Monica Vitti on Granville Street
Some cities have the quality of mythology, they inhabit our dreams and the imagination, and some don't. London, Liverpool, Manchester- their streets are paved with stories; Dick Whittington, the Beatles, Friedrich Engels meeting Karl Marx in Chetham's library. But Birmingham and Sheffield (my adopted hometown) have nothing mythical about them. At all. Perfectly nice places to live in, lovely folk, more miles of canal than Venice even, but not cities to haunt one’s unconscious. Incidentally there is a statue of the great psychologist Carl Gustav Jung in Liverpool's Mathew Street (also home to the original Cavern Club of Beatles fame) despite the fact that he never ever visited the city. Instead he had a dream about it, as recounted in his Memories, Dreams Reflections, where he experienced a numinous vision of the ‘Pool of Life’.
Which is why I was surprised to come across (on the Talking Pictures archive TV channel, god bless it) a 1968 Italian film, La Ragazza con la Pistola starring Monica Vitti, part of which features her in a very run-down industrial Sheffield. The same Monica Vitti whose luminous beauty and acting ability made her compelling on screen in Antonioni’s La Notte, with Jean Moreau and Mastroianni, and the extraordinary L'Eclisse with Alain Delon. What was she doing in Granville Street overlooking Sheaf Street and Ponds Forge (now the Commonwealth Games swimming pool)? And acting alongside flash Northerner Tony Booth, Tony Blair's father in law to be and ‘lazy git’ from the 1960s sitcom Till Death Us Do Part?
The short answer is, I still don't know, even after watching the film twice. It's a swinging 60s surreal comedy, supposedly about bride kidnapping in Italy and Vitti’s revenge chasing her assailant all over Britain. In truth it's not very funny (although astonishingly nominated for an Oscar for best foreign language film). But as a view of 1960s industrial Sheffield it is superb, and who can see Monica Vitti in a Rotherham factory canteen and not tremble. The very same actress who haunted Antonioni’s L’Avventura. Tragically Vitti herself has suffered from dementia for almost 30 years, and is now looked after in Rome by her husband and her carer. But as I stand by the tram tracks which have almost erased Granville Street and look out over the skyline across the road, I can just for a moment feel a frisson of a once dreamlike Sheffield, and of cinema history.