Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Fancy Lady Film Hour: The Leopard


My pokey little hairpins! I was feeling bad about working you too hard the last few rounds. Villette was S-A-D SAD and Dombey and Son is sort of sad and also pretty long. I was going to slow our roll a little bit with an E.M. Forster-off this week (Where Angels Fear to Tread > A Room With a View), because they're short and romantic and just good-sad not bad-sad.

But two puzzles confronted me.

Puzzle 1: I was trying to figure out how on earth A Room With a View even became a Big Deal, and thinking thinking thinking, oh right, Merchant Ivory, young Helena Bonham Carter*, no one probably even ever read the book and it’s still the more famous than a better book!

Puzzle 2: I think we need some Italy-by-Italians prep work before we dive into Italy-by-English people and/or Americans. Otherwise, the Italy-by-Anglophones novels all read like long unfunny Original Kings of Comedy routines: Italians, they have feelings like this, but Englishmen, they have feelings like THIS (none).

You guys. The puzzle pieces, in my mind, they come together, and it is beautiful. With one brilliant move, we are taking this book club to the next motherfucking level. Rook to F4, we sink your battleships. You see, Hairpin, the best period movie of all time is also the best movie of all time overall, and it’s also BY AN ITALIAN about Italian history.

Look, I know and you know that 90% of the reason anyone watches movies is to look at sweet gowns. But sometimes you can’t so much talk about that with other people. Sometimes you need a fancy lady to sit you down and tell you what’s what. If you are going to the Philharmonic on gifted tickets and your boxmates try to chat with you, you can never go wrong saying you preferred the Debussy. Also, there is free champagne in the Patrons’ Lounge. But, you cannot — CAN NOT — tell one more grown-ass human adult how much you enjoyed the Pillars of the Earth miniseries.** Stop it. Stop it. Right now. Stop it.

“But fancy lady,” you (I) whimper. “Two of my three favorite movies are The Little Mermaid and Zoolander, and I won’t even type the third because even I know how stupid it is. What do I do when I need to talk about film to get my free champagne?” The fancy lady’s face softens, and her sapphire rings flash as she takes your hand in her own. She leans in to whisper a secret that has been passed down for, well, I guess maybe two generations. The Leopard, she whispers. The Leopard.

The Leopard! The Leopard, The Leopard, The Leopard! RAAAAWWRR. This movie has the virtue of being both the best movie in the world to watch for funz, and of being crazy legit, all the film nerds will be like WHOA, and you’ll be all, that’s right. Also you have no excuse, because it is on Netflix Instant? Click it click it click it, like the cocaine-addled lab rats we all are. Mmmm dopamine.

To encourage you in your clicking, I present you with the classy/awesome breakdown forthwith:

Oh you fancy, huh?
The cinematography, the sweeping depictions of the barren but beautiful Sicilian landscape! [Ed. note to New Yorkers: Coincidentally, this movie also happens to be currently screening at the Film Forum.]

We lived in a one room rundown shack on the outskirts of New Orleans.
BUT SECRETLY: You know what shows up really good against the dried golden grasses of Sicilian hillsides? DRESSES AND SWEET MANSIONS. DO you know how sweet the mansion in this movie is? SO SWEET it has rooms that no one even knows what they are! Do you know what you do when you have a secret room like that? You put on a magenta GOWN and make out with Alain Delon in it. It could happen! It could happen to you. Maybe even today!

N-n-n-nails done hair done errrrything did.
The Leopard takes place in Sicily in the 1860s, and concerns the unification of Italy, also there is a duke? Prince? — I don't even know, they call him prince, but don't you need your own country to be that? — as he watches the world change around him and tries to make his peace with the new order. 1860s Italy is definitely a discreet, classy historical time/place to set a movie; for contrast see played-out Tudor England (JK Tudor England I love you, but not JK at all but I still love you).

We didn’t have money for food or rent, to say the least we were hard-pressed/Mama spent every last penny she had to buy me a dancing dress.
I’d say everything you need to know about Italian history to get fully in on this action is Wikipedia but even that is overdoing it. Here’s the Risorgimento for Dummies atcha:

(1) There was no Italy, just other, smaller places. Then Garibaldi (who is not in the movie, so who cares, but you know, if there’s a quiz later) was “let’s all just be from Turin yet somehow speak Florentine.” Mostly everyone was like AL-RIGHT! but some were not, so a war, and some of it — the parts we care about — in Sicily.

