Thursday, January 19, 2023

Never Before Seen In Italy! Venice Photos Shot in 1955 by Inge Morath, Pioneer Photographer, at Palazzo Grimani in Venice

Inge Morath, Venezia, 1955 ©Fotohof archiv/Inge Morath/Magnum Photos

(Venice, Italy) The pioneer female Austrian photographer, Inge Morath, was one of the first girls to play with the boys -- she was one of the first women to gain entrance into the esteemed Magnum Photo agency, an international photographic cooperative owned by its members who are, to this day, mostly men. 

Morath visited Venice in 1951 during her honeymoon with her then-husband, the British journalist, Lionel Birch. She was the daughter of two scientists whose careers transported the family to different laboratories and universities throughout Europe. Her mother had given Morath a camera that had once been screwed to the top of her microscope after she got a new one. Morath dragged the camera around on her travels, but never used it. 

It was raining in Venice during Morath's honeymoon -- the same weather we had at the press conference on January 17 for Inge Morath - Fotografare da Venezia in poi (Photographing From Venice Onward) at Palazzo Grimani, an exhibition that commemorates 100 years since the birth of the artist on May 27, 1923.
"The light was beautiful; the rain had covered everything with a gliss."
Morath was already in the publishing game before she went on her honeymoon, working as a journalist and translator -- she spoke German, English, French, and Romanian fluently, and would later add Spanish, Russian and Mandarin to her repertoire. In 1949, she had been invited to join the newly-formed Magnum Photos agency in Paris as an editor by co-founder Robert Capa, "the greatest combat photographer in history." Her work included writing captions to accompany contact sheets of the elite male photographers in the agency.

But it was on that rainy November day in Venice in 1951 that Inge Morath decided to plunge into the boys' club and become a photographer before she even knew how to use a camera:

"I didn't really know how to use it; it got lost, and yet somehow I always managed to get it back... It was raining in Venice. The light was incredibly beautiful, and suddenly I was convinced of the need to photograph it: someone had to photograph it. I called up a few photographers. No one was interested. Bob Capa in Paris simply said, "Why the hell don't you take a picture yourself, you idiot?"

...It was like a revelation. To realize in an instant what had been simmering away inside you for so long, capturing it the moment it took on the shape I felt was right.

After that, there was no stopping me. I went everywhere, standing on bridges, in church entrances, on corners that looked promising. And then there was no film left. I bought another and decided there and then to become a photographer."

Inge Morath in Connecticut, 1986 - portrait by daughter Rebecca Miller
Photo of image: Cat Bauer

Inge Morath divorced her husband and returned to Paris to pursue her passion. After becoming an associate member of the Magnum Photos agency in 1953, she completed a reportage dedicated to Venice on one of her first assignments as a photographer -- she contributed photos to the illustrated volume Venice Observed, that provocative examination of La Serenissima by American author, Mary McCarthy.
"I am especially interested in photographing in countries where a new tradition emerges from an ancient one. I am more attracted to the human element than the abstract."
In the autumn of 1955, by then a full member of Magnum Photos, Morath returned to Venice on assignment for the art magazine L'Oeil, to take photographs focused on the daily life of the city. She was so enchanted by Venice that she managed to stretch her stay into three months with the help of a painter who found her a cheap place to stay. She roamed the calli and campi, capturing hundreds of images of ordinary Venetians going about their everyday lives -- about 80 photos of the 1955 Venetian series are here in Venice on display. The images were eventually printed as thumbnails onto contact sheets, but were never developed into actual photographs until about 10 years ago. Where were they hiding all that time?

Contact sheet of Inge Morath's first photos taken in 1951 - Photo: Cat Bauer

Enter Kurt Kaindl of the Fotohof gallery and publishing company in Salzburg, Austria, and one of the curators of the exhibition, who had plenty of personal anecdotes about Inge Morath to tell. Kaindl met Morath when he interviewed her as a journalist for an article, and they became friends and colleagues. Fotohof, who was supported by the Austrian government to encourage photography on a national level, acquired part of her archive. Kaindl happened upon the contact sheets taken in Venice in 1955, and thought they would make an interesting compilation. Before Morath died of cancer on January 30, 2002 at the age of 78, they began the project based on those early Venetian photos that we can witness in Palazzo Grimani today.

Inge Morath, Marilyn Monroe on the set of The Misfits, Nevada, 1960,
©Fotohof archiv/Inge Morath Foundation/ Magnum Photos

Those first photos in Venice were the foundation of a career that spanned the globe -- there are about 200 photos taken over the course of Morath's extraordinary life on the first and second floors of Palazzo Grimani. One of the images of the exhibition that intrigued me the most was the photo that Morath took in 1960 of Marilyn Monroe silently rehearsing her moves on the set of The Misfits, a film written by Monroe's then-husband, the celebrated playwright, Arthur Miller. It took a real woman to capture the real essence of another real woman, concentrating on her work.


