Luca Guadagnino has two movies out: the documentary Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams, about shoemaker to the stars Salvatore Ferragamo, and the brand-new feature film Bones and All, starring Timothée Chalamet and Taylor Russell as cannibal lovers on the run.
The shoemaker Ferragamo was born in Bonito, Italy, and immigrated to Santa Barbara in Hollywood’s the early years. He made heels for actresses like Gloria Swanson, who wore his shoes in Sadie Thompson, about a prostitute in need of a fresh start. He also made shoes for Rudolph Valentino and the studio system’s sword-and-sandal epics. Guadagnino’s frequent collaborator Michael Stuhlbarg narrates the project.
The tradesman’s fetishization of women’s shoes makes Guadagnino consider him — like most of his cinematic subjects — an outcast who was a “very peculiar kind of person.”
But it’s that obsession that made Ferragamo excel at shoemaking, and love of craft also draws Guadagnino to artisans of all types. It’s no wonder the director gave MovieMaker a lengthy soliloquy about John Carpenter, an innovator of tradesmen filmmaking. Guadagnino also attributes discovering his sexual identity to watching Carpenter’s Starman as a teenager.
We spoke with Guadagnino about his love of artisans. He shares how he feels about audiences pretending to be scandalized by feet in Quentin Tarantino’s movies, why he considers Starman the luminous twin to David Cronenberg’s dark twin, The Fly, and what he thinks about the bloody Bones and All opening opposite family-friendly The Fabelmans at Thanksgiving.
Joshua Encinias: Salvatore thinks shoes have a magical and mystical nature. Will you talk about his obsession with them?
Luca Guadagnino: I think he had a passion for feet, a fetish for feet, in a way. There was something about it that was obsessive for him, to the degree that when he was just a little kid he was making shoes for his sister. He probably unconsciously felt that the shoe was an actual memento of importance for a person. Like through the shoe you can see who the person is, and I kind of understand that, too. There is something mystical and magical about the shoes and the way we carry ourselves through this tool, particularly women, I would say. For me, also, shoes come with craft and I love craft. The idea that in order to make something you have to put so much focus, attention, your own sense of beauty and form. All of that’s very fascinating to me.
Joshua Encinias: In Salvatore’s era, women’s legs, ankles, and feet were loved. I think they still are, but because of Quention Tarantino shows an interest in feet in his movies, it’s become a joke — and even a point of scorn. Why do you think there’s shame around people’s appreciation of that part of the body?
Luca Guadagnino: Joshua, it’s a beautiful question and it may lead me to be a little bit polemic. Truthfully, the majority is always wrong. Let’s face it. There is a sort of comfortability in pretending to be easily scandalized as a majority. It might be the fear of being seen that makes people take these positions. But I think that, in a way, it’s irrelevant at the end of the day, because Quentin’s movies are super successful. People love them for the kinds of obsessions that Quentin plays out in his movies. And shoemaking is one of the most important pillars of the fashion industry. No matter how parochial people can be, they’re not going to have success in that.
Joshua Encinias: Are there similarities between the craft of shoemaking and the craft of making movies?
Luca Guadagnino: I think their similarity is more about the approach; how beautiful it is to dedicate yourself to the details, how beautiful it is to dedicate yourself to the materials. In shoemaking, the materials being leather, the jute, the edge iron, and in cinema being the actors, the lights. The artisanal is a very high quality for me, and only through that can you then achieve a sense of a vision of things.
Joshua Encinias: Salvatore entered Hollywood as the star system developed. Do you think that system is still useful today? Industry people say celebrities can’t open successful movies anymore.
Luca Guadagnino: I’m not an analyst. I don’t know. Usually, when some kind of rule is set by analysts and by people who know cinema from that perspective, it’s contradicted a month later, so I would be careful. I’m not making any statement here. I love to work with my stars and with my actors.
Joshua Encinias: You’ve said your movies are about outcasts on the margins of society. Was Salvatore an outcast?
Luca Guadagnino: Certainly, he was a very peculiar kind of person and he wasn’t afraid to be unique in his own path in life. He’s a kid who stays up all night to make shoes for his sister. He’s still a kid when he goes to Napoli to learn the art and when he opens his first store in his village. Also when he decides to go by himself, all the way to the other side of the world to America. When he lands there to join his family, he understands that he doesn’t want to be part of that. He decided that he doesn’t want to be part of the industrial factory of making shoes. He wants to be an artisan and goes by himself across America, all the way to this newly found place that is Hollywood, in Santa Barbara. I mean, he’s such a maverick. He’s a person who has chosen always the individual path of self-expression, no matter what people around him would say.
Joshua Encinias: In the doc, Martin Scorsese says people create themselves in America and America is always being created. Do you think that’s true?
Luca Guadagnino: It’s completely true. So true. America creates itself every day, for the bad and for the good. Leads the way by creating itself. I think he was absolutely spot on when he said that in the movie.
