Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Day 61: The Leopard

There's a certain shame that comes from not understanding the context about which a story is told, a shame that sometimes inspires a reticence to admit the ignorance I have.  The Leopard poked at my ignorance over and over during its running time, detailing events that, to me, might as well have been about ancient Martian political insurrections and aristocracies run amok.  I found this excruciating.

The film is, on its surface, about events in Italian history, specifically events in Sicily (you know, the place with penetratingly sweet sherberts), and I'm still not entirely sure I understand the historical aspects of the film (the shame).  My loss.  The events depicted are gorgeous, beautifully shot and thick with period pageantry.  This is so emphasized in the opening, with depictions of a wealthy, aristocratic family run by Burt Lancaster and some revolutionary fighting in the streets, that I feared I might be in for an Italian version of Gone with the Wind, only without the context to get why this terrible war was being fought in the first place.  Not so.

What The Leopard is about is the passing of one age to the other, from monarchy steeped in beautiful, yet restrictive, traditions, to the ugly rabble and freedom of a people-run state.  This passing is personified by Burt Lancaster as an aging prince, forced by circumstances to compromise his principles in order to preserve his way of life.  His era and its way of dealing with power are contrasted sharply by Paola Stoppa as a stumbling, ill-mannered rube, a man lucky enough to have acquired such wealth as to be a force to reckon with in this new world.

I've written about how this movie angered me on first viewing.  Not having the proper context surely played a part in that.  If I were a history buff, I'm sure I'd have been delighted to see history written with such lightning.  Instead, I was confused, displaced, and irritated that the movie didn't help me along by setting up the historical context (I can be a dumb American too) more clearly.  But even with this crankiness, there was no mistaking the brilliance of the ballroom sequence in this film.  It goes on and on as people dance and Lancaster stomps about, tired, worn, and saddened by the death of his way of life.  It's superb on every level and hits its height when the old prince dances with Claudia Cardinale, a dance that gives him one last chance to be a true dashing prince and not the withered old man he really is.

The Leopard will stay with me for the rest of my life, this much is certain (and not just for letting me know about the penetrating sweetness of certain sherberts).  The images in it are stark, sharp reminders of how beautiful cinema can be, and the weary, oppressive tone is a brilliant, grim counterpoint to this beauty.  Despite my first impressions, I'm beginning to think it's one of the better movies about aging and dying, making the personal aspects of aging political and the political aspects of worn-out regimes personal.  Still, I do wish to see it again, preferably in five or ten years so that the first impression will have faded some.  Maybe it's just an indulgent, pretentious stew after all.  I can't say right now.  I'm still in love with the last shot of the film.

Now is that Gratitude? Or is it really love?

So, after reading the comments on yesterday's post, I've decided to set up a spinoff blog at the end of the year. I imagine it will be more "bloggish" and will probably detail my aborted attempt to get into shape with such clarity and detail as to add, by its existence alone, another five pounds to my ever engorging waistline (are you with me ladies?). I'll be sure to post a link when it's available.

Thought this Pinky Violence collection thing looked interesting.

last night, I watched The Leopard. It was one of those rare occasions where I feel as if I need to watch the whole thing all over again, no small feat. It's not that I didn't "get it" or that I was confused by it, per se, but the movie ended in such a way that I realized it had been a completely different movie than I thought it was while I was watching it. Watching this three-hour movie was sometimes a chore. For the first hour and a half I was angry at it, frustrated by the giddy attention to period detail. By the 2 hour mark, I was even angrier, since the movie seemed determined to be as free of direction as some misguided people apparently think L'Avventura is.

At about two hours and eight minutes (if I remember correctly), an unintentionally funny line made it impossible for me to continue for at least five minutes. The main character is talking about the character of Sicilians, how it's so lugubrious and yet sensual... as examples he provides knifings, shootings, and then offers "the penetrating sweetness of our sherberts..." Wow. How bizarre.

Anyway, the movie ended and I was suddenly taken with it, even though for most of its running time I was angry, angry, angry. When this happens, it's usually a signal to me that I need to watch it again, if only to be sure that my anger was justified. Sometimes movies just end well, despite middling beginnings, but other times, I've just been completely wrong about what the movie was doing the whole time and my anger is just that of a spoiled brat not getting what he wants from his entertainment (I'm sorry about what I said, Rushmore) But then the idea of sitting through something that made me as furious as parts of this movie did isn't exactly a pleasant thought. Of course, the notion of being able to appreciate something beyond my preconceptions is. Hmm, does this count as a review?