Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Live! From the 73rd Venice International Film Festival! - LA LA LAND Lets the Sunshine In

Ryan Gosling & Emma Stone in La La Land
(Venice, Italy) Wow. I am still emotional as I write this after just seeing La La Land, a testimony to good ol' human nature, the magic of Hollywood, and those who dream (all of us). That 31-year-old Damien Chazelle, wrote it, directed it, and now, here it is, poof! up on the big screen is living proof of the power of imagination.

The opening scene is set in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Los Angeles freeway, a jumble of music pouring out the windows of congested cars. And then... one by one people jump out of their cars and burst into song, dancing on the asphalt and flipping over the gridlock. It was so joyful that the audience of press and industry folks burst into applause. We almost burst into song ourselves.


The movie is divided into L.A. seasons, which all look exactly alike, bright, sunny with plenty of traffic. It's a Hollywood romance about a struggling actress, Emma Stone (Mia), and a jazz pianist, Ryan Gosling (Sebastian); the actors have a dynamic chemistry. I was so happy to see a movie about the lives of fictional creative people, which provided real-life singing, dancing creative people with lots of work. When I saw all those performers jumping around on the L.A. freeway, I thought, finally! An employer who put all those years of voice and dance lessons to good use!

Later in the day at the press conference, Damien Chazelle and Emma Stone spoke about breaking into song -- that in order to make a believable musical and break into song, the emotion must be there. I loved the haunting tunes by Justin Hurwitz and the Broadway lyricist team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul that wove in out of the seasons. John Legend is totally cool as the leader of the band. The film could turn a new generation onto jazz.

Damien Chazelle said that now more than ever we need hope. Emma Stone that the movie was in no way cynical. "This is about hoping and dreaming." Though young people have every reason to be cynical after the mess my generation and the one before have handed to them, it was great to see them cut through all the darkness and let a slice of sunshine in. (Read more about it at the Daily Beast.) Personally, it gives me hope that we didn't mess it up that badly when a 31-year-old can still wade through the muck and find his way back to the joy of Hollywood musicals and jazz.


Here are some reviews:

From Deadline Hollywood:

Whether it is a dazzling song-and-dance opening set in a massive traffic jam on an L.A. freeway, or a spectacular sequence with Gosling and Stone flying high into the skies of the Griffith Observatory, the musical numbers soar with their own vibrancy and urgency. We live in hard times, but this is a movie worth savoring, something that entertains, enlightens and makes us feel good about being alive.

From The Telegraph:

Stone and Gosling are two of the most naturally sweet stars working today, but together they’re like Diet Coke and Mentos – their chemistry actually feels chemical, or perhaps part of a new branch of particle physics that conducts invisible emotional lightning straight from their faces to your heart. 

From The Hollywood Reporter:

If you're going to fall hard for Damien Chazelle's daring and beautiful La La Land, it will probably be at first sight. There's never been anything quite like the opening sequence

From Variety:

Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land,” which opened the Venice Film Festival on a voluptuous high note of retro glamour and style, is the most audacious big-screen musical in a long time, and — irony of ironies — that’s because it’s the most traditional.


During the press conference, Marc Platt, one of the producers (and the oldest one up on the podium) said that it was a pleasure to work with a young film maker who took such passion and joy in his work. On the very last day, they were shooting with natural light, and Damien Chazelle had the camera on his shoulder. He wanted to keep shooting and shooting. Finally the sun went down. Platt  told Chazelle, "The film is over. There's no more light. It's time to put the camera down."

Hey! The kids are alright!

La La Land will be released in the US on December 2, 2016.

UPDATE: September 4, 2016 - Yesterday, Tom Hanks interrupted his own press conference at Telluride to say this about La La Land: "...if the audience doesn’t go and embrace something as wonderful as this then we are all doomed.”

Ciao from the Venice Film Festival,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Cat Bauer for LUXOS - Top 5 Venice Companies - Top 6 Venice Eateries & A Heavenly Island

Aerial View of the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore, photo by Alessandra Chemollo, courtesy of Fondazione Giorgio Cini, for LUXOS Magazine
Aerial View of the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore 
photo by Alessandra Chemollo 
(Venice, Italy) I've recently been writing for LUXOS Magazine, a luxury print magazine that is distributed twice a year in 5-star hotels throughout the world, and is also an online magazine, which you can visit here:

LUXOS.COM
For the LUXOS spring/summer 2016 edition, I wrote an article about the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore, and featured six eateries in Venice, as well as five traditional Venetian companies. Since I know many of you Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog readers are interested in those topics, I'm going to make it easier for you to find them online.


