“Bebo’s Girl,” at fifty, to screen at MoMA’s “To Save and Project”

featured · Film

bebo's girl-2
Fifty years ago, in November 1964, a beautiful and moody Italian film, La Ragazza di Bube (Bebo’s Girl) opened in theaters. Based on an acclaimed novel by Carlo Cassola, the film recounts a love triangle in an anguished and entangled setting: Italy’s post World War II struggle to come to grips with its fascist experiment and its leftist aspirations. Director Luigi Comencini’s striking location shooting captures the ragged landscape of a war-torn nation.

The movie motors serenely on sensitive leading-role performances by Claudia Cardinale and George Chakiris, both beautiful young actors bringing soulful sadness to their pairing. “Bebo” will screen on October 27 at 7:15 p.m. at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City as part of the “To Save and Project” annual film preservation festival. The screening will be preceded by George Chakiris: A Life in Film, an in-person interview with the film’s star. arts·meme‘s Debra Levine will conduct the interview.

Writes MoMA Adjunct Curator Dave Kehr about “Bebo”:

At the end of World War II, shallow, self-centered Mara (Cardinale) is the prettiest girl in her small Italian village; Bebo (Chakiris) is a Communist partisan who is finding it difficult to adjust to the dull banalities of life in peacetime. When Mara’s father, a passionate Communist, declares that his daughter will marry the returning hero, her reactions range from joy to bitter resentment, as director Comencini—one of the greats of Italian comedy, here deftly turning his hand to drama—traces her development from a flighty adolescent into a mature woman. Though dubbed in Italian, Chakiris creates a stirring portrayal though posture and movement as the dazzling but deeply flawed Bebo, who seems to lose his heroic dimensions as Mara’s grow. Preserved print from the Cineteca Nazionale, Rome; courtesy Cristaldi Films. In Italian; English subtitles. 106 min.

Poster image courtesy Dave Kehr, MoMA

Bebo’s Girl | Museum of Modern Art  To Save & Project| Oct 27, 7:15 pm

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Irina Baronova, baby ballerina no more

Dance · featured

In 1932 George Balanchine happened upon a ballet protégée, Irina Baronova, when she was a 12-year-old pupil of Olga Preobrajenska, the Russian ballerina teaching in exile in Paris. The visionary choreographer, who throughout his career would repeatedly mentor and package outstanding female dance talent, bundled Baronova with two equally precocious ballet cohorts, Tamara Toumanova (12) and Tatiana Riabouchinska (14), as “Baby Ballerinas.” With each young lady contributing her own unique strengths and qualities, the trio was a huge audience-pleasing phenomenon in the ballet boom of the mid-twentieth century. Those were the days … when the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, with artistic roots on the exotic Côte d’Azur, took the dance world by storm.

barona-swan lakeFollowing this auspicious start, Baronova continued in her rich career with the Ballet Russe, one of several offshoots of Diaghilev’s original troupe (it closed for business in 1929). The company’s mad, crisscrossing train tours of the United States during the war years is marvelously recounted in the 2005 film, Ballets Russes. (Baronova is much featured in this documentary.)

Now we have the opportunity to dig deeper — and there’s a touching personal connection involved. Actress Victoria Tennant, daughter of Baronova, has organized her mother’s photo collection into a slide show presentation, an evocotive capture of a precious and unique life in dance. She’ll give the presentation Saturday October 18 as part of the spoken word series at the Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA.

Baronova, a blonde ball of fire, was praised by Anna Kisselgoff in the New York Times for her “vivacious wholesome beauty, indelible classical style and virtuosic technique.” Engaged by impresario Colonel W. de Basil for his Monte Carlo troupe from 1932-39, Baronova danced in creations by Léonide Massine and Balanchine. She performed with the newly constituted American Ballet Theatre in the early forties, then with Sergei Denham’s Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo and finally with a Massine-led company.

Baronova was a creator in Massine’s great masterpiece, “Les Présages” (1933), set to Tchaikovsky Symphony Five, an infamous symphonic ballet that blew this dance critic away when the Joffrey Ballet restaged it in 1993.

Victoria_Tennant_Headshot_brighter-186x186The inheritor of a massive trove of dance memorabilia, Tennant combed through thousands of photographs to create her program. Her research covered piles of letters dating to 1926, crumbling press clippings and posters. The St. Petersburg-born Baronova, who spoke Russian, Roumanian, French and English fluently, died in Australia in 2008. However, noted her daughter in a phone conversation, “She was a refugee all her life, with no home. She lived on the road out of a suitcase.”