After meeting Arthur Miller on The Misfit set, Inge Morath would go on to become his third wife on February 17, 1962, about a year after his divorce from Marilyn Monroe was finalized on January 20, 1961. Months later, Monroe would die on August 4, 1962.

Inge Morath and Arthur Miller had two children, Rebecca and Daniel, and lived a life in the "rurals" of Connecticut, with neighbors like the sculptor, Alexander Calder. Their daughter, Rebecca Miller, would grow up to become a filmmaker and novelist and Lady Day-Lewis after marrying the acclaimed and elusive actor, Daniel Day-Lewis.

Forgotten Shoes by Inge Morath
Photo of image: Cat Bauer

Inge Morath captured everyday life in Venice in 1955, glimpses of which I was fortunate to witness myself when I moved here in 1998 when there were still elderly women weaving lace in the courtyards and gossiping in the calli and plenty of butchers, cheese vendors and fishmongers selling essentials and school children walking around free, guarded by the watchful eyes of neighbors while the aristocracy got up to their own shenanigans on the Grand Canal. A Venetian colleague said that Morath's photos of what life was once like in Venice made her sad.

Morath never lived to see an exhibition of the 1955 work she did in Venice -- but she can see it now from the heavens. Kurt Kaindl said she would be very happy to have her early work shown in Venice, where the whole thing began.

Inge Morath - Fotografare da Venezia in poi runs from January 18 to June 4 2023 at Palazzo Grimani, a museum house that I have written about before. Go to Palazzo Grimani for more information -- if you can read Italian!

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer

Saturday, December 31, 2022

The Spirit of Venice, a Beacon for Civilization in the New Year 2023

Palazzo Polignac far right; Salute Church far left - Photo: Cat Bauer from the Accademia Bridge

(Venice, Italy) It has become a happy tradition to kick off the New Year in Venice with a late morning concert at Palazzo Contarini Polignac on the day of New Year’s Eve when an international crowd is here. Music keeps the palace alive and humming — as it did during the days of the salon of the American heiress Winnaretta Singer aka Princess Edmond de Polignac, one of the heirs of the Singer sewing machine fortune (Isaac Singer had 24 kids!). Winnaretta's protégés included Debussy and Ravel. Both composers were on the program today. It was the best of all cultures.

Full house at Palazzo Polignac for New Year’s Eve Day concert

Call me old-fashioned, but I’m grateful that Venice remains a civilized city despite all the nastiness and deceit confronting the world these days. (Especially those who still try to cyber-influence Venice’s narrative from afar by way of social media, trying to create the illusion that they actually live here. Suggestion: Run the gauntlet and try to get a resident visa — it’s not easy. Really come and live here — see if you can make it. Or else get a real life.)

Today's New Year’s Eve Matinée invitation was worded like the good old days when people were cordial even if they disagreed:

This year there were two pianos, eight hands and a string quartet. The audience in the palace responded with applause and goodwill. Here is the program:

As long as there is music in the palaces of Venice, there is hope for the world. #LoveWins. #TruthWins.

Love is so powerful that it always wins.
Truth is so powerful that it always wins.
All it takes is Time.
——Cat Bauer

Happy New Year 2023!

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Venice Is a Gift to Humanity - Merry Christmas & Buon Natale 2022!

Christmas in Venice 2022 - Photo by Cat Bauer

(Venice, Italy) Venice is full of light this Christmas. From the twinkling lights in Piazza San Marco to the sparkly smiles of the locals as we greet each other in the street, the Christmas season is serene and full of tides of good cheer -- not tides of acqua alta and flood waters of destruction.

Just three years ago, in November 2019, Venice was hit by a disastrous flood. Then, in February 2020, came the global pandemic. Shop windows brimming with traditional Venetian masks of mystery and seduction were usurped by sterile hospital masks that covered the noses and mouths of pedestrians in the streets. (It will be interesting to see if Venetian artisans have found new inspiration after the most recent quarantine to incorporate another dimension into their 2023 Carnevale repertoire.) 

The Four Black & White Aquitaine Marble Columns of the Portal of San Pietro
Basilica of San Marco, Venice - Photo: Cat Bauer

Venice has miraculously recovered after each calamity the gods want to fling at her. Instead of slowing dying a salty death from erosive seawater, the Basilica of San Marco in Saint Mark's Square is now tucked safely behind a wall of glass, and is prepared to face its third millennium. A post from 2019, before the flood:

Looking Far to the Future: San Marco - The Basilica of Venice in the Third Millennium

MOSE - Consorzio Venezia Nuova via AP

And MOSE, one of the biggest civil engineering projects in the world, actually functions when no one believed it ever would, including me. The underwater gates of MOSE astonishingly rise up to protect the rest of the city from flooding during high tides. I still cannot wrap my mind around the fact that humans engineered an underwater wall that surfaces to hold back the angry force of the Adriatic Sea and floats back down when the mission is accomplished.

