Interview with the author
Freelance Italian journalist Sergio Caroli read my book and wrote asking for an interview, which we did by email. The version above was published yesterday (24 April) in La Sicilia, but was trimmed from the original text, which I add here.
“Con questo libro vorrei riuscire finalmente a indagare un fenomeno cinematografico che è arrivato a una tale popolarità e a una tale longevità nonostante sia detestato, come il suo pubblico, praticamente da tutti. Da non italiano è stato proprio questo dilagante disprezzo a incuriosirmi e farmi venire la voglia di studiare il cinepanettone”. Così scrive Alan O’Leary, professore all’Università di Leeds, presentando il suo saggio “Fenomenologia del cinepanettone” (Rubbettino, pp152, euro14).Studioso di cinema italiano e storia culturale italiana (è autore del volume “Tragedia all’italiana” sulla rappresentazione del terrorismo nel cinema), O’Leary, irlandese, non circoscrive l’analisi alla rassegna dei vari film o alla loro storia e alla loro fortuna (o sfortuna) di critica e di pubblico, ma realizza una indagine sociologica sull’argomento, utilizzando strumenti di ricerca e di ermeneutica messi a punto dagli studiosi di religione, in tal guisa giungendo identificarsi con il pubblico dei cinepanettoni, mantenendo però ben saldi i principi dell’oggettività. O’Leary si pone il fine di sviluppare una specie di tassonomia dei cinepanettoni e di motivare l’enorme successo, malgrado il disprezzo dei critici. Ad arricchire il saggio c’è una serie di interviste con attori, produttori, critici e fan.
1) Professor O’Leary, l’uso del termine “fenomenologia” richiama alla mente il celebre saggio di Umberto Eco, “Fenomenologia di Mike Bongiorno”. C’è qualche analogia?
Eco fornisce un modello imprescindibile per tutti noi che ci occupiamo della cultura di massa, ma ci tenevo nel libro a distinguere il mio tono dall’approccio ironico di Eco. È chiaro che Eco tratta Mike Bongiorno e il suo pubblico come «altro». Perfino l’uso che fa della polisillaba ‘fenomenologia’ suona più come una presa in giro. Io invece ho seguito l’esempio di studiosi della religione come Ninian Smart per cui ‘fenomenologia’ rappresenta un «tentativo di raggiungere un’oggettività empatica o una soggettività neutrale» verso il fenomeno preso in esame. Per me, dunque, fenomenologia sta a indicare un approccio che prende sul serio l’esperienza e i gusti dei pubblici per i cinepanettoni nonché offrire un’analisi neutrale degli stessi film.
2) Che genere di storia raccontano i cinepanettoni e di quali strategie narrative si servono?
Difficile rispondere in poche righe siccome si tratta di una forma complessa evoluta nel corso di trent’anni. I cinepanettoni doc sarebbero i film diretti da Neri Parenti a partire da Merry Christmas (2001), commedie generazionali che si svolgono in località straniere da sogno. Caratteristica comune è la trama costruita su storie parallele incentrate su Boldi e De Sica e i momenti più spassosi sono quelli in cui i due finalmente si incontrano, spesso in uno spazio ristretto, come in una doccia. I vari Vacanze di Natale, invece, seguendo il modello del film dei Vanzina del 1983, sono ensemble comedies tipicamente contenenti una colonna sonora dei tormentoni estivi dell’anno, elemento fondamentale per l’impatto dei film. Altri film accentuano la satira dei costumi maschili e dell’omosocialità (tema importante e ricorrente) e spesso prendono la forma di film a episodi. Un ulteriore gruppo, poi, si caratterizza per il tono parodico e per le citazioni di altri film. E così via. Insomma, una varietà piuttosto impressionante che sfida il mito secondo cui i cinepanettoni siano «sempre uguali».
3) Il suo libro intende rispondere alle critiche di carattere estetico e ideologico rivolte al cinepanettore. Lei dichiara di essere stato guidato da due autorevoli studiosi del ruolo della cultura popolare; uno è Pierre Bourdeieu che ha indagato sulla funzione sociale del gusto. Può spiegare la relazione?
Bourdieu mi serve per contestualizzare il diffuso disprezzo per i cinepanettoni. Il sociologo francese ha dimostrato che l’apprezzamento di un prodotto culturale non è una questione di un giudizio innato e individuale; è invece qualcosa che si acquisisce, legato alla classe sociale e al «capitale culturale». Il cinepanettone è considerato di basso livello culturale e questo disprezzo è il segno di una posizione sociale privilegiata, se non necessariamente in termini economici almeno in quelli culturali. Spesso si traduce questo disprezzo in termini politici: il cinepanettone sarebbe ‘di destra’ così come i suoi spettatori.
4) L’altro è Mikhail Bakhtin, che ha studiato la carica trasgressiva della comicità carnevalesca, la cui presenza lei individua nei cinepanettoni…
Il carnevale storico era un periodo di morte simbolica e rinascita durante il quale l’intera comunità veniva coinvolta in un rovesciamento delle gerarchie sociali e in una sospensione dei normali codici di comportamento. Il cinepanettone si presta a un’analisi in termini carnevaleschi, associato com’è alla sospensione in tempo di festa delle norme e dei bisogni quotidiani, e al ciclo di rinnovamento sancito dalla morte dell’anno appena trascorso e dalla venuta del nuovo. Il ricorso a un linguaggio volgare, il mettere in ridicolo pretese culturali e il ribaltamento delle normali convezioni morali che mette in atto, corrispondono perfettamente alla comicità carnevalesca teorizzata da Bakhtin.
