With Enrico Vanzina and Jerry Calà at the opening of the Ozu Film Festival
The Ozu Film Festival which takes place in various towns around Sassuolo in Emilia had the 1983 Vacanze di Natale as its opening film last Friday, 15 November, preceded by a discussion with screenwriter Enrico Vanzina (with me, above), star Jerry Calà and myself. The event was organised by festival directors/programmers Chiara Fiorentini and Enrico Vannucci, who write:
Quando si parla di questo film i sentimenti e i discorsi che si generano sono duplici. C’è chi ne parla nei termini dispregiativi […] e lo descrive quindi come uno degli esempi di quei film brutti, adatti a un pubblico burino, tendenzialmente di destra e maschilista. E c’è chi ne parla in termini elogiativi, attraverso una prospettiva di rivalutazione del basso e del gusto popolare. Tuttavia oltre a queste due prospettive ne esiste pure un’altra, accademica, che cerca di trovare altri aspetti e altri modi per analizzare sia Vacanze di Natale che, soprattutto, i cinepanettoni. Ovvero quella prospettiva inaugurata da Alan O’Leary nel suo testo Fenomenologia del Cinepanettone in cui, partendo dal carnevalesco bachtiniano e dalla descrizione dei corpi maschili e del loro essere grotteschi, fino ad arrivare a descrivere il processo di abiezione dislocata, si riescono ad aprire diversi spunti di discussione alternativi attorno al filone.
Here’s an article in Il fatto quotidiano about the event and the programmers’ reasons for choosing the film. Vanzina was thoughtful and intelligent, if a little self-regarding, in his discussion of the film di Natale. Calà was a bad tempered and ageing diva off the stage and superficial but simpatico on it. I discussed the status of the cinepanettone in Italian cinema studies and the fact that the movies are more interested in the grotesque male body than the beautiful female body.
In praise of Enrico Oldoini
Enrico Oldoini (right): a cameo with Nino Frassica in Anni 90 parte II
For the blogger Manu over at Secondavisione, sometime cinepanettone director (and screenwriter) Enrico Oldoini is ‘il più scarso dei registi che si sono cimentati con genere’ - and that is, of course, to say something, given the low opinions of critics as well as cinephile bloggers of the three names - Oldoini, Neri Parenti and Carlo Vanzina - especially associated with the films. We remember Brunetta’s haughty assessment of directors, films and audience:
In effetti il cinema dei Vanzina, di Neri Parenti, di Enrico Oldoini, può diventare l’emblema più significativo di un decennio caratterizzato, almeno nelle immagini vincenti, da un bisogno di ridere, da una rinuncia a pensare, da una celebrazione dell’apparire, dal cinismo e dal rampantismo, dall’abbassamento sensibile del quoziente di intelligenza comica, dalla convinzione della perfetta permeabilità tra cinema e televisione […]. (Gian Piero Brunetta, Il cinema italiano da ‘La dolce vita’ a ‘Centochiodi’ (Roma: Laterza, 2007), p. 608)
Some Oldoini is definitely awful: fast forward was invented for the Ezio Greggio sections of Vacanze di Natale ‘91, and much of the material in the Boldi film La fidanzata di papa’ ’sta sul mondo solo perche’ c’e’ spazio’ (as Salvatore Satta might put it) - though culpability in both cases may lie elsewhere (with actor and producer respectively). But I suspect the main reasons for the denigration of his work are two.
The first, seen in Brunetta above, is the perceived character of the relation between his films and television: the films promiscuously borrow topics and actors/personalities from the small screen. The treatment of the former is always satirical, but I can see that some stuff in the films has a very early use-by date (though I’m sure that implies built-in nostalgia too). Often, however, the actors are a joy - this is certainly true of Boldi, Nino Frassica, Maurizio Mattioli and Andrea Roncato in the episode discussed below. Sure, I didn’t grow up watching Italian TV and so I haven’t suffered over-familiarity with these figures; but my fresh eyes find them to be skilled, committed, hilarious.