At Christmas -- as at all times -- Venice is a gift to humanity filled with treasures and wisdom. Remember to be gentle with the wrapping paper when you open your gift.  

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

The Heart of Canova Beats Inside the Frari - Venice in Peril Fund Restores Burial Monument

Burial Monument of Antonio Canova inside the Frari - Photo: Cat Bauer

(Venice, Italy) Antonio Canova was considered the greatest sculptor of his time. When he died in Venice just before his 65th birthday, the super-star artist was mourned throughout the world. Born in the Venetian village of Possagno in the foothills of the Dolomites on November 1, 1757, he died 200 years ago on October 13, 1822. To commemorate the anniversary, Venice in Peril Fund, a charity based in the United Kingdom that conserves projects in Venice, restored his imposing burial monument inside the Frari church, which is in the startling form of a pyramid.

The monument is a cenotaph, which is a word derived from the Greek "kenos taphos" and means "empty tomb." However, the Cenotaph of Canova is not entirely empty. His heart is interred in the small burial chamber behind the half-open bronze door on the front of the pyramid. It is a tomb that Canova designed himself -- but not for himself.

Where is Canova's heart? Behind the bronze door - Photo: Cat Bauer

Canova was a Freemason, and his enormous cenotaph constructed from blocks of Carrara marble is embellished with symbolism. Erected in 1827 by his pupils five years after the sculptor's death, it was inspired by Canova's own designs for the cenotaph for Titian, the celebrated Venetian Renaissance artist who had died centuries earlier on August 27, 1576 at about age 95 from the plague. Titian wanted to be buried in the Frari -- and he was, but without a memorial marking his grave.

It took more than 200 years, but in 1790, Canova was finally commissioned to create Titian's mausoleum. When Napoleon's forces occupied Venice in 1797, it became impossible to erect Titian's tomb, so Canova's commission was never completed. (Poor Titian! Annoyances like deadly plagues and the collapse of the Venetian Republic kept getting in the way of him having a proper tomb.)

Today, you can visit Canova's models for the Titian tomb at the Accademia Galleries inside the newly restored ground floor rooms of the Palladio Wing, along with lots of other Canova goodies.

Model of Monument to Titian by Canova (c.1792) - Photo: Cat Bauer

Model of Monument to Titian by Canova (1795) - Photo: Cat Bauer

It wouldn't be until several decades later, years after Canova's own burial monument was constructed, that Titian's completely re-designed tomb was erected around 1850 directly across from Canova's cenotaph inside the massive Frari Church, thanks to Ferdinand I, the Emperor of Austria. After being on Venice's "to-do list" for nearly 300 centuries, Titian finally received a burial memorial that commemorated his vast talent.

Mausoleum Dedicated to Titan

Titian was the first person who inspired Canova's pyramid tomb art, but he was not the last. After the collapse of the Venetian Republic in 1797, Venice was tossed back and forth between the French and the Austrians. While under Austrian domination in 1798, Duke Albert von Sachsen-Teschen asked Canova to design a cenotaph for his wife, Duchess Maria Christina of Teschen, who had died earlier that year, and was buried in the Imperial Crypt in Vienna. Canova incorporated many of the same elements he had designed for Titian's tomb onto the cenotaph for Maria Christina, which was completed in 1805, and is inside St. Augustine's Church in Vienna.

Cenotaph of Archduchess Maria Christina, Duchess of Teschen
Photo: Diana Ringo

I've written several times about Canova, whose life paralleled world events that shook the planet, from the Napoleon conquests to the founding of the United States of America. Everybody who was anybody wanted Canova to preserve them in marble. By reading some of my previous posts, linked below, you can get a good sense of what was happening around the time of Canova, and gain some history. Just click the links if you'd like to read the entire posts.

One of my favorite posts is about Canova's sculpture of George Washington as a Roman general. Since Washington was already dead at the time of Canova's commission, he had to use his imagination by first creating a sculpture of George Washington in the nude. From 2014:

George Washington in the Nude by Canova - Photo: Cat Bauer
George Washington in the Nude by Canova - Photo: Cat Bauer

George Washington in the Nude - Sublime Canova - Revival of the Famed Sculptor in Venice

(Venice, Italy) I was astonished to learn that Antonio Canova (1757-1822), the renowned sculptor from the village of Possagno in the Veneto, had been commissioned to create a sculpture of George Washington by the North Carolina General Assembly back in 1816 for their State House when the Carolinians were feeling euphoric after the War of 1812.

