NINE – or a failure

Once upon a time there was a masterpiece of Italian cinema, Fellini’s “Otto e Mezzo” (Eight and a half), in which a charming, confused, sexually obsessed, quintessentially Italian (in a good AND bad way) Marcello Mastroianni re-enacted Federico Fellini’s fantasies on films and women.

The title, Eight and a half, referred to several things. The simplest explanation and the “official” one is that the film was Fellini’s 8th and the half movie (half because one was a short). More symbolical explanations see in 8 and 1/2 the age at which the lead character, Guido Contini, first discovered women and sex thanks to an old, fat prostitute, Sarraghina, who lived in a hut  metres away from his Catholic boarding school.

Guido grows up to become a succesful film director, and notorious womanizer – depite being regularly married. However, on hitting 50, the typically Catholic contrast between Holy and Profane, Sin and Virtue, the Mother/Wife type of woman  and the Lover/Whore kind, leads Guido to a breakdown. His inspiration is gone, he can’t make films anymore, he’s stuck and all his women seem to leave him at once, unwilling to go on playing his game. In his mind past memories and present fantasies mix in an oniric sequence, while his real life falls apart. But eventually, when all seems lost, the idea for a new film appears.

Once upon a time there was my favourite musical, NINE, a simple, effective, musically inspiring, visually clever stage version of “Otto e mezzo” (NINE was an easier word to fit into music than eight-and-a-half,  hence the extra six months)

    

I discovered NINE during my very first month in London, in late 1996, when the agent I went to see told me “Oh no, you should have come last month when they were casting for Nine! They were looking for 11 women and all with an Italian accent! You must go and see it, in case they re-cast it.”

I did as advised. NINE was a show produced by the Donmar Warehouse, at the time still under the guide of Sam Mendes – who had still to direct “American Beauty”.

It blew me away. The crazy, oniric spirit of the film was there, in all its complex paradoxes, but the dramatic structure of the show was simple: a Spa hotel in Italy, Guido barricated into a room – a press conference waiting in the hall, his old lover in the next room, his agent nagging at the door, his sexy new lover on the phone, his wife surprising him, the memories of his adoring mother and of Sarraghina the whore playing tricks in his mind. This colourful cast of incredible female characters twirled and span around Guido, singing beautiful songs like “Unusual way” and “My husband makes movies”, trying to seduce him with hilarious numbers such “A call from the Vatican”. They demand his attention, love, respect, work, while he sits on his chair unable to make sense of his life. A younger version of himself – a nine year old Guido – joins him on stage and takes him on a journey along memory lane. Sarraghina appears, together with Guido’s mother and an army of priests and nuns… Nine… If only he could be nine again and change everything…

In the Donmar version at some point Guido, forced by his producer to start shooting a film, any film, decides on a “period” piece set in Venice. The small stage filled up with a few inches of water, all actors wore 18th century wigs, and used chairs as bridges to move across the “Venice Lagune”. It was an incredibly visually effective scene, fiction within fiction within fiction. No need for special effects and expensive sets, some water, two wigs and a few chairs and Venice was there. Real theatre magic. Brilliant.

Once upon a time there was NINE  the film, a movie that cost 80 million dollars, boasted a stellar cast of Hollywood stars, and a director, Rob Marshall, who had previously achieved the impossible task of turning one of the least cinematic musicals, Chicago, into a superb film.

But NINE the film is a flop. Nine the film is a bore. Nine the film is by far one of the least engaging musicals I’ve ever seen. Nine the film is a stellar confusion. Why?

  

Here’s my opinion. 

Fellini’s 8 and 1/2 and Nine the stage musical told the same story but were not the same thing. In both cases the directors managed to achieve the best their specific MEDIA could offer. So Fellini’s used the oniric potential of cinema to play out his fantasies and frustrations, trusting Mastroianni’s ironic and melancholic charm and the power of images. The great virtue of Nine the stage musical was in taking 8 and 1/2 structural elements – a charming womaniser in a midlife crisis, the women of his life, a film that can’t be shot – and turning them into a quintessentially theatrical performance, challenging,entertaining and moving.