(2) Sicily (the best part of Italy, you know, like, the Villette of parts of Italy) was not just Sicily then, it was the Kingdom of Two Sicilies (I know, you can do that?), and the nobility was Bourbon, Bourbons used to be French, and I cannot figure out from cursory Googling what they have to do with the bourbon in Kentucky. The French were also fucking with stuff in Northern Italy/Not Italy at this time, they get a shoutout in the movie too.

(3) Somehow everyone got a country together, but to this very day, Northern Italians and Southern Italians spend 75% of each day making fun each other, and old ladies still only speak dialect. The prosperity and modernization that were supposed to come of unification worked out, uhhh, let’s say medium for Sicily, as you know from mafia movies/TV.

Here’s a picture of Italy, to help you:

In the mall steady racking up the air miles.
The Leopard is based on a book of the same name by Giuseppe di Lampedusa, a Sicilian noble himself. It is a classic of modern Italian literature, exploring decadence and decay, the beauty in venality and the venality in beauty.

...that had a split on the side clean up to my hip/ It was red velvet trim and it fit me good.
You do not have to read the book. Whatever, I mean, it's a great book, go read it. But this is one of the rare adaptations where saying you didn’t read the book doesn’t get people looking at you like you straight up said you just can’t read. You don’t even have to read the subtitles if you’re tired! Even the dubbed version is totally legit, because Burt Lancaster’s dialogue was recorded in English and dubbed into Italian anyway, so part of the dubbed version is even MORE authentic than the Italian version. You found the broken slot machine, you can’t not win. The main thing I remember the book adding was like “and then all this stuff blew up in WWII,” which you knew anyway. Just remember it while watching the movie for extra pathos?

Say go Cinderella/Go Cinderella/Orgasm blush/Lipstick ‘n concealer.
The Leopard was directed by Luchino Visconti, the master who existed in an interesting dialectic with his neorealist contemporaries. (Neorealist e.g. = The Bicyle Thief, which personally I found manipulative, but I find the actual existence of trusting children manipulative, so that was lame out of the gate.)

I shivered as I watched a roach crawl across the toe of my high heeled shoe.
I would not watch, say, The Bicycle Thief again. I am glad I did, I guess, sort of, I mean, not glad like wheee, glad like I cried every day on the subway for a week. But if you said, "Carrie, here are your choices: you can either watch The Leopard over and over again until you die and the way you will die will be from not eating or drinking because you are just watching this movie, OR you can never watch this movie again,” I would really have to think about it.

Mature women with more than me were the first to tempt me.
The film features a stellar international cast, with some of the most compelling and unusual actors of its time time: Burt Lancaster, Alain Delon, and Claudia Cardinale.

She said, 'Just be nice to the gentlemen, Fancy, they’ll be nice to you.'
These people did not get famous for being ugly. Sweeeeeeetbabyjesus.

This movie is crazy-erotic, and I don’t think there’s any actual action more intense than a smoosh-face kiss. What? No bodices enripped? But check it: Angelica is the young bougie woman who is the standin for the Future of Italy. She is played by Claudia Cardinale.

There is one scene at a ball (that's how you know it's good) where she's dancing with her betrothed, the young-nobleman-on-the-unification-bandwagon Tancredi Falconieri played byyyyy Alain Delon:

Super bonus: he has that eyepatch for much of the film. Oh no, I think he hurt himself! You guys, he needs you to take such good care of him, for so long. (Unbonus: he now has a perfume wristwatch line. Whatever, don’t even care.)

At the ball, his uncle, Old Italy Prince Don Fabrizio Salina cuts in — no wait, I think she asks him to cut in ... anyway, Buurrrrrrttt Lannnncaaaster:**

You guys. I am blushing. I am blushing, in my house, at my computer, typing about people waltzing. I don’t even know how to talk about what happens in that scene because it’s not a sex thing there are words for. It’s some kind of crazy tag-teaming, except it’s all a metaphor, except holy shit it's really not because it's really real? Abundantly-clothed-Hegelian-zero-penetration-MMF? That.

