Arcangela Felice Assunta Wertmüller von Elgg Spanol von Braueich
14 August 1928
|Died||9 December 2021 (aged 93)|
|Occupation(s)||Film director, screenwriter|
(m. 1965; died 2008)
Arcangela Felice Assunta Wertmüller von Elgg Spanol von Braueich (14 August 1928 – 9 December 2021), known as Lina Wertmüller (Italian: [ˈliːna vertˈmyller]), was an Italian film director and screenwriter. She is best known for her 1970s art house films Seven Beauties , The Seduction of Mimi, Love and Anarchy, and Swept Away.
Wertmüller was the first female director to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director. She won many awards, including an Academy Honorary Award and a David di Donatello Career Achievement Award, and was nominated for many others, including a Golden Globe Award, two Academy Awards, and two Palme d'Or awards.
Wertmüller was born Arcangela Felice Assunta Wertmüller von Elgg Spanol von Braueich in Rome in 1928 to Federico, a lawyer from Palazzo San Gervasio, Basilicata, belonging to a devoutly Catholic family of distant Swiss descent, and to Maria Santamaria-Maurizio born in Rome. Wertmüller depicted her childhood as a period of adventure, during which she was expelled from 15 different Catholic high schools. During this time, she was infatuated with comic books and described them as especially influential on her in her youth, particularly Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon. Wertmüller characterized the framing of Raymond's comics as "rather cinematic, more cinematic than most films", an early indication of her inclination toward film. Wertmüller's desire to work in the film and theater industries took hold at a young age, as early on in life she developed an appreciation for the works of the Russian playwrights Pietro Sharoff, Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko, and Konstantin Stanislavsky, drawing her into the world of performing arts.
After graduating from Accademia Nazionale di Arte Drammatica Silvio D'Amico in 1951, Wertmüller produced avant-garde plays, traveling throughout Europe and working as a puppeteer, stage manager, set designer, publicist, and radio/TV scriptwriter. She joined Maria Signorelli's troupe in 1951.
These interests developed toward two generic avenues; one being the musical comedy and the other being grave, contemporary Italian dramas like the works of Italian playwright and director Giorgio De Lullo, whose work she described as "serious" and "politically conscious". It is these two approaches that Wertmüller stated were at the core of her creative self, and always would be.
After her years spent touring with an avant-garde puppet group, Wertmüller set her sights on film. In the early 1960s, Flora Carabella, a school friend, introduced Wertmüller to her husband, the actor Marcello Mastroianni, who in turn introduced her to the film director Federico Fellini, who became her mentor.
Although The Basilisks, which was scored by Ennio Morricone, was critically well received, it did not garner the sort of attention her later works did.
Throughout the 1960s, Wertmüller produced a series of films that were well liked but that failed to garner international success. Of these, her first collaboration with Giancarlo Giannini occurred in 1966's musical comedy Rita the Mosquito. Darragh O'Donoghue wrote in Cineaste that generally "her early films comprise a fairly straight pastiche of neorealism and early Fellini (The Lizards, 1963), an episodic comedy, two musicals, and a Spaghetti Western (The Belle Starr Story, 1968, directed under the pseudonym Nathan Wich), works where knowledge of generic predecessors was essential".
The 1970s saw the release of virtually all of Wertmüller's most influential and highly regarded films, many of which featured Giannini. According to Geoffrey Nowell-Smith's Companion to Italian Cinema, 1972 "marked the beginning of Wertmüller's golden age". Beginning in 1972 with The Seduction of Mimi, and continuing until 1978 with Blood Feud, Wertmüller released seven films, many of which are considered masterpieces of Commedia all'italiana. It was during this time she saw critical and international success, gaining traction as a filmmaker outside of Italy and in the United States on a scale that many of her contemporaries were baffled by and unable to attain. In 1975, the National Board of Review in the United States awarded Swept Away Top Foreign Film, and in 1976, she became the first female director to be nominated for an Oscar, for Seven Beauties. This film, which again features Giannini in the lead role, pushes Wertmüller's specific brand of tragic comedy to its limits, following a self-obsessed Casanova from a small Italian town who is sent to a German concentration camp. The film initially met with controversy due to Wertmüller's frankness in her rendering of the apparatuses of genocide as well as her perceived macabre insensitivity toward its survivors, but since has been accepted as her masterwork.