The second reason for the widespread scorn for Oldoini’s work is that he makes films in a farcical register about the challenges and problems of being a man. In fact, I believe this is one of the reasons for the low status of the cinepanettone as a whole (and I will devote a post to the issue in the next few days). The cinepanettone is felt to be an embarrassment because of the remarkable extent to which it foregrounds the instability of normative masculinities (Italian and otherwise); indeed, one might suggest that such instability is the supreme theme of the entire filone - it just refuses to take the theme seriously.
Personally, I find Oldoini’s filmmaking to be generous to his actors and technically adept, with an exceptionally varied repertoire of camera movement - see, for example, the whip pans and Scorsese-esque run-and-gun long take that opens Anni 90. Here’s another case in point, one of my favourite cinepanettone episodes, ‘Amore parlato’, from the same film. The episode features a group sex-therapy session led by Flavio Bucci - who serious people know best as the protagonist in Marco Tullio Giordana’s first film and from his tremendous slack-jawed turn as Andreotti’s right-hand man in Il Divo. I love the variety here: the physicality of the men’s performances (especially Roncato’s) versus the deadpan amusement on the women’s faces and Boldi’s blissful reaction shots; the rhythmic mixture of group shots, two shots and medium close-ups; the significant use of angles, mostly (eye-)level, but once high (5:38) followed by low as the scene ends; the mobile camera that arrives at a character just before he’s referred to (4:53-5:03); the insert reaction shots (e.g., Bucci’s at 4:50) that organize the space and inflate the satirical drama; and so on (if I was David Bordwell I could usefully keep you here all day). This blog post is in praise of Enrico Oldoini, but mention obviously has to be made here of his editor Raimondo Crociani and cinematographer Sergio Salvati (despite some lazy focus) as well as of the actors already mentioned.
I want to finish by discussing an aspect of the film already mentioned in the previous post, the use of widescreen in Anni 90. Again, the main characteristic is variety, from medium close up (though no Leone style extreme close ups here) to the so-called clothesline composition for which widescreen has sometimes been deplored:
At the beginning of the scene, the mobile camera circles around the seated group, but earlier in the episode we have had some nice ensemble tableaux where the actors move within the frame, and clever use is made of a changing room mirror to give even more depth to a deep space:
Finally, mise-en-scene, mise-en-shot and screen format (and music) work to satirical effect in the final shots (ending on a freeze frame). The stained glass, low angle and epic scale (and organ music) sanctify Boldi and elevate the ‘sexual problems’ of the men to a pseudo-melodramatic pitch: a set up, naturally, for the deflating, cynical punchline.
As I said, vulnerable masculinity is the great theme of the cinepanettone, but not one the films take seriously.
Interview transcripts: final draft
Here is the final draft of the edited transcripts of the cinepanettone interviews which were excerpted in the previous seven posts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7). This puts all those transcripts together, or the most interesting bits, and is the draft - all 18,500 words of it - I hope to include in the project monograph. I have tried to do something formally satisfying as well as informative with the material Luca Peretti and myself got in our conversations with fans, actors, directors, screenwriters, editors, composers, critics, scholars and sceptics - all of whom I have tried to grant an equal authority in a discursive collage. I have attempted to retain something of the feeling of a verbal exchange, even to the extent of annoying at least two of our interviewees who objected to their informal representation in the online transcripts (I was obliged to modify their contributions). The chapter in the book will have an introduction, and perhaps I’ll rearrange some of the sections below, but if readers agree the following is lively and engrossing I don’t intend to edit it any further. (But see here for information about a change I did make…)
Interview transcripts (7): Tifosi (Canu, Di Nocera, Proietti, Tamburini)
In this seventh and last edited transcript from the interviews conducted by Luca Peretti and myself on the cinepanettone I excerpt the words of four fans of the filone.