Borges Labyrinth  photo by Matteo De Fina  courtesy Fondazione Giorgio Cini for LUXOS Magazine
Borges Labyrinth
photo by Matteo De Fina
for LUXOS Magazine
To me, the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore has always felt other-worldly, with sacred architecture designed to make it easier to communicate with the heavens. Peaceful and serene, the island has been a haven for enlightened thinkers since the ninth century. Throughout wars and upheavals, there has always been a Benedictine monk on the island, guarding its secrets. Here is a snippet from An Island in Venice - Where Humanism Meets Heaven:

San Giorgio Maggiore: A heavenly island in Venice

Where Humanism meets heaven


When Cosimo de’ Medici, often credited for kickstarting the Renaissance, was exiled from Florence in 1433, he stayed in the Benedictine monastery on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore, an oasis of knowledge whose origins date back to the ninth century. The powerful banker planned his comeback surrounded by illuminated thinkers, artists and men of God, returning to Florence the next year. Click to continue reading.


Photo courtesy Ristorante Local for LUXOS Magazine
When it came to selecting the eateries, I featured six restaurants that were passionate about Venice and its food, used local ingredients and were owned by hands-on Venetians. If you visit any of these establishments, you will likely find the owner there. Most of these eateries have taken traditional Venetian food and revamped it, bringing ancient traditions into the 21st century.

The new Venetian cuisine

The Ultimate classic Venetian cuisine revamped


Food in Venice has always had a distinct flavour. These restaurants, however, are revamping even the most classic dishes. Stop by any of these eateries for a new twist on tradition. Click to continue reading.



Photo courtesy The Merchant of Venice for LUXOS Magazine
With tourism ravaging the city, it can sometimes be difficult to find authentic Venetian businesses based in the Veneto, working endlessly to keep the local economy afloat. These five companies are devoted to keeping the spirit of Venice alive, using time-honored traditions to create contemporary products.

Top 5 traditional Venetian companies

A look into the timeless wisdom of contemporary venetian companies


With each curve of a canal, the Venice mystique is undeniably present. These companies have taken that traditional mystique and transformed it to become a new trendy, contemporary style. Take a look at how they've molded their history into the most special products. Click to continue reading.

There! I hope that helps guide you through the Venetian labyrinth a bit. If you would like to receive Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog in your email, please subscribe.

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Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Four Weeks Off?! Vacation Time in EU vs. USA and Ferragosto in Venice

Venice Lagoon on a Summer's Day - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) Europeans are guaranteed by law a minimum of four weeks vacation. Americans are guaranteed by law zero vacation time.

Italians in particular are guaranteed four weeks vacation, plus 104 hours (about two weeks) of personal time to take kids to the doctors, go to the dentist, etc. In addition, employees receive 12 paid public holidays.

There are no federally mandated paid vacation or paid public holidays in the United States.Zilch. The average number of paid vacation days that private employers give their employees is 10 days after one year, 14 days after five years, and 17 days after 10 years. On average, after working for a private employer for 20 years, Americans finally get what their European counterparts get by law: 20 days paid vacation. If you want to know more about it, have a look at Wikipedia.

Even though the UK just voted to leave the European Union on June 23, the new Prime Minister, Theresa May, who came into office on July 13, is staying European when it comes to holidays. She is already on vacation in the Swiss Alps, and won't be back until August 24. 

Giudecca Canal - Venice, Italy
And if you think that makes Europeans less productive, it actually works the other way. Studies show that many European countries are actually more productive than the United States. Going on vacation recharges the mind and spirit, and reminds us that there are some beautiful things to enjoy on this planet. We come back refreshed after playing and soaking up some nature.

However, there are some Americans who do get substantial time off: the US Congress, who voted themselves a month off back in 1970. By law, Congress must adjourn between July 31 and Labor Day.

