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TCMFF 2016 Talks: Anna Karina and Gina Lollobrigida

July 7, 2016

As I noted in my last post, even though TCMFF 2016 wrapped over 2 months ago, I still have a lot of content to share, and I figure this blog is a better outlet than my phone's internal storage.


This time around, I have some snippets from discussions conducted at the fest with two cinema legends who hail from Europe: Anna Karina (who was in from France for a screening of 1964's Band of Outsiders) and Gina Lollobrigida (who was a special guest at the festival, attending screenings of 1956's Trapeze and 1968's Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell and participating in a Club TCM conversation with Leonard Maltin). 

Ben Mankiewicz and Anna Karina. My only hope is that Mankiewicz has a copy of this picture. (Photo by Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for Turner)

Band of Outsiders with star Anna Karina

Being that I've only watched a small number of Jean-Luc Godard's films, I've also managed to overlook all of his collaborations with Anna Karina, the director's muse and one time wife. As such, I felt I owed it to my film education to finally see Band of Outsiders, especially since Karina was traveling such a long way for TCMFF's screening (and a few others in LA and NYC).


Ben Mankiewicz kicked off his conversation with the French star by complimenting her on her style: "What does that mean?" she inquired. Oh, here we go...


I didn't know much about Karina beforehand, so parts of her discussion were eye opening, but I have to admit the most amusing part for me was simply observing Mankiewicz (try to) function in her presence.  Afterwards, some audience members took to social media to lightly admonish him for falling over himself a bit too much during the interview. While he definitely got his flirt on, I didn't really find it too distracting; it seemed more comical to me, if anything.

French poster for Bande à part (Band of Outsiders).

On breaking in to film

Born in Copenhagen, Karina was told that she wouldn't make it in the movies unless she had a parent who was an actor. She certainly showed those detractors! She left school at 14, and soon thereafter someone told her she'd make decent money as an extra in Danish films.  Around that same time, Karina was recruited for her first movie, 1959's short Pigen og skoene (roughly, The Girl and Shoes), which went on to win a prize in Cannes a few years later. (I think it was released and won Cannes in 1959.)


On meeting Jean-Luc Godard...and turning him down

After Karina moved to Paris, where she continued making shorts, Jean-Luc Godard spotted her in a Palmolive ad. Godard offered her a part in Breathless (1960) but told her she’d have to appear naked, which she adamantly refused. (He thought she was nude in the Palmolive spots, but she was actually clothed in a bathing suit and covered in suds.) “Just so everyone understands, you turned down a role in Breathless,” Mankiewicz uttered. “That’s right," Karina confirmed. Mankiewicz added later that Godard was going to write the Breathless part especially for Karina; the role does not exist in the film today.

Anna Karina at the Band of Outsiders screening. (Photo by Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for Turner)

On finally taking Godard up on an offer

Though Karina quickly forgot about Godard, one day after turning down Breathless she received a telegram from the director regarding another role. “Is that the guy with the dark glasses who asked me to take my clothes off?” she asked her friends. Indeed, it was.


This time around, Godard assured her she would remain clothed, as he was making a political film. With Karina still mastering French, she was weary of the serious sounding subject matter. Godard told her: “Don’t you worry about it; you just do what I tell you to do.” He wanted her to sign the contract right away, but she couldn’t because she was still underage. Karina called her mother in Copenhagen and "told her I was doing a political film with Jean-Luc Godard, and you have to come sign the contract. She hung up!” She finally convinced her mother to travel to Paris to sign the document, and that was it - no auditions or anything.


On the change in Karina and Godard's relationship from their first film, 1960's Le Petit Soldat, to Band of Outsiders

"Well, first of all, we fell in love and all," Karina replied. There certainly existed a mutual attraction between the two, but Karina recalled: "He would look at me like this, in a strange was very strange." Despite what Karina remembered as a weird gaze, Godard eventually won her over, and they were married until 1967.  

There were about 456301 adorable photos of Karina and Jean-Luc Godard online. Here is one of them. 

On the difficulties working with Godard

Godard didn't like scripts, because he thought that if he wrote one, in the end he wouldn't want to make the film anymore. In fact, the director would occasionally ask people around him to pen a few (random) pages if a producer or someone asked to see an actual script for one of his productions. That being said, Karina revealed that the actors learned lines each morning, and in a strange way, they "knew what we had to do."



The conversation wrapped with a brief discussion of the infamous dance sequence in Band of Outsiders. Karina said the actors rehearsed three weeks in a nightclub after work, but even so, you'll still see Sami Frey and Claude Brasseur periodically peering down at their feet in the final cut. Mankiewicz bluntly and humorously confessed that the men's performances in that scene didn't really matter, at least to him: "...I don't look at them, and neither does anyone else!" (OK, I don't really agree with that second part, but I'm sure there's someone out there who does.)

Gina Lollobrigida in discussion with Leonard Maltin at TCMFF 2016. (Photo by Mike Windle/Getty Images for Turner)

Gina Lollobrigida in Club TCM

"Cinema was very hard work, and I dedicated the best years of my life to it," Gina Lollobrigida told Leonard Maltin in Club TCM. From the portion of Lollobrigida's Club TCM conversation that I had the chance to listen to, I gather she was quite right! 


I try to make it a point to attend at least one event featuring TCMFF's special guests, and since neither of the movies Lollobrigida made an appearance at worked with my schedule, this Club TCM special was my last chance. I possessed only a little knowledge of Lollobrigida's film work beforehand, but this TCMFF bio of her intrigued me. I mean, this woman's achievements are INCREDIBLE. Not only has Lollobrigida spent decades traveling the world acting and documenting the planet through a humanitarian lens, but she's also directed documentaries, published books of her photos and showcased her sculptures and photography. Oh, and she's still on the go at 88 and may even have an exhibition of her drawings soon. How astonishing is that?

