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 Posted:   Jun 15, 2019 - 11:22 AM   
 By:   Bob DiMucci   (Member)

Italian director Franco Zeffirelli has passed away at age 96, in Rome.

 Posted:   Jun 15, 2019 - 11:32 AM   
 By:   Bob DiMucci   (Member)

Franco Zeffirelli broke into directing as an assistant director to Luchino Visconti on the 1950 neo-realist drama LA TERRA TREMA. Set in rural Sicily, the film portrays fishermen who live at the mercy of greedy wholesalers. One family risks everything to buy their own boat and operate independently.

The film’s cast was exclusively composed of non-professional actors. They were genuine fishermen and inhabitants of Aci Trezza (Sicily). The credits do not name any of the actors, who are collectively listed as "Pescatori Siciliani" (Sicilian Fishermen).

When financing fell through, Visconti was forced to sell some of his mother's jewelry and one of the family's apartments in Rome to finish the film. Additional financing came from the Italian Communist Party.

LA TERRA TREMA was originally released without Italian narration, but it flopped because the Italian audience could not understand the Sicilian dialect. Visconti re-released it with his own narration, which many find detracts from the film. The film did not receive a U.S. theatrical release until 1957 (or 1965--sources differ).

 Posted:   Jun 15, 2019 - 12:05 PM   
 By:   Bob DiMucci   (Member)

Zeffirelli’s fourth film as assistant director (and third with Luchino Visconti) was 1954’s SENSO. In the film, a troubled and neurotic Italian Countess (Alida Valli) betrays her entire country for a self-destructive love affair with an Austrian Lieutenant (Farley Granger). The film opens in La Fenice, the Venice opera house. La Fenice was destroyed by arson in 1996, but reopened in 2003. Enlarged frames of this movie were used as a reference in reconstructing it.

Visconti originally wanted the film to star Marlon Brando and Ingrid Bergman. Brando actually flew to Rome to test for Visconti but the producers weren't convinced that Brando was worth the money involved, and persuaded Visconti to hire Farley Granger instead.

Granger had an irreparable falling-out with Luchino Visconti towards the end of filming. He left the picture and went home to the US. Visconti handled this by using a "double" to stand in for Granger's character in the final sequences. The double was told to keep his hands in front of his face the whole time, and then was dispatched with his face to the wall.

Over the years, SENSO has been available in at least three different English language versions: a full-length 123-minute one distributed in Europe during the film's initial 1954 run; an edited 105-minute version, known as "Livia", released in the UK in 1956-57; and an alternate 97-minute cut, entitled "The Wanton Countess", and marketed for American television syndication. The latter version features dialogue rewritten by Tennessee Williams and Paul Bowles.

 Posted:   Jun 15, 2019 - 12:52 PM   
 By:   Bob DiMucci   (Member)

On 14 September 1964, Daily Variety announced that husband-and-wife team Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor were planning a feature film adaptation of William Shakespeare’s 1593 play THE TAMING OF THE SHREW. The production marked the major motion picture debut of stage and opera director Franco Zeffirelli following his 1958 Italian film, CAMPING, and the first effort of Burton and Taylor serving as producers. Production duties were to be split between the New York City-based Royal Films International and Films Artistici Internazionali (F.A.I.) of Rome. The 5 July 1966 New York Times cited THE TAMING OF THE SHREW as an example of a multinational production that was developed by an American company to shoot abroad.

Principal photography began 21 March 1966. The unit occupied the entirety of the Dino De Laurentiis Studios outside Rome, with four soundstages made up to resemble the setting of Padua. According to one report, Italy provided the “congenial, traditional ambience” needed for Shakespeare’s story, as well as easy access to the necessary style of costumes. The location was also favored by Burton and Taylor, who previously filmed CLEOPATRA (1963) in Rome. Unlike the famously excessive spending on CLEOPATRA, however, several sources noted the pair’s commitment to cutting costs. Allegedly, they had contributed $1.4 million of their own money toward the budget, as well as waiving their combined $2 million+ salaries, taking a percentage of the film's profits instead.

Before playing “Katharina,” Elizabeth Taylor had never performed Shakespeare (unlike Richard Burton, who was an experienced Shakespearian and had already played roles such as Hamlet, Iago, Edgar, Hotspur and Romeo on stage). Taylor was said to be very nervous prior to the beginning of the shoot. She only inquired of one line to Burton: how to say "whom doth thou lovest best?" as she felt as though she "had toffee in her mouth" saying it. As she found her way into the role, and became more confident, she asked director Franco Zeffirelli if she could shoot everything from the first day of filming again, as she didn't think her performance was up to snuff. Zeffirelli assured her it was, but she was persistent, and on the last day of principal photography, the entire first day was shot again.

Elizabeth Taylor, Franco Zeffirelli, and Richard Burton in production on THE TAMING OF THE SHREW

Filming was completed in late July 1966, approximately fifteen days over schedule. Some of the delay was attributed to a brief technicians’ strike in Rome. Post-production took place in London, and by 18 August 1966, a three-hour rough cut had been viewed by Columbia Pictures executives, who felt the film should be blown up for 70mm engagements. Ultimately, the film was edited down to 122 minutes.

THE TAMING OF THE SHREW was selected as the 1967 Royal Film Performance, with a 27 February 1967 gala benefit premiere at London’s Odeon Theatre, Leicester Square. The event was attended by Princess Margaret. The New York City charity premiere took place 8 March 1967 at the Coronet Theatre, followed by a successful opening night on 9 March 1967 with returns of $2,200. The West Coast debut was held 21 March 1967 at the Stanley-Warner Beverly Hills Theater, and regular reserved-seat screenings began the next day. The film grossed $8.8 million at the box office, and Columbia accrued $3,540,000 in domestic rentals.

The film was generally well liked by critics, earning Academy Award nominations for Art Direction and Costume Design, and Golden Globe nominations for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, and Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy (Richard Burton). Nino Rota’s score was only heard in the background of a spoken word LP of select scenes from the film that was released by RCA Victor. The first release of the score proper came on a DRG CD, which itself included some dialogue tracks. Subsequent releases of the score have come from Screen Trax and Verita Note.

