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Friday, November 26, 2010

The Films of Suso Cecchi D’Amico

On July 31st 2010, one of Italy's greatest screenwriters Suso Cecchi D’Amico died at the age of 96! To fans of Marisa Mell, she is best known as the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of the 1965 Mario Moncelli directed movie "Casanova '70" with Marcello Mastroianni as leading man Andrea Rossi-Colombotti and Marisa Mell as Thelma. In honor of this great lady of Italian movie making the Film Society of Lincoln Centre in New York is showing this week from November 26th untill December 1st 2010 several of her majestic movies like among others "Rocco and his brothers" with a superb Alain Delon, "White Nights" with the always reliable Maria Schell and Jean Marais or "Conversation Piece" with Marisa Mell friend Helmut Berger, all movies directed by Lucino Visconti.
Richard Peña, director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, talked to David Savage of Cinema Retro about this talented screenwriter:

Cinema Retro: A tribute organized around a screenwriter is fairly rare. Why did you choose this specific screenwriter for a tribute?

Richard Pena: Perhaps, but Suso was an extraordinarily special screenwriter. Having recently done a lot of work on Italian cinema, I was startled to see how often her name figured in the credits of so many masterworks. She was an extraordinary talent, and her passing is a loss for all who love film.

CR: Do you think her career was overshadowed by her collaboration with such auteurist names in Italian cinema, such as Visconti, Monicelli, et al? It seems as though a woman would have a hard time holding her own against such huge egos?

RP: My sense is that this had as much to do with the contemporary lionization of film directors as it did plain old sexism. From what I've heard about her, she held her own with the boys.

CR: Can you identify a common thread or characteristic style that belongs to Cecchi d’Amico’s dialogue or characterizations?

RP: With over 100 screenplays to her credit, that becomes difficult; moreover, I've seen at best 50% of them. I think she often likes to focus on a character who takes a decisive action and then study the consequences of that action on those around him/her.

CR: Do you consider her an innovator in screenwriting?

RP: I'm not the best person to answer that question. I think she had a good sense of when to let the action play out on its own rhythms--to under-script, as opposed to an overly determined writing style.

CR: Can you trace any effect she had on any one American screenwriter in particular?

RP: A certain group of American filmmakers have tried to capture the spirit or even adapt "Big Deal on Madonna Street. Whit Stillman would be someone who I'm sure really admires Suso's work.

CR: Do you know how much control she exerted over her own screenplays in terms of the liberties the directors were allowed to take, i.e., was she territorial about her dialogue?

RP: I'm frankly not sure about that, but why hire Suso Cecchi D'Amico if you don't want her work?

CR: Aspiring screenwriters will come to this program, hopefully. What are you hoping they take away?

RP: I hope they sense how carefully structured her screenplays were. There's always a good sense of architecture to her screenplays, even when they leave lots of space for the director.

CR: If you had to choose one film in the line-up that is a definite don’t miss, what would your choice be? Why?

RP: I would say Violent Summer, as it's really an amazingly great film and not that well known. A chance for people to discover not only Suso's work, but that of Valerio Zurlini, a wonderful yet little-known filmmaker as well.

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