Heart of the City Archives

Madonna and Adriano Giannini in Guy Ritchie's 2002 "Swept Away." In San Francisco Lina Wertmuller chides New York press for trashing Madonna without ever seeing the film. Only problem is, Wertmuller (inset photo) hasn't seen it either.
Swept Away in the Enchanted City
by Hank Donat

When great artists return to our city, our city is a better place. I'm not talking about Gwyneth Paltrow having lunch at the Black Cat. It was the appearance in San Francisco by Italian filmmaker Lina Wertmuller that took on the air of a state visit last week.

Wertmuller's highly political and sexually charged films "The Seduction of Mimi," "Seven Beauties," and "Swept Away" made the writer-director an international celebrity and an icon for intellectuals in the 1970s. In 1982 she made her first English language picture, "Night Full of Rain," in San Francisco. 

Without an American distributor, Wertmuller's stateside profile diminished over the past 20 years, though she continued to make films in Italy at a consistent clip. The charismatic 76 year-old still creates provocative stories for the cinema. 

At a reception at the home of Consul General of Italy Francesco Sciortini, Wertmuller discussed her new work, "Francesca and Nunziata," starring Giancarlo Giannini and Sophia Loren. The 19th Century costume drama screened at the AMC Kabuki on closing night of the Italian Cultural Institute's New Italian Cinema festival. 

Wertmuller also discussed a lesser known work, her novel "The Head of Alvise," which was written in 1980 as a storyline for an aborted Wertmuller-Woody Allen film collaboration. 

Among the fifty or so guests at the Friday reception were members of the San Francisco Film Commission, Paul Pelosi and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, famed Florentine painter Marco Sassone, and former Board of Supervisors president Angela Alioto. 

Flashing a wide smile under her trademark white spectacles, Wertmuller surprised attendees when she said her next project is a sequel to "Swept Away" titled, "Swept Away Once More." The original film, about a capitalist woman who gets shipwrecked with a communist sailor, is arguably Wertmuller's most admired and was remade earlier this year by Madonna and her husband, director Guy Ritchie.

Wertmuller said she hasn't seen the Ritchies' "Swept Away," which opened in October to the worst reviews of any film in recent memory. The film is the latest in a series of flops for Madonna, whom Wertmuller said she nonetheless admires.

On learning that in Guy Ritchie's script the woman leaves the sailor because her husband intercepts a note from the man, not because she chooses her lush life over the sailor's passions - the entire crux of Wertmuller's version - Wertmuller was not swayed to criticism. "It doesn't matter if it's not my picture," she said, "As long as it's a good picture." It's not. 

(I may be one of the few people who did see Madonna in Swept Away at a moviehouse. It went straight to video in the U.K. and elsewhere. One critic wrote the best thing that could be said about the film is that it stays in focus and the boom microphone never enters the frame. That review is a rave compared to my opinion. In addition to every nuance of interest from the original, Ritchie's script deletes the earlier film's most famous line, "Sodomize me." Let's face it, Swept Away without "Sodomize me" is like Christmas without presents. - HD)

As "Swept Away Once More" moves forward, Wertmuller said she is also planning a return to the city in 2003 to appear at a fundraiser for Alioto's campaign for mayor.

In spite of the November 5 defeat of Prop D, a public power initiative Alioto supported, the attorney is in the pink. Last week a jury levied a $11.2 million judgement against Mary Kay Cosmestic on behalf of Alioto's client, who was fired by the company while pregnant and battling breast cancer.

During the trial in Dallas, Texas it was disclosed that Mary Kay even took away its pink Cadillac from 33 year-old Claudine Woolf of Walnut Creek, who is now cancer free and has a son.

A small irony for the Mary Kay folks - Alioto lives in a big, beautiful pink house on Pacific Avenue. But don't call it pink unless you want to hear it from Angela. The hue was inspired by a much photographed villa on the Amalfi Coast in Castel Gandolfo, Italy. I think it looks pink, but I'm no Marco Sassone.

Onward! For those who wear the label "San Franciscan" as a badge of honor, the hottest ticket in town is the latest production of William Saroyan's 1940 Pulitzer Prize winning "The Time of Your Life," at the Next Stage, 1620 Gough Street.

The new version, presented by the Multi Ethnic Theatre company, is updated to 1969, but the time change is barely evident and hardly needed. With universal themes of the class struggle, this "Time" is proof positive that cross-cultural and cross-gender casting works. The action still takes place at Nick's, a San Francisco waterfront hangout, only Nick - imbued with great compassion by AJ Davenport - is a woman.

Myers Clark and Veronica Rocha are also standouts as the young lovers,ĘTom and Kitty. Directed by Lewis Campbell, the play runs through December 21. (For more information visit www.wehavemet.org.)

With its veritable rouges gallery of Polk Gulch regulars and a steady stream of German and British tourists from the Carlton Hotel next door, Tappe's Sutter Street Bar & Grill is a Nick's for the new century. 

Jonathan Winters dropped in every day last week to chew the fat with the Tappe's crowd. On Saturday, Winters was busy telling a rise-to-fame story to Susan Ford and didn't see Sir Lunchalot himself, Harry de Wildt stroll by in a grey suit and fuchsia necktie. The entire scene was a decidedly San Franciscan snapshot.

While Winters revisited his hungry i days at Tappe's, Tim Hockenberry was singing his heart out at the Plush Room in the York Hotel a couple of blocks up the hill. 

Hockenberry is a new favorite for his raspy blues and "weirded out" renditions of great standards like "Pennies from Heaven" and "Melancholy Baby." 

A week in the life of San Francisco, a city as timeless and enchanted as a great melody, passes by noticed. 

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Copyright 2002 Hank Donat
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