Lorenzo Proietti is an avid filmgoer and also a cinepanettone regular – a combination demonstrated by all these interviewees and one that challenges the stereotype of the typical cinepanettone consumer who goes to the cinema just once a year. I spoke to Lorenzo in December 2010 in his office in the building in Rome where he works as a concierge. He showed me the tin box kept there which contained the ticket stubs for every movie he’d seen at the cinema since the turn of the century: a substantial batch.
Pietro Di Nocera
I have discussed here my interview with Pietro Di Nocera (in a posh Roman hotel bar in April 2011), one of the organizers of the Vacanze di Natale (1983) fan club and website. He is passionate about the original but scornful of the other films – especially those of Neri Parenti – though he admits to seeing them and to laughing.
Enrico Tamburini and Massimiliano Canu of cinepanettoni.it
I spoke by Skype videocall in February 2011 to the two organizers of a cinepanettone fan website based in Udine (I discuss the interview here). Massimiliano Canu and Enrico Tamburini were highly engaged with the filone and the kind of comedy they felt it represented. They were much less interested in the directors than the actors, and, interestingly, seemed to be embarrassed by the vulgarity held to be characteristic of the films and their exploitative representation of women.
Interview transcripts (6): parlano gli scettici (Antonangeli, Garofalo, Missaglia, Schirò, Uva)
In this sixth edited transcript from the interviews conducted by Luca Peretti and myself on the cinepanettone I excerpt the words of four members of a focus group of male university graduates aged between twenty-four and twenty-six: Riccardo Antonangeli, Damiano Garofalo, Nicola Missaglia and Enrico Schirò. As I explained to them, there were representatives for us of a certa intellighentsia who I hoped would help us to discern the substance of, and get some of the reasons for, a widespread dismissive feeling towards the cinepanettone on the part of those who consider themselves educated and culturally well-informed. The next post will be about the fans of the cinepanettone, but these are among the sceptics: I want to take seriously the perceptions of the public, sympathetic or unsympathetic, to help to understand and analyse the appeal or not of the film di Natale.
Gli scettici: Garofalo, Antonangeli, Schirò, Missaglia
Joining the four members of the focus group is the academic Christian Uva, who teaches film at Roma Tre University and who has appeared several times in this blog (see here and here). Christian is the author of the best study I’ve found of the films of Neri Parenti, in which he is brilliant on the persona of Christian De Sica (see the end of this post for details). Our conversation focussed on the ideology of the cinepanettone and on some of its formal characteristics.
Appassionati per caso: Srivastava, Uva, O’Leary
Interview transcripts (5): parlano gli attori (Boldi, De Sica, Ghini, Tabita)
Boldi and De Sica: even great love stories must end
Continuing from four previous posts (here, here, here, and here), more edited transcripts of the interviews myself and Luca Peretti have done about the cinepanettone, this time with the actors Massimo Boldi, Christian De Sica, Massimo Ghini and Barbara Tabita.
Natale in Sud Africa:Ghini, gurning, and Belen, verso
These were the most difficult interviews to do, and have generated the least interesting results - perhaps. Actors are very practiced at interviews and will often repeat material they know has entertained in the past. This was certainly the case with De Sica, who repeated stuff almost verbatim I had read elsewhere (the context itself was unfortunate: his mother had died the previous night after a long illness, but De Sica graciously preferred to go ahead with his appointments). Ghini’s was less an interview than a monologue that Luca and myself interrupted at irregular intervals. But at least those two interviews were face to face, which meant one could probe and respond politely. I’ve discussed the problems of my skypephone interview (audio only) with Boldi here, and I only recently managed to get an interview with a woman involved in the cinepanettoni, having failed to convince both Nancy Brilli and Sabrina Ferilli that I was anything but a sinister stalker geek. A colleague happened to know the Sicilian actor Barbara Tabita, who stared in Natale in Sud Africa, and the latter was kind enough to reply by email (from her iPhone) to my questions. Inevitably, I think, her responses were a little anecdotal and I would have liked to have been able to ask supplementary questions about a theme she was most interesting on, that of the body of female actor in a masculinist cinema culture.