 Posted:   Jun 15, 2019 - 1:44 PM   
 By:   Bob DiMucci   (Member)

Franco Zeffirelli’s second foray into the world of filmed Shakespeare came with his 1968 adaptation of ROMEO AND JULIET, which starred Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey as the star-crossed lovers. Zeffirelli initially planned the film as a television production. Then Paramount Pictures became involved and increased the budget.

This was the first major film production of the play to cast a leading actor and actress who were close to the ages of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Zeffirelli needed to get special permission to show teenaged Olivia Hussey topless in one scene. Leonard Whiting, who was from Great Britain, was seventeen at the time (the legal age of consent in Britain is sixteen) and did not need permission. Italy, where the film was made, has similar age laws.

Zeffirelli initially turned Hussey down for the role of “Juliet,” thinking her overweight. The actress he did choose cut her hair just before filming, ruining the effect she had on Zeffirelli. Hussey came in for another reading, and by this time had developed into a beautiful teenager. She got the part. Even so, Zeffirelli became concerned by Hussey's full figure during filming, and ordered that no more pasta would be served on the set. Hussey wrote in her autobiography, "The Girl on the Balcony", that the then 44-year-old Zeffirelli fell in love with her during filming. He later confessed that she was the "unrequited love of my life" and the "object of my adoration."

Franco Zeffirelli, Olivia Hussey, and Leonard Whiting on the set of ROMEO AND JULIET

Sir Laurence Olivier agreed to play the uncredited role of the narrator, because he was so impressed with Zeffirelli's work for the National Theatre of Great Britain, of which Olivier was director at the time. Not only was Olivier the narrator, but as Zeffirelli also confirmed, he dubbed Antonio Pierfederici's voice (as “Lord Montague”), due to the actor's heavy Italian accent, as well as lending his voice to other anonymous characters. He did it all for the love of William Shakespeare, and didn't accept any payment. According to Hussey, the camera used for filming, an Arriflex, was very loud. As a result, most of the dialogue had to be looped, and recorded separately later.

According to Michael York's autobiography, during the sword fight scene, when Mercutio throws a sword at Tybalt's (York’s) feet, Mercutio's shadow is actually Franco Zeffirelli's shadow standing in for him because John McEnery was sick that day.

The film received Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Director. It was the only Best Picture Oscar nominee that year not to be nominated in any acting category. Although the film won two Oscars, for Best Cinematography and Costume design, the Best Picture award went to OLIVER!, and Zeffirelli lost the directing Oscar to that film’s Carol Reed.

ROMEO AND JULIET was a smash at the box office, coming in as the fifth-highest-grossing film of the year, with $50 million. The 1968 film was released in the U.S. one month before the film rating system went into effect, but Paramount soon thereafter submitted it to the MPAA and received a [G] rating for the film. However, when the 138-minute film was officially re-released in 1973, it was slightly re-edited. This necessitated a re-rating, and the film was then rated [PG].

Nino Rota’s score was also very popular. Capitol Records had three LP releases from the film: a single LP of selected scenes from the movie soundtrack, a 4-LP set of all the major scenes, and a single 48-minute LP of Rota’s score. There are two different sets of English lyrics to the film’s famous love theme.
  • The film's version is called "What Is a Youth?", has lyrics by Eugene Walter, and is sung by Glen Weston. This is the version featured on the score release.
  • An alternate version, called "A Time for Us", features lyrics by Larry Kusik and Eddie Snyder. This version has been recorded by Johnny Mathis and Andy Williams, among many others.
    Capitol released the single-album scene LP on CD in 1989, but the first release of the Rota score came from Cloud Nine in 1991.

     Posted:   Jun 15, 2019 - 2:11 PM   
     By:   Paul MacLean   (Member)

    Sad news, but what a long and productive life.

    I grew-up on Lucas and Spielberg and their ilk, but when I discovered Zeffirelli's work it opened a new world for me. I might not have learned to love Shakespeare but for Zeffirelli's passionate, compelling adaptation of Romeo & Juliet. He made Shakespeare -- hitherto a dull classroom chore for many people -- accessible and captivating to mass (particularly young) audiences.

    Jesus of Nazareth remains the finest adaptation of the Gospels (in which Zeffirelli striped away the turgid cliches which had come to despoil the biblical genre — without sacrificing the scope of the story).

    He directed many (if not most of) the best actors — Olivier, Burton, Richardson, Mason, Bancroft, Gibson, Plummer, Holm, Close, Bonham-Carter, McShane, Bates, Steiger, etc.

    He also had impeccable taste in composers (collaborating with with Morricone, Jarre, Rota, Grusin, etc.).

    And we forgive him for Endless Love!

     Posted:   Jun 15, 2019 - 2:23 PM   
     By:   'Lenny Bruce' Marshall   (Member)

    I have to affirm his JESUS m ok mini series as the.most thoughtful and affecting of any of the filmed versions of that Biblical tale.


     Posted:   Jun 15, 2019 - 2:24 PM   
     By:   Mark R. Y.   (Member)

    For trivia fans, Zeffirelli was the oldest living Oscar Best Director nominee until today. Norman Jewison (93 years old this year) is now the oldest living.

    I really must rewatch Jesus of Nazareth asap. I recently saw Brother Sun Sister Moon and found many delightful aspects to it.

    Re the above Romeo and Juliet poster, I am amused at how the blurb from the Playboy review makes R&J sound like a knockoff of West Side Story rather than the other way around!

    A fascinating film and theater director, as well as a fascinating character in real life.

     Posted:   Jun 15, 2019 - 3:09 PM   
     By:   Bob DiMucci   (Member)

    BROTHER SUN, SISTER MOON was inspired by the story of St. Francis of Assisi, who was born Giovanni Francesco Bernardone (1181--1226); however, the film is not intended as a factual account of the saint’s life. Near the beginning of the film, a series of flashbacks occur, which establish facts about the life of the character “Francesco” prior to his going to war, including nightmares of his battle experiences. The flashbacks are interspersed with shots of Francesco in bed as he recuperates from an illness. The title of the film was taken from the song “Canticle of the Creatures,” also known as “Laudes creaturarum” ("Praise of the Creatures"), which was written by St. Francis.

