Monday, September 23, 2019

The Legacy of Peggy Guggenheim - The Last Dogaressa of Venice

Peggy Guggenheim at Home in Palazzo Venier dei Leoni 
Photo courtesy Peggy Guggeheim Collection 
Peggy Guggenheim in the dining room of Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, Venice, mid 1960s. 
On the left wall, Vasily Kandinsky, Landscape with Red Spots, No. 2 (Landschaft mit roten Flecken, Nr. 2), 1913. 
On the back wall, at center, Umberto Boccioni, Dynamism of a Speeding Horse + Houses  
(Dinamismo di un cavallo in corsa + case), 1915.  
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. Photo Archivio Cameraphoto Epoche. Gift, Cassa di Risparmio di Venezia, 2005.
(Venice, Italy) Karole Vail, the curator of The Last Dogaressa, continues the legacy of her renowned grandmother, Peggy Guggenheim, by celebrating her Venetian life. Karole stepped into the ruby slippers in 2017 when she became the director of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, one of the most visited museums of modern art in all of Italy. The daughter of Sindbad Vail, Peggy's son with her first husband, Laurence Vail, Karole reigns judiciously over Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, once Peggy's own home on the Grand Canal, which houses her collection.

Alchemy by Jackson Pollock at Peggy Guggenheim: The Last Dogaressa - photo by Cat Bauer
The hypnotic Alchemy by Jackson Pollock - Photo: Cat Bauer
The exhibition focuses on Peggy's collecting after 1948 when she closed Art of This Century, her museum-gallery in New York City, packed up her mind-blowing collection, and moved to Venice. That year, Peggy was invited to exhibit her artists at the 24th Venice Art Biennale. The exhibit kicks off with a tribute to the works of art that Peggy put on show in the Greek Pavilion, which created a sensation -- after the end of WWII, it rocked the world with its young American Abstract Expressionists, including Jackson Pollock's European debut -- Arshile Gorky, Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko, Irene Rice Pereira and Clyfford Still are all there. We get a peek into Peggy's scrapbooks, including the June 11, 1948 note from the former Consul General of Greece in Venice, typos and all.

In July 1949, Peggy acquired Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, an 18th-century unfinished palace on the Grand Canal. Wasting no time, she opened her garden to the public in September with Exhibition of Contemporary Sculpture. The exhibition marks its 70th anniversary with works by artists such as Jean Arp, Constantin Brancusi and Alberto Giacometti.

Soon Peggy began a new phase in her collecting -- Italian artists. She scooped up Edmondo Bacci, Piero Dorazio, Emilio Vedova and Tancredi Parmeggiani, putting Tancredi under contract, the only artist besides Jackson Pollock to gain that distinction.

There is a section devoted to the CoBrA group -- artists from Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam -- contemporary British art, and highlights of Op and Kinetic Art, which used geometric forms and industrial materials to create optical effects and illusions. More than 60 works by famous and lesser-known artists are on display, including paintings, sculptures and works on paper -- everyone from Francis Bacon to René Magritte to to Heinz Mack to Henry Moore.

Sphere by Franco Costalonga - Photo: Cat Bauer
Concurrently with The Last Dogaressa, Palazzo Venier dei Leoni is displaying works that Peggy bought between 1938 -- when she opened Guggenheim Jeune, her very first gallery in London -- and 1947, when she moved to Venice, so you have the chance to see her collection almost in its entirety. Marcel Duchamp's masterpiece, the first Box in a Valise, is so fragile that it is rarely on view to the public, but after a fresh conservation campaign, it is there waiting for you to admire.

Francesca Lavazza and Karole Vail at Peggy Guggenheim: The Last Dogaressa - photo by Cat Bauer
Francesca Lavazza & Karole Vail - Photo: Cat Bauer
The exhibition is made possible thanks to the support of Lavazza, that famous Italian coffee. Another hard-working heiress born into a legendary family, Francesca Lavazza, great-grandaughter of founder Luigi Lavazza, was on hand for the opening. Lavazza was established in Turin in 1895, three years before Peggy Guggenheim was born.

Francesca said, "Peggy Guggenheim not only left an indelible mark on Twentieth Century culture, but also changed the role of women in the art world: a woman who said of herself, 'I am not an art collector. I am a museum,' testifying to how individual passion can be a revolutionary factor for society as a whole."

Peggy Guggenheim: The Last Dogaressa runs from September 21, 2019 until January 27, 2020. Go to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection for more information.