The interview with Boldi took place in just before Christmas 2010, with De Sica and Ghini in January 2011, and Barbara Tabita sent me her answers by email in February 2012. My questions are signaled with an ‘A’. The interviews have been transcribed by Luca and Damiano Garofalo - sincere thanks to both of them.
Natale in Sud Africa: De Sica and Tabita on the menu
Massimo Boldi. Discuss.
How can we explain Massimo Boldi? It’s not a question intended ironically - I enjoy Boldi and have tried to unpack some of his appeal here. It’s a question that could be asked of any actor, but it’s particularly interesting in the case of Boldi because he is so often pilloried, while retaining his popularity. Boldi seems to have begun his career with quite an aggressive style of humour, seen to be typical of Italian TV (stampo Berlusca)in the 1980s (though I can’t find any clips online), and he has always liked to insert surreal elements in his performances. But something about him - body shape, mobile infantile face, clumsiness (he is an Italian ‘Mr Bin’ in 1998’s Paparazzi), mimicry - seems to have also (always?) appealed to kids.
In the interviews I have been excerpting in the last few posts, some of those who worked with Boldi - as actor and as actor/producer - have discussed aspects of his persona and his appeal. I asked Carlo and Enrico Vanzina about working with him on the first film he made after the split with Filmauro,Olé (2006), directed by Carlo Vanzina, scripted by both brothers, and produced by Medusa.
ENRICO VANZINA: Boldi è uscito dai film di Natale e… probabilmente, in quel momento si pensava che fosse quasi più forte lui di De Sica da solo… sembrava che nell’incasso del film di Natale Boldi desse più forza… perché era più comico, perché aveva il Nord, perché era per i più bambini…
[Olé] era un film molto Disney da un certo punto di vista… c’erano i sogni… In più c’è una grande svolta: Boldi fa un ruolo sentimentale!
CARLO VANZINA: Allora abbiamo pensato che siccome si rivolgeva… soprattutto Boldi, staccandosi da De Sica aveva un pubblico più di ragazzini… abbiamo pensato di trovare una cosa un pochino più immersa nel mondo anche dei ragazzi… Poi, adesso, il film era molto leggero… nel senso che… poi Boldi voleva fare un film non volgare, voleva fare un film un po’ alla Disney…
To note in these remarks are four elements: Boldi’s perceived popularity, something that made Medusa invest in a film constructed around him; his popularity particularly in the North of Italy, seen to be difficult to achieve for other comic actors (e.g. Carlo Verdone, too identified with Roma ladrona); his popularity particularly with kids; and finally, the use of the term ‘Disney’. Paolo Costella, who directed Boldi in A Natale mi sposo (2010; he also co-wrote, as he did Boldi’s La fidanzata di papá of 2008) also talks of this ‘Disney’ aspect:
PAOLO COSTELLA: il mondo di Massimo Boldi, che è uno strano confine tra una volgarità e una comicità molto facile e invece una ingenuità, lui dice spesso disneyana e tanti non capiscono perché […] però invece qualche cosa nell’anima un po’ candida che ha lui come personaggio, qualche cosa c’è.
Boldi is, then, a paradoxical beast. His flabbiness equips him to play the grotesque body, as discussed here, but he is also something like an animated character that talks in funny voices and suffers comic misadventures. The Vanzinas alluded in our interview to using this softer second aspect in their Boldi tv series for Canale 5, Un ciclone in famiglia (2005-8). I’ve only watched the first episode, but it’s effectively made light comedy in the consolatory mode intended for, I’d guess, an older (post-55) and a younger (pre-11) audience. It marries gorgeous international postcard vistas with odd couple comedy and nuclear family units as conventional and petit bourgeois as the most conservative palinsesto programmer could want, even if there’s a dose too of soap opera style issuefying (teenage pregnancy and financial difficulty). The pace of the editing is mainly glacial, with special dwelling on two-shots in which Boldi and his Roman opposite number (and second fiddle), played by Maurizio Mattioli (below), do their schtick. (Mattioli and Boldi go way back, for example to a great episode in Fratelli d’Italia, 1989.)
