All this fuss about Coronavirus and the curtailing of the Venice carnival casts a new light on the small but significant collection of films set in Venice, notably Visconti’s Death in Venice, which I hate, and Nic Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, which I love. These two films feel particularly relevant to me because a very good friend of mine was at this year’s carnival with her young son, and the images of carnival masques giving way to surgical masks led, in turn, to a vision of my friend running through the backstreets of Venice, clutching her fear-stricken child in the midst of an epidemic, and this felt like it could be the defining scene of a film, almost the modern-day Death in Venice or Don’t Look Now.
There are so many things to love about Roeg’s adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s creepy short story: the wintry shots of the Grand Canal; the terrifying sisters, one of whom – the blind, psychic one – tells Julie Christie that her dead daughter is alive and well and not to worry about her; there’s THAT infamous sex scene with Christie and Donald Sutherland, and an even more extraordinary scene in which the Don suddenly snaps and tells his wife that their daughter is dead. “Dead, you hear me? Dead!” he screams at her, and never has grief been shown to divide a couple so absolutely, so painfully, on screen.
Then there’s the ground-breaking editing and narrative structure. Don’t Look Now is a kaleidoscope of a film, mirroring the mosaic which Sutherland is painstakingly repairing in one of the churches. Blood crawls across pieces of glass, a recurring motif which warns you that, yep, something bad is gonna happen, and happen it does, in the jaw-dropping final sequence, itself a visual echo chamber of Roger Corman’s Poe adaptation Masque of the Red Death. Roeg was, of course, the cinematographer on that film, and Far From The Madding Crowd, before he became, like, Britain’s best film-maker ever (though Ken Russell and Michael Powell might have something to say about THAT!)
But the best thing about Don’t Look Now is its Italian title. My brother Matt once told me it was retitled Winter in Venice with the Red Dwarf for the Italian market, which is a bit of a give-away but it’s actually called In Venice… A Shocking Red December, which is just as literal but holds something in reserve at least, as if I had written a script about my friend and called it Carnival… A Panic-Stricken February. I mean, you wouldn’t know it was about corona-virus, would you?
And didn’t Steven Spielberg pinch the recurring image of the red child/red dwarf for his otherwise monochrome Schindler’s List? Who knows? One thing’s for sure – Ken Russell enjoyed himself jokily referencing Death in Venice in his bio-pic of Mahler. I love Ken, but I’m no fan of Mahler’s music, or Visconti, or Dirk Bogarde, so Death in Venice is just one long yawn fest for me. I mean to say, who wants mascara running down Dirty Dirk’s mustachioed face while he dies on the Lido? It doesn’t even have the saving grace of some nice travelogue scenes. Bristol’s own Richard Kwietniowski then did a take on Death in Venice with his adaptation of Gilbert Adair’s novel, Love and Death in Long Island, in which old fogey writer John Hurt has the hots for teen heart throb Jason Priestly, but Oliver Curtis’ cinematography aside, the less said about THAT the better!
Which only leaves The Comfort of Strangers, yet another literary adaptation, this time from Ian McEwan. I mean, what’s the fucking problem? Don’t film-makers and screenwriters have their own ideas? Do you think Gillo Pontecorvo needed a novel to inspire him when he made The Battle of Algiers? Of course he didn’t. He had the Algerian people and their heroic struggle against French imperialism. Anyway, The Comfort of Strangers was directed by Paul Schrader, and it has Christopher Walken at his menacing best, and is infinitely more entertaining than Death in Venice because the death (yes, something very bad happens) involves a lot of blood, just like Don’t Look Now, which it is of course copying. And given the blood-letting in both films, Don’t Look Now and Comfort of Strangers are really more like ebola movies than coronavirus movies, and Death in Venice is of course a cholera movie, which they don’t make as many of as they used to. It behoves me, therefore, to actually make my coronavirus movie before we all die of it.
Stop the press: there’s one more Venice movie I’ve been made aware of, but haven’t seen. The Tourist stars Johnny Depp and Angelina “Ballerina” Jolie, and was co-written by Tory twat Julian “Downton Abbey” Fellowes, so the chances of me ever watching it were pretty low, even before I copped the trailer.