A Calm Surface, an Inner Rawness: 'World Film Locations: Florence'

Like the other entires in the World Film Locations series, this Florence installment acts as a great starting point for serious scholars of film.

World Film Locations: Florence

Publisher: Intellect
Length: 123 pages
Editor: Alberto Zambenedetti
Format: Paperback
Publication date: 2014-10

The World Film Locations series, published by Intellect Books, is a true treasure for scholars, film buffs, and world travelers alike. With each book dedicated to a different international city and edited by an academic specializing in the cinematic wonders of that specific city, every entry in the series offers readers a passionate and in-depth look at some of the world's most enchanting cultural capitals and how they have contributed to the world of film.

To-date, the series has covered Los Aneles, Tokyo, London, New York, Dublin, Paris, Mandrid, Instanbul, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Vienna, Reykjavik, Berlin, Mumbai, Melbourne, Helsinki, Chicago, Glasglow, Marseilles, Vancouver, Venice, Glasgow, Barcelona, Sao Paulo, Prague, Liverpool, San Francisco, Hong Kong, Boston, Toronto, Shanghai, Moscow, Rome, Havanna, Syndney, Buenos Aires, Sigapore, Beijing, and Washington D.C.

Like the medium of film itself, each of these books takes a visual approach to their content. Every page is packed with illustrations, city maps, or location photographs, and the carefully chosen movie stills from an elastic mix of films are accompanied by brief but insightful texts. The real value of these books, however, is in the essays covering the themes, directors, and key historical periods that relate directly and intimately to the city.

Edited by Alberto Zambenedetti, contributors to this anthology look at some of the very best of the hundreds of films shot in Florence and the role the city itself plays in these films. As Zambeneddetti explains in his introduction, directors have generally taken two approaches when filming in Florence: "some have been so enamored with its calm, glistening surface that they have not attempted to get to its core, its inner rawness, its violent past," while "others have tried to engage its mystery, scratching the glossy patina and finding beauty in its troubled history."

For most of the world, Florence is known through the eyes of a tourist, and in the opening essay, "Views From the Grand Tour(ist)", Eleanor Andrews examines the city from the perspective of a tourist. She looks at A Room With a View (1985) The Portrait of a Lady (1996) and Tea With Mussolini (1999). The protagonists in all three of these films are Englishwomen who are visiting Florence. As Andrews points out, their time spent in the city highlights the differences between English and Italian culture, specifically the Anglo-Saxon stereotypes of Italian culture.

Anglo-Saxon stereotypes of Italy, and Florence in particular, are often rooted in ideals surrounding the Renaissance. In "Florentine Artists on Film", Nathaniel J. Donahue looks at how this legendary time period that marks perhaps mankind's greatest explosion of creative energy has been represented in film. He writes of how even today the Florentine cityscape evokes what we imagine the Renaissance to have been like, and how movies have long taken advantage of this timeless setting to tell the stories of the era's greatest figures, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, in films like The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965) and television series like Da Vinci's Demons (2013).

But in spite of Florence's timeless, Renaissance evoking setting, there's a darker side to the city that contrasts the artistic beauty that it's so well known for. Not only does the infamous serial killer, Hannibal Lector, choose Florence as his hideout in Hannibal (2001), the sequel to The Silence of the Lambs (1991), but as as Dom Holdaway writes in his essay, "Florence After Dark", the city's dark side has a long history, "one of embittered political fighting and religious repressions during the Middle Ages, political assassinations during the reign of the Medici... through to wars and fights for independence with several European nations and infamous bloodshed at the hands of the 'Monster of Florence' more recently." Holdaway's essay outlines the films that have exposed this underbelly of Florence, including those that present historical representations of the city, satiric attacks of its policies, and dark perspectives from outsiders.

With "Rolling Hills, Scorching Sun", Pasquale Iannone reminds us that Florence is located in the heart of the beautiful Tuscany landscape that has inspired "hundreds if not thousands of filmmakers who have since the very beginnings of cinema been drew an to its timeless beauty." Some of the more prominent films that have fed off the beautiful outdoor landscapes surrounding Florence include The Lovemakers (1961), The Taming of the Shrew (1967), Stealing Beauty (1996), and The English Patient(1997). Iannone writes of how in some of these films the landscape "is charged with poetic and symbolic significance" that often overshadows the characters that spot it.

If the Tuscany landscape surrounding Florence sometimes overshadows a film's characters, the Tuscan food complements them. As Brendan Hennessey writes in "Bread, Wine and Celluloid", the food of this region and the eating of it is often "carries distinct symbolic, metaphysical and spiritual values." The food eaten in Florence, according to Hennessey, is an emblem of the "joy, anxiety, desire and deprivation experienced by its people", and many filmmakers have used food imagery to express both the emotions and motivations of their main characters. Hennessey goes on to provide some examples from films like The Bicycle Thieves (1948), La dolce vita (1960), and Under the Tuscan Sun (2003). Most of the analysis, however, focuses on the acts of cooking and eating and what they suggest in these films rather than on the food itself.

The last essay, "From Dante to Machiavelli", covers the films that often first come to mind when one thinks of Florence; the films that are adapted from early Italian literary masterpieces. In this essay, Barbara Garbin writes of the many adaptations of Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy (1308-21) such as Dante's Inferno (1911), the very first Italian feature, as well as the American produced version in 1924, and then the Spencer Tracy vehicle in 1935, and finally one titled Go Down Death in 1945. Giovanni Boccaccio's (1313-70) collection of 100 novellas titled Decameron has an equally lengthy history of cinematic adaptations, and Garbin touches upon them all as well.

When taken together, these essays paint a beautifully diverse picture of Florence and its relationship with the cinema. They help explain how film is helping shape our view of the city, what role the city has in film, and how the medium of film can help us better understand the city and its people. Meanwhile, the many scene breakdowns from upwards of fifty movies set in Florence including everything from September Affair (1950) to It Happened in Rome (1957), to Obsession (1974), to The Meadow (1979), and on to Miracle at St. Anna (2009) divide and support each essay, but also help give the book a welcoming pace and a structure that invites readers to return to the book time and time again.

Like the other entires in the World Film Locations series, this Florence installment acts as a great starting point for serious scholars of film just beginning to research the city of Florence and its movies, film buffs with an interest in the city, or world travelers looking to add a point of reference to their adventures.


The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.