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    Salvatore Showcases Ferragamo and Fabulous Shoes

    By Gary M. Kramer–

    Gay filmmaker Luca Guadagnino’s affectionate documentary, Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams, narrated by Michael Stuhlbarg, presents the life and work of Salvatore Ferragamo (1898–1960) through interviews, archival footage, and fabulous, fabulous shoes.

    The film, opening November 4, traces the production of a Ferragamo shoe, but it also chronicles how the designer became successful, studying under a shoemaker in his hometown of Bonito, Italy, before travelling to America while still a youth. He ended up going to California and working for movie studios—first in Santa Barbara, then in Hollywood. Returning to Florence, he opened a shop but soon went bankrupt before rebuilding and becoming the household name he is today.

    Guadagnino presents all of this—and plenty of shoes!—with commentary by everyone from Manolo Blahnik and Christian Louboutin, as well as Martin Scorsese, Grace Coddington, and Deborah Nadoolman Landis.

    The filmmaker spoke with me for the San Francisco Bay Times about Salvatore Ferragamo and his new documentary.

    Gary M. Kramer: What inspired you about Ferragamo that you needed to make this film?

    Luca Guadagnino: What I was attracted to in Ferragamo’s legacy was the nature of the maverick—someone who was so convinced of an individual path that he created a cannon from the sheer strength and his talent and will. He was someone who always pursued new ground. All of this was testament to very beautiful determination and finding his own way and in an individual way.

    Gary M. Kramer: The film is an oral history. Can you talk about the amazing folks you interviewed?

    Luca Guadagnino: Because Ferragamo’s life was so dense, and he did so much, we had to look for a lot of people to tell us about him. We had historians of Hollywood, film critics, historians of fashion, and costume designers and creators of shoes like Christian Louboutin and Manolo Blahnik, and historians of Florence, and an anthropologist. We had to meet so many people to convey the very profound and deep kind of personality that Mr. Ferragamo had.

    Gary M. Kramer: How did you build your film around the images and anecdotes?

    Luca Guadagnino: That is the editorial strategy. We wanted to get all of the threads of his life and legacy together in a texture and a fabric that could be as rich as possible. I worked with [editor] Walter Fasano for so long we have a shorthand on how to create things. The editing took a long time. 

    Gary M. Kramer: You also feature the making of a Ferragamo shoe, which is fascinating.

    Luca Guadagnino: The question is: What is an object? What is behind a simple object? [Holds up his cell phone as an example]. To deconstruct the way it is built is a good way into the process that goes, eventually, to the actual creative act of one person, Salvatore Ferragamo, in this case.

    Gary M. Kramer: There is considerable talk about shoes and feet. What is so appealing about shoes?

    Luca Guadagnino: One of the interviewees says the shoemaker is like a magician. The shoe has power. It is holding our feet, bringing us to the ground, and giving us a sense of who we are. You can be completely plain in the way you are dressed, but with the shoe, you are identified with what you want to be identified with. It is a talisman and there is something archetypical about it.

    Gary M. Kramer: Likewise, Cinema is such an important part of Ferragamo’s career, and you use the clips well to tell the story. What observations do you have about how movies helped Ferragamo’s career?

    Luca Guadagnino: Ferragamo went to Hollywood in a moment when Hollywood was invented, and he participated in the creation of Hollywood. He understood, more and more consciously, the importance of the creation of the star system. There is a learning curve in his experiences there, but Hollywood gave him more of an understanding of the symbolic nature of business and how much the imagery deals with consumption.

    Gary M. Kramer: Family is often a key element in your films, such as in I Am Love and Call Me by Your Name. Can you talk about the importance of family for Ferragamo?

    Luca Guadagnino: In his case, he really needed, and he created a family. He was an inventor. He invented his own self by becoming a shoemaker. He invented the idea of shoes as a product and tool of empowerment and beauty. He was part of the invention of the star system in Hollywood. In Italy, he looked for a wife and found one in his own village. He made a beautiful family out of necessity of having a family. He must have been a control freak in a good sense.

    Gary M. Kramer: How was making this documentary different for you from telling narrative stories?

    Luca Guadagnino: At the end of the day, it’s a different approach to craft; there is more archival footage, and less footage you shoot. There is not a dramatic representation, but there is testimony. But at the end of day, there is a story of an individual. It’s different and the same.

    © 2022 Gary M. Kramer

    Gary M. Kramer is the author of “Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews,” and the co-editor of “Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.” Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer

    Published on November 3, 2022