    As depicted in the film, Francesco (Graham Faulkner) was the son of a well-to-do Italian cloth merchant, Pietro di Bernardone (Lee Montague), and his French wife. Francesco fought in Assisi’s war against the neighboring town of Perugia, in which many of his friends and neighbors were killed or captured. After a year in captivity, he was ransomed, and afterward answered the call for knights for the Fourth Crusade. However, on his journey, he had a dream that God told him to return home. Francesco began praying and spending time in the countryside. While praying at the ruins of the ancient church at San Damiano, Francesco heard Christ speak from the crucifix, asking that he repair the church. When Pietro discovered that Francesco had sold cloth from his shop to raise money to repair the crumbling edifice, he dragged Francesco before Guido, the Bishop of Assisi (John Sharp).

    Francesco returned the money and, stripping off the clothes his father had given him, claimed that Pietro was no longer his father. Francesco then begged for stones and rebuilt the San Damiano church, and began to attract followers who lived in poverty with him. Eventually, as depicted in the film, Francesco sought and was given permission to continue his ministry from Pope Innocent III (Alec Guinness). This was the origin of the religious Order of Friars Minor, or Franciscans. As shown in the film, among Francesco’s followers were his friend and fellow soldier, Bernardo di Quintovalle (Leigh Lawson), and the well-born Clare of Assisi (Judi Bowker), who later founded the Order of Poor Ladies, or Order of Clare, in the Franciscan tradition. Weakened by a life of poverty, Francesco died at the age of 45, and was sanctified two years later. He is considered the patron saint of animals, birds, the environment and Italy.

    In October 1968, director Franco Zeffirelli stated that he had written a first draft of a film about St. Francis and hoped to start shooting in early 1969. However, the script was re-worked over the next two years. Zeffirelli stated that his first vision for the movie had been “a slick film…with all the current technical devices,” such as jump cuts and contemporary music, and that he had hoped to star members of The Beatles. However, after a car accident that left Zeffirelli incapacitated for six months, his vision of the film changed to a simpler telling of St. Francis’ life.

    According to Zeffirelli's autobiography, The Beatles were asked to appear in this movie in the main roles, but were unable due to scheduling conflicts. Zeffirelli also screen-tested Al Pacino for the role of Francesco, but rejected him due to his theatrical overacting style.

    Soon after the success of his 1968 film ROMEO AND JULIET, Zeffirelli approached Paramount, to which he was under a four-year, exclusive contract, about his idea for a film about St. Francis. Zeffirelli claimed that Paramount was reluctant to do big budget films but provided “minimum financing” for the project for two years. A 6 January 1970 Daily Variety news item reported that Paramount was bowing out of the project, despite having Dustin Hoffman attached to the script and a score by Leonard Bernstein (neither of whom contributed to the final film), and that Warner Bros. was considering taking over. In early 1970, Paramount negotiated with companies to finance against release rights for areas outside the U.S. and Canada. In October 1970, Euro International agreed to produce the film and give Paramount western hemisphere distribution rights and other options. Euro, an Italian company, was the majority 70-percent investment partner and the British company Vic Films the minority co-producer, with Paramount partially funding Euro's investment.

    Although it was reported in 1970 that Irish actor Frank Grimes was to portray Francesco, he was later replaced by Graham Faulkner, an English acting student who made his professional debut in the film and who was initially interviewed for a secondary role. Sixteen-year-old Judi Bowker, who portrayed “Clare,” and most of the younger actors also made their film debuts.

    Studio production notes reported that Michael Irving portrayed "Bernardo," but the onscreen credits list Leigh Lawson as the actor in that role. A 7 March 1971 Los Angeles Times article reported that Laurence Olivier would play “Pope Innocent III,” however, the role of the Pope was played by Alec Guinness.

    The film was shot over nine months in order to film during different seasons. The picture was shot on location in Italy and at Centro Dear Studios in Rome. The towers of Assisi were shot in San Gimignano, Umbria. Shooting also occurred at Gubbio and Bevagna, and a church at Castelluccio was used for the church of San Damiano. An earthquake in the Umbrian area struck the historic town of Tuscania, where Zeffirelli had planned to shoot a major scene in a ninth century church.

    Singer-songwriter Donovan arranged and wrote lyrics for medieval musical themes provided to him by the research of scholar Alfredo Bianchini. The film was shot in English, and an Italian version was first released in Europe in 1972. Both the U.S. and Italian versions have a mix of music by Donovan and Riz Ortolani, coordinated, arranged, and conducted by Ken Thorne. Donovan’s English-language songs have not been released, but several LPs and CDs of Ortolani’s music (with some Donovan themes sung in Italian) have been issued. BROTHER SUN, SISTER MOON was not a success at the U.S. box office, grossing only $3.6 million.

     Posted:   Jun 15, 2019 - 4:14 PM   
     By:   Bob DiMucci   (Member)

    JESUS OF NAZARETH was an epic re-telling of the story of Jesus Christ, made as a television mini-series. Robert Powell starred in the title role, and the film featured nearly two dozen well-known actors and actresses in other roles. Director Franco Zeffirelli had considered Dustin Hoffman and Al Pacino for the part of Jesus, and Robert Powell to play Judas. Tom Courtenay was offered the role, but declined. Once Powell got the lead role, Peter O'Toole was cast as Judas, but had to back out of the project, due to illness. Ian McShane ultimately played the part.

    Zeffirelli wanted Marcello Mastroianni for the role of Pontius Pilate, but they couldn't agree on financial terms. Zeffirelli was happy in the end, as he felt that Rod Steiger was a "magnificent Pilate". Maria Schneider was originally offered the role of the Virgin Mary, but declined, and later regretted the decision. Olivia Hussey played the part. Elizabeth Taylor was interested in playing Mary Magdalene, but the role went to Anne Bancroft.

    Rarely during the film do the actors portraying Jesus blink their eyes. Zeffirelli decided on this as a means of creating a subconscious visual mystique about the character and to differentiate him from all the other characters. The boy Jesus (Lorenzo Monet) blinks twice in the Temple, and Robert Powell as the adult Jesus blinks only once on film.