Shout out to the homeowners/the girls that got diplomas/And enough money to loan us a little something extra/Should we ever need it.
In said ball scene, a whole new Verdi waltz was discovered and recorded, a musical-historical as well as a cinematic triumph.

Here’s your one chance, Fancy don’t let me down.****
Uhhhh this ball scene is fully one-third of the film, which is itself about three hours long. The percent awesome you think this is is exactly equivalent to the percent likelihood we are going to be best friends. Also! I remembered! This is why the movie is better than the book. During the ball the book is like, oh the prince thought this and this and this, but the ball is not about thinking. It is about us trying, from habit, to be elegant even as it sinks in that we are robots, and increasingly obsolete models at that.

* Def the fanciest actress to play Crockett’s girlfriend on Miami Vice.
** If you have not yet enjoyed it, you should presently. If you have yet enjoyed it, let’s talk about how we are going to all common-law-marry Tom Builder + live in a cave.
*** Bonus self-knowledge question: The first millionty times I watched this I was all about Alain Delon. All about him. All. Then something happened the last time I watched. I barely even noticed that goofoff when Burt Lancaster, aging lion, was in the room. Literally, Burt Lancaster could have been like, just stab that other guy, and I wouldn’t have even checked to make sure he was serious. I thought maybe it was because I was over self-absorbed youths, but you know what, the Principe is pretty self absorbed. I don’t know what it is! I am somehow convinced it is about becoming an adult, but I am not sure how. Is it just because he has a mustache? Nooo. That can’t be it. Can it? Did you know Burt Lancaster used to be a strongman at the circus? How am I finding being in the circus hot?
**** Somehow, the Drake "Fancy"/Reba "Fancy" mashup is not a thing yet. Make it happen you guys. My friend who knows about this stuff was all blah blah BPM blah but come on, we can’t let that get in the way.

Previously: Great Expectations vs. Dombey and Son.

Carrie Hill Wilner loves to read watch movies.

27 Comments / Post A Comment


I added this to my instant queue before I even finished reading! Please tell me there's more where this came from!


Visconti is sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo amazing. (He was also an openly nonheterosexual guy, in case those things matter to you, which it obv does to me, and I think his obsessively 'queer eye' pervades his film-making in the best of ways.) Also recommended: LUDWIG (starring Visconti's lover Helmut Berger), the THE DAMNED about the rise of Nazi Germany, and of course DEATH IN VENICE, which is as much about Proust as Thomas Mann. Visconti forevs!!!

Carrie Hill Wilner

Hey hey Visconti fans! Yell it out and rock the stands! Gooooooooooooo Visconti!

AHHHH do you want to talk about gay Italians of the 1950s-80s forever? It is my second biggest topic of expertise. Kbai.


OMG me too! Can we have a moment of silence for Pasolini? Who was murdered in a likely gay-bashing in which he had his head run over repeatedly in a crime that was never solved :(

Carrie Hill Wilner

I took a date to see Salo in college. THERE was a moment of silence. If You Like: Some Gay Italian Filmmakers, Then You Will Love: Pier Vittorio Tondelli, amazing young writer who died of AIDS in 1990ish - he was maybe 35? Very little is translated (I only know of 1 story) but I bet you could figure out a Google Translate workaround.


OMG I want to leave work to watch this right now! 500% adore this feature. All of them, really, but this one the most!


Yay! You're back!
But this is moving so quickly... I didn't have time to read Dickens yet bc I got distracted by Jane Eyre which seemed important to read immediately after Villette (which made me cry... so i wanted to cry more? anyway!) I might skip Dickens. Gasp. May i still be in the hairpin book club? (I will not skip this movie, no way, uh-uh.)
Also...champagne! Champagne and books are my favorite things.

Carrie Hill Wilner

You hafta be beat out to leave the book club, it's not as simple as just skipping some Dickens. Hairpin4Lyfe. But that said, uhhh I think the next couple of these might be about short things (I mean, if they exist)bc I have a big stupid real-world thing I have to do? So I think you will have time to read the Dickens if you want to. KEEP UP WITH THE SYLLABUS.