Wertmüller then signed a contract with Warner Bros. to make four films. The first was her first English-language film, A Night Full of Rain, which was entered into the 28th Berlin International Film Festival in 1978. The film was not a success and Warner canceled the contract.
Wertmüller's 1983 film A Joke of Destiny was entered into the 14th Moscow International Film Festival in 1985 and Camorra (A Story of Streets, Women and Crime) was entered into the 36th Berlin International Film Festival in 1986.
In 1985, she received the Women in Film Crystal Award for outstanding women who, through endurance and the excellence of their work, have helped to expand the role of women within the entertainment industry.
After this period of acclaim, Wertmüller began to fade from international prominence, though she continued to release films well into the 1980s and '90s. Some of these films were sponsored by American financiers and studios, but failed to have the breadth of reach that her 1970s output achieved. These films are less widely seen and were neglected or disparaged by most, but Summer Night (1986), Ferdinando & Carolina (1999), and Ciao, Professore have since improved in reputation.
Wertmüller is known for her whimsically prolix movie titles. For instance, the full title of Swept Away is Swept away by an unusual destiny in the blue sea of August. These titles were invariably shortened for international release. She is entered in the Guinness Book of Records for the longest film title, Un fatto di sangue nel comune di Siculiana fra due uomini per causa di una vedova. Si sospettano moventi politici. Amore-Morte-Shimmy. Lugano belle. Tarantelle. Tarallucci e vino, which totals 179 characters. The film is better known under the international titles Blood Feud or Revenge.
Wertmüller was married to Enrico Job (died 4 March 2008), an art designer who worked on several of her pictures.
In 2015, Wertmüller was the subject of a biographical film directed by Valerio Ruiz, Behind the White Glasses, in which she reflects on her life's work.
Style and themes
Fellini's influence is evident in much of Wertmüller's work. They share empathy with the Italian working class, showing the realities of life for the politically neglected and economically downtrodden, with a tendency toward the preposterous. Wertmüller's work also seems to exhibit adoration of Italy and its varied locales, beautifying elements of her film's locations with cinematography that presents its subjects with a colorful extravagance that idealizes the distinctly Italian settings of her films. Her aesthetic borrows heavily from her background in theater, routinely using the camera to emphasize performance and the grandiose comedy of her characters’ near constant emotional frenzy. Much of her work uses formal film tactics to dramatize the misapplication and destructive qualities that political ideology can have on individuals, satirizing common conceptions of revolution and the political status quo in the process.
Narrative and cinematic reflexivity are also commonplace in Wertmüller's films, as she rehashed and reconfigured signs and modes of presentation in a way that references her inspirations and her contemporaries. This is made clear through her disruption of traditional conceptions of virtually all political dogma and the irrationality of her characters, taking recognizable elements of society and film and critiquing them by doing away with narrative and/or character plausibility.
This is particularly evident in a film like The Seduction of Mimi. This positions Mimi (played by Giannini) as an impossibly inept and simple man who fully embodies the notion of Italian machismo, as he fumbles his way through a world that throws a variety of ideologies and economic positions at him, all of which he readily inhabits. Mimi is perpetually successful in his performance of these roles, despite the audience's awareness of their inauthenticity that results from a diegetic acknowledgement of Mimi's hapless ignorance. This element of critique in the film functions as one example of one of the most prevalent themes in Wertmüller's work, a desire to deconstruct and subvert the institutions and social ideologies of a capitalist modernity. This socialist-inflected politicization of class and the institution are also extended to sexuality and gender. Most of her films deploy these elements in conjunction with her affection for the theatrical in such a way that creates a unique concoction that is undeniably within the generic confines of Commedia all’italiana.
