Earlier this year, Candice Bergen began work in Italy on the sixth film to be directed by Lina Wertmüller, now a cult figure among cineastes but virtually unknown to British or American audiences before last year. The language of the film was English--not the strong point of either the phlegmatic co-star, Giancarlo Giannini, or the volatile and intense director. The weather was hostile, the schedule cruel, and the emotion lacerating. Candice Bergen relates how she survived these perils and some strange instructions.
Establishing rapport-struggling with each other’s languages Candice Bergen and Giancarlo Giannini come to grips with the problem of meeting Lina Wertmüller’s directorial demands on the set in Rome.
New Year's Eve should have been a warning. It was the last day of rehearsals in Rome before we moved out to begin filming. Lina Wertmüller invited some of us to a party, given by a friend of hers, a woman who publishes a Playboy like magazine in Italy. Assorted Italians were there, standing around the Christmas tree: a tall white plastic fern hung with gold ornaments. In the centre of the room a huge white plastic bunker which housed a stereo record player, a television set and a tiny fireplace. It was some while before anyone realised that this bunker was on fire. First smoke seeped through the top of it, then there were flames and, suddenly, a crackling blaze.
The Italians stood, mesmerised, staring, dry white wine in hand. Giancarlo Giannini, due to act with me in the film, was the only one to act: he found a quilt and beat at the flames, trying to smother them. Then came the waiters carrying pans and silver chafing dishes full of water, tossing it on the fire from the electric wiring.
Now the guests were getting more concerned. There were shrieks of Fuoco! Fuoco! and a man screamed to me, in Italian, to call the fire department. The hostess, a blonde in gold brocade, watched her bunker melt, her hi-fi fry, the Christmas fern and her party go up in smoke. She rushed off to call her friends and inform the press. Several firemen arrived, grinning, stepped over the American contingent eating cold pasta in the hall, sprayed out the fire and saved the day. Smoke hung heavy, but spirits were high.
It was midnight. Still coughing, we circled each other, glasses in hand, planting pecks on cheeks. Peck, peck, Buon Anno. Buon Anno, peck, peck. It was 1977 in Rome. We began shooting the next day. It was my first film with Lina Wertmüller; the first film she had made with a foreign actor or actress. Her full name is Arcangela Wertmüller von Elgg. She is 59 and has worked in radio, in television, written plays for the theatre, and directed them herself. She was Federico Fellini's assistant on 8 1/2, but did not really begin to make films herself until the late sixties. Then she made Now Let's Talk About Women, Seduction of Mimi, Love and Anarchy, Swept Away and Seven Beauties. When they were finally shown in New York in 1976 Lina became a cult figure. She was compared to Charlie Chaplin, to Sergei Eisenstein. One critic said she was as profound as Dante and as revolutionary as Bertolt Brecht. Only Seven Beauties has been seen in London, and the reaction was somewhat cooler.
We had three weeks' location in a place called Padula. "It's in Calabria," they told me when I called from New York to ask what to pack. "The climate is temperate. It is near Sicily."
Padula turns out to be a little farther north. Snow falls during the first week. We are shooting a seduction scene in a 16th century monastery with the warmth of a crypt, a certosa built for aristocratic monks.
Lina finds it very erotic.
Shooting it is something else, however. Lina has given us a maze of marks, intonations, sighs, gasps and expirations. I cannot remember any of them. Giancarlo whispers reminders, pulling me, pushing me into position.
The shot is very tight, eyebrows to chin, like a postage stamp. We are to walk, turning slowly, kissing. Focus is critical and each step is marked, like the floor at Arthur Murray's. Lina describes it as doing a tango. I describe it as working in an iron lung.
She gives direction in millimetres: "Candice, your eyes a millimetre to the left. Stop! Down a millimetre. Your chin a hair to the right. Stop! Hold that. Remember it essackly.
"Giancarlo, we're getting reflections in your glasses. Tilt your head a millimetre to the left. Good!"
Then we start our tango, twisting, turning slowly, inch by inch, kissing, tripping, stepping over each other's feet, on each other's feet. We stop.
"Candina, keep closed your mouth during the kiss. Is ugly open. Is not sexy."
"Giancarlo, grab her suddenly, with force, your head a millimetre down and to the right. You are the devil here. And we have again reflections."
"Candice, a fraction more profilo. Back a fraction! Basta! Close your mouth. Okay. Motore! Azione!"
Giancarlo slams me into the door with force, carefully guiding me into my light, turning my head to the right position, since I can never find it myself, avoiding reflections in his glasses, speaking his English phonetically, as he learned it.
