In the 1970s, when there were no shortage of things to be excited about in world cinema, Italian director Lina Wertmüller was a bona fide sensation. A small measure of her success can be seen in the poster above (for an early film of hers which was belatedly released in the U.S. after her two major smash hits) in which her name is the most prominent feature of the design. She was impersonated on Saturday Night Live (can even Pedro Almodóvar or Michael Haneke boast that?) and in 1975 she became the first woman to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Director. (There have been only two others in the 40 years since.)
She was a polarizing figure back then, but today she is a neglected one. Young cinephiles have probably barely even heard of her, let alone seen her films (to be honest I've only seen one of them myself). But New York’s Quad Cinema, which re-opens today after a two-year long renovation and under new management with a distinctly cinephilic pedigree, is determined to change that by fêting Wertmüller with a two-week, 14-film retrospective.
The posters for Wertmüller’s films are a very mixed bag ranging from Eastern European stylization to the brash commercialism of her American posters. What's noticeable about the latter is that, while many of them prioritize pull quotes above all (dig that huge “Unanimous!” for Love and Anarchy and “Lina Wertmuller is the most important director since Ingmar Bergman!” on All Screwed Up), the posters for her two biggest films, Swept Away (1974) and Seven Beauties (1975), are remarkably spare. Swept Away has nothing but a title, a rating and that iconic image of Giancarlo Giannini and Mariangela Melato romping in the surf, not even Wertmüller’s marquee-value name. By contrast, the French poster for Swept Away shouts it as the Record Breaking Italian Comedy in the USA. The U.S. poster for Seven Beauties is equally restrained: a black and white image on a yellow background and, in small type below the title, “a new film by Lina Wertmuller starring Giancarlo Giannini,” as if that was no big deal. In 1975 it most certainly was.
Wertmüller is now 88 years old and at least up until 2014 was still making films. The Quad is showing a couple from the 80s and one from the 90s but is understandably concentrating on work from the 60s and 70s, when she was queen of the arthouse. And I will do the same.