A woman in a wedding dress with explosive diarrhoea
Other uses for a street in Bridesmaids
The licence granted to male characters in the cinepanettone to misbehave and to dispense abuse can be related to the ‘trickster’ figure found in traditional cultures, ‘an unruly male figure who breaks the rules, is governed by uncontrollable biological urges for food and sex and who often lacks a sense of unity and control of his own body parts’ (King, p. 64). Such a description applies well to aspects of the Boldi or De Sica personae, even if the trickster figures invoked by King are native to social and historical circumstances radically different from the populous and complex mass-media society that is contemporary Italy.
The risk of relating Boldi and De Sica to the trickster figure of traditional cultures is not only one of comparing historical unlike with unlike; it is also one of naturalizing an inequitable allotment of roles and power to the genders. Contemporary Italy is also a society where women, despite undoubted impediments, can and do work in the public spheres of business, media or politics, and so one might expect that certain symbolic forms of licence granted to men be extended also to women. Speaking of the cinepanettone, this seems to be the case only to a limited degree. Indeed, I suspect that one of the reasons the cinepanettone has failed to thrive in recent years is that it has not been brave enough with the grotesque or unruly representation of women. When the gross-out social satire Bridesmaids (Paul Feig, 2011) was released in Italy it was compared to a cinepanettone – but no cinepanettone has ever featured a woman in a wedding dress with explosive diarrhoea. That, it seems, would be transgression too far even for the Italian transgressive form par excellence. The cinepanettone has the power to contravene social decorum through the antics of its male ‘tricksters’, but gender decorum is much harder to breach.
This is not to say that the cinepanettone is devoid of grotesque or unruly women, even if these have often been marginal figures constrained by the plot or restricted to the sentimental sphere.
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.
Dance Sing Man Woman
When the characters played by Boldi and De Sica in S.P.Q.R. disguise themselves as raucous females in order to disrupt the affairs of Leslie Nielsen’s corrupt party leader, they are reprising a carnivalesque tradition of cross-dressing that employs the supposed unruliness of women as a means to upset social norms and power.
Natalie Zemon Davis, in a famous study called ‘Women on Top’, has recounted how the woman in early modern Europe (the same period described by Bakhtin in his book on Rabelais and the carnivalesque) was held to be inherently disorderly, subject to the destabilizing influences of the lower body. The misogynistic discourse of womanhood functioned to deny women the right to hold property or to work licitly outside the home, and ensured their subordinate status to their husbands, but it also enabled a potent representation of the transgressive ‘woman on top’ in literature and image-making, and the performance of the unruly woman in festive contexts like carnival.
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 (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.
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.
Rome in a day: Oldoini, Uva, Boris
Luca Peretti and I started the day with a meeting with Enrico Oldoini (below), the director and scriptwriter of several Filmauro film di Natale, including Vacanze di Natale ‘90 and ‘91, and the Boldi entry from 2008, La fidanzata di papa’ (he works now mostly on television). Like many of our interviewees, he was remarkably forthcoming, sharing some interesting stuff on working with producers and his take on critical culture in Italy. Interesting too were his comments on the other directors and scriptwriters and their work on the film di Natale: he’s a genuine fan; he always sees the films and always laughs, he said.