Emperor Augustus
Which brings us to Ferragosto, a uniquely Italian holiday, celebrated on August 15. The festival goes back more than 2,000 years when the first Roman Emperor Augustus thought everybody needed some time off after working so hard on the harvest, and declared the Feriae Augusti, or Festivals of Augustus. Even the emperor knew his citizens would be more productive after a break. 

Then, in the 1920s, the Fascists organized trips at discounted prices so Italians could travel to other cities, or the mountains, or the beach, which remains a tradition to this day.

Assumption of the Virgin by Tintoretto (1550)
And then, in 1950, Pope Pius XII made the Assumption of  the Virgin Mary into church dogma, and August 15 became a Holy Day of Obligation -- except in the US, where it isn't one if it falls on a Saturday or a Monday, which it did yesterday, so Catholics in the US did not have to go to mass (did they have to go to work?).

So, the pagan Roman holiday morphed into a sacred Catholic holiday, which some folks claim was actually an even more ancient Roman festival in celebration of the goddess Diana, who, in addition to her hunting skills and ability to talk to the animals, was the virgin goddess of women and childbirth.

I have written about the holiday many, many times before -- in fact, last year, I stuck them all in one post, which you can read here:

Mary Breaks Sound Barrier Zooming to Heaven - Shatters Venice Heatwave


I hope everyone is enjoying their summer!

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Glory Days When Knights Rode the Earth - Venice Flashback Summer!

Bartolomeo Colleoni by Andrea Verrocchio - Photo: Wolfgang Moroder
(Venice, Italy) To pick a Flashback Summer! post, I've gone all the way back to the beginning of this blog, to March 16, 2008, more than eight years ago. At that point in time, the terrorists were Al-Qaeda, and Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were still slugging it out -- the Democratic National Convention would not take place until August 25, 2008, the day after the Olympics in Beijing concluded, and a week before the Republican National Convention -- which selected John McCain and Sarah Palin(!).

I remember I wrote it because the world seemed to have lost its way, and to remind ourselves that once there were times when men actually were knights who really did conquer castles. I was still finding the right voice, so it's a little gangly, but the essence remains the same.

Glory Days When Knights Rode the Earth - Venice


Oh, the Glory Days when Knights rode the earth! Yesterday, I was over in Campo Santi Giovanni and Paolo, which is chock-full of all sorts of fascinating structures. I went with new arrivals in town from England; I wanted to see Venice through fresh eyes. By taking a little tour with them, it was easier for me to see the wonders of Venice by watching their reaction, and appreciate, again, how many miracles we have here.

Just one masterpiece would be enough to provide the income for a entire town anywhere else; the problem with Venice is that we have so many masterpieces. My hope is to show you how magnificent and powerful this culture once was -- and still is -- if you know how to scratch beneath the surface.

Italian Knight by Robert Wydock from Woodcarver Illustrated
I'm not going to tell you everything we did, because it was so wonderful we must keep some things secret or the next thing you know there will be tourists in the bathtub. But there is a magnificent bronze statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni right in plain sight. I think my uncle may have used it as his inspiration for his black walnut wood sculpture, Italian Knight, but I have to ask him to be sure.

Born outside of Bergamo, which is in Lombardy, Bartolomeo Colleoni was a professional condottiero, or mercenary soldier, for the Venetian Republic from 1448 until his death in 1475. He actually started working for them many years before, in 1432, but he was always switching sides.


Colleoni was the son of a nobleman, Paolo, who was killed by his cousins after he conquered the Trezzo castle, and the Duke of Milan, Filippo Maria Visconti, had him assassinated -- since, after all, it was his castle. The Colleoni were Guelphs, which means they supported the Pope against the Emperor. (The eternal war seems to be: are you for or against the Pope? Are you for or against the Empire? Which Pope? Which Empire? Who is your God? Is your God the same as my God? If there is one God, then who is his Son? Is there a even a God at all, or are there a bunch of gods up on Mt. Olympus playing men against each other like human chess pieces?) Everyone was always changing sides; towns changed sides; families changed sides, etc. Sometimes the Black chess pieces were winning, and sometimes the White; when the game was over, they set up the chess pieces and started all over again, sometimes switching colors.

So, if we think it terms of chess, we can understand a little bit more about Italy. If you take someone's castle away, they are going to be a bit perturbed. Can you imagine such a thing in real life? A Knight actually, physically takes away a Duke's actual, physical castle. Ah, those were the days!

