A Room with a View, still ravishing after all these years.

 

The ravishing film, of course, was based upon the book of the same title by E.M. Forster.  The book is a lovely read, but honestly, I think Where Angels Fear to Tread by the same author and on the same period is far better.

 

 

In 1985, A Room with a View was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.  The film won three awards, for Jhabvala’s adaptation of Forster’s novel, for Best Costume and for Best Production Design.
A Room With a View was also voted Best Film of the year by the Critic’s Circle Film Section of Great Britain, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, the National Board of Review in the United States and in Italy, where the film won the Donatello Prize  for Best Foreign Language Picture and Best Director.
US director James Ivory awarded with the 'Fiorino d'Oro', Florence, Italy - 05 Oct 2017
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What if?

What if you woke up today in Florence and decided you wanted to live in a fantasy world?

Let’s say you thought to yourself  “wouldn’t it be cool if I could go into a Renaissance palace in the center of Florence, and be a welcome guest?”

And, further, wouldn’t it be groovy if, when you were in that Renaissance palace, as a welcome guest, you could sit down for a while on a very comfortable, velvet covered chair, and enjoy a glass of nice local wine, while something amazing entertains you.

And, to increase the fantasy, what if this entire experience was air-conditioned, while Florence sizzles in the heat of the summer outside?

And what if I told you that this is actually not a fantasy, but something you could truly experience?!  How fast would you beat it there?

 

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One of my favorite places in Florence ticks all of the boxes above.  I love going to this place!

The classic art nouveau/deco interior is gilded and gorgeous and makes an average evening at the movies feel like an elegant affair!  And an added bonus is, it has air conditioning!  A great place to pass a summer evening in broiling Florence.

So, let’s start with the building, which is the Palazzo Stozzino, constructed in 1450s and 60s.  Here t’is!

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Work on the palace began in 1457. None other than Filippo Brunelleschi is thought to have designed it, but several other architects, among them Michelozzo, also had a hand in the edifice. The façade is attributed to Michelozzo, at least in the lower part, with its rusticated stone facing. Higher floors have been changed during various periods of renovation; they were changed a lot in the 19th century. 

Inside the Renaissance palace was a courtyard surrounded by an elegant porch with columns; it is thought Michelozzo designed the cortile and that it was built around 1460. The Palazzo Strozzino took its name after the larger Palazzo Strozzi.

The entire area around the palazzi Strozzi and Strozzini was changed during the 1860s, when Florence became the capitol of Italy.  Many buildings were razed.  Fortunately, these two palaces were spared.

The story goes that it was the suggestion of a famous Italian actress, Eleonora Duse, to transform the Strozzino into a cinema. Apparently the people who owned the palace in the 1920s were considering turning the building into a luxury hotel.  Duse is said to have convinced them into building this stately cinema instead. 

At any rate, it was somehow decided to create a cinema in the Strozzino’s courtyard. The Cinema Teatro Savoia was designed by noted architect Marcello Piacentini in 1920 and finished in 1922; the theatre was lavishly inaugurated in December of 1922.

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At the same time, two of the palace’s facades were redesigned, and a circular temple-shaped lantern was placed on a corner with bronze nude efibici, by the sculptor Marescalchi. 

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Inside the cinema, the sculptor Giovanni Gronchi created the lacunars and stucco plaques, and sculptor Antonio Maraini designed the three Muses in gilded and polychromed wood on the boccascena.  Other specialized artists and firms created the elaborate decorative interior.

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The theatre was later re-named Cinema Teatro Odeon, and it is now operated by the Cinehall Group. It remains a first-run single screen cinema. Many films are shown in their original language version (with Italian sub-titles).

The Odeon has long been a preferred meeting point for members of Florentine cultural and artistic life.  Guests such as Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald visited the theatre, as have directors and actors of Italian neorealist cinema, as well as contemporary artists such as Isabelle Adjani, Angelica Houston, Bernando Bertolucci, Kenneth Branagh, Roberto Benigni, Nanni Moretti and Paolo Sorrentino.

The prestigious and elegant spaces of the Cinema Odeon Theater include  a large open room, with a stage holding the movie screen, and has a total capacity of 594 seats, divided into the large stall (with 334 seats) and stylish balcony (seats 260).

Fortunately for us, the Odeon still maintains the harmony and beauty of its original art deco/nouveau style; its tapestries, statues, and colored glass skylight are admired by its many visitors.

