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Luchino ViscontiLuchino? Visconti's film career spnnaed over four decades, making him a key force in 20th-century Italian cinema. However, it was in Paris that his career began when he befriended the fashion designer Coco Chanel, who introduced him to Jean Renoir. Visconti worked with Renoir on various film projects, one of which was the film Une Partie de Campagne (1936), as costume designer and assistant director. During this period, and contrary to his aristocratic upbringing, he became influenced by Marxist ideology, and these beliefs would later shape his own style of film-making.Visconti did not direct his first film until 1942, when he returned to Italy. Ossessione was based on the novel The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M Cain. Visconti's adaptation was unauthorised - which meant the film was rarely screened in the USA - and heavily censored by fascist officials of Mussolini's regime. Despite all its difficulties, it remained a success in Italy and is regarded as the first film of the Italian neo-realist movement.Visconti's political leanings were expressed in his second film La Terra Trema (The Earth Trembles) (1947), which tells the story of class exploitation in a small Sicilian fishing village. This theme continued with the 1960 film, Rocco e i Suoi Fratelli (Rocco and his Brothers).In his later work, Visconti seemed to move away from the neo-realist style towards more historical and literary themes. The battle between progress and nostalgia is constantly fought in this director's work, but towards the end of his career Visconti seemed to favour the latter with a definite air of scepticism about the value of progress.One such film was the cinematic epic Il Gattopardo (The Leopard) (1963), starring Burt Lancaster as the Prince of Salina. By arranging the marriage of Tancredi, his nephew, and Angelica, the daughter of a rich merchant, the Prince attempts to financially rescue and secure the future of his family by joining the old aristocracy with the new money of the bourgeoisie. This film's operatic style was a cross over from Visconti's theatre work.Visconti was openly gay, but few of his films dealt with the issue of male homosexuality. The most notable exception to this was the 1971 film Morte a Venezia (Death In Venice) from the novel by Thomas Mann. Dirk Bogarde plays the lead character, the reserved composer Gustav Aschenbach who, when confronted with the purity and beauty of a young boy, played by Bjorn Andresen, allows the secret passion within him, his homosexuality, to awaken.Visconti returns to the topic of the aristocracy in the melodrama L'Innocente (The Intruder) (1976). This was to be his final film. As a result of the strokes he suffered in 1972 and 1974, which left him completely paralysed, Visconti died at the age of 70 before editing was completed.During his life, Visconti had made over 20 films, many of which are considered cinematic masterpieces, directed plays by Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams, and staged ballets and operas, such as La Vestale (1954) and La Sonnambula (1955), starring Maria Callas."Visconti's death marked the end of an era of Italian cinema" - Geoffrey Nowell-Smith