Former chessboard at PalazzinaG
And then we have Venice, a Republic which had different rules than the city-states. The Venetian nobility created their own rules, which we will examine another time. Of course, they still had to obey the various Emperors and Popes in their fashion, but since there were/are so wily, they were always playing tricks on the authorities:) The Venetians were playing a different game, which often intercepted that other chess game.

So, all those city-states were constantly fighting with each other, trying to conquer each other in the name of the Pope or the Emperor or God-knows-who. Venice didn't care much about either the Pope or the Emperor; they were an entity unto themselves, much like today. At one time the Venetian Republic did reach all the way to Bergamo -- I would imagine that Colleoni had a bit to do with that. Colleoni took a lot of towns away from the Milanese on behalf of Venice. Colleoni knew how to play both games, and that was valuable.

Colleoni was born around 1400, right into the thick of it. In this case, we can see that, perhaps, Colleoni had personal reasons for changing sides: the Duke of Milan had killed his father. The point is that he was not Venetian, but he worked for the Venetians. Anyway, after Venice and Milan made peace, he went back to Milan, but the cunning Duke threw him in prison, where he remained until the Duke died. I am quite sure that Colleoni was not happy about that, so he went back to the Venetians. In return for this, he expected some pretty decent perks -- he wanted to be the captain-general. The Venetians did not grant him this privilege, so he went back again to Milan, until the Venetians finally caved in and made him captain-general for life.

To really grasp how powerful Colleoni was, let us look at what he left behind: the magnificent equestrian monument here in Venice, modeled in 1481 by Leonardo da Vinci's teacher, Andrea Verrocchio, and an entire church/mausoleum in Bergamo, the Cappella Colleoni (Colleoni Chapel), where his remains are.

First he asked nicely if he could have the sacristy of the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore for his tomb, but the officials said no. So, he conquered it, destroyed it, and built a new one, which he turned into a personal mausoleum for himself and his beloved daughter, Medea (what kind of man is going to name his daughter, "Medea?"). Although this was back in the 1400s, in terms of history, it was not that long ago, so you can only imagine how much the level of life has changed as we all sit behind our computers and pretend we are cyber knights with cyber castles.

Colleoni was such a strategist that in order to get the equestrian monument built, in his will he left the Venetians a fortune -- 216,000 gold and silver ducats, as well as land and property on the condition that they "build a monument in his honor outside of San Marco." The Venetians needed the money, but it was against Venetian rules to have any statues built to individuals in Piazza San Marco. (Remember, Venice was an oligarchy, a group of noble, very rich, powerful families, that constantly monitored each other. One family could not be more powerful than another, and certainly no guy from Bergamo was going to get a statue in Piazza San Marco.)

Scuola Grande di San Marco
The Venetians, clever as they are, found a solution to this problem. Since Colleoni's will said "outside of San Marco," not Piazza San Marco, they built the statue outside the Scuola Grande of San Marco! Ha! The Scuola Grande of San Marco is now our present-day hospital, and you can see what a beautiful job the non-profit organization, Save Venice, did to restore the facade the next time you are over in Campo Santi Giovanni and Paolo. Have a look with your own eyes and imagine what kind of men once walked upon the very space you are standing in another dimension of time.

By the way, in Italian, the word "coglioni," which sounds like "Colleoni" is slang for testicles, of which Colleoni had three. The story goes that he was so proud of this that he had three balls on his coat of arms.

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Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

La La Land in the Lagoon - 15 US Films at the 2016 Venice Film Festival

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in La La Land
(Venice, Italy) I actually lived in La La Land for much of my adult life, so I'm euphoric that Damien Chazelle's musical about Hollywood starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling is opening the 2016 Venice Film Festival on August 31.

The full lineup was announced last week, and is packed with a bunch of intriguing films from the United States. Let's take a break from all the wickedness over in Washington that is making the whole world nervous -- where the Chairperson of the Democratic National Party was forced to resign for sabotaging Democratic presidential-hopeful Bernie Sanders(!); where Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, was called out by a Muslim Gold Star family(!); where Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, was called out by a white Gold Star mother(!), and focus on something where the US really excels: MOVIES!

I'm going to flip through all the American films that are coming to Venice, even if they are co-produced by other countries. Well, not all, because there are so many -- I'm not going to delve into the Orrizonti, but if you would like to know everything that will screen, go to Biennale Cinema.

