Luchino Visconti di Modrone, Count of Lonate Pozzolo (November 2, 1906 - March 17, 1976) was an Italian theatre and cinema director and writer, best known for films such as The Leopard (1963). He died in Rome of a stroke at the age of 69. There is a museum dedicated to the director's work in Ischia.
Born into a noble and wealthy family (one of the richest of northern Italy), in Milan
, Visconti's father Giuseppe Visconti di Modrone
was the Duke of Grazzano
, and Visconti had six siblings. Due to his upbringing, Visconti was able to be exposed to art, music and theater, and to meet some of the forerunners in each, such as the composer Giacomo Puccini
, the conductor Arturo Toscanini
, and the writer Gabriele D'Annunzio
After World War II Visconti joined the Italian Communist Party
Visconti in the film industry
In 1936, at the age of 30, he went to Paris
and began his filmmaking career as third assistant director in Jean Renoir
's Une partie de campagne
(1936), thanks to the intercession of a common friend, Coco Chanel
. After a short tour to the U.S.
, where he visited Hollywood
, he returned to Italy to be Renoir's assistant again, this time for La Tosca
(1939), a production that was interrupted and later completed by German director Karl Koch
because of the war
Together with Roberto Rossellini, Visconti joined the salotto of Vittorio Mussolini (the son of Benito, at the time the national arbitrator for cinema and other arts) and here presumably met also Federico Fellini. With Gianni Puccini, Antonio Pietrangeli and Giuseppe De Santis he wrote the screenplay for his first film as director: Ossessione (Obsession) (1943), the first neorealist movie and an adaptation of the novel The Postman Always Rings Twice. In 1948, he wrote and directed La Terra trema (The Earth Trembles), based on the novel I Malavoglia by Giovanni Verga.
Visconti was one neo-realist director who was able to continue working throughout the 1950’s, although he veered away from the neorealist path with his 1954 film, Senso, which was also filmed in Technicolor. Based on the novella by Camillo Boito, it is set in Austrian-occupied Venice in 1866 and in it, Visconti combines realism and romanticism as a way to break away from neorealism. However, as one biographer notes, “Visconti without neorealism is like Lang without expressionism and Eisenstein without formalism and he describes the film the “most Viscontian” of all Visconti’s films.
He returned to neorealism one more time in 1960 with Rocco and his Brothers, the story of southern Italians who migrate to Milan hoping to find financial stability.
Throughout the 1960’s, Visconti’s films became more personal. The Leopard (Il Gattopardo), made in 1963, and based on Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s novel about the decline of the Sicilian aristocracy. It starred American actor Burt Lancaster in the role of Prince Don Fabrizio.
This film was distributed throughout both America and England, but in the process, Twentieth-Century Fox scaled it down with important scenes completely deleted. These cuts and the poor dubbing quality ensured that the essence of the film was lost in this version. Visconti repudiated it, and took no responsibility for it whatsoever.
He told an American reporter in 1961, “I believe in life, that is the central point ... I believe in organized society. I think it has a chance”. Even when not focusing on sending a message to his audience about war or poverty, Visconti was still dealing with life and all its glory and hardships.
It was not until his 1969 film, The Damned, that Visconti received a nomination for an Academy Award, for "Best Screenplay". However, he did not win. The film, one of Visconti's best-known works, is about a German industrialist family that slowly begins to disintegrate during World War II. The decadence and lavish beauty are characteristic of Visconti's aesthetic.
Visconti's final film was The Innocent (1976), which has the recurring theme of infidelity and betrayal.
Filmography as film director
- Ossessione (1943, based on James M. Cain's 1934 novel The Postman Always Rings Twice)
- Giorni di Gloria, documentary (1945)
- La Terra trema (1950)
- Appunti su un fatto di cronaca, short film (1951)
- Bellissima (1951)
- Siamo donne (We, the Women) (1953) (episode Anna Magnani)
- Senso (Livia), 1954
- Le notti bianche (White Nights), 1957 - based on Fyodor Dostoevsky's White Nights (short story)
- Rocco e i suoi fratelli (Rocco and His Brothers), 1960
- Boccaccio '70 (1961, based on Boccaccio's Decameron). (episode Il lavoro)
- The Leopard (Il Gattopardo), 1963 - based on Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's novel Il Gattopardo)
- Vaghe stelle dell'Orsa (Sandra of a Thousand Delights), 1965)
- The Stranger (Lo straniero), 1967 - based on Albert Camus' novel L'Étranger)
- Le streghe (The Witches), 1967 (episode La strega bruciata viva)
- The Damned (La caduta degli dei), 1969
- Alla ricerca di Tadzio (TV movie, 1970)
- Death in Venice (Morte a Venezia), 1971 - Based on Thomas Mann's novel)
- Ludwig (1972)
- Conversation Piece (Gruppo di famiglia in un interno, 1974)
- L'Innocente(The Innocent) (1976)
Visconti as theatre and opera director
Visconti was also a celebrated theatre and opera
director. During the years 1946-1960 he directed many performances of the Rina Morelli
Company, with Vittorio Gassmann
plus many celebrated productions of operas.
