More comedy models and motifs in the cinepanettone
Following on from the previous post in which I pointed out possible sources for the banterous ‘buddy’ relationships in Natale in Sud Africa (2010), and an earlier entry in which I pointed out the echoes in a Neri Parenti film of a satirical motif from the commedia all’italiana, I want to post here a few clips and photos to illustrate further comedy models for the cinepanettoni.
Director Neri Parenti’s fondness for silent comedy (he has made a pair of films with Paolo Villaggio and Renato Pozzetto entitled Le comiche (1990, 1991) - the title also once given to programmes of silent comedy on Italian TV), slapstick and violent cartoons is well known. These first few clips illustrate something of this taste.
Ignore for now - if you can - the race and gender issues in the following clip from Parenti’s Natale a Rio (2008) and concentrate instead on the cartoon inflation of the dead cat. Christian De Sica told me that he and Ghini (the two actors in the clip) were annoyed at how unpersuasive the fake cat was (and the digital rendition is clumsy too) but it seems to me that this absence of realism allows the viewer to collaborate in the joke.
The inflation and flight of the creature is a familiar motif in cartoons. I think it must have been in one of the Garfield films, but it has been recycled time and again in drawn animation, as in the following example which I don’t have a date for. Here the mouse attempts suicide, only to take flight. I’m interested that the theme of death is always close by in brutal humour like this. (A menu of further cartoon inflation scenes follows the clip.)
When I interviewed Neri Parenti we had both just seen A Natale mi sposo, the Boldi film from 2010 directed by Paolo Costella. Parenti mentioned the following scene from the beginning of the film. ‘I wrote that!’ said Parenti, but of course the motif of the inflated beast is as almost as old as cinema itself.
In Natale a Rio the joke and cat are left behind when the men disappear, but A Natale mi sposo features its hairy beast in a few subsequent scenes. The following is one of my favourites from the whole filone (and is briefly discussed here and here). Those psychoanalytically minded might care to speculate on the slippage between roving beastie and Boldian penis in this and the following clip.
The makers of the cinepanettoni have been attentive to success in other films, often brazenly recycling characters or motifs from, say, Leonardo Pieraccioni (e.g., the hubristically single simpaticone played by Fabio De Luigi in Natale in Crociera (2007), and Anna Maria Barbera’s corpulent desiring woman in Christmas in Love (2004) - the former based on Pieraccioni’s character in Il paradiso all’improvviso (2003), and the latter based on the persona played by Barbera herself in the same film). They have not been shy either about borrowing from foreign cinema. The gross-out humour in some of the cinepanettoni from the 2000s will derive from the trend in Hollywood comedy and the success of films like There’s Something About Mary (Farrelly brothers, 1998). I imagine the motif of the reanimation (failed or successful) of a dead animal derives also from a famous scene in that film, excerpted here in the trailer at 1:33.
If the taste for violence and gross-out is to be expected given the reputation of the Neri Parenti cinepanettoni, other models are also present. I discussed the ‘Road to…’ films with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope in the previous post, but another particular favourite seems to have been A Fish Called Wanda (Charles Crichton, 1988). In this famous scene from the film, John Cleese’s uptight barrister is surprised naked while he prepares for sex with Jamie Lee Curtis’ character, who is aroused by his speaking Russian (note the motif of the framed picture as inapt screen, repeated in the following clip).
The makers don’t allow the joke to rest only on the embarrassment here: the scene continues until stereotypes of British politeness and stiff upper lip are employed and enjoyed as punchline. The variation in Christmas in Love uses the topos of the ill-timed entrance to a surprise party and is less developed, finishing on the embarrassment and the familiar revelation of the bulging eyes and breasts of the Boldi body (it is important that Cleese and Boldi are actually themselves naked: as in porn, the unfeigned is key to the effect), but there are nice touches in the presence of the sour faced cardinal and the blind man who takes a while to get that something is up.
Again from A Fish Called Wanda, a famous visual joke in which camera movement and an edit reveal what’s really going on. The joke and camera movement is repeated in Natale in Sud Africa, and the situation replayed (without bothering with the rotation of the inverted camera) immediately afterwards. Much of the comedy in the Wanda clip is down to the John Cleese character’s maintaining of his barrister idiolect even in such trying circumstances; the script is cruder in the Italian film, but De Sica’s perfomance - his physicality, facial expressions (his pursed mouth in both clips) and by-rote admission of guilt (in the second clip) - is delicious. The elision of the process of hanging the person over the balcony is funny in all three scenes.
'Sono sempre uguali': the familiar and inaccurate refrain about the cinepanettone is given a little credence in that the films often repeat motifs not only from other cinemas but also from the cinepanettone filone itself. Another post will have to deal with the various, blissful, scenes in which Boldi and De Sica end up in the shower together. Boldi is often guilty, if that’s the word, of reprising catchphrases (‘Ciao cippolino’, ‘Che dolore!’), and his nudity, as mentioned, is a topos unto itself. In his films post-divorce from Filmauro he has maybe tended to rely on echoes of scenes from his oeuvre that have passed into popular myth. Here’s a short clip from Anni 90 parte II (Enrico Oldoini, 1993) in which Boldi has no luck finding a toilet. The scene goes through variation after variation and ends tragically for the needy man in a wig, but note here the exit of the toilet.
Clumsily (perhaps it was a last-minute idea, or perhaps not enough of the shot film was usable - there’s an odd use of long shot), the motif of the removal of the toilet is reprised in Boldi’s 2011 Matrimonio a Parigi (dir. by Claudio Risi; the film was released in October and can’t be called a cinepanettone). Two stills below to illustrate. Boldi’s need to relieve himself culminates in his pissing in the face of Biagio Izzo in a jacuzzi, but perhaps you didn’t need to know that.
The question that might be asked about all this is whether it’s right to accuse these films of lacking originality, or whether they are ‘lazy’. I think the accusation will often be true but will more often be beside the point. In the first place, and obviously, films are made from other films, and techniques and motifs are constantly recycled and re-elaborated. The cinepanettone is hardly exceptional in this. But I’d like to suggest that these films are also to a great extent about the familiarity of the motifs they employ. Just as a comedy catchphrase gets funnier the more it is repeated (until the point of saturation), and just as catchphrase comedy is often critically deplored (as lazy or uninteresting, etc.), so the comedy in a cinepanettone invites complicity from its audience in the sanctioning and celebration of its predictability, and of course those who refuse to be co-opted will find that predictability to be among the most heinous of its aesthetic crimes.