    Executive Producer Lew Grade and Zeffirelli insisted their adaptation of Jesus' life should be "ecumenical", coherent, even to non-believers, and "acceptable to all denominations". To ensure the movie's accuracy, the producers consulted experts from the Vatican, the Leo Baeck Rabbinical College of London, and the Koranic School at Meknes, Morocco. However, when Zeffirelli asked Rabbi Albert Friedlander to help him create Jesus' Bar Mitzvah scene, the latter replied that such ceremonies were practiced only from the fifteenth century on. Yet, Zeffirelli insisted on having it, and Friedlander tried to teach Lorenzo Monet to read a short portion of the Pentateuch in Hebrew, though he mumbled it, and Zeffirelli was not satisfied (in the movie, the boy Jesus, who ultimately was dubbed, reads mostly in English). Other criticisms have been leveled at head screenwriter Anthony Burgess for perceived misquotes, omissions, and reconstructions.

    Franco Zeffirelli and Robert Powell on the set of JESUS OF NAZARETH

    The film was shot primarily in Tunisia and Morocco. According to Ernest Borgnine (The Centurion), many local extras had to be dubbed because they couldn't speak English very well. Zeffirelli decided to avoid recording sound altogether in many parts, and simply sent the principal actors and actresses to dub their own characters in the studio later. Norman Bowler, Fernando Rey, and Ian Bannen were dubbed by others.

    While shooting in Tunisia, the set had a surprise visit by R2-D2. George Lucas was shooting STAR WARS nearby at the same time and, according to actress Koo Stark: "Operated by remote control, R2-D2 had to trundle off camera and disappear behind a sand dune. ... But the remote control failed to stop the robot and he wandered onto the set of JESUS OF NAZARETH!"

    At a cost estimated between twelve and twenty million dollars, this mini-series had a budget equivalent to many feature films of the time, and was by far the most expensive made-for-television movie at the time of production, a record it would hold for several years.

    The mini-series premiered on NBC as "The Big Event" in two three-hour installments with limited commercials on Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday (April 3 and April 10, 1977). Additional footage was added for a 1979 re-run, which was broadcast in four two-hour installments. The film has been released on VHS and DVD as one complete presentation with one set of credits.

    The film received Emmy Nominations for Outstanding Special and for James Farentino as Outstanding Supporting Actor, for playing Simon Peter. Zeffirelli received a BAFTA nomination for Best Direction of a Single Play. Maurice Jarre’s score for the film was released on an RCA LP in the U.S., and on Pye Records in the UK. The first CD release came from RCA Italy in 1996. An expanded release was issued in Italy by Legend in 2010.

     Posted:   Jun 15, 2019 - 5:02 PM   
     By:   Bob DiMucci   (Member)

    In THE CHAMP, a former boxer (Jon Voight) discovers that his biggest battle of all is going to be with his fashion designer ex-wife, “Annie” (Faye Dunaway), who returns after abandoning their young son (Ricky Schroder) seven years prior.

    Director Franco Zeffirelli said that his motivation for the project occurred while in London directing Shakespeare for the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company. He chanced seeing a television broadcast of the 1931 version of THE CHAMP, a film that had made an impression on him as a child. Inspired by the parallels between his own troubled upbringing and that of the young boy in the story, Zeffirelli rang his producer business associate Dyson Lovell and said "Turn on your TV and look at the movie we are going to make in the United States". Zeffirelli presented the idea of a remake to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer executive Richard Shepherd, who had previously conveyed interest in collaborating with the Italian director.

    Producer Lovell said of this remake and the original THE CHAMP: "1931 is a long time ago. The approach we're using is fresh. We've updated the characters and the storyline, and now it's less a boxing picture than the story of a broken marriage, set against the worlds of boxing, racing, and high fashion."

    Zeffirelli shot pre-production footage March 1-4, 1978 at Hialeah Park in Hialeah, FL, revered as an historic and picturesque horseracing track, to take advantage of the annual Flamingo Stakes event. Hialeah’s racecourse and backstretch were also the primary backdrop during principal photography, which commenced 1 May 1978.

    Zeffirelli wanted to contrast the stark realism of the boxing world and racetrack and gambling scene with something colorful and flamboyant, so he chose the Vizcaya Fashion Show, with outfits and costumes from the Helen Larson Collection, as a fashion show set-piece for the film. (Faye Dunaway's previous movie had been the 1978 fashion photography thriller EYES OF LAURA MARS.) The Italian Renaissance villa at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens made its film debut as the setting for Annie’s fashion show.

    Additional shooting locations in and around Miami included: a marina and yacht in Fort Lauderdale; and Biscayne Bay for the swimming scene with Annie and "T. J." (Schroder). After five weeks on location in Florida, the production moved to soundstages at MGM Studios in Culver City, CA.

    To capture the climatic boxing match, the filmmakers shot for one week at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles. Using multiple cameras around the ring, Zeffirelli often filmed long takes of the fight, providing the 2,000 extras in the stands with the atmosphere of a real bout. In fact, the fighters' entrance, the ringside introduction of the boxers, and the first three minute round were filmed in a single take. Production was completed in late July 1978.

    Years later, director of photography Fred Koenekamp recalled sitting next to Zeffirelli, looking at dailies for THE CHAMP in a makeshift projection room set up in their hotel. As he watched the film, Koenekamp’s own impression was that the footage looked good, but as the film unspooled, Zeffirelli became increasingly agitated. “He started tapping on the table with his hand,” recalls Koenekamp, “and all of a sudden, he jumped up and ran out of there. He hit the projection machine, the picture went off the screen, and I thought, ‘My god, what’s wrong?’ I was devastated!

    “Everybody came down to my room, and there were about 10 of us sitting there. We knew he was upset, but we didn’t know why. The phone rings. I pick it up, and it’s Franco.

    “‘Fred,’” he said, “‘I’m calling you to apologize for what went on in there, because I must have worried you.’

    “He said he had sent a rewrite on that scene and the studio wouldn’t okay it. He felt the dialogue was all wrong. He hated the scene, not the photography. The people in the room were watching me, and they could tell things were better. I could see it in their faces. It turned out fine, but those are the little scary things that happen.”

