The countess in the cinema

Today, a cinematic tribute to the obsessional, ghostly glamour of the Countess de Castiglione after yesterday’s look at her legacy.

Actually one of the odd things about the countess, with her strange life so full of intrigue and so assiduously recorded, is how few film outings she has had. Having advanced portrait photography so far she has been ill-served by moving pictures. The first, La Contessa Castiglione, is an Italian feature from 1942 which concentrates unsurprisingly on the countess’s role in Italian reunification (which, if Castiglione herself was to be believed, was achieved largely through her efforts).

The other major release to date is the 1955 French production La Castiglione, starring Yvonne de Carlo (best known as Lily Munster in the long-running TV series) and apparently the first Hollywood actress to star in a foreign-language film. Again it failed to capture Castiglione’s essence and was widely panned.

A 2006 French made-for-TV film starring the wonderful Jeanne Moreau is the best our century has come up with in remaking the countess. It is high time she returned to feature films; the Second Empire was, after all, an age of high drama, shallow materialism, fleeting fame, superficial novelties and vapid gossip. An age, in short, much like our own.

In the meantime, here’s a mesmerising short film by David Lodge from 1999; if IMDB is to be trusted it appears to be his last work, which is a shame. The countess, promises the opening text, “Will perform her Entire Expose of Mesmerism, Clairvoyance, Animal Magnetism, etc…, and perform Unsurpassable Feats of Equilibria”. Her appearance is based on the above portrait, entitled Elvira.

If you’ve ever wondered what would happen if photographer Joel-Peter Witkin went back in time to Blood of a Poet-era Jean Cocteau and convinced him that steampunk was the way forward (and who among us hasn’t?), you’re about to find out. Enjoy:



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