Awards and nominations
- "Lina WERTMÜLLER". Festival de Cannes. Archived from the original on 10 April 2023. Retrieved 10 April 2023.
- Armitstead, Claire (7 March 2019). "Ninety and out to shock: meet the first ever Oscar nominated female director". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 9 April 2023.
- Galloway, Stephen (25 October 2019). "History-Making Director Lina Wertmüller on Working With Fellini". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 9 April 2023.
- CanBY, Vincent (22 January 1976). "'Seven Beauties, 'Wertmuller's Finest". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 9 April 2023.
- Eder, Richard (23 January 1976). "Lina Wertmuller, Torrent of Paradox". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 9 April 2023.
- Cocks, Jay (22 July 1974). "Cinema: Sexual Politics". Time. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved 9 April 2023.
- "Academy Awards Search | Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences". awardsdatabase.oscars.org. Archived from the original on 9 April 2023. Retrieved 9 April 2023.
- "A History of Female Best Director Nominees at the Academy Awards". Peoplemag. Retrieved 9 April 2023.
- "Wertmuller to get career Oscar". ANSA English. Rome. 3 June 2019.
- Twitter; Instagram; Email; Facebook (25 October 2019). "Lina Wertmüller, first female directing nominee, will finally get her Oscar at 91". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 9 April 2023.
|last1=has generic name (help)
- "Accademia del Cinema Italiano - Premi David di Donatello". www.daviddidonatello.it. Archived from the original on 10 April 2023. Retrieved 10 April 2023.
- "Seven Beauties". Golden Globes. Archived from the original on 10 April 2023. Retrieved 10 April 2023.
- NOTE: Wertmüller's year of birth had been given as 1926 for many years. However, a majority of references now cite 1928, including  Archived 2018-07-31 at the Wayback Machine, , [[iarchive:womenfilmdirecto0000fost/page/n416|]], , , and 
A few sources (, ) continue to cite 1926.
- Giorgio Dell'Arti, Massimo Parrini, Catalogo dei viventi 2009 - voce Wertmüller Lina, Venezia, Marsilio Editori, 2008; ISBN 978-88-317-9599-9.
- Smith, Harrison (9 December 2021). "Lina Wertmüller, provocative Italian filmmaker and first woman nominated for directing Oscar, dies at 93". The Washington Post.
- Behind The White Glasses, Dir. Valerio Ruiz, Italy. 2015.
- Foster, Gwendolyn Audrey (1995). Women Film Directors: An International Bio-Critical Dictionary. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 369–370. ISBN 0-313-28972-7. OCLC 32129920.
- Martin, Jean, ed. (1995). Who's Who of Women in the Twentieth Century. Crescent Books. p. 155. ISBN 0-517-12027-5. OCLC 32528855.
- Davis, Melton S. (6 March 1977). "'I Get Along Well With Wild Personalities'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 9 April 2023.
- Peter, Bradshaw (9 December 2021). "Lina Wertmüller: a thrilling live-wire who displayed a colossal black-comic daring". the Guardian. Retrieved 10 December 2021.
- O'Donoghue 2018.
- Nowell-Smith, Geoffrey (1996). The Companion to Italian Cinema. Cassell; British Film Institute. pp. 124–126. ISBN 0-304-34197-5. OCLC 35683590.
- Bondanella 1990, p. 354.
- Chu, Henry (February 2018). "Lina Wertmüller on What Being the First Female Director Nominated for an Oscar Means to Her". Variety. Retrieved 17 March 2019.
- "14th Moscow International Film Festival (1985)". MIFF. Archived from the original on 16 March 2013. Retrieved 17 February 2013.
- "Berlinale: 1986 Programme". berlinale.de. Retrieved 14 August 2015.
