Italian-American Filmmakers

"You may have the universe if I may have Italy."—Giuseppe Verdi

Italy is my favorite country. The women. The light. The landscapes. The culture. The food. Grab a snack at a gas station and the sandwich is an event. The poetry. The painting. The sculpture. The architecture. The language. I’ve heard ugly pronunciations of every other language I’ve rubbed up against; never of Italian. The opera. The clothes. The cars. The shoes. The wine. And the films! My God, the films! Visconti, De Sica, Pasolini, Fellini—the country breeds masters.

And the Italians in America—what singers! What actors! What athletes! So what happened to the filmmakers? Coppola, Scorsese, De Palma, Cimino—none of them have made films I can sit through twice; sometimes not once.  

What I've seen of Borzage's work doesn't haunt my dreams. And of course Capra invented America, the Hallmark-Card America, the sentimentalist's America, just as Dickens invented Christmas and Rousseau invented childhood. I'm not sure any of them was a good idea.

Even the great Minnelli leaves me underwhelmed. He has innocence, though, I like that; and he's about innocence—innocence lived, innocence lost, innocence regained.  And for Two Weeks in Another Town I'll forgive him anything.  But that was made—aha!—in Italy!  Maybe that's the secret!  I sense that Fellini looked closely at it, both for 8 1/2 and for Toby Dammit, and that's reason enough to like it.  Favorite line: "You can't entirely dislike a man who's tried to kill you."

I do admire how quickly the three-hour Godfather III goes by, the editing is marvelous, but those constant dreary lectures on the family. It’s like, at a higher level, being glued by Ford’s framing to an otherwise annoying movie about cowboys and Indians. 

Let us consider for a moment, though, Michael Cimino. Three things mattered to Cimino: America, heroism in combat and homosexual love. In The Deer Hunter De Niro's character goes all the way back to Saigon to tell Christopher Walkin he loves him. It was not the masterpiece it was hailed as, and Vietnam was more than just Russian roulette. But I did enjoy his Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, another "love story between two men," to use Howard Hawks's phrase, in which Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges fall in love, not that the actors had a clue, and Cimino goes so far as to put Bridges in a dress and have him kiss George Kennedy on the mouth. What an achievement!

But these are fugitive pleasures. You won't get much more from these guys.

Coco Chanel said, "Some people think luxury is the opposite of poverty. It is not. It is the opposite of vulgarity."  It is also the opposite of Tarantino.

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