US FILMS IN COMPETITION


1. Arrival, (US) directed by Denis Villenueve; a sci-fi flick starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner. Alien spacecrafts land around the world, and an expert linguist is recruited by the military to figure out if they come in war or peace. I'm sure I'm not the only one who would welcome some alien spacecrafts right now.

2. The Bad Batch, (US) directed by Ana Lily Anapour; starring Jim Carey, Keneau Reeves and Suki Waterhouse. Black-comedy horror-thriller set in a cannibal community in a Texas wasteland.

Natalie Portman as Jackie
3. Jackie, (US, Chile) directed by Pablo Larrain, starring Natalie Portman. Jackie Kennedy's days right after JFK was shot.

4. La La Land, (US) directed by Damien Chazelle, starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. Comedy-drama-musical about a jazz pianist who falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles.


5. The Light Between Oceans, (US, Australia, New Zealand) directed by Derek Cianfrance, starring Michael Fassbender (whom I adore) and Alicia Vikander. Romantic drama set during WWI about a lighthouse keeper and his wife who find a baby girl drifting in a lifeboat and decide to raise her.

6. Nocturnal Animals, (US) directed by Tom Ford -- I loved his debut film film A Single Man, which premiered here in Venice on September 11, 2009, and I love Tom Ford, who spoke from his heart at the press conference. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams, Nocturnal Animals is a thriller about the owner of an art gallery who is haunted by her ex-husband's violent novel.


7. Voyage of Time, (US, Germany) directed by Terrance Maleck, an IMAX documentary film about the birth and death of our universe, narrated in the 40-minute IMAX version by Brad Pitt, and the 35mm feature-length version by Cate Blanchett (do you think they got equal pay?:-).

OUT OF COMPETITION - FICTION


1. The Bleeder, (US, Canada) directed by Jeff Faraldeau, starring Naomi Watts, Liev Schrieber and Ron Perelman -- I hope Ron comes to Venice because he used to live close by me in Los Feliz, and he worked with my ex-husband on a TV movie. The Bleeder is inspired by the life of heavyweight boxer, Chuck Wepner.

2. Dark Night, (US) directed by Tim Sutton, starring Anna Rose Hopkins, Robert Jumper and Karina Macias about a massacre at a suburban Cineplex that intersects the lives of six strangers.


3. Hacksaw Ridge, (US) directed by Mel Gibson. Mel! Making his Venice debut! Starring Teresa Palmer, Andrew Garfield and Sam Worthington, it's a bio based on a true story about WWII Army medic Desmond T. Doss who refused to kill people, and became the first Conscientious Objector in US history to be awarded the Medal of Honor.

4. The Magnificent Seven, (US) directed by Antoine Fuqua, starring Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawk, Chris Pratt and Haley Bennett about seven gunmen in the Old West hooking up to save a village from the bad guys. A remake of a remake of a remake.

5. The Mountain (Monte), (Italy, US, France) directed by Amir Nadieri, starring Andrea Sartoretti, Claudia Potenza and Zaccaria Zanghellini about a man who tries to knock off the top of a mountain so his crops can get some sun.


OUT OF COMPETITION - DOCUMENTARY


1. American Anarchist, (US) directed by Charlie Siskel. I can find nothing regarding what this documentary is about, although I did see Siskel's 2013 Finding Vivien Maier documentary about a mysterious nanny who turned out to be a brilliant photographer.

2. I Called Him Morgan, (Sweden, US) directed by Kasper Collin about the jazz musician, Lee Morgan, who was shot to death by his wife, Helen, in 1972 at a club in New York.

3. Our War, (Italy, US) directed by Bruno Chiaravaloti, Claudio Jampaglia, Benedetta Argentieri, and starring Joshua Bell, Karim Franceschi, and Rafael Kardari. A former US Marine, an unemployed Italian and a Swedish guard volunteer to fight the Islamic State, and face problems when they return home.

There are a lot of juicy films on the plate, don't you think? And those are just the ones from the US -- there's an entire planet of films that will arrive here in Venice. I'm really looking forward to the insanity and excitement of the 73rd Venice International Film Festival at the end of the month, running this year from August 31 to September 10.

Stay tuned...

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog
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