- bea_xx. "Past Recipients". Archived from the original on 30 June 2011. Retrieved 26 October 2014.
- "Longest title for a film". Guinness World Records.
- Pingitore, Silvia (22 June 2020). "Interview with Lina Wertmüller Academy Awards Honorary Oscar". Retrieved 22 June 2023.
- "È morta Lina Wertmüller, grande protagonista del cinema italiano: aveva 93 anni". Corriere della Sera. 9 December 2021. Retrieved 9 December 2021.
- Grimes, William (9 December 2021). "Lina Wertmüller, Italian Director of Provocative Films, Dies at 93". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 December 2021.
- Jacobs & Riley 1976.
- Bullaro, Grace. Man in Disorder: the Cinema Of Lina Wertmüller in the 1970s. Troubador Publishing. 2007.
- Rainer, Peter (22 July 1994). "MOVIE REVIEW : 'Ciao, Professore' Rounds Up Lessons". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 9 April 2023.
- Canby, Vincent (19 June 1987). "FILM: WERTMULLER 'NIGHT'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 9 April 2023.
- Thomas, Kevin (26 June 1987). "MOVIE REVIEW : 'SUMMER NIGHT': THE HEAT IS ON". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 9 April 2023.
- Thomas, Kevin (4 October 1986). "MOVIE REVIEW : CHAOS REIGNS IN LINA'S 'CAMORRA'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 9 April 2023.
- Maslin, Janet (1 November 1985). "SCREEN: TWOSOME IN 'SOTTO'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 9 April 2023.
- Canby, Vincent (12 September 1984). "FILM: 'JOKE OF DESTIN,' DIRECTED BY WERTMULLER". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 9 April 2023.
- Maslin, Janet (22 February 1980). "Screen: 'Blood Feud' By Lina Wertmuller:Three Attitudes". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 9 April 2023.
- Kay, Karyn; Peary, Gerald, eds. (1977). Women and the Cinema: A Critical Anthology. Dutton. pp. 446–447. ISBN 0-525-47459-5. OCLC 3315936.
- Canby, Vincent (18 September 1975). "'Swept Away' Is a Wertmuller Film With Solid Appeal". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 9 April 2023.
- Canby, Vincent (15 January 1976). "Lina Wertmuller's Comedy of Foibles". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 9 April 2023.
- Smith, Mark Chalon (5 April 1991). "MOVIE REVIEW : Hate Is Wrong Emotion for 'Love and Anarchy'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 9 April 2023.
- Biskind, Peter (December 1974). "Lina Wertmuller: The Politics of Private Life". Film Quarterly. 28 (2): 10–16. doi:10.2307/1211628. JSTOR 1211628.
- Bullaro, Grace Russo. Man in Disorder - The Cinema of Lina Wertmüller in the 1970s ISBN 978-1-905886-39-5
- Déléas, Josette. Lina Wertmüller - Un rire noir chaussé de lunettes blanches - a critical biography filled with anecdotes and Lina's humor ISBN 978-1-4251-2755-8
- William R. Magretta and Joan Magretta. "Lina Wertmuller and the Tradition of Italian Carnivalesque Comedy" in Genre 12, pp. 25–43. (1979)
- Tiziana Masucci. I chiari di Lina (Edizioni Sabinae, Roma 2009)ISBN 978-88-96105-22-1
- O'Donoghue, Darragh (2018). "Laughter in the Dark: The Black Comedy of Lina Wertmüller". Cineaste. 43 (4): 15–21, 78. ProQuest 2093229170.
- Jacobs, Diane; Riley, Brooks (1976). "Lina Wertmüller". Film Comment. 12 (2): 48–51, 64. ProQuest 210265585.
- Behind The White Glasses, Dir. Valerio Ruiz, Italy, 2015.
- Bondanella, Peter (1990). Italian Cinema : From Neorealism to the Present. Continuum. ISBN 0-8264-0426-X. OCLC 20911414.