Sunday, May 1, 2011

Cinecitta' revived, Janus Films co-founder dies

Things were down but not apparently out at Italy’s venerable Cinecitta' studio.  This is an Italian national treasure which has been used by such directors as Luchino Visconti, Federico Fellini, Vittorio de Sica and Bernardo Bertolucci. Government arts cuts had put the studio on the verge of having to sell some priceless props to stay in business. But the government eventually came through providing, not unlike Michigan’s tax breaks, 25 per cent of the money that foreign producers spend when making productions there.  That made Cinecitta' more competitive with other European filmmaking capitals. Cinecitta' is a weird mix of private and public enterprise. But the funding was such it has revived the studio to the point where it is thinking of now expanding with a new sound stage, offices, hotel and restaurants. Perhaps little known is that the studio was created by Mussolini. Fascists loved art that glorified the country!

Meanwhile, in the I-had-no-idea department, the man who founded the art house distribution label, Janus Films, has died. Cyrus Harvey, 85, died April 14, in Connecticut. Harvey co-founded Janus in 1956. The business was an outgrowth of his Cambridge, Mass’s Brattle Theatre (which still exists in its hip intellectual glory). He and partner Bryant Haliday transformed what had been a live theatre to a cinema. Janus has distributed films by such luminaries as Bergman, Fellini and Kurosawa. Also fascinating is that Harvey and wife Rebecca started the Crabtree & Evelyn consumer soap products chain. This stemmed from their obsession with flowers and herbs. The Janus logo is of the Roman god who has two faces pointing in opposite directions. Why? Said Rebecca: “They named it that because they themselves were opposites. Bryant was gay and Catholic. Cy was straight and Jewish.”

Just caught Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler (who used to live in Canada though Scottish-born) in 2009’s The Ugly Truth. The flick is good for a few laughs about the war between the sexes. (Everyone says there is, right?) The story works because it plays on opposite stereotypes – Heigl as TV producer Abby Richter and Butler as Male Chauvinist Pig (do they still use that term?) Mike Chadway. Loveless Abby is looking for a modern sensitive man who among other things loves cats. Then she collides with caveman Mike whose cable access show The Ugly Truth, which purports to explain that all men are, at heart, simple, base creatures with really only lust on their minds. Apoplectic at first Abby eventually falls under Mike’s spell. Predictable – you bet. But the one-liners keep coming and Butler is hilarious. Butler himself is definitely worth a look. This ambitious, pick-him-up-by-his-own bootstraps, actor’s resume includes Tomorrow Never Dies, Attila and Wes Craven’s Dracula 2000, designed just for him.

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