We struggle passionately within our millimetres. Giancarlo grabs my chin, wrenching me into my profile position, which I forget after stepping on his foot. We tussle. I resist. He pins me to the wall, kissing me. He says his line throatily: "Mmmm, I like you like this, hungry."
"It's angry, Giancarlo," I whisper. "You pronounce it angry, not hungary."
We go again. "Candice, close your mouth! You had it open that time, And Candice," she screams as we start to shoot, "more soft your inferior lip!"
"What?" I ask, frozen in my millimetres.
"Make more soft your inferior lip. You are too nervous in your mouth. It is not attractive, not sexy. And more strong your respiration! Respire more hard. I want for to feel your respiration, to hear it. Like this," she says, making loud, low moaning sounds.
"Candice! Chin a millimetre down. You always forget that mark. I want to feel passion. Remember your inferior lip."
Then, "Candice! Up your ass!"
"Up! Go up your ass!"
"Look up! Look up!" she shouts, exasperated. Oh, my eyes!
Communication is, how you say, cosi, cosi. There we were, in Italy, doing a film in English, a language spoken with some fluency only by myself and, at best, brokenly by others. Often, after a scene, Lina had to ask what we had said as she followed with the Italian version of the script, which she wrote, and usually there was no time for translation. We were working fast and frenzied. Shots were over before Î even knew what they were about.
"What did we just do?" I kept asking for the first month, dazed, while Lina turned frantically to someone behind the camera asking, "What did they just say?"
"It's a different system, but you'll catch on," Giancarlo said to me slowly. in Italian. "It'll take you a few weeks but you will" We both smiled, unconvinced.
We finished the "tango scene" with both of us sprawled across the base of an altar for the final seduction. We make the master shot, then Lina wants extreme close-ups of each of us. She makes mine, setting the camera up over me, shooting straight down. Then she sets up a corresponding close-up of Giancarlo, who is lying on top of me.
They build a scaffolding in the tiny chapel, ten feet in the air, and Giancarlo climbs up on it. It is too narrow for me to lie up there with him to shoot past my head, so they huddle, arguing whether they need the back of my head to match my close-up, or can they cheat it?
Giancarlo suggests someone give him a blonde wig to hold and fondle and talk to. Everyone laughs. A minute later they are shooting up at Giancarlo, solo on the scaffold, the baroque ceiling over his head, while he tenderly caresses a limp blonde hairpiece, whispering to it, "I don't even know who you are but I love you... the touch of your skin makes me tremble..”
The film, The End of the World in Our Usual Bed in a Night Full of Rain, is about a ten-year-old marriage between an Italian journalist who is a Communist and an American photographer who is a reformed college radical.
The film takes place mostly in one night, full of rain, when the marriage is in a crisis. I see it as a sort of love story about people treading water when the flood begins. Lina sees it as the story of death, nihilism, hopelessness.
The script was translated literally from the Italian into English with sometimes rather awkward results. But she has given Giancarlo, who started studying English six months before shooting, monologues that would have tongue-tied Noel Coward. He learned than phonetically and sometimes, if hard last-minute changes were made, wrote his dialogue on strategic places around the set.
For one speech he had his phonetics on a large card taped to the camera in front of him. Gazing pensively into space, he spoke: "I kiip thinking that oil the poits ar daing, that the filosofers or becaming sosiologists. In adder werds, ai no that no metta hav mac ingiastis thear is in this sosaieti…”
One automatic compensation, for his insecurity in English is to use his hands constantly. He tells Lina this; she watches, helplessly, his wildly waving hands, and keeps on at him.
"Giancarlo, keep your hands in your pocket. Point with one, keep the other in your pocket, then change them."
As for me, never has anyone scrutinized me so closely taken more care with how I look or behave. She. She is fiendishly fastidious.
"Sono la tua strega personale," she declared one day, fixing my eyebrows and stuffing on my head a cap of hers which I hated. "I am your personal witch.
"Candi when you have tension, I see always in your mouth, your posture. Don't make tight your mouth. Go always up with your lips, a tiny smile- always. Just a little to compensate the tension. This will be your salvation. Also, sometimes you stand like an old woman. And when you laugh your face is too wide. Watch your chin in profile. Three-quarter for you is the best angle. Don't forget," then added "I am your personal witch."
She was, too. A blur of constant motion, a five-foot-two-inch fireball. Even sitting, she moved, perched on her stool by the camera, a booted loot flying back and forth, diamond and ruby, knuckles rapping at her head, tugging at her hair in frustration. She jiggled, bobbed, bounced up and down, heavy gold chains jangling around her neck, hung with pendants, and house keys.
