Thursday, August 26, 2010

Roxie Rising and Venice Films

I wasn't aware of this but the Roxie Theater is under new management or ownership. I recall the problems the Roxie had a few years ago when their owner, New College of California, ran into financial difficulties.

On April 14, the Roxie issued a press release. It read, in part, "The Roxie Theater, San Francisco’s oldest continually operating film house, announced today the appointment of Kate and Chris Statton as Co-Executive Directors of the nonprofit Roxie Theater."

On August 9, I went to the Roxie to see Summertime. Before the film, a woman stood up and stated she & her husband were the new "owners" of the Roxie and Summertime kicked off the first series she will program at the Roxie. It was a Venice themed program consisting of Summertime, L'Avventura, Swept Away and Death in Venice. She didn't introduce herself by name but I assume she was Kate Statton. I wish the Stattons good luck. The Roxie has had 5 or 6 owners in the past 15 years so some stability would be nice.


Summertime was a 1955 film directed by David Lean. It stars as Jane Hudson (Katharine Hepburn) as a middle-aged woman who takes her dream vacation to Venice. Once there, she discovers how lonely she is. Venice was made for lovers and Hudson feels like she is the only person in Venice who isn't paired off. In short order, she encounters Renato de Rossi (Rossano Brazzi), the handsome owner of an antique store. After some trepidation on Hudson's part, the two engage in a passionate love affair...until Hudson discover de Rossi is married.

I've never been a big Hepburn fan but I have to give her credit here. She plays the spinster quite well in Summertime. She played the spinster in quite a few movies - most notably in The Rainmaker and The African Queen but in Summertime, she is a little more subdued which makes the performance more powerful. In addition, Hepburn's Jane Hudson is less sexually repressed than her charcaters in The Rainmaker and The African Queen. That may be due to the setting - Summertime is set circa 1955 vs. the Old West or WWI era.

Hepburn and Brazzi perform their roles admirably but Lean is obviously in love with Venice as the film doubles as a virtual tourism promotional film. Venice has been a muse for many filmmakers and Lean was not immune to her charms but deftly balanced the viewers' attention between the Queen of the Adriatic and the First Lady of Cinema.


Death in Venice is based on a Thomas Mann novella. The story involves a Gustav von Aschenbach (Dirk Bogarde), a musical composer, who has had a nervous and physical breakdown. He convalesces in Venice. While there, he encounters a Polish family and becomes obsessed with Tadzio, the teenage son (Björn Andrésen). There's a lot of backstory and baggage in von Aschenbach's life but the gist of the story is desire to regain youth; expressed by his disturbing interest in the boy. By modern standards, his behavior would be interpreted as pedophilia. I'm not sure if that viewpoint would have been prevalent in the early 1970's when the film was released. The film was set in the late 1800s so von Aschenbach's behavior, although bizarre, was presented as less ominous.

Andrésen plays Tadzio as almost coquettish as he becomes aware of von Aschenbach's constant gaze. Like fleeting youth, von Aschenbach can never "capture" Tadzio. The wordless interplay between the man and boy is a metaphor for the cycle of life - youth, the pursuit of youth and death.

Von Aschenbach shadowing of Tadzio is set against the backdrop of a cholera epidemic which Venetians continuously deny it so as not to spook the tourists. I interpret that mean that death is stalking von Aschenbach while he is stalking Tadzio. The iconic sequence for me is when von Aschenbach visits the barber to "restore that which has been lost." He gets a haircut, a dye job and some white face powder. He comes out looking foolish and deathly. Later, von Aschenbach follows Tadzio to the beach which is deserted because news of the cholera epidemic has gotten out. Von Aschenbach lies dying in a beach chair while watching Tadzio frolics and later fights on the beach with another beautiful young man. Also, his hair dye begins to run down his extremely pale face. At the moment of his death, Tadzio reconciles with his friends and walks past von Aschenbach's slumped body without a glance.

Björn Andrésen (front) and Dirk Bogarde (back) in Death in Venice


Summertime starring Katharine Hepburn; directed by David Lean; (1955)
Death in Venice starring Dirk Bogarde; directed by Luchino Visconti; (1971)

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