by Roderick Conway Morris

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'But will they come when you do call for them?'


By Roderick Conway Morris
VENICE 27 August 1993

 

"I can call spirits from the vasty deep," says Shakespeare's over-the-top Welshman Glendower in "Henry IV, Part I." "Why, so can I, or so can any man," replies the more down-to-earth Hotspur, "But will they come when you do call for them?" "Will they come?" has turned into the underlying theme of this year's Venice International Film Festival, the 50th edition of which runs from Aug. 31 to Sept. 11. Steven Spielberg is, we are told, a dead certainty: He has been enticed here to collect a special Golden Lion for career achievement and to watch an out-of- competition showing of "Jurassic Park." So is Martin Scorsese, whose "The Age of Innocence" (also out of competition) will be opening the whole shebang. Tina Turner promises to make an appearance to give a hand to her life story on celluloid "What's Love Got to Do With It?" Madonna has been invited - she stars in Abel Ferrara's in-competition "Snake Eyes" - but may prove as elusive as Glendower's submarine ghosties.

Unluckily for the organizers, who clearly are feeling a need for some glitter to perk up the event's image, this also happens to be the year of "When the Freebies Had To Stop." Amid the general fervor to root out corruption and graft, the Public Accounts Court in Rome has been delving into the records of the last three festivals and has uncovered "pharaonic prodigality."

Until now, many directors, actors, bureaucrats, politicians, diplomats and academic film buffs were in the habit of turning up like errant princelings with entourages of hangers-on, often outstaying their welcome, lavishly supping and watering themselves as though there were no tomorrow. Many guests should not have been here at all, says the court, and bills are being sent out totaling millions of lire. (Ornella Muti, it is said, is being asked to pay the difference between the suite she moved to and the single room originally assigned to her. Federico Fellini and Omar Sharif's names have also been mentioned as having been asked to chip in to balance the books.)

Venice's yearly film festival, the oldest such international festival, has been losing ground for some years, especially in the face of competition from Cannes and Berlin. "Cannes," said a leading producer, who divides his time between Los Angeles and London (and prefers to remain anonymous), "is not only a festival, but also a marketplace where people get together to sell rights, negotiate deals and raise money for future productions. Venice is more a celebration of film, a directors' event. So there are many in the industry who don't feel it's essential to be there." And, to add insult to injury, Cannes has even been talking of moving its dates to clash with Venice's.

For a decade Venice's festival has had a decidedly arty flavor, turning its back on commercial cinema. This has not only put off most commercial filmmakers from attending, but seems to have alienated many ordinary cinema-goers. Attendance figures for the public performances that are held at the festival's headquarters, the Palazzo del Cinema on the Lido, and the open-air and indoor venues in the city itself, have fallen by nearly half in the last five years.

A NEW artistic director, Gillo Pontecorvo, maker of "The Battle for Algiers," was appointed last year. Very much an art filmmaker's filmmaker, Pontecorvo nonetheless clearly sees the need for a radical change in direction.

"Remember the tedium and the dullness on the Lido in past seasons?" he asks rhetorically. "That's the reason why one of the most important things is to re-establish a relationship between Venice and the American cinema after the chill of the last 10 years."

Competition films include three U.S. productions: Robert Altman's "Short Cuts," Ferrara's "Snake Eyes" and Gus Van Sant's "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues" - all of which could be considered essentially art films. The out-of-competition selections, however, become more expansive, featuring Woody Allen's "Manhattan Murder Mystery," Robert De Niro's "A Bronx Tale," Andrew Davis's "The Fugitive," Jennifer Lynch's "Boxing Helena," Mario Van Peeble's "Posse: The Revenge of Jessie Lee" and Ivan Reitman's "Dave."

Overall, there appears to be a fair dose of sex, sometimes of a violent nature, but, judging by the synopses for in-competition entries, the life-enhancing possibilities of comedy even of the bittersweet variety have been passed over this year.

Pontecorvo, who gave us a lot of pleasure last year by chosing Alexandre Rockwell's hilarious "In the Soup," is including plenty of young blood: 25 first films, five of them in competition. Nor have latest works by established figures like Ermanno Olmi, Jean-Luc Godard and Eric Rohmer been neglected.

The prize jury will be headed by the Australian director Peter Weir, aided by, among others, James Ivory. Abdullah Sidran, the Bosnian screenwriter of Emir Kusturica's award-winning "When Daddy Was Away on Business," has also been called upon. "We know that it won't be easy to bring him to Venice," Pontecorvo said, "but we'll do everything we can to do it. I have no doubt that the only way of getting him out of Sarajevo will be to use a military plane."


First published: International Herald Tribune

© Roderick Conway Morris 1975-2016