Thursday, 29 July 2010

The Leopard restored

To the British Film Insitute, for a screening of the Luchino Visconti's classic The Leopard (Il Gattopardi), which has been restored to its sumptuous glory. If this doesn't make you want to visit, or re-visit, Sicily, I doubt anything can.

I had wondered why this sprawling, slow moving study of political and social change seemed to have vanished from cinema and television. The reason was that it become badly scratched and worn with time. The impressive digital restoration involved over 12,000 hours of manual work.

Now the parched summer interior of Sicily, the choking heat, the architecture, lavish fixtures and furnishings are all sharply defined again. Scenes stick in the mind. The opening shots, moving in on the Prince of Salina's (the eponymous Leopard) seat near Palermo with a light, hot breeze stirring the trees; the morning hunting near the family's palace at Donnafugata, with golden views of the distant hill town (this is not the Donnafugata you will find on Sicilian maps, though Giuseppe Thomaso di Lampedusa, who wrote the magnificent novel on which the movie is based, may have based aspects of his description on it); and of course, the final ball scene, lasting some 45 minutes. Many scenes have your eyes urgently ranging the screen as you try to take in every detail and nuance of expression.

This is not the shorter, dubbed version I saw long ago. It lasts 3hrs 5mins and is in Italian, with sub titles. Burt Lancaster, who took the title role, was apparently third choice after Nicolai Cherkasov, who played the lead in Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible and Alexander Nevsky - and Laurence Olivier. He was contracted behind Visconti's back but it turned out to be an inspired piece of casting.

The long solo, wordless scene, shortly before the end, in which the Prince, contemplates his own mortality while studying the deathbed portrayed in Jean-Baptiste Greuze's painting, The Punishment of the Son" is a rivetting tour de force.

The film opens to the public on 27 August at the British Film Institute on the Southbank, the Curzon Mayfair, Richmond Filmhouse, Filmhouse Edinburgh,
Cambridge Arts Picturehouse and the Irish Film Institute in Dublin

Shanghai's Peace Hotel reborn

Shanghai's Art Deco Peace Hotel, long famous for ts aging jazz band, has reopened under the luxury Fairmont banner.

The hotel, on the riverfront Bund, opened in 1929, before the Communist takeover. Its illustrious guests included Charlie Chaplin. George Bernard Shaw and Noel Coward, who wrote Private Lives there.

But the Japanese damaged it during their wartime occupation and the city's authorities then neglected it. By the time I visited in the 1990s, mainly to hear the band play its nostalgic mix of jazz and dance swing with an oriental tinge, its art deco glories had become sadly run down.

Now it has been restored, complete with Lalique glass, Italian marble, the sprung dance floor on the eight floor and, of course, the jazz bar.

When it opened it was called the Cathay. It became known as "Number One mansion in the Far East". The hotel had been built to amaze. Original guests marvelled at its advanced plumbing and Shanghai's first electric lift. Bur how could they have foreseen that nearly hree quarters of a century later, their successors would be able to watch "bath side" LCD television screens as they soaked after a hard day?

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Goldtrail collapse - control the knee jerks

The collapse of package tour operator Goldtrail has prompted some predictably ill informed responses.

First: the inevitable complaint that someone should have seen this coming and prevented customers booking right up until the last minute before the company ceased trading.

Think it through. If that had happened,the company would have folded earlier. Obviously more customers would have avoided the frustration of claiming deposits or full payments via the Civil Aviaton Authority's ATOL protection system or from credit or debit card issuers. But,equally, more would have been left without summer holidays.

Even when travel industry leaders and the CAA are aware a tour operator is in difficulty every effort is made to keep it afloat. And if there is no hope of longer term survival the aim is to nurse the company through until the end of summer, when the damage will be less severe.

Which brings me to a second point. So far as I can recall there has been only one other significant collapse in high summer since the Court Line crash in 1974. That is worth noting before those who monitor the financial health of the industry come in for too much vilification.