It's a special pleasure when the gig turns up a new opportunity to write about an old favorite, which was the case with this Los Angeles Times piece on Luchino Visconti's masterful The Leopard, pegged to the release of Criterion's dazzling Blu-Ray. As a Marxist aristocrat, Visconti was a walking contradiction, which gives his best films a feeling of dialectical tension. One of my favorite moments is in Rocco and His Brothers, where Visconti stages a murder as a fatalistic tableau, cuts away, and then cuts back to a representation of the same killing as a brutal, unreasoned act. It's as he he's deliberately pushing the way death is represented in literature up against its ugly, unsymbolic reality.
The Leopard brings those tensions to the surface in the person of Burt Lancaster's Prince of Salina, an aging Italian nobleman who views the imminent arrival of Italian unification and nascent democracy with a sense of wistful resignation. He knows that his time is passing, and that it should, but also that human nature will drag the revolution's high-flown ideals back into the mud. I don't think Lancaster quite gets his due as an actor, largely because his imposing physique causes many to overlook his grace and versatility, but The Leopard is a potent showcase for his gifts. The way his fingers fly through a deck of cards, or the grace with which he folds a handkerchief in quarters, transmits the sense of a man whose every movement is filled with purpose. It's exhilarating to watch him move, or to sit like a crouching cat, one who still has the strength to hunt but not the will. More, of course, here.
[image credit: DVDBeaver]