Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Vaghe Stelle Dell'Orsa, revisisted

For a friend in New York who missed a screening of VAGHE STELLE DELL'ORSA - a repeat of my review from the summer!

Time to catch up with those art house classics I had been meaning to watch, or in the case of Visconti's SANDRA see again after a gap of 45 years .... its been a dim memory since I saw it aged 19 in 1965, so (again) its been terrific to track down a copy now. [It was on YouTube in segments with Japanese subtitles!]. Its original title is VAGHE STELLE DELL'ORSA or OF A THOUSAND DELIGHTS as it was titled for the UK, and it now seems to be titled SANDRA (much easier all round) and now plays like a classic Visconti drama. Sandra Dawson (Claudia Cardinale) and her husband Andrew (Michael Craig) travel to her hometown, the Etruscan city of Volterra for a homage of the locals to her father, a prominent scientist who died in a concentration camp. The long drive in the car during the credits is fascinating. The couple are welcomed by the servant Fosca, and Andrew becomes fascinated with the house. Sandra has issues over the estate with her stepfather and her mentally ill mother (Marie Bell) and misses her brother Gianni (Jean Sorel), who is an aspirant writer. When Gianni appears in the house out of the blue, Andrew unravels a shadowy secret from the past of the siblings. It is Greek tragedy really in the shape of Electra and Orestes... it unfolds as if a dream, (or a typical '60s art movie), interesting seeing Visconti tackle a "small" film here, before moving on to those more opulent titles like THE DAMNED, DEATH IN VENICE, LUDWIG and that final L'INNOCENTE. His follow-up to SANDRA, a 1967 adaptation of Camus's THE OUTSIDER with Mastroianni, is also a very lost title, I don't think we even got a chance to see it in London...
"Vaghe Stelle dell'Orsa..." ("Bright star of the Bear", a poem that is referred to in the text) has a plot about a once incestuous brother and sister (though he wants to resume their illicit relationship) which in the hands of another director could have become a melodramatic soap-opera, but Visconti explores the sensuality and beauty of Claudia Cardinale [often in close-up, and that amazing voice of hers] to deliver an intriguing and quite erotic family drama, peopled with beautiful leads in their mid-60s perfection. The set decoration, as usual, is another piece of art, supported by a classical music soundtrack by Cesar Franck. Good to see English actor Michael Craig here too - five years earlier he was the star of a British comedy UPSTAIRS AND DOWNSTAIRS and Cardinale had a small part, her first in English probably, as one of the servants!, while Sorel is suitably enigmatic as the wayward brother.

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