Reduce, but how?

Publish date 13-07-2023

by Davide Bracco

I am reading an interesting book on cinema, La bella confusion (ed. Einaudi), by the writer and screenwriter Francesco Piccolo which deals with the summer of 1963 when two of the greatest masterpieces of cinema, Eight and a Half by Federico Fellini and The Leopard by Luchino Visconti , were shot at the same time and of the many events that intersected between the two sets.

Piccolo dwells on the work of transposition that Visconti's trusted screenwriter, Suso Cecchi D'Amico, did starting from the text by Tomasi di Lampedusa. An unmatched example of fidelity and enhancement of a literary work, to the point that it is impossible to understand whether the novel or the film is better. Perfect both.

The debate on how to transpose a literary work to the cinema is age-old. On the one hand, those who think that the work must be translated as faithfully as possible for images and narrative development which, as such, must be reproduced as originally conceived. On the other hand, some believe that a re-updating of themes and contents is necessary which in doing so will bring them closer to contemporary thought. A discussion that affects other areas such as the updating of some operas.

These days there is talk of a TV series dedicated to the case of the first Italian female lawyer, the Piedmontese Lidia Poet who at the end of the 19th century had to fight so much to exercise the legal profession then closed to women. The series does not have a biographical intent in the strict sense, but uses Poet for legal thriller episodes in Umbertina Turin, however in a style that characterizes her as a modern young woman, with attitudes very similar to the adolescents of the 2000s. The motivation direction is probably to attract a teen audience capable of identifying with a historical figure who defended her rights and anticipated the demands of the women's movement, still in vogue among adolescents today. But this approach has disappointed traditionalists who believe that the memory of the Poet's commitment has been betrayed.

Other cases in recent years have involved other historical figures: a sensation was the way in which Sofia Coppola (the daughter of the great Francis) treated Marie Antoinette and her entourage in Versailles represented as vacuous girls in Beverly Hills at the beginning of the century (compare the two film Marie Antoinette of 2006 and Bling Ring of 2013). «There are no musical genres, but only good or bad music» said Leonard Bernstein: perhaps the only distinction is whether the transposition leads to a good or bad film/TV series. Nothing else.

Davide Bracco

NP Aprile 2023

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