows that he’s a filmmaker of interest, but he’s perhaps suffered because of his status as a Sardinian – as opposed to an Italian – filmmaker.

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Ruggine, by Daniele Gaglianone

Ruggine

Ruggine

Here’s an interesting looking new Italian film, Ruggine, directed by Daniele Gaglianone.  Gaglianone has picked up a number of awards over the years for films such as Nemmeno il destino and Pietro.  His work generally seems to deal with young characters who live on the very edges of urban Italian society, and Ruggine is no different.  The plot follows:

The difficult pre-adolescence of a “gang” of kids, immigrants in a desolte district called Alveari, on the outskirts of a big city. In this no man’s land between city and countryside, there’s a large wasteground – a huge “monster” of rusty scrap metal – which is the place where they play.  But suddenly a real monster emerges: two girls are raped and killed, and suddenly everything changes.  The following, fearful summer is marked by skirmishes between gangs as the young characters come to grips with their own timid feelings and grow up quickly, as remembered by three people – Sandro, Carmine, Cynthia -who are still indelibly marked by their experiences.

This was based on a novel by Stefano Massaron, who’s better known in Italy as a translator of novels by JG Ballard and Jonathan Coe (which shows he has good taste, at any rate).  It sounds like a cross between, well, The Big Chill, It and The Reflecting Skin, but that’s pure guesswork.

The reviews have been positive, and it received a lengthy ovation at Venice.  According to CineClandestino, it’s a: “Pessimistic work which is entirely alien to Italian cinema, as alwasy for Gaglianone, who again proves unwilling to compromise.”  Reppublica, meanwhile, calls the director “one of the best kept secrets of Italian cinema… The hope, inevitably, is that with Ruggine Gaglianone may finally able to be seen and appreciated outside the circle of those who follow his work for years.”

The cast includes the busy Filippo Timi (Vincere, The Solitude of Prime Numbers, Vallanzasca), Valeria Mastandrea (Night Bus, the Caiman) and Valeria Solarino (Holy Money).  I want to see this one!

Here’s the trailer:

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John Benedy, aka Gianni De Benedettis

John Benedy

John Benedy

Just watched a curious little poliziesco from 1968 called Un corpo caldo per l’inferno.  It’s not great, but not bad, and has an interesting cast, including a distinctive looking chap who I’ve seen in numerous films over the years, John Benedy.  Normally, he sports a resplendant seventies moustache and, although he’s missing his ‘tache in this role, he’s still effective as a villain (he always played vilains, just about).  After a bit of searching, it seems that Mr Benedy is something of a cult figure, a low key Luciano Rossi or Federico Boido.  There’s a lot of info about him on the Thrilling Forum, from which I’ve gathered most of the info below.

John Benedy, aka Gianni De Benedettis
Born 1938 in Mesagne, near Brindisi.

Benedy was a regular performer in fumetti and fotoromanzi, including recurring roles in Killing and Sadistik (he was interviewed in Il Diabolikal Super-Kriminal, the documentary about Sadistik made in 2007, which I unfortunately haven’t seen).  He moved into films in the early sixties, and his filmography according to IMDB is this:

- Carcerato (1981)
- Patrick vive ancora (1980)
- La tua vita per mio figlio (1980)
- Strategia per una missione di morte (1979)
- Provincia violenta (1978)
- L’amante del demonio (1972)
- Uccidi Django … uccidi per primo (1971)
- I racconti di Padre Brown
- Il re dei ladri (1971) episodio TV
- Un corpo caldo per l’inferno (1968)
- Sette donne d’oro contro due 07 (1966)

There’s an actor profile for him in Killing N. 25 Actor, which reads as follows:

Gianni De Benedettis, aka John Benedy, figures today among the cinematic artists with a bright future.  His first great success was with an excellent performance in the film Rocco and his Brothers.  After which directors and producers from around the world competed with each other with ever more attractive contacts. Gianni De Benedettis isn’t even thirty, and already is busier and more qualified than many actors of his generation. In a few years he has appeared in about twenty productions, most of which have been notable successes with the critics and the public.  John Benedy doesn’t show a predilection for any particular type of films, and there isn’t any genre he won’t work in.  Westerns, spy films, war films, love stories, as long as they have a good script he’ll take them on in order to hone his artistic skills.  He has appeared in Il mercenario (possibly La congiura dei dieci), Agente speciale Berlino, Covo di spie a Casablanca (possibly aka Spionaggio a Casablanca) and Fuoco su Berlino

If this is true, then his filmography is missing numerous entries (including all the films mentioned in the article), although he shouldn’t be mistaken for the much older Gianni Di Benedetto.  Could be time to play a little bit of spot the Benedy!

 

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Latest news on the fumetti book

Just thought I’d give you a quick heads up about what’s happening with the fumetti book, Fantastikal Diabolikal Supermen, as I said originally it would be coming out something like a year ago!

Anyway, the situation is this:  we’re very close to finishing it.  A friend of mine who is a proper (as opposed to a self-taught!) graphic designer is checking over my designs to make sure I haven’t made any glaring errors – the last thing I want is for, say, all the images to come out looking rubbish – and do a bit of final tidying up, but that side of things is all nearly done.  In the meantime, we’ve been working on the credits as well; intially I was just going to include bog standard information about the films, but now we’ve decided that it would be remiss not to make more of it and include full credit information, which means poring over screengrabs and trying to id those obscure actors who appear in all these films.

So we’re nearly there, but not quite.  I’m hoping to get all of this stuff finished by the end of September and have the final, published book out by October.  Fingers crossed.  I’ll post up some spreads so you get an idea of what it’ll be like in the next week or so.

The good news is that, once we have this first book done and dusted, it should be much, much easier (and quicker) to publish the second one, which will be about the films of Giorgio Ardisson.  More soon…

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R.I.P. Ermanno Curti

Ermanno Curti might not be the best known of figures in the English speaking world, but he was a hugely significant figure in the history of Italian genre cinema.  As well as being a producer – he was the mover and shaker behind most of Fernando Di Leo’s films, including the trilolgia della mala (Calibre 9, The Boss and Manhunt) as well as a handful of other films such as Star Pilot (66) and Liberi, armati, pericolosi (76) – he was also an important distributor.  He founded Milanese production company Daunia 70in the early 70s, which later became Gruppo Minerva International, and later becoming an honourary president of Minerva Pictures / RaroVideo in the 2000s (which explains why most of his films were released by Raro on DVD).  He was married for many years to Eleonora Ruffo, and died on August the 18th.

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