    A benefit premiere was held on 3 April 1979 at the Camelot Theatre in Palm Springs, CA, to raise funds for the construction of a Catholic church in Indian Wells, CA, to be designed by Zeffirelli.

    After five months in release, the film had taken in $31 million at the domestic box-office, and over $17 million in worldwide earnings, making it one of MGM’s biggest international successes in the last fourteen years, led by strong grosses from the Japanese market. MGM executives were predicting that the film would rank fourth among the studio’s foreign box-office hits behind GONE WITH THE WIND, DOCTOR ZHIVAGO, and BEN-HUR. Production costs were mentioned as approximately $8 million.

    The purchase of the paperback rights for $236,500 by Dell Publishing Co. made headlines because the amount was considered the highest price paid to date for a novelization of an MGM film. Dave Grusin’s score was released on a Planet Records LP, and finally made its CD debut from Varese Sarabande in 2016.

    THE CHAMP received an Academy Award nomination for Music (Original Score). Dave Grusin lost the Oscar to Georges Delerue for A LITTLE ROMANCE. Jon Voight received a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama and Ricky Schroder received a Golden Globe for New Star of the Year – Actor.

     Posted:   Jun 15, 2019 - 11:55 PM   
     By:   Bob DiMucci   (Member)

    Casablanca Records & Filmworks was originally slated to finance ENDLESS LOVE with a budget of $8 million in an attempt to establish itself as a major production company, and shooting was scheduled to begin in May 1980 in California. Executive producer Keith Barish brought Judith Rascoe’s screen adaptation of the Scott Spencer novel to Casablanca. In the film, a high school student's love for a 15-year-old girl is thwarted by parental disapproval, circumstance and accident.

    Casablanca was funded with $100 million by its record distribution partner, Polygram, which owned half the company. However, ultimately, it was Polygram Pictures and not Casablanca that was listed in the film’s production credits. In the early stages of development, Barish purchased the film from Casablanca after the company failed to recruit Paul Schrader to direct, but he later returned the project to them. Casablanca reported having problems getting the picture into production.

    Director Franco Zeffirelli conducted a search for unknown talent to cast in the lead roles. A September 1980 news report stated that Brooke Shields and Martin Hewitt were cast in the starring roles of “Jade” and “David”, respectively. Hewitt made his debut as a professional actor in the film. Shields, who was sixteen years old at the time of production and was already famous from her starring role in THE BLUE LAGOON (1980), was hired for $500,000. She was also granted incrementally increasing percentages of the film’s rentals, and her contract stipulated that she would not appear naked without consent. While Shields told the Los Angeles Times that “the love scenes were no big deal,” Zeffirelli reported that he provoked her expressions of ecstasy by squeezing her big toe off camera.

    Elizabeth Taylor was Zeffirelli’s first choice for the role of “Ann,” the mother of Shields’s character, but Shirley Knight ultimately played the part. Knight felt that Brooke Shields did not have the right talent for the lead role, and begged Zeffirelli to cast an actress such as Rosanna Arquette, Linda Blair, Bo Derek, Carrie Fisher, Jodie Foster, Melanie Griffith, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kristy McNichol, Michelle Pfeiffer Meg Ryan, or Debra Winger for the role of “Jade Butterfield.” On the other hand, Brooke Shields' mother and manager, Teri Shields, nearly turned down the film after first reading the script, as she felt the role of Jade Butterfield had no substance. She said "It was just going to be Brooke standing around looking beautiful."

    Martin Hewitt was the subject of a high profile talent search. Tom Hanks was one of the many actors who auditioned for the role of “David Axelrod” before Hewitt was cast. Despite considerable media attention, Hewitt’s career failed to take off. Both Leonard Whiting and Graham Faulkner experienced similar career slumps after appearing in ROMEO AND JULIET (1968) and BROTHER SUN, SISTER MOON (1972) for Franco Zeffirelli.

    The film marked Tom Cruise’s first feature film performance, in the role of “Billy”, which, while small, is critical to the film's plot. James Spader, billed as Jimmy Spader, was cast in his first major film role as Jade’s brother, “Keith”. Jami Gertz made her second theatrical film appearance in the picture.

    Principal photography began 22 September 1980. Location shooting took place in New York City, as well as on set at Astoria Studios in Queens, NY. On 2 October 1980, production moved to Chicago for one week. Chicago locations included The Museum of Science and Industry, the Adler Planetarium, the University of Chicago Lab High School, and Lakeshore Drive. After thirteen weeks, shooting was finished on 19 December 1980.

    In June 1981, the MPAA assigned the film an [X] rating, and the filmmakers were meeting with Polygram and Universal Pictures to plan edits which would secure an [R] rating. Although the film does not depict frontal nudity, the MPAA objected to the sex scenes between the young characters, the “intensity” of “David’s” obsession with “Jade,” and Ann’s attempt to seduce him. The version viewed by the MPAA was over three hours, but Zeffirelli’s edits brought the running time to under two hours. The editorial changes included switching long shots for medium shots of the lovemaking scenes and cutting images of “the backside of Shields’s body double.” Zeffirelli said that he was extremely concerned about child pornography and wanted the sex scenes to be “beautiful,” not “exploitative.” By 1 July 1981, the rating had been changed to [R].

    A screening of the film in Los Angeles provoked laughter during serious scenes, according to a 6 June 1981 Los Angeles Herald-Examiner news brief. The film did not fare well after its opening weekend. Audience attendance dropped thirty-eight percent after the first week of the film’s release and continued losing attendance at a similar rate for the subsequent four weeks. However, a Polygram representative argued that the film, which was made for $9.7 million, grossed $16 million in the U.S. and was expected to make $10-$15 million overseas. Distributor Universal, however, reported the film cost $14 million. Despite Polygram’s efforts to market the film to dating couples in the target age range of 18 to 25 years, eighty percent of the film’s audience was composed of young girls, aged 10 to 16.

    Jonathan Tunick scored the film, and the Mercury soundtrack LP was half score and half songs. The film’s theme song, “Endless Love,” a duet performed by Diana Ross and Lionel Ritchie, ranked number one on Billboard charts for weeks after the movie was released, and the soundtrack album grossed over $1 million in early sales. Polygram shared the rights to the song with Motown, who represented the artists. Lionel Ritchie was nominated for a Golden Globe and an Academy Award in the category of Music (Original Song).