5) Il cinepanettone viene spesso accusato di sfruttare l’immagine nuda del corpo femminile, ma lei osserva esso pone molto più spesso in evidenza le nudità grottesche del corpo maschile. Può esemplicare e spiegarne le ragioni?
Non voglio per niente negare il sessismo della forma, comunque mi colpisce il modo in cui il corpo nudo di Boldi, spesso fatto vedere nei film, è reso invisibile dalla critica, quasi come se si tratta di una rimozione. Boldi incarna alla perfezione il corpo grottesco descritto da Bakhtin, aperto al mondo esterno, con l’enfasi sugli orifizi e sulle protuberanze. Flaccido, sudato, a volte incontinente, Boldi rappresenta l’opposto, e l’equivalente parodico, del fisico tonico, abbronzato e perfetto della starlet di turno.
6) Lei descrive in un capitolo i risultati di un suo questionario sulla percezione e sul consumo del cinepanettone? Quali sono gli esiti che l’hanno maggiormente impressionata?
Non potevo non notare un tono estremamente negativo nelle risposte (ovviamente di non-ammiratori dei film) alla richiesta di scrivere una descrizione dello ‘spettatore tipico’ dei cinepanettoni, per molti un berlusconiano poco intelligente e di scarsa cultura. Il tono censorio sfocia nell’insulto in più di un’occasione. Ecco probabilmente la risposta più estrema: “un uomo porco a cui piace vedere culi e tette al vento e che si masturba ripensando alla battona di turno nel film.” Mi sembra che la forza del linguaggio sia sintomo di una frattura politica e culturale. Il cinepanettone è divenuto metafora di frustrazione politica e il suo pubblico è diventato capro espiatorio.
PS. and today (1 May) a longer (but still edited) version appeared in the Giornale di Brescia
Uomini uomini uomini
In a previous post I argued for the liberatory thrust in ‘Cacao meravigliao’, a carnivalesque episode of Anni 90, and by extension in the cinepanettone as a whole. My argument was constructed on the analysis of the performance of unruliness in female drag by white male Italian actors, and so begs the question: on behalf of whom is the transgression performed, and what are the costs of the transgression for other groups and identities? In the case of ‘Cacao meravigliao’, the cost seems to involve a stereotypical representation of the Other, the Brazilian ‘shemales’ whose abject, ‘composite’ bodies guarantee by contrast the unitary sex of the male protagonists. The cost for females is that they are effectively marginalized, confined to the roles of prostitute or wife, by the impersonation of unruly womanhood by men.
Trigamist Fabio Trivellone with his black family in Merry Christmas
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.
The Cinepanettone, Postfeminism and DAMS Bologna
Catherine O’Rawe kicks off the Postfeminism conference in Bologna
I spent the last few weeks in Italy, taking the cinepanettone on a visit home. In this post I’ll talk about the Bologna conference ‘Postfeminism: The Culture and Politics of Gender in the Age of Berlusconi’ (7-9 June) and the paper I gave there, and also the paper I presented at the Bologna University DAMS (Drama, Art and Music Studies) on 8 June.
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
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 (3): addetti ai lavori (Luigi De Laurentiis, Luca Montanari, Bruno Zambrini)
Parlano un produttore, un montatore, un compositore
Continuing from the two previous posts (here, and here), more edited transcripts of the interviews myself and Luca Peretti have done about the cinepanettone, in this case of the editor and composer, Luca Montanari and Bruno Zambrini (above), who have worked with director Neri Parenti for many years, and with Luigi De Laurentiis (he’s one of the hunks below) of Filmauro, son of Aurelio, who has taken increasing control of the production of the film di Natale in recent years. The interview with De Laurentiis took place in a palatial room in the Filmauro HQ next to the Quirinale. We talked to Bruno Zambrini in the room where he does his composing on the piano at his home in Rome, and to Luca Montanari (a keen fly fisherman, as he told us) in a film studio, also in Rome, where he was editing a TV fiction. The interviews took place in January (Montanari and Zambrini) and April (De Larentiis) 2011. Most of the material here is from De Laurentiis because he could tell us about the organization of the year’s work on the annual film.
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…
Vacanze di Natale (1983): Instant Nostalgia
‘Le madeleines di Proust sono ora prodotte in serie.’ (Emiliano Morreale)
Here I continue to extract some material from a forthcoming article written for the first issue of a new Italian journal of history and cinema edited by Christian Uva, entitled ‘Nostalgia per un decennio disprezzato: appunti sul primo cinepanettone’.
In an interesting book on nostalgia in the cinema, Emiliano Morreale argues that nostalgia in its ‘postmodern’ form was born in Italy in the 1980s. He locates to the years around 1980 the emergence of a ‘nostalgia mediale e di massa’ that finds its motifs and Madeleines in lowbrow culture. Morreale signals Sapore di Mare (Carlo Vanzina, 1983) as a key text of the ‘new’ nostalgia, a film which releases a ‘fenomeno centrale’ of the period, that of the ‘filone “giovanilista-nostalgico”’ in Italian cinema.