On the evidence of the episode I watched, the ‘vulgarity’ reviled in the cinepanettone is present in the show, but carefully rationed, and associated not with Boldi but with Mattioli’s physically much larger character, who once almost pronounces ‘li mortac…’ and permafarts his way (hilariously) through a night they share in a letto matrimoniale in a Swiss pension.
As I say, it all works very well. Have a listen to the theme song (text here if required) and notice Boldi’s interjections.
The figure of the harassed pater familias has become the default setting for Boldi since Merry Christmas (2001), but in this song has been cleverly distilled to its essential elements of needy/greedy offspring and father/wallet. Remarkable though is the mode of Boldi’s interjections: the ‘io pago’ in a caricature Neapolitan accent is a version of a famous line of Totò’s in the 1950 (?) film 47 morto che parla (dir. Carlo Ludovico Bragaglia), seen and heard here:
Notice that Boldi’s rendition of the line is in a more exaggerated Neapolitan than Totò’s (a Milanese’s idea of the Neapolitan accent perhaps). Boldi is the one who speaks in a funny voice, the cuddly comedy dad par excellence. I don’t think that the allusion is meant specifically to the Totò film (Totò plays a miser, with a nod to Molière); it’s rather that a phrase out there in the culture, known by everyone and employed jocularly in constantly renewed contexts, like Alberto Sordi’s ‘lavoratori’ followed by a raspberry noise from I vitelloni, has been appropriated for the purposes of (a) signalling the tone of the show; (b) providing information about the rueful role the father is forced to play, as well as indicating his central place in the narrative; (c) asserting the status of Boldi as (like Totò) an indulged national figure.
Interview transcripts (4): registi e sceneggiatori (Paolo Costella, Enrico Oldoini, Neri Parenti, Carlo Vanzina, Enrico Vanzina)
'Neanche Shrek fa riferimento alla realtà americana.’ (Neri Parenti)
Costella, Oldoini, Parenti
Continuing from the three previous posts (here, here, and here), more edited transcripts of the interviews myself and Luca Peretti have done about the cinepanettone, in this case of the screenwriters and/or directors, Paolo Costella (who directed the 2010 Boldi film A Natale mi sposo), Enrico Oldoini (who has also done a Boldi film and several Filmauro films in the 1990s), of stalwart cinepanettone writer and helmer Neri Parenti (too many films to mention), and Carlo and Enrico Vanzina, the writing/directing team who did the first cinepanettone (though they would refuse the term) and several since (they scripted 2011’s Vacanze di Natale a Cortina with Neri Parenti).
Carlo and Enrico Vanzina
The interviews with Paolo Costella and Neri Parenti took place in December 2010 (when Natale in Sud Africa was still on release). I spoke to the Vanzinas in February 2011 (Enrico twice) and a cautious Enrico Oldoini in April.
My questions are signaled with an ‘A’, and Luca’s with an ‘L’. The interviews have been transcribed by Luca and Damiano Garofalo - sincere thanks to both of them.
Interview transcripts (2): parlano alcuni sceneggiatori (Borsatti, Brizzi, Marciano, Martani)
Parlano alcuni sceneggiatori, del cinepanettone e no
Continuing from the previous post, here are some more edited transcripts of the interviews myself and Luca Peretti have done about the cinepanettone, in this case of two screenwriters historically involved with the filone, Fausto Brizzi and Marco Martani.
Brizzi and Martani established with Neri Parenti the formula that is considered the cinepanettone doc, and which led to the films’ created success in the last decade.
We also spoke to Cristina Borsatti, a script doctor, writer and teacher, about an article she had written in Film TV which deals with product placement in Natale in Sud Africa (she had actually worked on product placement in Natale in Crociera -for the press office associated with the cruise ship company that had allowed the use of ship), and the shortcomings of the film’s script.