“She wrote her own story in her biography. I’m telling her story in images. The photos are rare. They are not typical publicity photos, taken for the public. They are private photos of dancers taken by dancers. Many of the photos were by my grandfather, who was an artist and scenic designer.

“There are pictures of dancers on the beach, performance pictures taken from the wings, rehearsal photographs.”

Irina-Baronova-One of Tennant’s very favorite images captures a backstage moment. “There’s my mother on the night of a gala opening. She’s slumped in an arm chair [exhausted]. She is pictured with [British dance critic] Arnold Haskell, dressed in white tie and tails.”

The book is a hybrid, according to Tennant: “It’s a memoir; it’s a ballet history; and it’s a photography book.”

The actress and her mother were close. “I spoke with her, toward the end, every day and an hour before she died. She was an extraordinary mother, everything she did was at 110%.”

pt_irina_ent-lead__200x314In a way, Baronova was perpetually the baby ballerina. It was a challenge, admitted Tennant, “being the child of a child.”

“Most of us start as children and advance toward adulthood one step at a time. My mother became a great star at age 13. On stage, Irina Baronova knew her value in the company, but on the outside she was a child under the complete control of her parents.

“She was charming, loveable, honorable, and she had a child’s sense of delight. She was emotionally fresh and available in a way that children are. She was smart and cultured but she wasn’t fully an adult. She remained a little girl and a great artist simultaneously.

Baronova was a model to Tennant as she nurtured her own artistry as an actress. “She gave me a living example. She worked so hard and was so committed to what she did. She lived a highly regimented life, between her parents and the company, which was run like the army. With her, work ethic came first.”

Victoria Tennant: Irina Baronova and the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo | Little Theater at Macgowan Hall | Sat Oct 18, 4 pm

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George Chakiris in double NYC honor: first MoMA, then Juilliard

Dance · Film

In fitting recognition of a great dancer whose searing, Oscar-winning performance as “Bernardo” in “West Side Story” was filmed on NYC’s Upper West Side terrain where the Juilliard School now stands, George Chakiris will visit the renowned conservatory for an interview and dance conversation.

Location shooting of the playground sequences that open “West Side Story” (called “the prologue”), still so fresh and compelling, took place during the summer of 1960 in a tenement neighborhood that was subsequently demolished for Lincoln Center’s construction.

Henning Rubsam, the Juilliard School instructor who will host Chakiris, says, “A class about “Dance and the Movies” has been on my wish list ever since I started teaching at Juilliard in 2006. Having George Chakiris as part of this first course on the subject is the most wonderful treat.”

T600full-bebo's-girl-photohe Juilliard visit, October 28, 2014, follows a weekend of Chakiris events at the Museum of Modern Art whose esteemed film department is poised to unleash as massive film preservation festival now in its 12th year, “To Save and Project.

Inviting Chakiris to join the Festival’s opening weekend is Dave Kehr, the highly respected film scholar and former Chicago Tribune and New York Times journalist who joined MoMA’s film department one year ago. In curating his first “TSAP” festival, Kehr works with longtime MoMA film curator, Josh Siegel.

Bebo’s Girl” (1964), a by-and-large gone-missing movie in which Chakiris co-stars with Claudia Cardinale will be screened at the Museum Sunday October 26.

The film, based on a novel by Carlo Cassola, has an audience in Italy but is not widely known in the U.S., an oversight soon to be rectified.

chakiris-bebo-girlWith its somber depiction of post-World War II Italy, “Bebo’s”s strong director, Luigi Comencini, used haunting black-and-white cinematography and topsy-turvy locations to evoke Italian society destablized by the war.

The characters played by Cardinale and Chakiris, though trapped in a web of love and politics, gradually find security through their relationship.

Prior to the screening of “Bebo’s Girl,” I will interview Chakiris about his career, our conversation enriched by wonderful vintage television material, courtesy of our friends at ULCA Film & Television Archive, who unearthed the clips at last year’s “An Evening with George Chakiris.”

*          *         *

George Chakiris, A Life in Film | Museum of Modern Art | Oct 26 4:45 pm

Bebo’s Girl | Museum of Modern Art | Oct 26 7:15 pm

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes introduced by George Chakiris | Museum of Modern Art | Oct 27 4 pm

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