Los Angeles, Parma and All My Bernardo Bertolucci Related Fails

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AFI Fest 2013 is taking place in Hollywood this week, and I am absent for the first time in five years. Without even being in the city I have managed to experience yet another Bernardo Bertolucci FAIL, which has been a common occurrence over the years from Los Angeles all the way to Parma, Italy (Bertolucci’s hometown).

The “Guest Artistic Director” for AFI Fest 2013 is the legendary French New Wave director Agnes Varda, and Bertolucci is in Hollywood as well. It’s a tremendous meeting of the minds, but there is more to their history than just cinema – the artists share a mutual involvement in a dark chapter of rock history. Both directors were friends of Jim Morrison, and were presumably present at his Paris hotel room shortly after his death. Varda was one of five people to attend Morrison’s burial at Pere Lechaise, and Bertolucci was her house-guest at the time.

Italian cinema is a great love of mine, and I was introduced to Bertolucci’s work in college. I wasn’t aware of the director’s connection to Parma, and I randomly happened to become friends with a girl who was from the Parma area (Traversetolo). Within a year, I was scheduled to arrive in Rome just two days after my college graduation, but poor scheduling kept me on my couch watching films about Rome.

Approximately five years later, I was living in Hollywood and my friend Carla from Parma had moved to nearby Thousand Oaks. I discovered that Bernardo Bertolucci was to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and invited Carla and her parents who were in town from Parma. Jet lag was troubling the Italians, so I went on my own and hoped to meet the director. Unfortunately, Bertolucci was unable to attend due to scheduling conflicts, and the event had been cancelled much to my surprise. It was another Bertolucci fail, and although it was common to see “names” in the neighborhood, it certainly wasn’t everyday that one could meet a legendary Italian film director. After the disappointment, I wandered through the Chinese 6 theater area for an Italian Film Festival, and actually came face-to-face with Dustin Hoffman and his family. The actor gave me the stink-eye despite the non-threatening space between us, and it was at that point that I chose to stare because I had done nothing wrong. I inadvertently pissed off Rainman. Bertolucci-Hoffman FAIL.

Within a year I was in Europe for a backpacking trip, and made a stop in Parma, Italy to visit my friend Carla’s family and friends. The Italians fed me, took me to Cinque Terre and gave me a place to sleep. While walking around in Parma’s Parco Ducale, I thought about Italian films that I had seen over the years, and contemplated what might have inspired Bernardo Bertolucci when he grew up in Parma sixty years prior.

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In July 2012 I made my return to Parma, but under dire circumstances. I had been robbed in Athens, Greece and took refuge in Parma/Traversetolo while I waited for a new Wells Fargo bank card. Once again, I stayed with Marianna and her parents, and was also treated to several meals by Carla’s amazing family. The only problem was that I didn’t have access to my own money, however an Italian-American production ensured that I would find my way back to the United States once I learned that my bank card would likely not arrive in the near future. I had contacted the bank while on the Greek island of Santorini, but my “Hurry, I was robbed and knifed in Athens, but I’ll be in Parma, Italy soon” speech clearly did not convey that I was out of the country.

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Traversetolo October 2009

Before my epic connecting flight back to the United States (Rome-Istanbuk-Chicago-Fargo), I found myself back at Parma’s Parco Ducale in the exact spot where I had dropped my shade into a pond years before. During the mornings, I would roam around Traversetolo, and take the half-hour bus trip to Parma in the afternoon. The few possessions I had left were my clothes, a custom cigarette pack wallet and a book Passion And Defiance: Film In Italy From 1942 To The Present by Mira Liehm. I re-read the entire work during those seven days in Parma, including a section on Bernardo Bertolucci that I finished in Parco Ducale. A Greek Tragedy brought me to Parma, but a love for Italian cinema helped pass the time. It was in Parco Ducale when I truly realized that I probably wouldn’t remain in Hollywood for long.

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Three months later (October 2012), I was back in Hollywood and had decided to leave at the end of November. AFI Fest was to begin in early November, and I found out that a familiar name would be the “Guest Artistic Director” – Bernardo Bertolucci. It was my last few weeks in the neighborhood, and I would finally have a chance to meet one of my favorite directors. As fate would have it, Bertolucci was unable to make the trip due to health problems. I was able to meet French actress Marion Cotillard, so that was a huge victory (despite a picture fail). French-Italian Win-Fail.

AFI Fest 2013 has begun, and if you happen to be in Los Angeles and see Bertolucci, tell him we need to talk about making a film. I have a great story in mind that takes place in Athens, Instanbul, Rome, Naples and Parma’s Parco Ducale.

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