Joshua Encinias: As Salvatore takes the train to Santa Barbara, your cinematography shows an appreciation for the open, undeveloped spaces of America. There’s also an appreciation of it in Bones and All. What has been your experience filming your first two movies in the US?
Luca Guadagnino: I’ve always been interested in landscape, whether it’s an urban landscape, natural landscape, a vast landscape or a narrow landscape. I look forward to that every time I approach my work, visually. Bones and All is a road movie, we shot in many states, we try to encompass the beautiful, complicated aspect of the landscape of America in a movie that is a road movie so it needs to encompass it. Challengers is a comedy of manners. More than anything else, it’s about the landscape of the complications of sexual politics between people.
Joshua Encinias: I’m excited to see Mike Faist in Challengers.
Luca Guadagnino: I can say a couple of things about Mike. He is capable of a transformation that is breathtaking. And Mike is so focused when he works. There is a spectacle to behold to see him on set, not only when he acts, but also when he doesn’t, because he’s a fantastic example of concentration and focus. Certainly, he’s going to be someone who people will really look forward to in the future.
Joshua Encinias: At the New York Film Festival, you talked about your appreciation of John Carpenter’s movies and I wonder if you will elaborate on it?
Luca Guadagnino: Let’s clear the table. John Carpenter is one of the greatest living American directors. Period. His cannon is almost unmatched, and some of his movies have been a constant paramount for me. From Halloween, to The Fog, to The Thing to Big Trouble in Little China, Vampires, all of these are amazing. Of course, one of the most influential movies he made for me is Prince of Darkness and They Live. He’s political, he’s subversive. He knows cinema by heart. He’s one of the great Hollywood directors. The lesson of Howard Hawks concludes in him. I completely love his work and I heard that he’s going to make a new movie. So I am really looking forward to it. Every movie I’ve seen of John Carpenter, and I’ve seen them all, has been for me a constant surprise and source of inspiration. Sublime.
Joshua Encinias: Which of Carpenter’s movies inspires you the most?
Luca Guadagnino: Starman was interesting to me because I was quite young when I saw it. I knew that John Carpenter was already the king of horror. I was sort of naive. I thought, “How can you make a romantic fantasy movie having done all these horror movies?” I was young then. So it taught me that I shouldn’t have a parochial, peripheral view of things, that everything is possible. Starman is the great “nice alien” movie of the 1980s for me. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial being a masterpiece, I feel that Starman carries qualities of complexities in the relationship between the characters that I found so compelling. There are two great love stories in the world of fantasy in the ’80s. Starman is one of them and the other one is The Fly by David Cronenberg. They’re twins in a way. One is a dark twin and the other is a luminous twin, but they’re both beautiful. I must have been 13 or 14 when I saw the movie in a theater in Palermo. I was quite a loner and so movies were my escape, my way of being. I learned so much from Starman, including, somehow, who I was, because a very strong reaction happened in me when I saw the alien taking the shape of Jeff Bridges. I learned that I love men when I saw that. That was my epiphany about my own identity as a person. My sexuality, if I may be candid with you. I think of Starman constantly. I watch Starman constantly. I’m using your platform to salute John Carpenter.
Joshua Encinias: I welcome it. Let’s salute one more person: you mentioned David Cronenberg. Have you seen Crimes of the Future?
Luca Guadagnino: Greatest movie this year. Fantastic.
Joshua Encinias: Yes, you’re so right.
Luca Guadagnino: Another tender movie! It’s beautiful to see Cronenberg, who has been constantly seen as a very in control filmmaker with a very clinical coldness to his art, which is true, being so warm and so tender. It’s a beautiful love story and it’s also a very devastating vision of the future. It’s amazing.
Joshua Encinias: Are you shocked by how people fixate on the cannibalism in Bones and All?
Luca Guadagnino: I have to answer in a different way. I am very pleased that once they see the movie, they don’t care about the cannibalism. [Laughs.] They see the movie as a fable for love.
Joshua Encinias: What do you think about Bones and All opening at Thanksgiving in America? People can either see your cannibalism movie or Steven Spielberg’s family drama, The Fabelmans.
Luca Guadagnino: Spielberg, the master, recently directed a music video for Marcus Mumford called Cannibal. And the literal lyrics of the song mean, “I will love you to the degree of wanting to eat you.” Who is a more beautifully popular director that we have in the canon of American cinema in the past 50 years? Steven Spielberg! And Mumford is a wonderful musician who does very pop music. So cannibal is a metaphor. I’m happy the wide release of my movie is with the amazing Mr. Spielberg.
Joshua Encinias: The screenplay section on your Scarface IMDbPro associated with you was recently updated. Does it mean you’re making that film?
Luca Guadagnino: I have no idea what you’re talking about. And I love you Joshua, though. I’m not rude. I just don’t know what to answer because I have no idea what’s the topic. You should call your sources at Universal. [Laughs.]
Main image: Luca Guadagnino in conversation with John Waters at the Provincetown International Film Festival.
Bones and All is in theaters now.