"Candice," she wags her ringed finger, “sometimes you are too tedesca, too German. Stop to be so Anglo-Saxon, so dea, so goddess. You American women are too much teachers. Is not attractive, not sexy. You must always have humour, passion. Hot, not cold. More Italian, less American. I want to feel your sensitivity, your passion. I want you to lose your control, which is considerable, and I want to feel your pain, which is also considerable.”
The main set in the film, scheduled for three weeks of shooting, was the apartment. Meticulously created in a studio in Rome by Lina’s husband, Enrico Job, it costs $250,000 to build and was a brilliant and extravagant piece of art.
"For me, this house represents Europe," Lina said. "Enrico has designed it as a Noah's Ark: a house full of hundreds of years of family history, European history. The antiques, the paintings, the photographs all reflect a middleclass European mentality that struggles to maintain continuity. But the ark is going under.”
Lina is helping me destroy the defences I took 30 years to construct. Giancarlo is assisting. For two weeks we have been shooting a fight scene which will culminate for my character, in a form of nervous breakdown. I have begun each morning crying, weeping, shrieking--some sort of distress. Unfortunately, I don't know how to act a nervous breakdown without actually having one. It was a price, at that time, that I was willing to pay. But expensive.
Giancarlo keeps asking mg "Why are you doing this to yourself? It's unnecessary. Film is fake and no matter how much we invest of ourselves to make it seem otherwise, it isn’t.” Film is fake. You don't need to put yourself through all this. If you do the same thing with technique, no one will be able to tell the difference.
It is another day in the life of a nervous breakdown, the dissolution of a marriage. Lina speaks to us from behind the camera. "Giancarlo, you look at the rain--because it's not a normal rain. It's strange, stronger than usual. Candice, look out, stare at the rain in the mirror and you see your life, you see your death. You ask yourself where your life has gone. You feel that your life is over, you are tired. You think of this relationship, how it was in the beginning, full of love, romance, passion, and you see it now… you see its death, you see the desperation."
She gives me physical pieces of action to do--pouring wine, lighting the fire, hanging up clothes. "The important thing is not what you're doing but the concentration. The move you do, the more you think and concentrate. The action serves your concentration in this scene."
We try the scene, staring into the mirror. Giancarlo asks, "Well, what's wrong?" "Nothing," I reply. "I would like... I would like to prove to myself that I'm alive. I would like to feel alive."
Lina lurches out from behind the camera, hissing at me furiously, "NO, Candy,' your voice is too perfect, you are too polite, too wellbred, like teacher, you talk like teacher. You seem like the Statue of Liberty. Inside you are thunderstorm, full of feeling, rage and demons, but you must let all out. You must try to be more Italian."
May she choke on pepperoni, I am thinking of ways to kill her slowly, wondering why I take all this while knowing it's the only thing that sustains my energy during these scenes.
As we get into the core of the film --the relationship and the desperation-- the tone on the set changes abruptly. Lina's anger takes a leave of absence and her energy is subdued. Normally raised voices are hushed and the mood is taut, controlled. She serves up new sweet now, crooning to us softly,. "Giancarlo, Candina . . ." Pasta would melt in her mouth.
We are falling even further behind schedule. The weather has been odd and erratic. Rome's famous fair winter has been soaked with steady rain and storms. A film about a deluge, made in a deluge. A film about desperation, made in desperation.
We are all desperate," Giancarlo says calmly. "Lina, me, and now even you, La Californiana, are getting a little crazy. Soon you'll be just like us," he says, grinning happily. It is true. I am taking on the emotional stability of a Yorkshire terrier--talking death one day, desperation the next.
"What I want are changes. Little changes from moment to moment. That's what's important," she explains before one emotional scene. "You come in angry. Remember your breathing. You are fed up with these scenes with him, with your life. You start to pack your things in the bathroom. Keep working on this. This work-the packing, getting your things together--keeps it from being too static, too sentimental, too romantic. When you're crying, blow your nose. Put the top on the toothpaste because always he leaves it off. Because always he's messy. Gather up a lot of stuff, cotton, creams, then you see yourself in the mirror--destroyed, drawn. You swell with self-pity, start to break."
Lina sits on her hands, chews her fists, gnaws her knuckles in an agonised effort to keep still. Even so, I see her, from the corner of my eye, simultaneously playing the scene, face ranging in expression with sometimes making strange hand signals at us. Her fingers flutter, her hands in some weird manual Morse code that Giancarlo and I have trouble deciphering during a take.
Some directors run sets like cathedrals, reverent tombs of silence. Lina's is more like a fish market. Bustling, throbbing, chaotic. Hundreds of whooping Italians spilling cappuccino, arguing vehemently about food, sports, and politics. During the shakier scenes--the crying, the confrontations--the fish market fights my concentration. I am scared, unprepared, and it seems convenient to blame it on the sound and the fury.
