Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
December 06
The Damned October 14, 1969
The Damned released

Luchino Visconti’s 1969 Nazi drama The Damned was undoubtedly his most controversial work when it opened in Italy in 1969. With operatic flair and flamboyance, the film chronicles the complex sexual politics of the German Essenbecks family as they slowly cede power to the Nazis and destroy themselves in the process. (The Essenbecks were loosely based on the Krupp family, whose metal works helped arm the Nazis). The Damned was rooted in real events (the famed “Night of Long Knives”), and its tone and themes came from opera––the Italian title La caduta degli dei (The Fall of the Gods) is a nod to Wagner’s The Twilight of the Gods––and Macbeth. For many observers, the lurid, erotic feel was a far cry from the neorealistic works, like Ossessione and La terra trema, that put Visconti on the map. But in some ways, the film was quite close to Visconti personally. As an opera director, he had a sense for the grandiose. As a gay man (involved with a German, the film’s star, Helmut Berger) and a leftist from a wealthy aristocratic family, the storylines were quite familiar. When questioned why he focused on German Nazism rather than Italian Fascism, Visconti responded, “Of course, Fascism was a tragedy in many, many cases… but Nazism seems to me to reveal more about a historical reversal of values.” In the end, the film succeeded both because (and in spite) of its controversy. In Italy, it proved to be a box office smash, and, in America, even though it was slapped with an X-rating, it garnered Visconti his one Oscar nomination, for Best Screenplay. Rainer Werner Fassbinder later exclaimed that The Damned is "perhaps the greatest film, the film that I think means as much to the history of film as Shakespeare to the history of theater."


More Flashbacks
December 6, 1990
Edward Scissorhands released

On December 6, 1990, writer-director Tim Burton nervously opened the lid on his most personal film yet, Edward Scisshorhands, as the movie premiered in Los Angeles.

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December 6, 1970
Gimme Shelter Captures History

One of the most immediate and compelling documentaries ever committed to celluloid was released today in 1970, twelve months to the day after the era-defining tragedy that it depicted. Before directing Gimme Shelter, Albert and David Maysles had made vérité documentaries focusing on celebrities such as Marlon Brando, Orson Welles, Truman Capote and the Beatles and it was the latter experience that convinced Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones to invite the brothers and their creative collaborator Charlotte Zwerin to film the free concert they were headlining at the Altamont Speedway. The concert was attended by an enormous 300,000 people but the free love party was so large that the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang were recruited in the last minute to act as security for the event. Rather than being a West Coast version of Woodstock (which had been held earlier that summer) Altamont instead became infamous for the death of Meredith Hunter, an 18-year-old African-American man, stabbed to death by the Hell’s Angels after drawing a long-barreled revolver. Amazingly, the Maysles caught the incident on film, turning Gimme Shelter into, as Amy Taubin succinctly put it, rock ‘n’ roll’s answer to the Zapruder footage of JFK’s assassination. Not only does the movie feature the fatal incident but, even more compellingly, in one scene we see a clearly affected Jagger watching the incident again as the Maysles edit the footage. A great concert film as well as a hugely important cinematic document hugely altered the trajectory of the Maysles’ career and remains, along with Don’t Look Back, one of the most important music docs ever made.

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