Thomas Jefferson himself urged that Canova, whom he considered the greatest sculptor in the world, create the neoclassical statue, which was delivered to the United States on a war vessel, and arrived in Raleigh on December 24, 1821. Canova's depiction of Washington as an enlightened Roman general became "the pride and glory" of North Carolina, attracting visitors from near and far to their state capitol, including Washington's close friend, Lafayette. Keep reading.
George Washington for North Carolina
General Assembly

Then in October 2017, there was a fantastic exhibition at the Gallerie dell'Accademia entitled Canova, Hayez, Cicognara - The Ultimate Glory of Venice. I wrote two posts about the show:

Horse of St. Mark's plaster copy - Photo: Cat Bauer

When Venice's Loot Came Back from France - Canova, Hayez & Cicognara at the Gallerie Accademia

(Venice, Italy) When Napoleon forced the Venetian Republic to surrender on May 12, 1797 and ended the 1000-year-old realm of La Serenissima, his soldiers hauled a lot of loot back to France -- the most cherished being the four bronze horses on the outside of Saint Mark's Basilica, dating from antiquity. In 1205, Venice herself had plundered the four horses from Constantinople, capital of the Roman Empire and Christian civilization. Napoleon hoisted the horses up on the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel in Paris to commemorate his victories.

The French swiped many other precious works of art, and hacked to pieces five thousand winged lions, the symbol of St. Mark, Venice's evangelist. They also nabbed the prized Lion of San Marco that was on the column in Piazza San Marco.

In celebration of the 200th anniversary of the opening of the Gallerie dell'Accademia in 1817, much of the plundered art has been gathered together in an outstanding exhibition entitled Canova, Hayez, Cicognara - The Ultimate Glory of Venice, curated by Paola Marini, Fernando Mazzocca and Roberto De Feo. The show offers not only a chance to see some exceptional works of art, but also an opportunity to learn some history about the tumultuous time.

Extended! Canova, Hayez, Cicognara - The Last Glory of Venice Exhibition at Accademia Galley with Two New Works

Canova Temple in Possagno - Photo by Cat Bauer
Canova Temple in Possagno - Photo: Cat Bauer

Canova's right hand used to be inside the Accademia di Belle Arti, and many sites on the Internet still erroneously say it is there, but it is not. In 2010, it joined the rest of his body (except for his heart) up in his hometown village of Possagno in a magnificient Temple that Canova designed and paid for himself-- in fact, he laid the cornerstone on July 11, 1819. He did not live to see it completed. He entrusted the work to his half-brother Giovanni Battista Sartori, who became a bishop and consecrated it himself on May 7, 1832.

It is well worth a trip to Possagno to experience the Temple, as well as Gypsotheca wing designed by Carlo Scarpa, filled with many of the wondrous plaster casts created by Canova -- including George Washington in the nude!

The Canova Museum & the Gypsotheca wing designed by Carlo Scarpa - Daytrip to Possagno from Venice

(Possagno, Italy) During his lifetime, Antonio Canova was the most celebrated artist in Europe. The neo-classical sculptor carved images of the gods into human form, and carved exceptional humans into marble gods. He immortalized both Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and President George Washington in marble, depicting Napoleon as "Mars the Peacemaker" and Washington decked out as an ancient Roman general, complete with sandals. Canova captured love and beauty and courage and strength, and carved those noble attributes solidly into stone.

...A day trip to Possagno is a wonderful way to enrich a stay in Venice and gaze upon some works of genius far from the maddening crowds. First, visit the Correr Museum in Piazza San Marco and the Accademia Gallery to see what Canova treasures are in La Serenissima herself. (The original Canova marble monument to Admiral Angelo Emo is inside the Naval Museum, which is being restored.) Then, head up to Possagno. If you don't have a car, take the train to Bassano del Grappa, and then the bus, which drops you off right in front of the door.

Go to the Gypsotheca and Canova Museum for more information, and be sure to read my other two posts about Canova to get a more complete picture about the sculptor who turned humans into gods.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer

Saturday, September 17, 2022

What New Films Are on the Horizon? Recap of the 79th Venice Film Festival 2022

Good Morning from the Venice Film Festival on the Lido - Photo: Cat Bauer

(Venice, Italy) The 79th Venice International Film Festival, which took place on August 31 through September 10, 2022, is the world's oldest film festival and just celebrated its 90th anniversary. First launched in August 1932, major events like war and political unrest sometimes prevented the film festival from taking place, which accounts for the discrepancy in the years.

The Venice Film Festival was one of the rare international gatherings to physically take place during Covid, albeit with many precautions. After the global pandemic caused all sorts of chaos, this year things were finally back to normal, with red carpets and movie stars, long lines for coffee, computers in the press room, and full seating in the cinemas.

Here is a quick recap of the films I managed to see, with letter grades and links to reviews that I agree with the most.

1. White Noise

I loved Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story, which premiered in Venice in 2019, so I was looking forward to White Noise, which opened the 2022 film festival. The film is the movie version of Don DeLillo's 1985 novel set in a college town struck by a toxic cloud, which I wish I had remembered before I saw it -- I could not get a firm grasp on what year we were in and the dialogue was unnatural.