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

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Quickie Recap of the Venice Film Festival 2019 - New Movies on the Horizon

Waiting for the stars at the Venice Film Festival - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) Attending the Venice Film Festival is like traveling to another world, a place where cultures from all over the globe present their unique views of life. It is a place to be entertained, a place to learn, and a chance to meet people from many different countries -- people who can travel and speak freely, as well as people who have trouble getting a visa just to attend. It is about freedom of expression, and how important that freedom is for humanity to thrive.

La Biennale di Venezia has made it easier for those not connected to the film industry to attend screenings, with accreditation for students 26 and under, and those over 60, in addition to the single tickets that can be purchased for a specific film. At the major screenings in the Sala Grande, the public watches the movie with the stars themselves.

I didn't get to see as many movies as I would have liked this year, but here is a short recap of the ones I did see, with letter grades.

1. Joker

I thought Joker was a exceptional, and wrote about it here: Joker is a Masterpiece - Winner of Venice's Golden Lion, Coming Soon to a Theater Near You. Joquin Phoenix is brilliant. Winner of the Venice Film Festival's top prize. Grade: A

2. J'Accuse - An Officer and a Spy

The Venice Film Festival was criticized by several members of the international press for including Roman Polanski's film in its lineup. But the film is excellent and well-researched. It is the story of the famous Dreyfus Affair in France, when an innocent Jewish artillery officer was convicted of treason. The story is told from the point of view of Georges Picquart, the head of counter-intelligence, who refused to buckle under political pressure to keep the status quo. J'Accuse won the Silver Lion Grand Jury Prize. The film is in French. Read the review at The Guardian. Grade: A-

3. Roger Waters Us + Them

Roger Waters celebrated his 76th birthday at the Venice Film Festival with his film Us + Them, which was recorded during his concert tour in Amsterdam last year. The film is so powerful that I have to remind myself that I was not actually at the live concert because it feels like I was there. The film is only screening at select theaters around the world on a couple of dates in October, and promises “state-of-the-art visual production and breath-taking sound" -- a promise I can assure you it fulfills. Here's the link to the Us + Them booking site to see if you can score tickets. Grade: A

Roger Waters - Us + Them - Photo: Maxim Italia
4. The Burnt Orange Heresy

Slick, intriguing and elegant. The dark side of the art world. Starring Claes Bang, Elizabeth Debicki, Donald Sutherland and Mick Jagger. See the review at The Hollywood Reporter. Grade B+

5. Marriage Story 

The story of a Hollywood divorce, starring Adam Driver and Scarlett Johannson. I thought it was terrific, and wrote about it here: I Loved Marriage Story! A Film about Divorce at the Venice Film Festival. Grade: A

6. Ad Astra

Brad Pitt as an astronaut with father issues. I thought it was way too slow, but a lot of critics liked it. A man's movie. Read the review at Variety. Grade: B-

7. La Vérité - The Truth

This French film starring two of my favorite actresses, Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche, by the Japanese director, Hirokazu Kore-eda, is basically about the relationship between a movie star and her screenwriter daughter. It was a bit too cutesy, and I couldn't really connect. Read the review at The Hollywood Reporter. Grade: C

8. Seberg

Kristin Stewart is terrific as actress Jean Seberg who was outrageously and illegally targeted by the FBI in the late 60s for her involvement with the Black Panthers. The film has flaws, but it is interesting to confirm that there are people in the United States government who abuse their power and actually enjoy destroying the lives of civilians. Read the review at Variety. Grade: B+

9. The Laundromat

Stephen Soderbergh attempts to explain the Panama Papers and why there is such a gap between the super-rich and the rest of us. Answer: they are a bunch of crooks. Starring Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas. Soderbergh spoke about how quickly he shot the film, and it shows. Don't see it in the theater; wait for it on Netflix and don't miss the Meryl Streep surprise at the end. Read the review at ScreenDaily. Grade: B-

10. Citizen K

I always enjoy Alex Gibney's documentaries. This one is about Russian oligarch, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was actually at the Venice Film Festival. I was surprised to learn that there were only seven oligarchs that controlled half of Russia's economy. Read the review at Variety. Grade: B

Lily Rose Depp & Timothée Chalamet - Photo by
Vittorio Zunino Celotto Getty Images
at Harper's Bazaar
11. The King

What makes The King fascinating to watch is Timothée Chalamet as Henry V. A lot of critics didn't like it, but I agree with Owen Gleiberman at Variety. And by the reaction of the fans on the Red Carpet, I think Gleiberman is right. Grade: B+

Handsome is the wrong word for this actor. He’s beautiful, and the camera drinks him in. “The King” gives Chalamet one of the choicest roles he’s had, but when you take an actor who looks like this and cast him as a young king, it’s not just about how fascinating the role is — the film is capturing the elevation of his stardom. And Timothée Chalemet, I predict, could be the biggest movie star of his generation. As he demonstrates in “The King,” he’s got it — not just the talent (though he’s a superb actor), but the ability to fix an audience with his stare, so that even when he’s doing nothing much at all, what he’s looking at or thinking about becomes the story the movie is telling.

