Ah, such goodies I have for you.
Many of you will already know from whence I speak. I’ve a book and movie by the same name to recommend. Here’s what Bosley Crowther, movie reviewer for The New York Times, had to say Aug. 13, 1963: “The film that Luchino Visconti and his star, Burt Lancaster, have made from Giuseppe di Lampedusa's fine novel ‘The Leopard’ is a stunning visualization of a mood of melancholy and nostalgia at the passing of an age.”
“The Leopard” was published in 1958, and made into a movie five years later. I highly recommend that you first read the book and then Netflix the movie. The writing in the book is spot-on marvelous. The movie is gorgeous.
It’s Burt Lancaster as the lead that makes the movie so fascinating to watch. Lancaster plays a Sicilian prince in 1860s Italy. Everything is changing. His world is disintegrating. But what’s a prince to do? He hunts. He reads. He conducts scientific experiments. He carouses. He leads his family. He debates with the family priest. He’s sexy. Ironic. He’s a modern man (of sorts) lamenting the loss of his privileged status. He has faults. What man hasn’t? But as one English lady observed of the prince, after reading the book: “There is a man I could have loved.” And how difficult could it be to have loved the likes and looks of Lancaster?
I cannot specifically remember how I first came to read “The Leopard,” but I was still an impressionable teenager. I missed the movie’s release in 1963, probably not seeing it until Blockbuster Video opened in the late 1980s. What I do vividly recall was my utter fascination with the author’s creation of the primary character, the prince, a man at the pinnacle of the social order who clearly understood that his day in the sun was inexorably passing. Not only was Italian nobility being replaced by — of all things! — a bourgeoisie middle class, but the Prince was now one of the “old ones at the dance.”
I could easily live in Italy today. The land, the food, the history, the art, the climate, the people – Italy is a grand experience. And to have, once-upon-a-time, lived there as a prince on 700-year-old estates, well, sign me up.
Burt Lancaster was born in 1913 and was 50 years old when “The Leopard” was released. He looks about as good as a man can look (in life/or movie). He’s trim. He’s fit. He’s handsome. He’s educated. But he’s melancholy. Life, alas, hasn’t stopped, hasn’t paused even briefly for him, a prince no less. Time unfortunately does not defer to title or social class.
The last 45 minutes of the movie is a gaudy, extravagant ball where the Prince dances with a rapturous Claudia Cardinale, whose character, Angelica, is described in the book as “tall and well made, on an ample scale; her skin looked as if it had the flavor of fresh cream, which it resembled . . . and emanating from her whole person was the invincible calm of a woman sure of her beauty.” So lush a woman that one man upon first seeing her could “feel the veins pulsing in his temples.”
I’d cry, too, as does the prince in the movie. So much beauty in life – sigh – so quickly gone.
“The Leopard” captures that dichotomy of human experience, hmmm, shall we say, beautifully.
Jepson is a 24-year resident of Florida. He’s fiscally conservative, socially liberal, likes art and embraces diversity of opinion. Reach him at [email protected]