From the Time review: "Much of the movie’s dialogue comes straight from DeLillo, to the point where the actors seem to be reciting memorized language rather than acting." And: "It’s hard to know exactly what Baumbach is going for here, other than perhaps reminding us that the key to living is just going about your life. But you probably don’t need two hours and 16 minutes’ worth of movie to tell you that." Scheduled for limited release in the U.S. on November 25, then streaming on Netflix. Wait for the stream. Grade: B-

2. Tár

Tár was one of my favorite films of the entire festival, which I wrote about here. Cate Blanchett is spectacular as a diva symphony orchestra conductor -- she won Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival. Todd Field wrote the part specifically for her, and his direction is brilliant. I predict they both will be nominated for Oscars, as will much of the cast. If you know who Adam Gopnik is (who plays himself), you will probably enjoy the film.

I agree with my favorite film critic, Owen Gleiberman, at Variety: "The movie is breathtaking — in its drama, its high-crafted innovation, its vision." It's scheduled to be released in the U.S. on October 7. Grade: A

Timothée Chalamet on the Red Carpet for Bones and All
Photo courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia ASAC - Giorgio Zuchiatti

3. Bones and All

I will see anything that Timothée Chalamet is in because he is riveting to watch. However, I did not know this was a cannibal romance movie. The blood and graphic feasting on human flesh made me queasy -- it is not titled "Bones and All" for nothing. That said, I thought the film was surprisingly boring, too long and repetitive.

It's the first film that Italian director Luca Guadagnino made set in the United States, and the jury headed by Julianne Moore awarded him the Silver Lion for Best Director, so apparently they disagree with me. Talented co-star Taylor Russell was awarded the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best New Young Actress.

However, Owen Gleiberman at Variety concurs: "The film is two hours and 10 minutes long, and despite the period hook of its 1988 setting, almost nothing of interest happens in it. It sprawls all over the U.S., and the images have a travelogue sensuality, but 'Bones and All' is a concept in search of a story. The film doesn’t draw us in. It stumbles and lurches and seems to make itself up as it goes along. You may feel eaten alive with boredom." Bones and All is scheduled to be released on Thanksgiving weekend in the U.S., so it's best to wait until after you eat your turkey to see it. Grade: B-

4. A Compassionate Spy

A documentary about Ted Hall, who worked with the Manhattan Project as a young man, and passed nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union to prevent the United States from having exclusive possession of the atomic bomb, and his wife, Joan, who loved him. Interesting, but not compelling. Review at Indiewire. Grade: C+

5. Master Gardner

Paul Schrader's film about a gardener with a dark history. From Screendaily: "’s dramatically involving, and features standout performances from a tantalizingly hard-to-read Joel Edgerton, Sigourney Weaver at her loftiest, and Quintessa Swindell, an up-and-coming graduate of TV’s EuphoriaTrinkets and In Treatment. Their presence, and Schrader’s currently enhanced profile, should see prospects bloom." Release date in the U.S. is October 1, but unless you're a die-hard Schrader fan, you can wait until it streams. Grade: B

6. Argentina, 1985

Well worth watching. From The Guardian: "There’s a fair bit of Hollywoodised emotion in this true-life courtroom drama, but it is managed with terrific flair and heartfelt commitment, and Ricardo Darin gives a wonderful performance in the lead: witty, wry, careworn but idealistic. He plays Julio Strassera, the Argentinian chief prosecutor in charge of the junta trial in 1985, the biggest event since Nuremberg..." PrimeVideo release date is September 29. Grade: B+

7. Monica

Trace Lysette plays a transgender woman who reluctantly comes back home when she learns her estranged mother, Patricia Clarkson, is dying. I thought the performances were good, but it was way too slow.

From Cineuropa: "The main problem impacting Pallaoro’s film is its pace: everything happens in an incredibly long and drawn-out fashion, precluding any sense of anticipation and relying too heavily on things left unsaid." The film is still seeking distribution, so there is no U.S. release date yet. Grade: C+

8. Immensity (L'Immensità)

I always like Penelope Cruz, which is why I went to see this film. Italian director Emanuele Crialese recently came out as a trans man, and said his film about a 12-year-old girl who feels she is a boy is the most autobiographical movie he has made. It's uneven, sometimes a serious drama about a very troubled marriage and sometimes a musical fantasy, but it pulses with energy.

Set in Rome in the 1970s, I loved watching the original musical television shows. From Deadline: "he has chosen a handful of contemporary pop songs as musical set-pieces imitating those old television variety shows, in which the family become stars and choruses of schoolgirls camp it up in cast-of-thousands dance numbers."

