By John H. Foote
One of the World cinema’s greatest filmmakers, Italian Director Bernardo Bertolucci has died.
Bertolucci won the Academy Award for Best Director for his exquisite biography of Pu Yi in The Last Emperor (1987). China’s last Emperor before a communist state overthrew the Imperialist government, the film traces the life of this tragic character whose life is both ironic and tragic. The film won all nine Academy Awards it was nominated for.
Bertolucci first came to prominence with The Conformist (1971) but it was Last Tango in Paris (1973) that rocketed him to the world stage in cinema. Stunning in its execution, bold in its portrayal of sexuality, and containing an astonishing, almost entirely improvised performance from Marlon Brando, the film absolutely stunned film critics with its staggering realism. Brando was nominated for Best Actor, Bertolucci for Best Director, each well deserved for a film that is without question a soaring work of art.
His epic 1900 (1977) received mixed reviews, while Luna (1979) a haunting film about an incestuous relationship between mother and son ran into trouble with the censors. The film contains a daring performance from the great Jill Clayburgh that was deserving of Oscar attention.
In the years after winning his Academy Award for The Last Emperor he continued to work on a grand scale, The Sheltering Sky (1990) magnificent in scope and again anchored by a great Debra Winger performance. However, his war with Miramax and Harvey Weinstein deeply hurt him, and would begin his withdrawal from cinema.
Little Buddha (1993) was a huge, opulent film, beautifully shot, but Weinstein protested the length and refused to release the film. Weinstein even had one of his in-house editors cut a version of the film to show the director, who, horrified fled the meeting. Later, after much thought, he realized the film would never come out without the cuts, so he gave in and took out more than Weinstein wanted. It did not matter, the film flopped. The casting of Keanu Reeves could not have helped.
The Dreamers (2003) was his last film of note, an interesting, highly sexual study of three friends coping with life.
I had the pleasure of interviewing the director in 2003 and was greeted with a warm handshake and his undivided attention. For nearly an hour we chatted and when it was time to go, he embraced me, kissing each cheek. “You and I, are kindred spirits in our love of cinema” he told me.
Rest well sir. In movies you are immortal. Your work is forever.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.