Lina Wertmüller

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Lina Wertmüller
Wertmüller in 2000
Wertmüller in 2000
Born
Arcangela Felice Assunta Wertmüller von Elgg Spanol von Braueich

(1928-08-14)14 August 1928
Died9 December 2021(2021-12-09) (aged 93)
Rome, Italy
OccupationFilm director, screenwriter
Years active1963–2021
Spouse(s)
Enrico Job
(m. 1965; died 2008)
Children1

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 (a genre-bending World War II film for which she became the first female director to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director in 1977),[1][2] The Seduction of Mimi, Love and Anarchy, and Swept Away. In 2019, Wertmüller was announced as one of four recipients of the Academy Honorary Award for her career,[3] the second female director to be so honoured.

Early life[edit]

Wertmüller was born Arcangela Felice Assunta Wertmüller von Elgg Spanol von Braueich in Rome in 1928[4][5] 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[2] 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",[6] an early indication of her inclination towards 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,[6] 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.[7] She joined Maria Signorelli's troupe in 1951.[8]

These interests developed towards 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".[citation needed] It is these two approaches that Wertmüller stated were at the core of her creative self, and always would be.[6]

Film career[edit]

1960s[edit]

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 to the film director Federico Fellini who would become her mentor.[9]

Although The Basilisks, which was scored by Ennio Morricone, was critically well received, it did not garner the sort of attention that her later works would.

Throughout the 1960s, Wertmüller produced a series of films that were well liked but that failed to garner international success. Of these films, her first collaboration with Giancarlo Giannini occurred in 1966's musical comedy Rita the Mosquito. As Darragh O'Donoghue described in an issue of Cineaste, 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".[10]

1970s[edit]

The 1970s saw the release of virtually all of her most influential and highly regarded films, many of which featured a collaboration with Giancarlo Giannini. According to Geoffrey Nowell-Smith's Companion to Italian Cinema, 1972 "marked the beginning of Wertmüller's golden age".[11] 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 themselves. In 1975, Swept Away won Top Foreign Film awarded by the National Board of Review in the United States and the following year, this period of highly celebrated creative output culminated in the 1976 film, Seven Beauties, for which she became the first female director to be nominated for an Oscar. 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 was initially met with controversy due to Wertmüller's frankness in her rendering of the apparatuses of genocide as well as her perceived macabre insensitivity towards its survivors,[citation needed] but since has been accepted as her masterwork.[12]

She signed a contract with Warner Bros. to make four films and her first for them was her first English language film, titled A Night Full of Rain, which was entered into the 28th Berlin International Film Festival in 1978.[citation needed] The film was not a success and Warner cancelled the contract.[13]

1980s[edit]

Her 1983 film A Joke of Destiny was entered into the 14th Moscow International Film Festival in 1985[14] and Camorra (A Story of Streets, Women and Crime) was entered into the 36th Berlin International Film Festival in 1986.[15]

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.[16]

After this period of acclaim, Wertmüller began to fade out of international prominence, although she continued to expediently release films well into the 1980s and 90s. Some of these films were sponsored by American financiers and studios, yet they failed to have the breadth of reach that her 1970s output achieved. While these films are less widely seen and were neglected or disparaged by most, films like Summer Night (1986), Ferdinando & Carolina (1999), and Ciao, Professore are retroactively thought of as worthwhile.

She 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.[17]

Later life[edit]

Wertmüller in 2011

Wertmüller was married to Enrico Job (died 4 March 2008), an art designer who worked on several of her pictures.[citation needed]

In 2015, Wertmüller was the subject of a biographical film directed by Valerio Ruiz titled Behind the White Glasses, in which she reflects on her life's work.

Wertmüller continued to work as a director in the theater,[13] until her death at her home on 9 December 2021, at the age of 93.[18][19]

Style and themes[edit]

The influence of Fellini's style is evident in much of Wertmüller's work. The two share a common empathy with the way their films view of the Italian working class, showing the realities of life for the politically neglected and economically downtrodden with a tendency towards the preposterous.[20] Wertmüller's work also seems to exhibit a true adoration of Italy and its varied locales, beautifying elements of her film's locations with cinematography that presents the camera's subjects with a colorful extravagance that idealizes the distinctly Italian settings of her films.[20] Her aesthetic is one that borrowed heavily from her background in theater, routinely using the camera in such a way that emphasizes performance and the grandiose comedy of her characters’ near constant state of 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.[10]

Narrative and cinematic reflexivity are also commonplace in Wertmüller's films, as she rehashed and refigured signs and recognizable modes of presentation in a way that references her inspirations and the films of her contemporaries.[10] This is made clear through her disruption of traditional conceptions of virtually all political dogma and the irrationality of her masculine, and occasionally feminine, figures, taking recognizable elements of society and film and critiquing them through doing away with any sort of narrative and character plausibility.[10]

This is particularly evident in a film like her 1972 The Seduction of Mimi. This positions Mimi (played by Giancarlo 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 (narrative) acknowledgement of Mimi's hapless ignorance. This element of critique in the film functions as one example of many of most prevalent themes in Wertmüller's work, as the underlying meaning for much of her work is a desire to deconstruct and subvert the institutions and social ideologies of a capitalist modernity.[21] This socialist-inflected politicization of ideas of class and the institution are extended to sexuality and gender as well. 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.

