Visconti’s homosexual inclinations were obvious to his contemporaries. Even in his film work his preference for the male can hardly be overlooked. In his private life he was more discreet and his lovers were barely able to endure the patrician arrogance. Outward appearances always had to be maintained. After all, Visconti’s links to Italy’s communist party were close and since Pasolini’s expulsion their views about gays were public knowledge. Luchino Visconti, the scion of an old noble family, the former owner of a racing stable, the film and theatre legend, lived out his sexuality in the wild 60’s as something forbidden and shameful. He was more drawn to the tragedy of an Oscar Wilde.
It was not only Visconti’s sexuality but also his art that were caught up in fin de siècle tragedy and decadence. He loved Marcel Proust and Thomas Mann, Richard Wagner and Gustav Mahler. His first theatrical production was – actually quite contemporary – Les Parents Terribles by Jean Cocteau. This was later followed by The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar named Desire by Tennessee Williams. His three operatic productions with Maria Callas earned him a legendary reputation and would also gain a world reputation for the diva herself. For the Italian cinema and also for the Italian theatre Visconti was a singular giant: he re-invented both. His film career began in 1943 with Ossessione and immediately this first film caused a scandal. After an official boycott the film was banned by the Censors.
More scandals followed. Almost all of his films ran into difficulties with the state authorities or turned out to be too unwieldy for the commercial cinema. The orgy of authenticity that he demanded for his historical films was notorious. Everything had to be accurate, every fold in a piece of material, every detail however incidental was as important as the correct casting. He was not always able to realize his casting wishes. Interference from his producers and investors would even serve to mangle the three masterpieces of his German Trilogy. Only after Visconti’s death were Senso, Il Gattopardo and Ludwig reconstructed by his collaborators.
Nowadays his films are seldom seen in cinemas yet it is only on the big screen that they unfold in their full richness. With this homage to Visconti the Schwules Museum honors his importance for the gay self-image – not least for his filming of Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice. For Fassbinder he was one of the truly great. Film posters, photographs, letters and quotations will help to shed light on Visconti’s life and work. The German Film Archive here in Berlin (die Deutsche Kinemathek) has provided more than 250 exhibits.
Curator: Wolfgang Theis