In the last few months minor tragedies in my life have triggered a rather interesting trend, taking my multi-tasking habit (already out of control and generated by the need not to think about the consequences of the assorted minor tragedies…) to rather disturbing levels that reached an undesirable climax last week.
Among the things that have been haunting my mind and cluttering my multi-tasking activities there is a short book I'm trying to put together about the films - from the arty to the trashy - derived from Boccaccio’s Decameron. One of them is Boccaccio '70 (1962).
This film produced by Carlo Ponti was supposed to be a super sexy comedy divided, like The Decameron, into different episodes, shot by Federico Fellini, Vittorio De Sica, Mario Monicelli and Luchino Visconti.
Producer Ponti never realised the already impressive costs of the film would have multiplied because of its four mini-movie format.
Indeed when the film came out it was roughly 200 minute long, yet its length didn’t scare audiences who flocked to see it en masse especially after the Vatican warned cinema goers to avoid it for its contents.
The main aim of the four episodes was chronicling how things had changed in the 60s in the relationships between the sexes in a sort of Boccaccio-esque style, that means explicitly referring to themes such as sex and desire, treating them in a light and ironic way.
Perfect examples of this style are De Sica’s episode "La riffa" (The Raffle) and Fellini’s "Le tentazioni del Dottor Antonio" (The Temptation of Doctor Antonio): Sophia Loren starred in the former as Zoe, a woman working in a shooting gallery in a travelling carnival persuaded by the owner of the gallery to offer herself as the prize of a Saturday night raffle; Fellini’s episode was shot in a sort of creative limbo after La Dolce Vita in the attempt of reviving the successes obtained with it and featured morality crusader Antonio (Peppino De Filippo) fighting against a poster portraying a provocative image of a blonde woman (Anita Ekberg) inviting people to drink more milk who eventually takes life and teases poor Antonio.
The other two episodes - Monicelli’s "Renzo e Luciana", the story of two working class lovers inspired by Italo Calvino’s L’avventura di due sposi , a short that didn't unfortunately made into the final cut; and Luchino Visconti’s "Il Lavoro" (The Job), impeccably shot with absolutely perfect sets, lights and costumes, contrast in a way with De Sica and Fellini's.
In Visconti's episode countess Pupe (Romy Schneider) takes revenge on her husband (Thomas Milian) who caused quite a few scandals with his affiliations with $1,000 a night call girls by finding herself a perfect job, a worthwhile profession that will make sure working for a living will be fun: she suggests her husband to come to her whenever he feels like being entertained and pay her the same rate he pays to his call girls.
In order to create the mood and atmosphere deemed necessary for the ambiance of the idle and the rich, Visconti rebuilt a luxury apartment that cost half a million lire. For the furnishing the director used pieces from his own art collection, but also borrowed antique pieces from friends, among them a Louis XV desk, two Aubusson tapestries and Rubens and Canaletto paintings.
The director didn’t leave out any details: at the beginning of his mini-film Pupe's husband is coming back from a trip to France and his cases are carried in the luxurious apartment (check out extract at the end of this post - sorry could only find it in Italian with Spanish subtitles).
The cases are obviously by Louis Vuitton for one main reason, the brand's logo featured the iconic letters "LV" that were also Visconti's initials (that's also why he used to give out LV accessories as presents to his friends).
I have always found interesting Visconti's passion for details in his films, and his interest for costumes and even hairstyles.
Such elements were indeed used to recreate something, such as an atmosphere or an environment, or helped defining better a specific character, turning into vital elements of the narration.
Nowadays there are quite a few films in which specific designer clothes and accessories have been used more to advertise them than to help creating the personality of a character or an atmosphere and that's a shame.
I think Visconti's lesson (and passion for details in sets and costumes) should definitely be applied to contemporary films a little bit more. I guess that would help a lot creating unforgettable characters and would also put under a new (and better...) light specific items of fashion design.
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