You've just got to click over and watch my favorite 70s Italian song and dance number (start at 1:27), Adriano Celentano & Raffaella Carrà performing "Prisencolinensinainciusol," nonsense gibberish that deliberately sounds like American English, which is a work of genius. So wacky and wonderful! (If you want to watch the original without all the effects imposed by some YouTuber, go to RaiPlay, but I think you have to download the app.) L'Immensità was released in Italy on September 15. Grade: B

The Banshees of Inisherin Official Poster

9. The Banshees of Inisherin

It's a tie between Tár and The Banshees of Inisherin as to which one was my favorite film of the Venice Film Festival -- I think just about everybody loved this movie. A black comedy set on an imaginary island off the Irish coast, Banshees was written and directed by the critically acclaimed playwright Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), who won Best Screenplay. Colin Farrell, bewildered as to why his best friend, played by Brendan Gleeson, has stopped speaking to him, won Best Actor.

There is nothing more cathartic than sharing a good laugh with a bunch of people at the movies. Since it has now screened at the Toronto Film Festival, here's a review from the New York Post: "There are a million terrific little quirks....You won’t find a funnier movie this year." Opens in theaters in the U.S. on October 21. Go see it! Grade: A

Harry Styles at photo call for Don't Worry Darling
Photo courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia ASAC - Giorgio Zuchiatti

10. Don't Worry Darling

There was a lot of commotion about Harry Styles dating director Olivia Wilde, and actor Florence Pugh (wisely) not showing up to the press conference (but she stole the show on Venice's red carpet). Does Don't Worry Darling live up to the hype? No. 

From Slant: "Don’t Worry Darling has the swing-for-the-fences ambition that should have at least made it a noble and compelling folly, but its repetitiveness frustratingly undercuts its grandiosity, rendering the whole film tedious." In cinemas September 23. You can wait for it to stream. Grade: B-

11. Dead For a Dollar

I really enjoyed 80-year-old Walter Hill's latest Western about a bounty hunter played by Christoph Waltz. From Deadline: "...while it shows up the limitations of both writing and shooting a Western in the modern age (concessions to modern sensitivities have to be made, and digital cinematography somehow just doesn’t cut it with the subject matter), it’s nevertheless a wickedly enjoyable genre romp and full of violent surprises." In theaters and digitally on-demand in the US on September 30. Grade: B

12. Dreamin' Wild

The screenplay for Dreamin' Wild was inspired by a newspaper article about real-life brothers Don and Joe Emerson, who recorded an album when they were teens, full of promise that eventually went nowhere. Thirty years later, the album, "Dreamin Wild" was rediscovered and became a hit on the vinyl circuit.

The story makes a good newspaper article but a hokey movie, starring Casey Affleck as Don Emerson and Beau Bridges as the father who believed so much in his sons that he built them a home studio out in the boondocks, losing a good chunk of his farmland in the process. From Variety: "“Dreams come true in time, occasionally 4/4 time,” reads a title card at the outset of “Dreamin’ Wild” — a quote attributed to nobody, which rather emphasizes its greeting-card quality. It’s a cornball note on which to start a film..." I can't find a U.S. release date. Grade: C

13. The Son

While many male critics in Venice liked The Son starring Hugh Jackman and Laura Dern -- I imagine because they relate to the dynamic between father and son -- I found it repetitive and did not connect to it on an emotional level. Here is a (male) critic from the New York Post, with whom I agree: "Zeller’s latest mental health movie is an exhaustingly tedious experience in which you check your watch several times a minute while taking breaks from giggling at the clumsy dialogue. The writing is godawful, there is no dramatic build to speak of and the acting collectively amounts to a ceaseless whine, like a dog left home alone during a storm." The US release date is November 22. Grade: C-

Blonde billboard on the Lido - Photo: Cat Bauer

14. Blonde

Another movie that was hyped to the max, Blonde was tedious and did not live up to the buzz -- the fault, I think, of writer-director Andrew Dominik -- not the star, Ana de Amas, whose performance as Marilyn Monroe was brilliant.

From CNN: "The gap between a star performance and the movie containing it has seldom been wider than in "Blonde," which features Ana de Armas stunningly capturing the look and essence of Marilyn Monroe in the service of a film that's pretentious, heavy handed and lengthy to the point of exhaustion." Premiered in the US on September 16 in select theaters (don't go), and then streams on Netflix starting September 28 -- Netflix should be held responsible for these overly-long movies, which you can pause at home but not in a cinema. Grades: Ana de Amas: A  Blonde: C-

Oliver Stone gets standing ovation for Nuclear world premiere
Venice Film Festival - Photo: Cat Bauer

15. Nuclear

"This was a pain in the ass to make," Oliver Stone said at the press conference for Nuclear. Based on the book, "A Bright Future - How Some Countries Have Solved Climate Change and the Rest Can Follow," written by Joshua Goldstein, Professor Emeritus of International Relations at American University, Stone not only had to simplify the scholarly language, but also had to differentiate nuclear energy from the nuclear bomb just so ordinary folks could digest the message.

