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Retrospective 2013 dedicated to George Cukor

Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant in George Cukor's The Philadelphia Story, 1940

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The retrospective for the 66th edition of the Festival del film Locarno will be dedicated to the Hollywood director George Cukor.

For some years now the Festival has undertaken a re-reading of classical American cinema, showing how much it still has to say to us today. Following the retrospectives devoted to those who left Europe for America or have taken a look at Europe from America, we felt it was an opportune moment to culminate this exploration with one of the purest examples of the consummate art and craftsmanship of Hollywood cinema. The director of numerous massively successful films, George Cukor has been so identified with the sophisticated style and luxurious settings dear to the studios that he has suffered from being characterised merely as a supremely skilled master of the art of adaptation. However, reviewing his fifty-plus films again today reveals, instead, an artist who best conveyed the essence of that form of cinema which, while appearing to dwell on the superficial appearance of things, in fact casts a deeply searching light on the essentials. A great director of actors, both female (Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, Ingrid Bergman, Judy Garland, Ava Gardner, Sophia Loren, Marilyn Monroe, Jane Fonda) and male (Cary Grant, Spencer Tracy, Charles Boyer, Anthony Quinn), Cukor often used his actors to cast a critical look at the world of show business, of which he was himself a part. Over the course of his long career, from the early sound era and continuing until the 1980s, Cukor contributed to developing the art of cinema as a tool with which to think about the world as well as an intelligent form of entertainment.

George Cukor was born in New York on July 7, 1899. He was the only son in a Jewish but secular family that originated in Hungary. He started out in theatre, in 1928. Film had just begun to use sound as part of its expressive vocabulary, and Cukor – like other theatre directors – was offered work in Hollywood. He began at Paramount as a dialogue director and soon moved into directing. Three years later he went to RKO to work with his friend and mentor Selznick, and there he made his first hit films, What Price Hollywood (1932) and A Bill of Divorcement (1932). With the latter he launched a theatre actress who had been considered unattractive as a screen persona – the young Katharine Hepburn – and thus began a long and highly productive professional relationship. The following years established him as a director as at ease with literary adaptations (Little Women and David Copperfield) as he was with works of a more modern stamp (Dinner at Eight, Silvia Scarlett, The Women), as well as two films which he did not finish, but on which he still left his mark– Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz.

Recognised for his mastery of comedy, Cukor also tried out other genres: and made a notable contribution to the musical (in 1964 My Fair Lady won him his first Oscar as a director). Alongside these achievements, from the success of A Star Is Born onwards, Cukor highlighted the potential of colour, through his collaboration with cinematographer George Hoyningen-Huene. Despite the passing of the years, which saw such marked changes in Hollywood, Cukor continued to flourish, and did not lose his relish for blending elements of the classical and the modern. He concluded his career with two of his most successful and original films, The Corn Is Green and Rich and Famous, which offer an extraordinary summation to his entire career.

The Festival will show the director’s complete works and the films will be shown in the best prints available over the event’s eleven days. The screenings will be accompanied by discussions on George Cukor’s films, led by filmmakers, actors and critics invited to Locarno for the retrospective. The Festival audience will also have the opportunity attend a round-table on the filmmaker’s work, chaired by Roberto Turigliatto, the retrospective’s curator.

The retrospective is organised in collaboration with the Cinémathèque suisse and the National Film Museum (Museo Nazionale del Cinema) in Turin.

Carlo Chatrian

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