Made at the height of the era for the epic genre—Visconti’s masterpiece stakes a legitimate claim to be named one of cinema’s most beautiful films
It opens with a series of sumptuous establishing shots of the castle where Burt Lancaster’s Prince Don Fabrizio Salina resides. It’s not quite an ellipsis in the editing but close— we drift in through the door (not unlike the opening Psycho) to find the big family, spaced and placed carefully to make a painterly composition of (incredible blocking) bodies praying… the family follows him around looks to the towering Lancaster. A clear patriarch. The compositions are such an artistic feat—it would come up again and is certainly a part of Visconti’s traits as an auteur- he did the same, in another genre (neorealism), color (b/w), and decade (1940’s) in La Terra Trema
A gigantic achievement for Lancaster. He’s absolutely perfect here—he strides around his castle, the ball at the end—such poise and pride. He’s stubborn, cunning, self-aware.
A meditation on wealth, death, aging, social class—intelligent discussions on the church, revolution and politics—certainly personal for Visconti—on par with Lawrence. Writing like “we were the leopards and the lions; those who take our place will be jackals and hyenas” (Delon’s character who turns a 180 without batting an eye when it comes to the revolution)
Frescos galore- like Visconti’s 1954 film Senso–
a dogmatic dedication to background set design, decor, costumes, wallpaper as art- hundreds of candles in the lighting- clearly a precursor to Barry Lyndon and influence on Kubrick
Family saga like most of Visconti’s work—definitely an influence on Francis Ford and The Godfather– very Greek mythology
Claudia Cardinale’s arrival at 60 minutes is one of the great ones in cinema— she (at her physical beauty prime or close in 1963) turns every head in the room—a flawlessly designed left to right frame with flowers on the left and a lantern—wall art
Rolling tracking shots for effect in a few key spots—the family at church all in a row, the row of men singing at the statue in the street
At 78 minutes we get the fireworks in the foreground in the background shot of Lancaster—a shot paid homage to in Cape Fear, Gangs of New York (Scorsese a huge admirer of this film) and Ledger in Brokeback Mountain (2005 from Ang Lee).
For a masterpiece (and possible candidate for most beautiful movie of all-time) there are some quiet stretches here stylistically—a long dialogue sequence with Burt and another guy hunting rabbits comes to mind
Another shot at 101 minutes of the family spread across the frame
The sequence of Cardinale and Delon roaming through the ruinous palace at 108-109 minutes (certainly a metaphor)—the framing is sublime—Visconti is just showing off- I love it- haha
Like Senso– a love story (in some ways) with a political backdrop
Couldn’t find a shot here but at 116 Cardinale in pink split between the two betters- a jaw-dropper—another I couldn’t find at 132 minutes with two symmetrical chairs, low camera placement with the fireplace—reminds me of Almodovar’s shot in Pain and Glory
At minute 136 the ball starts and it would last 50 minutes—film is 185 minutes—like the battle sequences before Visconti chooses to shoot them in long shots—genius—captures the size of the event, the beauty of the set piece. The true virtuoso move here is watching Lancaster stalk room to room in the frame—Haneke would do it at the end of Cache in a similar way – just sets the frame and lets it sit but without words—Visconti is telling the story about the death of a man, an era—tragically sad—all to the music of Verdi and Nino Rota
a brilliant sequence with Lancaster looking at the portrait of death—this is a meditation—a saga—aging—Scorsese’s The Irishman
the nuance in the narrative and performance with Lancaster and Cardinale—dancing the waltz. The entire ball set piece (one of cinema’s greatest) is mostly silent, every glance and nuance from the actors.
At 174 minute the shot of them kissing – von Sternberg mise-en-scene obstruction with the chandelier
The final frame of Lancaster walking down the alley after the party—it’s The Irishman, it’s the end of La Dolce Vita
Sarris calls it one of the greatest motion pictures of all time