Finally, I include here excerpts from my conversation with Francesca Marciano (above), a very experienced screenwriter who has worked with Carlo Verdone and Wilma Labate among others (Francesca heard about the project and asked to meet).
In transcribing the interviews (all of which took place in Rome in December 2010 and January 2011), we decided to maintain the natural pauses and hesitations characteristic of ordinary speech, but this has been done below inconsistently, which may give the impression the men were less hesitant than the women. This will be cleaned up in the final edit, which will have to be much shorter. Questions are signalled with an ‘A’ for Alan and ‘L’ for Luca. Readers are warmly invited to suggest what elements of the conversations they find most interesting.
Interview transcripts (1): parlano i critici (Della Casa, Giusti, Silvestri)
I’m working though the transcripts of the interviews myself and Luca Peretti have done about the cinepanettone, accounts of which can be found in the following posts:
- A week of Interviews
- On interviewing method
- Massimo Boldi on his comedy
- Neri Parenti on beginning work on the cinepanettone every January
- Focus group
- Two films, two scholars, two directors, one cabbie and a critic
- Marco Martani on multiple address
My plan is to construct a virtual roundtable discussion on the cinepanettone taking in a variety of perspectives. The eventual thing should be about 10,000 words (to be published in the project monograph) but I’m posting here the work in progress, as I edit the transcripts and organize them thematically. In transcribing the interviews we decided to maintain the natural pauses, hesitations, rewordings and so on of ordinary speech (and the punctuation mark most often employed is the ellipsis). These will probably have to be replaced and cleaned up in the final version, but I retain most of them here, for the record.
In this first batch, I have juxtaposed the words of three left-wing critics, all somewhat sympathetic to the cinepanettone: Stefano (detto Steve) Della Casa, expert on popular cinema and presenter of RAI Tre daily radio show on cinema ‘Hollywood Party’ (interviewed December 2010); Marco Giusti, arbiter of Italian cult cinema and film critic at il manifesto (interviewed December 2010); Silvana Silvestri, also film critic for il manifesto and versatile writer on film (interviewed January 2011). My questions are signalled with an ‘A’ for Alan. I begin by trying to elicit the history of the Christmas outing to the cinema…
The burlesque of history: S.P.Q.R 2000 e ½ anni fa
I’ve been writing a series of article over the last couple of months, alone and also with Catherine O’Rawe, based on this blog and anticipating material that will be reworked in the project monograph (Fenomenologia del cinepanettone, Rubbettino, 2012). In this and the next few entries I will excerpt some of the article material that hasn’t been developed in the blog. In this first entry, I want to discuss the travesty of historical discourse in the Vanzina Bros S.P.Q.R. 2000 e ½ anni fa. I first presented this material during the course taught in Mumbai in summer 2011 (see here and here). I then presented it to an engaged and skeptical audience of Italianists and others at the University of Burmingham in October – very many thanks to Daniele Albertazzi for inviting me to be part of their seminar series. The material will now be published in piece entitled ‘On the Complexity of the Cinepanettone’, in Italian popular Cinema, ed. by Louis Bayman and Sergio Rigoletto (Manchester: Manchester University Press, forthcoming 2012?). Thanks to Louis and Sergio for permission to use the stuff here.
A Week of Interviews
Carlo and Enrico Vanzina
A belated post (I’m back teaching in Leeds) to report a series of interviews in Rome last week. Thanks to the indefatigable Luca, we managed to get to speak to a series of people with an interest in the cinepanettone, from critics to stars. I’ve talked about the rationale behind these interviews in a previous post (which I can’t link to), and some of the problems related to interviewing in another. What I hope to discern in the interviews is the process of discursive construction of the filone: how it is produced by the ‘talk’ around it even before any individual film is seen. The interviews will, I hope, also be useful in gleaning information about the production of the films themselves.