The original furnishings of the grand room were red velvet; the furnishings were renewed in 1987 and replaced with yellow gold velvet. Theoriginal wooden chairs remain in the balconies. 
On Via dei Sassetti a plaque reads: "Built in the MCMXXII on behal of S.A. Toscano Immobiliare Sindacato - Restored in the MCMXXXVIII".

The Odeon Cinema is a vibrant cultural centre, often hosting cinema
festivals. One of the leading is “50 Giorni di Cinema Internazionale”, which takes place in winter, showcasing movies and directors from
diverse cultures.

In addition to the entertainment venues and offices of the German Management, the building houses the Departmental Department of Tobacco Growth and the Department of Economic Development of the City of Florence, and in the basement a historic disco, the Yab.

Palazzo Strozzi: an incredible, historic building now repurposed as a superb exhibition space

The Palazzo Strozzi is a superb example of Renaissance civil noble residential architecture in the historic center of Florence.  And it has been repurposed to delightful service of the modern world.

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Today the palace is used for temporary international expositions, like the one I viewed yesterday, devoted to Bill Viola.

 

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Before looking at the exhibition, let’s discuss the incredible building:

Filippo Strozzi the Elder (1428 – 1491), the banker and statesman, commissioned the structure after his return to Florence in November of 1466.

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As a major Medici rival, Strozzi wanted to build the most magnificent home in the city to assert his family’s prominence.  The palace may as well have been intended as a political statement of his own status.  Based on the wishes of Strozzi himself, the palazzo would be built to look like a small fortress in the heart of the city.

The palace was begun in 1489 and designed by Benedetto da Maiano.

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The Strozzi palace was clearly inspired by the Palazzo Medici, with its rusticated stone exterior, but it is much larger and has more harmonious proportions than its predecessor.  Whereas the Palazzo Medici was sited on a corner lot and thus has only two main sides, the Stozzi is surrounded on all four sides by streets. The Strozzi palace faces the historical  and fashionable Via de’ Tornabuoni, as well as the Piazza Strozzi and on Via Strozzi. The building thus required three imposing entranceways, each flanked by rectangular windows. The Strozzi family’s coat of arms is found in the upper floors.

The siting of the Strozzi in the center major streets provided the challenge of how to integrate a cross-axis in keeping with the Renaissance desire for strict internal symmetry.  As a result, the ground plan of Palazzo Strozzi is rigorously symmetrical on its two axes.

The Strozzi family acquired a great number of buildings in this area were acquired during the 70s and demolished them all to to provide enough space for his new home.

The original architect, Benedetto da Maiano, died in 1497; Simone del Pollaiolo (il Cronaca) took over and was responsible for the completion of the palace. Pollaiolo died in Florence in 1508, but is credited with the design and finish of the central courtyard or cortile, surrounded by an arcade inspired by Michelozzo.

The external facade is adnorned with splendid torch holders, flag holders and rings to tie horses made by Niccolò di Nofri, an iron-worker known as il Caparra.

Unfortunately, Filippo Strozzi died in 1491, long before the construction’s completion in 1538.  Strozzi’s children were the first to live in the palazzo, moving in around 1505.  Ironically, Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici confiscated the palazzo in the same year, not returning it to the Strozzi family until thirty years later.

The palazzo remained the seat of the Strozzi family. Although the family lived in Rome for centuries, the palazzo was returned to its original splendour in the mid-1800s with the Princess Antonietta, and then with Prince Piero, who, from 1886 to 1889, had the building renovated by architect Pietro Berti.  In 1937 the family sold the building to the Istituto Nazionale delle Assicurazioni, and many changes were made to the edifice.  It was later given to the city of Florence in 1999. It is now home to the Institute of Humanist Studies and to the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi.

Since July 2006, the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi has been able to create a rich and innovative calendar of events and exhibits, in these areas of the building: Piano Nobile, la Strozzina and Il Cortile.

The Gabinetto G.P. Viesseux and the Renaissance Studies Institute both have also occupied the building since 1940.  Here also is the seat of the Istituto Nazionale del Rinascimento and the noted Gabinetto Vieusseux, with a library and reading room.

Today the palace is used for temporary international expositions like the now-annual antique show, founded as the Biennale dell’Antiquariato in 1959, fashion shows and other cultural and artistic events.

 

 

 

 

Allora, on to Bill Viola and his video art.