    In a 26 July 1981 Los Angeles Times article, author Scott Spencer explained that he did not see any similarities between his novel and the film, and noted that he intentionally stayed away from the production. The differences between the novel and the film included a time shift from the 1960s to the 1980s, the omission of Jade’s lesbian relationship and the conclusion. Unlike the novel, the film’s ending “offers the possibility of reunion.” Spencer noted that the film’s release promoted book sales, instigating a re-issue in paperback, and helped promote his career as a screenwriter.

     Posted:   Jun 16, 2019 - 12:33 AM   
     By:   Bob DiMucci   (Member)

    In the 1982 Franco Zeffirelli film version of Verdi’s opera LA TRAVIATA, “Violetta” (Teresa Stratas) meets “Alfredo” (Plácido Domingo) and quickly falls for him. After the lovers run away together, they live in bliss for a short time. However, Alfredo's father,” Giorgio” (Cornell MacNeil), starts to interfere, concerned that Violetta's bad reputation will affect the marriage prospects of Alfredo's sister. Violetta reluctantly leaves Alfredo, but his love is so strong that it leads him to actions that have tragic consequences.

    For the movie, the opera's score was performed by the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra under the leadership of James Levine. Secondary characters and extras were also dubbed by members of the Metropolitan. In addition to directing the film, Zeffirelli also collaborated with Gianni Quaranta on the film’s production design, and the pair received an Academy Award nomination for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration. They lost to the team from GANDHI. However, Zeffirelli and Quaranta did win the BAFTA award for Best Production Design/Art Direction.

    LA TRAVIATA premiered in Italy in 1982 and went into general release there the following year. It opened in theaters in the U.S. on April 22, 1983. In his review in the New York Times, Vincent Canby called the film a "triumph" and "dazzling" and added, "[It] never has the manner of something scaled down or souped up for a mass audience, though I suspect it will be immensely popular anyway. Verdi's genius will out, especially when presented with the talent, intelligence and style that have gone into this production . . . Miss Stratas not only sings magnificently but she also looks the role . . . [she] is a screen presence as riveting to watch as to listen to. It's an acting performance of breathtaking intensity . . . LA TRAVIATA benefits from Mr. Zeffirelli's talents as a designer as much as from his gifts as a director. The physical production is lush without being fussy. Nor is it ever overwhelming. This possibly is because at key moments we are always aware of details that, however realistic, remind us that what we are witnessing is not life but a grand theatrical experience. It's not to be missed."

    The film grossed $3,594,000 in the U.S. The movie's soundtrack was released on a two-LP set by Elektra Records in the U.S. and WEA elsewhere in the world. Although the recording won a Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording, it has not been reissued on CD.

     Posted:   Jun 16, 2019 - 1:21 AM   
     By:   Bob DiMucci   (Member)

    Zeffirelli continued making opera films in the early 1980s. Initially, the Italian television network RAI expressed interest in recording the live opening night double-bill of Franco Zeffirelli's stage productions of Pietro Mascagni's 1890 opera “Cavalleria Rusticana” and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s 1892 opera “Pagliacci” at the Teatro alla Scala. However, the director wanted to film the operas like movies instead of live stage productions. Over the course of two days, he filmed both operas on the stage of La Scala without an audience and in segments of ten minutes or less. He later added pick-up shots at a film studio in Milan. He also filmed some scenes on location in Vizzini, Sicily for greater authenticity.

    “Pagliacci” re-teamed Teresa Stratas and Plácido Domingo from LA TRAVIATA, while “Cavalleria Rusticana” starred Plácido Domingo and Elena Obraztsova. Both films were originally shown on Italian television in 1982. They were later played on U.S. television to enthusiastic reactions.

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    Menachem Golan and Yoram Globus of Cannon Films worked out a deal with tenor Plácido Domingo to finance him in a film version of an opera. They wanted the singer to appear in an adaptation of Verdi's “Il Trovatore.” Domingo, however, suggested instead that they film Verdi’s OTELLO, his signature role. While working with Franco Zeffirelli on a stage production of “Tosca” at the Metropolitan Opera, Domingo discussed the possibility of collaborating again on another opera movie. Zeffirelli agreed to direct Domingo in OTELLO. In this operatic adaptation of Shakespeare’s ‘Othello”, Katia Ricciarelli co-starred as “Desdemona” and Justino Díaz was “Iago”.

    Shooting was scheduled to begin in the fall of 1985 at Heraklion, Crete. Just before the filming was to start, on 19 September, Mexico City was devastated by a massive earthquake. Domingo cancelled all his engagements in order to help with rescue efforts. Domingo had made his operatic debut in "Otello" at Bellas Artes as Cassio in 1962 for the Mexico National Opera.

    As the project came close to being scrapped, Domingo agreed to appear in Crete for the filming in mid-October. Zeffirelli later recalled that the tenor used his hard work on OTELLO to help forget the traumatic sights in Mexico of the injured and dead (which included some of his family members).

    For the movie's soundtrack, Lorin Maazel conducted the Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro alla Scala. On the two-LP soundtrack album, released by EMI, the music is presented with no cuts or additions, as it is when Otello is performed on the stage. EMI re-issued the soundtrack album on CD in 2006.

    OTELLO opened in the U.S. on 12 September 1986. The film took in $1.2 million at the American box office. Franco Zeffirelli later said that out of all the films he ever made, OTELLO was his favorite, and admitted that after he made the picture, he had "a bit of a crisis" because he felt that he could never be able to duplicate that achievement.

     Posted:   Jun 16, 2019 - 12:47 PM   
     By:   Bob DiMucci   (Member)

    Writer Christopher De Vore and writer-director Franco Zeffirelli’s 1990 adaptation of William Shakespeare’s HAMLET cut nearly three hours of action from the play, which often runs five hours in live performance. Some of the changes made to the original text included the placement of the “To be or not to be” soliloquy after the “nunnery scene” between “Hamlet” and “Ophelia,” instead of before it. In addition, the nunnery scene did not actually contain the line, “Get thee to a nunnery,” which was moved to the “play within a play” sequence. Hamlet’s advice to the “players” was also cut, along with any mention of an additional speech he inserted into the play, The Mousetrap.