Stone starts the film off with images that anyone who grew up in the 1960s will remember: how we had to duck under our desks and cover our heads so the atom bomb wouldn't annihilate us. As children, we were terrified. I would put myself to sleep by dreaming who I would invite into my bomb shelters. I had two imaginary shelters -- one was underground in my backyard, and the other was in a drive-in enclosed parking lot. 

During the press conference, Oliver Stone wondered if people would pay attention to his concerns and solutions, but judging from the long standing ovation at the world premiere in Venice, attended mostly by members of the public as well as the accredited, I think people are willing to listen.

From The Wrap: "Stock footage, graphs and Stone’s own narration confirm the Oscar-winning director is here to teach rather than to entertain... Even if the vehicle to deliver it is dull, Stone’s pursuit to disseminate a hopeful take in the face of the current apocalyptic prognosis for our collective existence remains commendable." Worth watching if you're concerned about climate change and looking for a viable solution. I can't find if it's streaming yet or not, but with the amount of effort Stone put into the project, we can be sure it will be seen. Grade: B+

16. Look at Me

A short 16-minute film by Sally Potter starring Chris Rock as a gay gala organizer who has a problem controlling Javier Bardem, his intense drummer lover. Well, it's short. Grade: B

17. The Hanging Sun

The closing film of the Venice Film Festival was surprisingly good. I always expect films directed by Italians to be... well... Italian. But The Hanging Sun, directed by Francesco Carrozzini, has an American sensibility, and he knows how frame a scene. It turns out that he is well-connected: he studied film at UCLA; his mother is the late Franca Sozzani, the editor of Italian Vogue; his wife is Anna Wintour's daughter, Bee Shaffer; plus he's got a bunch of cool music videos he directed under his belt. But most importantly, he's got talent.

From Cineuropa: "Overall, Carrozzini successfully transposes a captivating story about hate and toxic family relationships to the big screen, assembling an effective cast and lending the movie great pace." Coming soon to theaters and then premiering on Sky and on streaming service NOW. Grade: B+

18. Pearl

The only reason I saw Pearl is because it screened after The Hanging Sun and I was already at the theater. It's a horror prequel to Ti West's X, which I'd never even heard of. But now I see Pearl has scored a review in the New York Times by none other than A.O. Scott: "The bloodshed is at least as grisly as the slaughter in “X,” but “Pearl” occupies a different corner of the slasher-movie universe. It isn’t especially suspenseful — the identity of the killer is never in doubt, and her victims don’t elicit much sympathy — but it has a strange, hallucinatory intensity." Pearl held my attention. It opened in the U.S. on September 16. Grade: B

The Adriatic Sea from the roof terrace of Palazzo del Cinema, the Lido - Photo: Cat Bauer

19. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed

Winner of the Golden Lion, the Venice Film Festival's top prize, the documentary All the Beauty and the Bloodshed by Academy Award-winning director Laura Poitras about the artist Nan Goldin's battle to take down the Sackler family for causing the opioid crisis in the United States was universally praised by most critics. I didn't get a chance to see it at the festival, but the Rossini Multiplex in Venice always screens the Golden Lion winner the next day, so I saw the film on Sunday together with the general Venetian public. About 10 people walked out before the movie was over, and I nearly fell asleep. I will have to see it again because it seems that I lost the plot completely -- maybe it's because we don't have an opioid crisis in Italy? Marketing of drugs directly to patients is prohibited in Europe, as it once was in the United States. (Report: Is Europe facing an opioid crisis like the United States? An analysis of opioid use and related adverse effects in 19 European countries between 2010 and 2018)

From Indiewire: "That title. Even before it screened, “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” cast a shiver across the Venice Film Festival competition, sounding more like a line from a Yeats poem than the latest documentary from the director of “CITIZENFOUR.” The big news: the film lives up to it. Already a robust director, Laura Poitras has leveled up with a towering and devastating work of shocking intelligence and still greater emotional power." Grade: Right now I'm not grading it until I see it again. HBO has got the streaming rights. Watch it and decide for yourselves.

The wild side of the Lido, Venice - Photo: Cat Bauer

Attending the Venice Film Festival on the Lido is exhilarating, exhausting, and rewarding. Sitting in a theater together with fellow human beings and sharing the same experience is a gift given by the art of the cinema. The buzz of the comings and goings on the red carpet in the background adds another element of magic. I am always sad when it is over -- it also signals the end of summer, and the end to splashing in the diamonds of sun that sparkle on the gentle waves of the Adriatic Sea.