According to Peter Bondanella, "Wertmüller's work combined a concern with topical political issues and the conventions of traditional Italian grotesque comedy".[12]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Filmography[edit]

As writer and director
Year Title
1963 The Lizards[23]
1965 Let's Talk About Men[23]
1966 Rita the Mosquito
1967 Don't Sting the Mosquito[23]
1968 The Belle Starr Story
1972 The Seduction of Mimi
1973 Love and Anarchy[23]
1974 All Screwed Up[23]
1974 Swept Away by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August[23]
1975 Seven Beauties[23]
1978 A Night Full of Rain
1978 Blood Feud
1983 A Joke of Destiny
1984 Softly, Softly
1986 Camorra (A Story of Streets, Women and Crime)
1986 Summer Night, with Greek Profile, Almond Eyes and Scent of Basil
1989 As Long as It's Love
1989 The Tenth One in Hiding
1990 Saturday, Sunday and Monday
1992 Ciao, Professore!
1996 The Nymph
1996 The Blue Collar Worker and the Hairdresser in a Whirl of Sex and Politics
1999 Ferdinando and Carolina
2004 Too Much Romance... It's Time for Stuffed Peppers

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Interview with 92nd Academy Awards Oscar winner Lina Wertmüller". The Shortlisted. 22 June 2020. Retrieved 22 July 2021.
  2. ^ a b Smith, Harrison (9 December 2021). "Lina Wertmüller, provocative Italian filmmaker and first woman nominated for directing Oscar, dies at 93". The Washington Post.
  3. ^ "Wertmuller to get career Oscar". ANSA English. Rome. 3 June 2019.
  4. ^ NOTE: Wertmüller's year of birth had been given as 1926 for many years. However, a majority of references now cite 1928, including [1] Archived 2018-07-31 at the Wayback Machine, [2], [3], [4], [5], and [6]
    A few sources ([7], [8]) continue to cite 1926.
  5. ^ Giorgio Dell'Arti, Massimo Parrini, Catalogo dei viventi 2009 - voce Wertmüller Lina, Venezia, Marsilio Editori, 2008; ISBN 978-88-317-9599-9.
  6. ^ a b c Behind The White Glasses, Dir. Valerio Ruiz, Italy. 2015.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Martin, Jean, ed. (1995). Who's Who of Women in the Twentieth Century. Crescent Books. p. 155. ISBN 0-517-12027-5. OCLC 32528855.
  9. ^ Peter, Bradshaw (9 December 2021). "Lina Wertmüller: a thrilling live-wire who displayed a colossal black-comic daring". the Guardian. Retrieved 10 December 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  10. ^ a b c d O'Donoghue 2018.
  11. ^ Nowell-Smith, Geoffrey (1996). The Companion to Italian Cinema. Cassell; British Film Institute. pp. 124–126. ISBN 0-304-34197-5. OCLC 35683590.
  12. ^ a b Bondanella 1990, p. 354.
  13. ^ a b 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.
  14. ^ "14th Moscow International Film Festival (1985)". MIFF. Archived from the original on 16 March 2013. Retrieved 17 February 2013.
  15. ^ "Berlinale: 1986 Programme". berlinale.de. Retrieved 14 August 2015.
  16. ^ bea_xx. "Past Recipients". Archived from the original on 30 June 2011. Retrieved 26 October 2014.
  17. ^ "Longest title for a film". Guinness World Records.
  18. ^ "È morta Lina Wertmüller, grande protagonista del cinema italiano: aveva 93 anni". Corriere della Sera. 9 December 2021. Retrieved 9 December 2021.
  19. ^ Grimes, William (9 December 2021). "Lina Wertmüller, Italian Director of Provocative Films, Dies at 93". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 December 2021.
  20. ^ a b Jacobs & Riley 1976.
  21. ^ Bullaro, Grace. Man in Disorder: the Cinema Of Lina Wertmüller in the 1970s. Troubador Publishing. 2007.
  22. ^ Vivarelli, Nick; Yossman, K. J.; Dagan, Carmel (9 December 2021). "Lina Wertmüller, First Woman Nominated for Best Director Oscar, Dies at 93". Variety. Retrieved 10 December 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  23. ^ a b c d e f g Kay, Karyn; Peary, Gerald, eds. (1977). Women and the Cinema: A Critical Anthology. Dutton. pp. 446–447. ISBN 0-525-47459-5. OCLC 3315936.

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