Art Direction by Antonio Gaudi

La Sagrada Familia, the iconic masterpiece by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi in Barcelona, is still a work in progress after more than a century.

Anyone who has seen a few movies filmed in Barcelona, Spain, has undoubtedly caught a glimpse or maybe even a close-up of one of the architectural wonders created by Antoni (aka Antonio) Gaudi or one of his contemporaries such as Lluis Domenech I Montaner or Josep Puig I Cadafalch in the “Modernisme” movement of 1888-1911. This brief period resulted in awe-inspiring buildings and structures with designs based on organic forms or taken directly from nature – beehives, mushrooms, stalactites – that broke away from conventional design and accented curves and rich ornamentation (broken pieces of colorful ceramic tile worked into wall mosaics). This unique architectural style is an art director’s dream and a natural for the screen, which is why it has been the co-star in countless movies filmed in Barcelona such as Susan Seidelman’s Gaudi Afternoon (2001) and L’Auberge espagnole (2002), in which Gaudi’s still-in-progress La Sagrada Familia (it was started in 1883) is prominently featured.

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Imaginary Lover

For better or worse, the 1960s was a time when commercial and experimental cinema occasionally collided, producing innovative, financially successful films such as Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up (1966), but more often high profile failures such as Tony Richardson’s The Sailor from Gibraltar (1967), Otto Preminger’s Skidoo (1968) and the unfortunate 1969 screen adaptation of Lawrence Durrell’s Justine. In Search of Gregory (1969), which was designed as a star vehicle for Julie Christie by producer Joseph Janni and followed her critically acclaimed performance in Petulia (1968), falls into the latter category. 

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Having a Wild Weekend

In the late sixties there were a number of sun-drenched erotic romps from Italy filmed in picturesque settings around the Mediterranean such as Giuliano Biagetti’s Interrabang (1969) and Ottavio Alessi’s Top Sensation aka The Seducers (1969). Most of these promised and delivered sexy scenarios with abundant nudity (primarily female), murder and risqué situations for the sexploitation crowd. The Sex of Angels (Italian title: Il Sesso degli Angeli, 1968) comes on like the ultimate softcore fantasy but turns out to be a complete tease. In fact, unlike others of its ilk, The Sex of Angels is actually a morality tale about the consequences of hedonism as well as a critique of the free love generation.

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12 Italian Directors on 12 Italian Cities

In 1989 Istituto Luce, the oldest public institution devoted to film production, distribution and archival material in Italy, produced an omnibus film consisting of 12 segments entitled 12 Registi per 12 Citta (12 Directors for 12 Cities). A documentary/travelogue hybrid, the film was made as a promotional vehicle in support of the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Rome and part of its intent was to lure tourists to Italy, particularly to the cities showcased in the film.  The title is not completely accurate; thirteen directors, not twelve, contributed to the project if you count Giuseppe Bertolucci, the younger brother of Bernardo Bertolucci, who co-directed the Bologna section with Bernardo. 12 Registi per 12 Citta is also unconventional in its presentation with each director approaching his subject in his own unique way and the selected cities include some offbeat choices like Udine and Cagliari as well as some major omissions. What, no Venice?

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Stranger in a Stranger Land

Have you ever felt like you didn’t fit in or were completely out of sync with everyone in your immediate world? That is the existential dilemma that drives the narrative of Smog, a 1962 film from little known Italian director Franco Rossi that depicts a European traveler’s first impressions of Los Angeles.  The man in question is Vittorio Ciocchetti (Enrico Maria Salerno), a lawyer from Rome who arrives at LAX airport en route to Mexico on business, and the title of the film, of course, refers to the toxic mixture of fog and car exhaust that has characterized Los Angeles weather since the 1940s when cars began to clog the streets and freeways of the city.   Continue reading

Disconnected and Lost in Capri

When did alienation in modern society become a favorite thematic concern in the culture and the arts, particularly in the cinema? Certainly the films of Michelangelo Antonioni addressed the inability of people to connect, feel or relate to each other in a post-industrial age world as early as 1957 in Il Grido. But by the early sixties, it seemed as if every major film director in the world was addressing the topic on some level. A general sense of malaise was in the air as if the modern world was having a counterproductive effect on humanity, creating a sense of futility, amorality or complete apathy. You could see aspects of this reflected in Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960), Ingmar Bergman’s Through a Glass Darkly (1961), Alain Resnais’s Last Year at Marienbad (1961), Luis Bunuel’s The Exterminating Angel (1961) and Jean-Luc Godard’s My Life to Live (1962). All of these are considered cinematic masterworks of the 20th century but there are also many worthy and lesser-known contributions to the pantheon of alienation cinema and one of the most strikingly is Il Mare (The Sea), the 1963 directorial debut of Giuseppe Patroni Griffi.    Continue reading