Ciao from Venezia and the Lido,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Cate Blanchett Is Riveting as International Conductor Lydia Tàr, Todd Field's First Film in 16 Years - Venice Film Festival 2022

Cate Blanchett on the Red Carpet for Tàr
Photo courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia ASAC - Giorgio Zuchiatti

(Venice, Italy) One of my fantasy careers has always been to be the conductor of a symphony orchestra, so I was looking forward to Tàr, despite its two hour and 38 minute running time at the end of a very long day. But I didn't expect to see a genuine masterpiece. It has been 16 years since director Todd Field brought a film to the screen, and it was well worth the wait. Even though I was exhausted, I was riveted by the story that Field had written specifically for Cate Blanchett, whose performance was the work of genius. 

That Tàr is produced by Focus Features is an added bonus. Focus Features has a special place in my heart — I was one of a handful of American expat bloggers they asked to recommend five favorite films set in Italy as part of the publicity they did back in 2010 for the release of The American starring George Clooney.

The Adriatic Sea from the top of the Palazzo del Cinema terrace - Photo: Cat Bauer

The Venice Film Festival got off to a rocky start. The new system to make reservations for screenings kept crashing -- starting at 7AM Central European Time on a Sunday morning(!). It took hours to crack into the system (“your wait is more than an hour”). If you were lucky enough to finally get in, and arrive at the moment when you could finally book your seat, the system would freeze and then spit you back out, forcing you to endure the entire process again, watching helplessly as a tiny cyber figure walked determinedly across the scene as the minutes ticked by. Journalists from all over the world in different time zones were trapped for hours in a seat reservation nightmare, forcing us to change our Sunday plans. 

La Biennale apologized and finally fixed the system, which seemed to run relatively smoothly the rest of the week. Making reservations online is better than The Time Before The Pandemic, when we had to physically wait in a queue. But if you wanted to get a seat to the most desirable films that started at 8:30AM, you had to reserve as soon as the system became available -- which was bumped up even earlier, to 6:45AM. If you had to get up that early to reserve, and be over to the Lido by 8:15, you were not overly enthusiastic about watching a late-night movie. 

Tàr film delegation photo call
Photo courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia ASAC - Giorgio Zuchiatti

All that said, on opening day, I had had less than five hours sleep, but instead of nodding off during Tàr, I was so compelled by the film, I came out of the theater later that evening feeling exhilarated.

There is an early scene in Tàr when Lydia is teaching at Julliard that crackles with electricity and controversy — it is beautifully constructed and sets the standard for the entire film. Todd Field later said in an interview that it took him three and a half months to write just that one scene and another three and a half months to work on it together with Cate Blanchett. That depth of dedication and effort radiates from the screen and is astonishing to watch. 

The review I agree with the most was written by Owen Gleiberman of Variety. I had the good fortune to chat with Owen years ago when we happened to stand next to each other while waiting to enter a screening — back when we did have to physically queue to see a film — and he’s the real deal. (Even though reserving online may be more convenient, it does remove the simple pleasure of human communication while physically waiting on line.) An excerpt from Variety:

Focus Features

Tár’ Review: Cate Blanchett Acts With Ferocious Force in Todd Field’s Masterful Drama About a Celebrity Conductor

The actor creates a study in power, passion, and entitlement in a movie so real it's immersive.

 But “Tár,” the first film he has made in 16 years, takes Todd Field to a new level. The movie is breathtaking — in its drama, its high-crafted innovation, its vision. It’s a ruthless but intimate tale of art, lust, obsession, and power. It’s set in the contemporary classical-music world, and if that sounds a bit high-toned (it is, in a good way), the movie leads us through that world in a manner that’s so rigorously precise and authentic and detailed that it generates the immersion of a thriller. The characters in “Tár” feel as real as life. (They’re acted to richly drawn perfection down to the smallest role.) You believe, at every moment, in the reality you’re seeing, and it’s extraordinary how that raises the stakes.

Venice Film Festival - Photo: Cat Bauer

As we approach the end of the 79th Venice International Film Festival, no other film I saw matched the excellence of Tàr, though I really enjoyed The Banshees of Inisherin, a black comedy set on an imaginary island off the Irish coast, written and directed by the celebrated playwright Martin McDonagh, whose Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri in 2017 was critically acclaimed and won a bunch of awards. After having been married to a first-generation Irishman, I loved that trademark Irish dark humor. Judging by the laughter at the screening, so did the rest of the press and industry audience. It has a limited release date in the United Kingdom of October 21. Hopefully the film will eventually show up on a streaming service so that folks in the States can watch it.

Tàr, on the other hand, will be theatrically released in the U.S. on October 7, 2022. I strongly recommend that you invest in a night out and go to the movies to watch it in the company of other human beings. The readers of this blog will appreciate the cultured world it is set in and find comfort knowing that Todd Field has come out of his house to make a forceful movie with so many layers. As the planet grows ever more cyber and divided, the ritual of sharing an emotional experience with fellow human beings grows ever more precious. 

Go to Focus Features for more information.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer