Shadows on the Past: Studies in the Historical Fiction Film

By Leger Grindon | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
Risorgimento History and Screen
Spectacle: Visconti's Senso

The old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this
interregnum there arises a great diversity of morbid
symptoms.
-- ANTONIO GRAMSCI ( 1891-1937)
The key to understanding of the spiritual and psychological
conflicts is always social, even if the conclusions I reach
are always those which concern individuals whose cases I
am describing. The yeast, the blood in the veins of history,
is always thick with civic passion and social reasoning.
-- LUCHINO VISCONTI, 1961

Marlon Brando was the big news of the 1954 Venice Film Festival. Although On the Waterfront took second prize while Renato Castellani's Romeo and Juliet took first, it was by all accounts the popular favorite. When Jean Gabin was named the festival's best actor, the fans let their preference be known with shouts of "Brando! Brando!" Other films honored included The Seven Samurai, Sansho the Bailiff, and La Strada, but one noteworthy entry stirred controversy when it was ignored by the jury. Foreign reporters commented on the slighting of the Italian production Senso. In Variety Robert Hawkins described the film as a "stylist's delight and one of the most beautiful pictures made," and remarked that it went "strangely unrewarded by the judges."1 John Francis Lane, reporting for Films and Filming, claimed that Senso "caused considerable embarrassment to the powers-thatbe," and noted that the jury's decision to ignore the picture was a "pertinent reflection indicative of the taste and judgment of officialdom in Italy today."2 Italian response was less reserved. Piero Regnoli, film critic of Osservatore Romano, reported a bribe offered by the Christian Democratic Minister for the Arts with

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