Carrie Hill Wilner

Also now I feel like I got it wrong and maybe there is like, a shot of the back of Garibaldi's head in the movie?? (not real Garibaldi, that would be a skull). Did I make that up?

Katie Walsh


Also, Carrie, speaking of erotic non-sex scenes on celluloid, have you seen Elia Kazan's "Baby Doll"? The scene on the swing with Eli Wallach and Carroll Baker is just them talking and it's just so UNFFF HOT n SEXY FUNNY FEELING YOWZA. That's some good ish. Eli Wallach 4 Eva.


** I TOTALLY AM going to emerge from my mystic crazy lady cave to have weirdly hot/urgent sex in a muddy ditch with recently widowed Tom Builder, JUST SO YOU KNOW.


OK Carrie, I love this column and I'm putting this movie on my Netflix queue as we speak (multi-tasking!). BUT I am hung up on your description of Where Angels Fear to Tread as "not bad-sad" because I mean...the end? When that thing happens? And I can't hardly think about it and certainly can't read the book again. Ever. Even though it's awesome.

Carrie Hill Wilner

I hope to get into this! There are two things I think you could be talking about and you are probably talking about one of them. And you are right, I think it is a must read, but once. But, by not-bad-sad, I think I mean, not quite cathartic, but using sadness as a sense-maker? As opposed to Villette, where the actual sad thing isn't as sad (if we are thinking of the same sad thing) but it just takes the theme of sadness = chaos and multiplies it by a million? My secret theory was that Charlotte Bronte was martian sleeper cell come to be like, oh, earthlings, you are liking your little earth-minds? THEY ARE JOKES TO ME. The spaceships TK when we have all read VILLETTE VILLETTE VILLETTE.

hairdresser on fire

I added this to my Netflix Instant immediately, and not just because I watched the ENTIRE ballroom scene incredibly high one night and completely out of context on YouTube. No, it was the Drake. That song is a masterpiece=this movie is a masterpiece=SOLD


Pillars of the Earth was just like hotties-on-parade. Also, I've seen Rufus Sewell working out at my gym and he is aging like, real well guys. like super duper jean-creamer.


I appreciate this because he's pretty much the only reason I watched Pillars of the Earth. Well, and to watch Ian McShane be Ian McShane-y.

Carrie Hill Wilner

Uh I mentioned this comment to my friend/agent/fragent and she was like WHAT IS THIS GYM DETAILS PLEASE. Just describe the scene with total accuracy so i can send to her. uhh you can reach me at my name all squished together at gmail if you don't feel like posting Tom Builder softcore in public?


This is one of my favorite movies! So glad to see it "rediscovered." If you like this one, check out The Garden of the Finzi-Continis: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0065777/


Also, Martin Scorsese used this movie as a reference when he directed The Age of Innocence. You can clearly see its influence when you watch AoI.


Carrie! To be annoying and post about a different thing inside this thread - have you read Persuasion (Jane Austen)? Cos it shits all over Pride and Prej. Im new to your book club business here so maybe you have already addressed this? But it rocks the pants of all other Austens. Wentworth is a fox. A NAVAL OFFICER fox. Which now is not v exciting or foxy, but then? The uniforms? DROOOOOL.


Ok, I got curious about the whole bourbon etymology question, so I did a little more cursory Googlin', and I got this: "American corn whiskey, 1846, from Bourbon County, Kentucky, where it first was made, supposedly in 1789. Bourbon County was organized 1785, one of the nine established by the Virginia legislature before Kentucky became a state. The name reflects the fondness felt in the United States for the French royal family, and especially Louis XVI, in gratitude for the essential support he had given to the rebel colonists."

Aw, we love la France!


I have watched this movie a lot of times with my girlfriend, she loves it too and we often laugh by saying that this film is like a viral video for us. Claudia Cardinale is our favorite actress, she is very talented and hopefully we will see her appearance on the big screens.


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totally love this movie! A masterwork . . . A superb novel in the great tradition and the grand manner.

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