Lollobrigida photographed with some of her photos. I'm guessing this was from the 70s.

On getting her start in the film industry in Italy 

Lollobrigida originally said no when the movies came calling after World War II, because she didn't believe cinema was art. However, when she was informed she'd earn a fair amount of money in the business, she quickly changed her mind, because the war left her family with very little. Lollobrigida started her career as an extra, but her natural talent became apparent rather quickly; case in point: on one production she ended up outshining the star, who consequently fired her! Luckily, a makeup man on set recruited Lollobrigida as a hairdresser, so she stayed on the picture.


On keeping her last name

At the time she was making the French film Fan-Fan the Tulip (1952), Lollobrigida wasn't yet a household name. Those working on the movie thought her last name sounded too complicated, but by the time they told her to consider changing it, the title card had already been made, and it was too late. Everyone on set called her 'Lolo' for short, and the nickname stuck.


On Howard Hughes, who brought her out to Hollywood

Hughes initially purchased two plane tickets for Lollobrigida and her husband to travel to Los Angeles. As could have been predicted, though, Hughes changed his mind and only offered her a ticket in the end, and Lollobrigida's husband supported her going on her own. When Maltin asked her what Hughes was really like, she joked: "Everyone wants to know about that...I want to keep something for my bio!"


On her first American picture, John Huston's Beat the Devil (1953)

Lollobrigida's excitement for the assignment was soon replaced by anxiety when David O. Selznick informed her that they no longer needed her services on the film; he even added that they'd still pay her full salary if she'd walk away. However, since Lollobrigida signed a contract, she insisted on staying. In reality, Selznick was nervous about Lollobrigida's beauty upstaging his wife, Jennifer Jones.           


Fun fact: At the time, Lollobrigida was still learning English. While on set, star Humphrey Bogart advised her: "Don't study English anymore. If you lose this accent it would be a pity!"

Lollobrigida with a blonde Jennifer Jones and Humphrey Bogart in Beat the Devil.  

On her first international hit, Trapeze (1956)

Though Lollobrigida had two doubles for Trapeze, she also rehearsed with the apparatus for six months. That training came in handy when one of her doubles broke her nose, and Lollobrigida found herself stepping in!


On another note, star Burt Lancaster, who was also a producer on the picture, thought he could rule the set and at times would start to give directions, according to the actress. Since Lollobrigida respected director Carol Reed, when Lancaster tried to coach her, she replied: "Mr. Lancaster, I came here to be directed by Carol Reed." Lancaster eventually realized his wrongdoing, and he and Lollobrigida were friendly from there on out.


On a BIG difference between making movies in Italy and America during the 50s and 60s

Lollobrigida explained that sound wasn't recorded on film in the Italian industry at that time; it was dubbed afterwards. If that wasn't hard enough to deal with, sometimes the dialogue

changed after the movie was in the can, or other times, distributors requested to alter lines for different versions. "I wanted to protect what I did as a work," Lollobrigida explained, when speaking about her desire to dub all her own dialogue. Luckily, she had good ears from singing so dubbing wasn't too difficult for her.


On 1959's Solomon and Sheba, which turned out to be a very tragic and tough movie to shoot

Star Tyrone Power passed away with about two weeks left in production after filming a duel with George Sanders. Lollobrigida recalled that he wasn't feeling well that day, went outside, told her not to worry and then collapsed. She gave him her shawl and directed someone to take her car to rush him to the hospital, but it was too late.


The emotional experience of losing her co-star was a lot to bear, because Lollobrigida was very close to Power and felt a deep physical bond with him. That palpable connection they shared was apparent in an amusing story Lollobrigida told involving Power: director King Vidor yelled cut after shooting a particularly romantic scene, but apparently neither Power nor Lollobrigida heard him, and they just kept right on kissing! "That was very strange. It was not a relationship, just physical - I'm a woman, he's a man. That's it," she laughed.

Lollobrigida and Tyrone Power in Solomon and Sheba.

Yul Brynner assumed Power's role, but that wasn't all; he also treaded a bit on Vidor's territory as well. Though Lollobrigida thought Vidor was a great director, according to her he wasn't all there while helming this particular movie. In fact, she said at one point she suddenly realized that she and Brynner were actually calling the shots! She was nice about it, but Brynner...not so much. Despite the tragedy and shake-ups, the movie proved financially successful.


On switching up her artistic focus later in her career

Eventually, good scripts were harder and harder for Lollobrigida to come by, and consequently she placed her artistic drive in other outlets, such as photography and sculpture. By taking herself out of the spotlight, she figured she'd be able to lead a quieter life; however, Lollobrigida's movies have certainly kept her in the public eye, and her fame has lasted decades, to her amazement: "I'm still popular now, and I'm surprised!"


Well, I was definitely not surprised, judging by the number of people crammed into Club TCM for her conversation with Maltin, and I can only assume no one else in that room was either!

thanks for stopping by!

I See a Dark Theater is a website dedicated to classic movie-going—and loving—in the City of Angels. Whether it's coverage on screenings, special presentations, or Q&As around Los Angeles that you're looking for, or commentary on the wonderful and sometimes wacky world of classic cinema, you've come to the right place for a variety of pieces written with zeal, awe, and (occasionally) wit. Enjoy.

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