    Zeffirelli and producer Dyson Lovell had previously collaborated on an abortive stage production of “Hamlet” in 1980 at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles. That version was to have starred Richard Gere in the title role, with Jean Simmons as Gertrude, E.G. Marshall as Polonius, and Amy Irving as Ophelia.

    For the film, Mel Gibson was cast as Hamlet. Zeffirelli chose Gibson, whose starring roles in the LETHAL WEAPON series had made him a highly bankable movie star, in an attempt to lure a younger audience, as the director had done with his 1968 film adaptation of Shakespeare’s ROMEO AND JULIET. Zeffirelli had also been impressed by Gibson’s near suicide scene in the first LETHAL WEAPON film. Zeffirelli was quoted as saying, “It’s very seldom that (Shakespearean) plays are done in a way that kids can identify with…and I think I’ve found a way to accomplish that.”

    Nelson Entertainment acquired U.S. distribution rights to the film, while Sovereign Pictures handled foreign sales. The budget was originally cited as $10.5 million, however, production costs rose to $15.5 million, and Dyson Lovell stated the final budget was $16 million. Mel Gibson and Glenn Close were paid “just above scale” and promised percentages of the film’s box-office gross. Other actors, including Alan Bates, Ian Holm, Paul Scofield, and Helena Bonham-Carter, also took salary cuts. Financing was provided by Dutch bank Pierson, Heldring & Pierson N.V., based on advance sales to Nelson, Sovereign, and Carolco, which had acquired distribution rights for England, France, and Italy.

    The shoot was scheduled to begin 23 April 1990, on the anniversary of Shakespeare’s birthday. Although the filmmakers planned a fourteen-week shooting schedule, later reports stated filming was completed in eleven weeks. Locations included Dover Castle in the southern county of Kent, England, which, along with Blackness Castle in Blackness, Scotland, and Dunnottar Castle in Stonehaven, Scotland, stood in for Elsinore Royal Castle. For a weathered look, the castle exteriors were covered in a mixture of coal dust and water. Interior scenes were filmed at Shepperton Studios in England.

    Costume designer Maurizio Millenotti was called to the set two weeks prior to filming, after original costume designer Norma Moriceau quit the project for unspecified reasons. With very little time to work, Millenotti abandoned sketches, taking inspiration from “statuary at medieval cathedrals throughout Europe, including Chartres, Hamburg, and Parma.” Fabrics for Gibson and Alan Bates’s costumes came from Italy, and costumes, made primarily of wool and silk, were assembled by tailors at Shepperton Studios. Observers criticized the costumes as overly clean for the time period, but praised the jewelry and described the crowns as “absolutely on-11th-Century target.”

    The first edit of the film ran almost three hours. Scenes that were later cut included Hamlet’s “trippingly on the tongue” speech to the actors, and the soliloquy in which Hamlet forlornly states, “Oh that this too, too solid flesh should melt.”

    The 135-minute film garnered positive word-of-mouth during post-production, drawing the attention of major studios, including Warner Bros. and Paramount Pictures, which had previously turned down the project. Despite Nelson Entertainment’s non-exclusive deals with Orion Pictures and Tri-Star Pictures, and Orion’s insistence that HAMLET was on its release schedule as of 24 July 1990, Warner Bros. was announced as domestic distributor in a 25 July 1990 Hollywood Reporter article, which cited Warner Bros.’ objective to cast Gibson in LETHAL WEAPON 3 as an added incentive to distribute HAMLET. Warner Bros. paid $6 million for U.S. and Canadian theatrical distribution rights, as well as home video rights. The film marked the first Nelson Entertainment production that was not released through Nelson’s own home video division, or Orion Home Video, which had acted as Nelson’s video sales agent for two years.

    As part of the promotional campaign, Warner Bros. targeted high schools, sending out over 100,000 direct mailings to principals and English teachers. Mailings included study guides and applications for discount coupons which would allow students to see the film for a reduced $3.50 ticket price. Gibson filmed a fifty-four-minute educational video titled “Mel Gibson Goes Back to School,” over the course of two visits to University High School in West Los Angeles. The actor was shown workshopping “Hamlet” with tenth-graders, and coaching them in scenes from the play. 18,000 copies of “Mel Gibson Goes Back to School” were sent to high schools.

    The film was slated to open in mid-to-late December 1990 in Los Angeles, New York City, and Toronto, Canada, to qualify for Academy Award consideration. In advance of the 18 December 1990 world premiere at Mann’s Village Theatre in Westwood, CA, the Shakespeare Globe Centre Western Region contacted stamp dealers across the U.S. for 1964 Shakespeare commemorative stamps to affix to roughly 3,000 invitations. Guests included 300 Shakespeare teachers. After the premiere screening, guests were transported via London taxis and double-decker buses to a reception at the recently unveiled Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center. The event raised an unspecified amount for the International Shakespearean Globe Centre, a new structure set to begin construction in February 1991, and $75,000 for the Globe Theatre’s Western Regional educational program. Another benefit screening took place at AMC Century City Theater on 17 December 1990, with proceeds going toward the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA).

    In January 1991, Gibson headed home to Australia, “numb from a promotional tour” in support of HAMLET. However, the actor would continue to promote the film while in Australia, attending premieres in Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne in mid-February 1991. Gibson was also planning to launch a “Mel Gibson Village Roadshow Scholarship,” to be funded by a to-be-determined portion of Australian box-office grosses.

    Critical reception of the film was mixed. While the 19 December 1990 Los Angeles Times review claimed that Daniel Day-Lewis or Kenneth Branagh would have been better suited for the lead role, a 6 January 1991 editorial piece in that paper called Mel Gibson “the most unaffected and lucid Hamlet in memory.” Rolling Stone criticized both Gibson and Zeffirelli, stating that “this big-screen HAMLET, pumped up to operatic scale by overkill director Franco Zeffirelli, exposes Gibson’s shortcomings.” However, in a three-and-a-half star review, Roger Ebert declared that “The style of Franco Zeffirelli’s HAMLET, with Mel Gibson in the title role, is robust and physical and - don't take this the wrong way – upbeat.” Ebert went on to note that “Zeffirelli sets his film in a spectacular location” and that “Zeffirelli’s great contribution in ‘popularizing’ the play has been to make it clear to the audience why events are unfolding as they are.”