12.  Saturday Fiction

I was completely confused while watching this black and white spy thriller set in Shanghai on the days leading up to Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 until I realized it was a story within a story, or rather, within a play. Gong Li is another one of my favorite actresses, and she is riveting to watch. Read the review at Indiewire. Grade: B-

13. Waiting for the Barbarians

At the press conference, Johnny Depp said, "there is no sadist without the masochist." There is some pretty gruesome torture going on in this film about colonists keeping their control over "barbarians" set in an unnamed country. Read the review at The Guardian. Grade: B+

Sunset in Venice - Photo: Cat Bauer
The process of how a movie evolves from creation to execution to critical response to the eyes of the audience is fascinating. By the time we get to watch a film, it has been through its own drama. That human beings have even figured out how to make movies, and that we love to watch them, is one of life's most mysterious and exciting wonders.

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

Monday, September 9, 2019

Joker is a Masterpiece - Winner of Venice's Golden Lion, Coming Soon to a Theater Near You

Joaquin Phoenix as JOKER - Photo: Nico Tavernise
(Venice, Italy) Joker is a masterpiece. In a few weeks, on October 4, those in the States will find themselves waiting on a long line to see the film, and the line will be made up of people of all ages, all sexes, all races, rich and poor. If Joker doesn't change the gun laws in the United States, nothing will.

On the surface, Joker is not my kind of movie, and you wouldn't imagine it would be the type of movie that would impress the jury of the Venice Film Festival, chaired by Argentine film director Lucrecia Martel, and comprised of French actress Stacy Martin, Canadian film maker Mary Harron, former director of the Toronto International Film Festival Piers Handling, Mexican cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, Japanese film maker Shinya Tsukamoto, and Italian film maker Paolo Virzì. But impress them it did. There was a gasp in the press room when it was announced that Joker had won the Golden Lion, Venice Film Festival's highest award. 

The only background I have when it comes to Batman and Joker is from my childhood and the campy Batman TV show. I am not that interested in comic book movies, so I didn't make much effort to see Joker the first morning it screened at the Venice Film Festival, which was a mistake. So I saw it yesterday with the general public -- one of the perks of being in Venice is that the winner of the Golden Lion screens at the local Rossini Multiplex in San Marco the day after the award ceremony. 

Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix on the Red Carpet - Photo courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia ASAC
Joker is a brilliant character study of what happens when you give a mentally ill individual a weapon, and should be required watching for everyone in the United States Congress. Joaquin Phoenix's performance is sheer genius, a close collaboration with Todd Phillips, who directed the film and co-wrote the screenplay with Scott Silver. In addition to spending about six months exploring the character prior to shooting, as filming progressed, the script changed daily, incorporating new discoveries, resulting in a riveting character arc. Joaquin Phoenix transforms from Arthur Fleck, a mentally ill part-time clown with Pseudobulbar affect, into Joker, the unwitting leader of a violent proletarian revolution, in front of our eyes. 

Hildur Guðnadóttir, the Icelandic composer, wrote the music by reading the screenplay, not after a scene was shot, so the music influenced Phoenix's performance and Phillips' direction. An example: there is a haunting scene in the bathroom where Phoenix slowly starts doing a tai chi-like dance, inspired by a piece of music that had arrived from Guðnadóttir the day before. Phoenix makes Joker's dancing a critical element of his character, and it is compelling to watch.

By giving such talented people so much freedom to create, and incorporating the results into the film, Todd Phillips has made a movie that will definitely be a global topic of discussion. Phillips said that "lack of empathy" is one of the main themes of the film.

I have read many reviews and analyses of the film. In Indiwire, David Ehrlich, who was critical of the movie, writes: "It’s good enough to be dangerous, and bad enough to demand better. It’s going to turn the world upside down and make us all hysterical in the process."

To me, we all are already hysterical. I hope it will make us all more thoughtful.

By awarding Joker the top prize, the jury has kicked it up into the stratosphere. Hopefully, it will motivate many people like myself who would not ordinarily watch a film inspired by a comic book character to go see it.

Let the conversation begin.