In many ways, Visconti's love of opera- and especially the operas of Giuseppe Verdi - is evidenced in the 1954 Senso, where the beginning of the film shows scenes from the fourth act of Il trovatore, which were filmed at the famed Teatro La Fenice in Venice. Beginning with a production at Milan's Teatro alla Scala of La vestale in December 1954, which Visconti directed, his career included a famous revival of La traviata at La Scala in 1955 with Maria Callas, and an equally famous Anna Bolena (also at La Scala) in 1957, also with Maria Callas. A significant 1958 Royal Opera House, Covent Garden London production of Verdi's five act Italian version of Don Carlos followed, along with a Macbeth in Spoleto in 1958 and a famous black-and-white Il trovatore (scenery and costumes designed by Filippo Sanjust) at Covent Garden in 1964. In 1966 Visconti's luscious Falstaff for the Vienna State Opera (conducted by Leonard Bernstein) was critically acclaimed, whereas his austere 1969 Simon Boccanegra with the singers clothed in geometrical costumes caused some controversies.
Opera productions directed by Visconti
- La vestale by Gaspare Spontini, 1954, La Scala with Maria Callas
- La sonnambula by Vincenzo Bellini, 1955, La Scala with Maria Callas
- La traviata by Giuseppe Verdi, 1955, La Scala with Maria Callas, conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini
- Anna Bolena by Gaetano Donizetti, 1957, La Scala with Maria Callas
- Iphigénie en Tauride by Christoph Willibald Gluck, 1957, La Scala with Maria Callas
- Don Carlos by Giuseppe Verdi, 1958, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
- Macbeth by Giuseppe Verdi, 1958, Spoleto Festival
- Il duca d'Alba by Gaetano Donizetti, 1959, Spoleto Festival
- Salome by Richard Strauss, 1961, Spoleto Festival
- Il diavolo in giardino by Franco Mannino with libretto by Visconti, Filippo Sanjust and Enrico Medioli, 1963, Teatro Massimo, Palermo
- La traviata by Giuseppe Verdi, 1963, Spoleto Festival
- Le nozze di Figaro by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 1964, Teatro dell'Opera di Roma Rome
- Il trovatore by Giuseppe Verdi, 1964, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (Sanjust production); Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow (Carlos Benois production)
- Don Carlos by Giuseppe Verdi, 1965, Rome Opera
- Falstaff by Giuseppe Verdi, 1966, Staatsoper, Vienna, with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, conducted by Leonard Bernstein
- Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss, 1966, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
- La traviata by Giuseppe Verdi, 1967, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden with Mirella Freni
- Simon Boccanegra by Giuseppe Verdi, 1969, Staatsoper, Vienna, with Eberhard Wächter, conducted by Josef Krips
- Manon Lescaut by Giacomo Puccini, 1973, Spoleto Festival, with Nancy Shade and Harry Theyard
Visconti made no secret of his homosexuality
. His last partner was the Austrian actor Helmut Berger
, who played Martin in The Damned.
Berger also appeared in Visconti's Ludwig
in 1972 and Conversation Piece
in 1974 along with Burt Lancaster
Other lovers included Franco Zeffirelli
- Bacon, Henry, Visconti: Explorations of Beauty and Decay, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998 ISBN 0-521-59960-1
- Viscontiana: Luchino Visconti e il melodramma verdiano, Milan: Edizioni Gabriele Mazzotta, 2001. (A catalogue for an exhibition in Parma of artifacts relating to Visconti's productions of operas by Verdi, curated by Caterina d'Amico de Carvalho, in Italian. ISBN 8820215187
- British Film Institute, Luchino Visconti
- David Thomson, "The decadent realist", The Guardian (London) 15 February 2003
- "King of cinema or count of kitsch?" , The Daily Telegraph (London), 8 February 2003
- Alexander Hutchison, "Luchino Visconti’s Death in Venice", Literature/Film Quarterly, Vol.2, 1974 published online. In-depth analysis of Death in Venice
- Biography, filmography and more on Luchino Visconti
- Peer Meinert, "Cinematic aristocrat Luchino Visconti born 100 years ago", October 28, 2006, on monstersandcritics.com