"Candy, you should be able to concentrate even if, there are 500 people screaming around you. That is like life. In life, you concentrate when you want to, in the middle of the most extreme disorder. In life, if you are really focused on something, you don't even hear what goes on around you. Not if you're really thinking."
We are rehearsing a listless love scene in bed. I am crying, frustrated by the loneliness, the loss of passion while on top of me Giancarlo moves mechanically bash and forth.
Lina pipes up during the take, "More bored Giancarlo, less sexy. Not so passionate, Right, that's good." She grins as Giancarlo stifles a yawn, grunting in pleasure. "Right," she nods. "Make it more a routine.”
As we finish shooting a confrontation, with Giancarlo and me arguing on a couch, Lina says she wants to shoot a close-up of Giancarlo's bare feet reacting during the dialogue. Unconsciously, he has been furiously clenching and unclenching them. It is a close-up of Giancarlo's feet showing anger. The feet are lit, the camera set up and they shoot one take. “CUT!” Lisa howls and looms over him scowling. "If you try to be funny with them, you won't be. You have to really play the scene and let them react naturally."
"One is trying to be more expressive than the other," he complains. "They are very competitive."
They shoot again. It is no good. Lina is furious.
"They're sensitive to the light," Giancarlo explains sweetly, patting his feet reassuringly.
Her specifics in building scenes, her mosaics of moments, are often remarkable. They helped tremendously.
"Sit on the side of the tub. Keep stuffing your things in your bag. You are thinking you don’t want to go, you’ve gone through this too many times. You really want to stay home and you hope he’ll come in and give you an excuse not to leave, that he’ll stop you from going because outside is cold and pouring with tale and you don't have any place to go anyway. You want to stop fighting and get back in bed.”
Our last work in Rome is ten days of shooting at night around the Piazza Augusto Imperatore in pouring rain. Giancarlo is wearing a shirt, sweater, jacket and trench at and I am in a low-cut silk nightgown, boots and a sweater which, during the first night under the rain, stretched from my waist to my knees.
As protection, we have plastic bags under our shoes wrapped around our feet and wool socks. Giancarlo has a plastic suit under his clothes, around his neck to prevent water from seeping in. Under the nightgown, I wear plastic pants over wool tights.
The nights are cold and people in the crew are huddled in down parkas, nursing cognacs. After a few nights of shooting, they are going home with flu and fever. Giancarlo and I have not even got a sniffle.
On our last two nights in the rain we are shooting the culmination of the scene. Lina, in plaid cap and sheepskin coat, walks ever briskly, clutching her hand warmer.
“Candida, here you really want to commit suicide. Just before, you have run out in front of a car, but Giancarlo pulls you out of the way and that's when you really snap because you tried to kill yourself and you even screwed that up. You must really get to a point what you go insane. Really insane. This is a moment of collapse, of complete crisis. You must scream and say, 'My life, my life!" For you this is the end. It must be really crazy, out of control. Do it really. Okay? Pronti? Giriamo! Motore" !
The loud, low drone of the rain machines starts up, pumping water out of the, overhead, and firemen stand on their trucks, holding and aiming their hoses over us. Never have I seen so much water. Lina doesn’t want your average drizzle, she wants a deluge.
It is 5am. Everyone is tired and cold. Giancarlo and I dribble back to our trailers. We do it again the following night, in close-ups.
By the time we finished shooting I spoke Italian well enough to be a head waiter. Lina asked me back to Rome to dub myself in the Italian version of the film because she couldn't find a voice that matched my body.
"We’ll try it with you, Candina. It's insane, but there's nothing else to do. I'm exhausted and it will be torture for both of us, but the masochist in me wants to do it."
In one room Giancarlo is dubbing parts of himself in English and in another I am dubbing my whole part in Italian. We have symbiotic temper tantrums and collectively break four headphones.
Lina enjoys the irony. She makes Giancarlo say the word Dante 93 times and spend an entire morning with me dubbing one complex paragraph in Italian. It is a morning I won’t forget. After 156 times she sighs, “Va bene."
The film is finished but Lina lingers on one of the most fascinating people I know. Brave, driven daring. She shot me with energy, made me seek and explore. She taught me about film, about my work, about myself. She made me feel alive and forced parts of me out of hiding that I was fed up with keeping under wraps.
Am so I am older now. I feel less like Sandra Dee, more like Simone Signoret. Waiters call me Signora and the concierge calls Madame when only last year I was Signorina and Mademoiselle. I walk by by windows and glance at my reflection and I see this woman. No more girl. No more kid stuff. Definite grownup here. No getting around it. No turning back.