In the exhibition “Electric Renaissance,” Viola seems to have taken certain Renaissance masterpieces and created video dialogues with them.  I would say he is tremendously fortunate to have been able to borrow the original Italian artworks and, even if you don’t love Viola’s work, you will be rewarded with a small, select group of historic masterworks.  For example:

Here’s his dialogue between his video of 3 contemporary women greeting each other, in relationship to Pontormo’s

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Other installations stand on their own.  This screen is about 200 feet long by 15 feet high.

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Let’s go to Marrakech for a minute!

I recently watched the 2015 Nicole Kidman film, Queen of the Desert. The movie chronicles the life of a fascinating Brit, Gertrude Bell. It’s a beautifully produced film and features some interior shots of the world-famous hotel in Marrakech, La Maoumania.  One thing always leads to another, and thanks to the internet, we can make a quick trip to Marrakech.

I highly recommend the film, as well as Morocco.  I was lucky enough to spend a month there a few years ago and I loved it.

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http://www.mamounia.com/en/intro.htm

Next up, Sabrina, if you please!

The year is 1954 and Audrey Hepburn is 25 years old. Following the amazing success of Roman Holiday released in 1953, Hollywood couldn’t wait to produce another film with her.  Having won the Oscar and other awards for her role in Roman Holiday, Audrey was seen as solid gold.

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Billy Wilder was the next director to have the good fortune to direct Miss H in a film, and that movie was Sabrina.

In the picture below, Mr. Wilder gives the actress direction near Wall Street in New York.

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Sabrina was designed to showcase Miss H, which it most certainly and admirably accomplished.

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Unfortunately, the 65 year old Humphrey Bogart (supposedly Cary Grant was offered the role but turned it down) was cast as Sabrina’s love interest, which bends the credulity of even the most rabid fans of the lovely actress.  And I like Humphrey Bogart a lot!  But she was 25 to his 65.  Crazy.

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You may freely call me any form of crazy, but I sense in all these stills of Hepburn and Bogart that she was just not comfortable with the roles they were playing opposite of each other.

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And I further think that some of the candid shots taken on the set further reveals her discomfort. One of these is above.

And, if you think I am hallucinating, compare the candid shots of Bogart with Miss H to the ones below with William Holden and Miss H.  I think you’ll see what I mean!

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If Audrey H wasn’t enjoying William Holden’s presence, I will eat my hat.

Her confidence with him shows through in the film and in publicity stills.

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Audrey Hepburn

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William Holden played the role of Humphrey Bogarts’s younger brother in the movie. He is much more believable as Miss H’s innamorato, for Holden was only 11 years her senior.

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But, whatever.  It was what it was.  We have another great black and white film on which to gaze at the beautiful, sylph-like star.

Let’s take a look at her in various moments in the film:

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In her role as young Sabrina before her trip to Paris.  She helps her dad, the chauffeur, wash a car.  She has one eye on her unrequited love object, the character played by William Holden.

Ready for a game of indoor tennis in a Givenchy ballgown below.

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Waiting for a ride at the Long Island train station after her 2 year sojourn of culinary training in Paris.

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Tres chic, mademoiselle!

Giving new elegance to a Manhattan boardroom:

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The current television show, Mad Men, could well have used the boardroom from Sabrina as a role model for set design.  I bet they did.

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My favorite part of the movie are the scenes of her at the Paris culinary school!

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Maybe I love them just because they show the Eiffel Tower in a snowfall out the cooking school window.  Nah.  It’s because of Audrey.

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I mean, look at her!

Once again, Edith Head had the pleasure of overseeing the costumes for Sabrina, as she did for Roman Holiday and Funny Face. However, the film includes gowns designed by the famed French couturier, Hubert de Givenchy, seen here:

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It is said that Miss Hepburn personally chose the dresses she wore in the movie from Givenchy’s choices.  Both the designer and Miss H were mutually enchanted with each other, thus beginning a lifelong association.

In fact, Monsieur de Givenchy would specially design a perfume for his glamorous friend and muse, Audrey, in 1957. He named it L’interdit, which means “forbidden” in French. The fragrance became the House of de Givenchy’s first cult scent. The scent has a delicate, floral, powdery aroma, with notes of rose, jasmine, violet and, at the heart, a blend of woods and grasses. The sophisticated classic scent is as elegant and lovely as its original wearer.

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But Miss Head won an Oscar for Sabrina, whether or not her role was as large in its production as assumed.

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Whatever the real stories behind the making of the film were, we have the vehicle for more Audrey Hepburn, and that is good enough for me!

One last look at the radiant star:

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Au revoir!