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

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

You Want Data? Female Directors in Film - Statistics from the Venice Film Festival

Seminar on Gender Equality & Inclusivity in the Film Industry - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) Ask and ye shall receive. Lucrecia Martel, the president of the jury of this year's Venice International Film Festival (VIFF), had expressed an interest in seeing the gender breakdown of film submissions to the festival after Venice had been criticized by some members of the international press for having only two films by female directors in competition.

On Monday, September 2, La Biennale, together with Eurimages, Women in Film,Television & Media Italia, and Dissenso Comune, hosted the Seminar on Gender Equality and Inclusivity in the Film Industry that presented an enormous amount of data on the situation in Europe to a packed house.

Paolo Baratta, the President of La Biennale di Venezia said he "totally rejects the idea that we can be accused of anything. We can be witness. La Biennale is a witness, not the accused." Alberto Barbera, the Artistic Director of VIFF, said he and the President agreed on a lot, and that they recognize there is inequality in the film world.

La Biennale presented several different graphs that included the management of the organization -- out of 8 members of the executive committee, 5 are female and 3 are male -- as well as the makeup of the VIFF selection committee -- 14 male and 12 female, or nearly 50/50. There were so many graphs that I will concentrate on the submissions.

Overall Submissions to the 76th VIFF
That is the graph of the overall submissions to the 76th Venice Film Festival. As you can see, the submissions by males were a whopping 72.1% while females accounted for only 22.6%.

Films Selected for the 76th VIFF per number of Directors
That is a graph of the films that were selected. Of the 21 films selected for the main competition, 90.5% were directed by men. Of the overall selected films in all categories, 162 were directed by men, while 40 were directed by women. Some hope for the future lies with Biennale College Cinema, where of the 3 films selected, 67% had a female director.

Eurimages - Female Directors - Eligible Projects
There were similar findings presented by the other organizations. Eurimages is a cultural support fund of the Council of Europe, the leading human rights organization on the continent. The Council of Europe predates the European Union. All 28 members of the EU belong to the Council, which has a total of 47 member states -- no country has ever joined the EU without first being a member of the Council. It is located in Strasbourg, France, not in Brussels, Belgium, headquarters of the EU.

It is interesting to note that if the UK leaves the EU, they do not have to leave the Council. Russia is a member. Canada is an associate member, and on October 1, Argentina will be an associate member, too.

Eurimages funds art house films, and have a different way of breaking down their data, with all sorts of categories and subcategories. They've been collecting data since 2012, and have seen the percentage of female directors rise from 11% in 2008, to 28% in 2018 -- an improvement, at least, but still completely unbalanced. Out of the eligible projects, 23% were directed by women and 77% by men. Their mission is 50/50 by 2020, which they hope to achieve by providing extra points to projects with female elements.

Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage - Cinema & Audiovisual
Through the Ministry of Culture, Italy provides funding to film projects, and has similar statistics, which they break down into even more categories. The good news is that funding for films directed by women is up from 11% to 20%. The bad news is that funding for films directed by women is 20%... And there are no Italian female directors in animation.

Source: WIFTMI findings based on data from Istituto Luce Cinecittà - FilmItalia
Dissenso Comune or Common Dissent, the Italian #MeToo movement, also presented similar numbers. Graph after graph showed the same dismal statistics.

David Rooney & Susanna Nicchiarelli
David Rooney, a journalist with The Hollywood Reporter had a conversation with Susanna Nicchiarelli, whose film Nico, 1988 about the singer in The Velvet Underground, won Best Film in the Orrizonti section of the Venice Film Festival in 2017. Nicchiarelli is emphatically against quotas. "I would not have been happy if my film was accepted because I was a woman." She believes that women need more access to money, and that more young women need to be encouraged to go to film school.

President Paolo Baratta said that next year VIFF seminar would focus on those statistics -- what is the percentage of young women entering film school? In that area, La Biennale shines -- out of the 12 selected projects for Biennale College Cinema 2019-2020, the gender was split 6 male and 5 female, with one "other" individual in transition.

When you see the same numbers over and over again in front of your eyes, there is no denying the reality: there is an enormous gender gap in the film industry. Paolo Baratta said, "Numbers are a very powerful shooting weapon."

The Venice Film Festival has taken a positive step forward in addressing the situation. I have worked with La Biennale for decades, and I deeply respect President Paolo Baratta. The man will be 80-years-old in November, and I can't image life in Venice without his presence -- his intelligence, sophistication, wisdom, warmth and empathy. Let's hope this seminar kicks off rapid change.

Ciao from the Venice Film Festival,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog