Entertainment Weekend: “Salvatore” Celebrates a Life Dedicated to Feet and Fashion | Newstalk Florida

Next time you come home from a long day with sore feet and blisters, take heart: It’s not your feet that are the problem. It’s your shoes.

And that comes from the master, the late Salvatore Ferragamo, who in Luca Guadagnino’s loving documentary Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams proclaims that throughout his career, “I’ve found that there are no such things as bad feet. There are bad shoes.”

Whether you can afford a pair of ferragamos to let your feet live their best life is another question. But it’s fascinating to learn how obsessively Ferragamo, born into a poor Italian peasant family at the turn of the 20th century, studied the human foot to create the perfect shoe, combining creativity with the ultimate comfort. “I love feet,” he wrote. “You’re talking to me.” He even studied anatomy as a night student at the University of Southern California and bombarded the professor with questions about the skeleton — but only about the feet.

It’s just one of a myriad of lovely anecdotes packed into Guadagnino’s often fascinating, unabashedly admiring, and perhaps a bit over-the-top study of the designer, using Ferragamo’s own voice from recordings and his 1955 memoir, narrated by actor Michael Stuhlbarg. Working with the Ferragamo family, the director had an amazing wealth of material to choose from: between the family foundation and museum archives, numerous family members to interview, a crowd of top-notch cultural commentators, and also some wonderful old Hollywood shots, you can almost feel Guadagnino struggling to bring everything under one roof. On the other hand, he knows that some of us could spend all day watching movies about Hollywood, about fashion, and most importantly, about great shoes.

And these ARE great shoes, especially if you like shoes that tell a story. For example, the famous “rainbow” shoe made in the late 1930s, a gleaming gold sandal perched on a platform of layered layers of suede on a cork sole – a welcome innovation at a time when leather was hard to come by ( Ferragamo pioneered platform soles and wedge heels). Shoe lovers will enjoy a section where we can observe how this shoe is built today and looks stunningly modern step by step: the cutting, the gluing, the hammering. (The shoe later stars in its own mini-movie, a whimsical animated “shoe ballet” that concludes the documentary.)

Then there’s the almost dangerously, rebelliously sexy shoe Gloria Swanson wore in 1928’s “Sadie Thompson,” a pair of high-heeled black pumps with ankle straps and big white bows that scream, “Look at me!”

However, we begin with Ferragamo’s youth as the 11th of 14 children in Bonito, a village near Naples. Defying his father’s view that shoemaking is a humble career, he proves his worth by making a pair of fancy shoes overnight for his sister’s confirmation. At the age of nine he was apprenticed to a cobbler, at the age of 11 he was making shoes and at the age of 16 he boarded a ship to America. After a brief stop in Boston, he boards a train and heads west – to Santa Barbara, California, where a fledgling film industry is emerging. As director Martin Scorsese—the best of many commentators here—says in California, “Anything goes. You could outdo yourself three or four times.”

Ferragamo looks at early westerns and knows he could make better cowboy boots – and he does. He then graduates to all sorts of movie shoes, including 12,000 sandals for Cecil B. DeMille’s 1923 silent film epic The Ten Commandments. His name grows and his fans include the biggest stars of the day – Swanson, Mary Pickford, Lillian Gish, Douglas Fairbanks (and in later years everyone from Greta Garbo to Audrey Hepburn to Marilyn Monroe). He moves to Hollywood where he lives near Charlie Chaplin and Valentino stops by to chat in Italian. He starts his own shop, a magnet for stars.

Guadagnino gives us a lesson in the history of Hollywood itself, not to mention the birth of the “movie star” and the role fashion played in it. (It’s great fun.) Then, in 1927, Ferragamo returns to Italy and chooses Florence as the base for his plan to use Italian craftsmanship to make shoes for customers in America. It’s a plan full of risks and early setbacks. In 1933 he declared bankruptcy, then remodeled and eventually bought a magnificent 13th-century palazzo for his company – a triumph of self-confidence.

Despite seemingly countless interviews with the family, we still feel like we don’t always delve deeply into the man’s character or personal life. That finally changes when towards the end of the film, through beautiful shots of Ferragamo himself, we meet his bride Wanda, a young woman from his village.

It is Wanda who, at 38 and a mother of six, takes over the business when her husband suddenly dies of illness in 1960 and oversees its expansion into a global luxury brand. But that is not discussed here. Wanda Ferragamo died in 2018 at the age of 96 (thankfully she had been interviewed for the film), and her years at the head of a business empire, having never worked in her life, would have been a fascinating element of this story.

But that must be another film.

“Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams” was rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America “for smoking and a suggestive reference”. Running time: 120 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

MPAA Definition of PG: Parental Guidance Recommended.


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