    The film received Academy Award nominations for Art Direction and Costume Design, and was named one of the top ten films of the year by the National Board of Review. Box-office receipts amounted to $20.7 million. In August 1991, it was also noted that HAMLET was doing well in its second week of home video release. Ennio Morricone’s score for the film was released by Virgin Records.

     Posted:   Jun 16, 2019 - 2:25 PM   
     By:   Rozsaphile   (Member)

    Although [ROMEO AND JULIET] film won two Oscars, for Best Cinematography and Costume design, the Best Picture award went to OLIVER!, and Zeffirelli lost the directing Oscar to that film’s Carol Reed.

    When nobody showed up to accept the costume award (for Danilo Donati), it was handed to one of the costumed dancers who had just completed a stage routine showing off designs from the five nominees. Not knowing what to do, the guy danced off with the statuette in hand! It's hard to fathom why Nino Rota's beautiful music, popular then and still popular today, was not even nominated.

     Posted:   Jun 16, 2019 - 2:46 PM   
     By:   Bob DiMucci   (Member)

    In 1992, Zeffirelli filmed another opera for Italian television. This time is was Verdi’s “Don Carlo”, starring Luciano Pavarotti in the title role. Samuel Ramey and Daniela Dessì had supporting parts. Riccardo Muti led the orchestra.

    SPARROW was a 1993 Italian drama directed by Zeffirelli. It is an adaptation of Giovanni Verga's novel, Storia di una capinera and was filmed in Sicily. It starred Angela Bettis, and premiered at the Tokyo International Film Festival in October 1993. The film did not get a U.S. release.

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    In 1996, Zeffirelli co-wrote and directed an adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's 1847 novel JANE EYRE. In the film, “Jane Eyre” (portrayed as the orphan child by Anna Paquin and as an adult by Charlotte Gainsbourg) is the plain, impoverished young woman who is hired by “Mr. Rochester” (William Hurt) through “Mrs. Fairfax” (Joan Plowright) to work as a governess for “Adèle” (Josephine Serre) at Thornfield Hall.

    As his location for Thornfield Hall, Zeffirelli chose Haddon Hall, in Bakewell, Derbyshire, UK. Since Zeffirelli's use of Haddon Hall, subsequent versions of JANE EYRE have also used it, and it is now apparently synonymous with Thornfield Hall. Prior to Zeffirelli's location use, Haddon Hall had been used once before by filmmakers, as the castle for THE PRINCESS BRIDE.

    Zeffirelli called William Hurt “The most complicated actor I ever worked with.”

    The film’s score, by Alessio Vlad and Claudio Capponi, was released by Image Music in Italy in 1998 and by DRG in the U.S. in 1999. JANE EYRE grossed $5.2 million in the U.S.

     Posted:   Jun 16, 2019 - 2:51 PM   
     By:   Bob DiMucci   (Member)

    It's hard to fathom why Nino Rota's beautiful music [for ROMEO AND JULIET], popular then and still popular today, was not even nominated.

    An embarrassment of riches in 1968, perhaps:

    The Lion In Winter - John Barry
    The Fox - Lalo Schifrin
    The Thomas Crown Affair - Michel Legrand
    Planet of the Apes - Jerry Goldsmith
    The Shoes of the Fisherman - Alex North

    Which one would YOU knock out?

    Also not nominated:

    Once Upon a Time In the West - Ennio Morricone
    Where Eagles Dare - Ron Goodwin
    The Swimmer - Marvin Hamlisch
    Hang 'Em High - Dominic Frontiere
    The Odd Couple - Neal Hefti
    The Scalphunters - Elmer Bernstein
    Bullitt - Lalo Schifrin
    Ice Station Zebra - Michel Legrand
    The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter - Dave Grusin
    Dark of the Sun - Jacques Loussier
    Petulia - John Barry

     Posted:   Jun 16, 2019 - 3:35 PM   
     By:   Bob DiMucci   (Member)

    TEA WITH MUSSOLINI concerned an orphaned Italian boy (Baird Wallace) who is raised among a circle of expatriate British and American women living in Mussolini's Italy before and during the Second World War. The women were portrayed by five noted actresses over age 50: Cher, Joan Plowright, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Lily Tomlin.

    The 1999 film was Franco Zeffirelli’s last major feature film, and was his most personal. Its story is based on incidents from Zeffirelli's early life, as described in his autobiography, but the movie is not a straight recounting. Novelist John Mortimer was brought in to add fictional touches, to dramatize it.

    Judi Dench and Franco Zeffirelli on the set of TEA WITH MUSSOLINI

    Cher has stated that the only reason she took the part of “Elsa,” a former showgirl and successful gold-digger turned art collector, was because Zeffirelli said he could only see her and no other actress in the role.

    The film’s score, by Alessio Vlad and Stefano Arnaldi, was released by DRG in the U.S., First Night in the UK, and Image in Italy. TEA WITH MUSSOLINI grossed $14.4 million in the U.S.

     Posted:   Jun 16, 2019 - 4:27 PM   
     By:   Bob DiMucci   (Member)

    Throughout the first decade of the new century, Franco Zeffirelli directed operas on stage. His repertoire included many of the greats: Don Giovanni, Aida, Carmen, La Bohème, Madama Butterfly, Turandot. These were punctuated by a 2002 film biography of the last days of legendary opera singer Maria Callas—CALLAS FOREVER—starring Fanny Ardant as the famed star. In the U.S., the film played at film festivals around the country before getting a limited theatrical release in 2004.

    As recently as last year, Zeffirelli was still doing production design for The Metropolitan Opera.

    Franco Zeffirelli was not a prolific filmmaker, splitting his time as he did between stage and screen. But his three filmed Shakespearean adaptations, two religious films, and two major opera films will undoubtedly stand the test of time. Ciao, Franco!

    Cher and Franco Zeffirelli

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