NINE the film doesn’t know what it wants to be, other than a soup re-heated 3 times. A great film it ain’t as it’s too packed with too long dance numbers and the story is so diluted it gets lost; and it fails to be even an acceptable musical, despite using 70% of the stage version tunes, as the best ones have either been cut, re-written or placed in the wrong scene.  All the new songs – of which there was no need – are banal, long and tuneless. Nine the film isn’t a remake of 8 and 1/2 in music, and it isn’t the faithful film version of the stage musical. It’s a sort of mixbetween the two and in its inability to make the most of its medium fails as a film and is only a pale, worse version of the stage show. 

 Nine oozes glamour and money at every shot but it’s all giltzy frame and no content. Nothing could be more different from both the simplicity of the theatre version and the dream-like, naive fantasies of the original film than its superglam choreographies and its beauty-contest dancers. Fellini’s films  told the fantasies of the post war Italian men, a men who dreamed about big tits and blond prostitutes improvising rumbas in the streets, not Kidman-esque anorexic actresses in immaculate design clothes.

Chicago was unrealistic, runchy, theatrical and grotesque. Nobody would have tried to spot in it the true 1920s Chicago. Nine isn’t theatrical enough to be unrealistic and grotesque and it’s not filmic enough to be realistic and believable. It’s like a TV advert, only two hours long. Glamourous women immaculately dressed, beautiful men on scooters, fine restaurants, elegant shops, and then glitter, glitter, glitter. It’s Italy through the eyes of a gay American tourist.  I expected George Clooney coming up any minute advertising “Nespresso” coffee…

If Marshall had at least followed the structure of the original show, the story would have been clear. But by swapping songs round, adding characters that don’t mean anthing, changing locations he confuses the viewer who’s never seen the show and highly disappoints Nine’s fans. 

Basically, after 30 minutes the audience that hasn’t seen the theatre show has no clue what the film is about, after 45 minutes they still don’t know but begin not to care and after one hour they think they’d have been better off watching AVATAR as this is boring like hell.

And the lack of irony!!! Nine takes itself increidbly seriously – which is another thing Fellini always avoided and the stage version never did. Everything that made the show light and enjoyable has gone. Forgotten is the great song “Italians at the Spa” with its sequel of awkward characters crowding the hotel where Guido is hiding. Instead we have Peneope Cruz singing “A call from the Vatican” totally out of context (the irony of Guido pretending to be on the phone with a Monsignore while being sexually provoked lost between the close ups on Cruz’s bum). With a total lethal choice Cruz’s character, Carla, is transformed from sexy, fun, no ties lover to married woman carrying a long term secret relationship with Guido who ends up commiting suicide in a dodgy pensione, where her ugly fat husband finds her almost dead… A cheap melodrama that doesn’t add anything and simply ruins the fun of Carla’s character.

From vamp to wimp.

But other characters have also been ruined. In the frenzic attempt to cram as many big names as possible into one movie – just in case they’d all die in 2010  – the delicate, complex, beautiful Claudia – Guido’s muse and great love – has been relegated to 5 minutes two third of the way into the movie.  Then there’s Judy Dench, impeccable and amazing as usual, but playing the totally useless made-up role of  a costume designer. Why is a costume designer doing on a set of a film that hasn’t been written yet, it’s not clear. Marion Cotilliard is a fantastic actress and singer, and probably the best performer in the movie. But she’s far too young for the role of Guido’s long term wife, who should obviously be his same age, since she sings about their past together. Of course the words of the beautiful “My husband makes movies” have been changed to accomodate such changes, and the fact that she’s now a Parisian actress who goes back to acting after leaving Guido. Useless to say, the original was a million times more powerful.

And it goes on. The hilarious role of the arrogant, middle aged, French film reviewer has disappeared in favour of a silly blond American journalist played by Kate Hudson who also appears for only 5 minutes to seduce Guido and sing an awful song dancing like a “velina” on Italian tv.

And can I point out that, for a film that has 10 Italian women as protagonists, there are NO ITALIAN ACTRESSES on sight except a superbotoxed Sophia Loren? 

This is appaling! We do have good actresses in Italy, why do you need to cast a Spaniard, a French and an AUSTRALIAN WITH NO FACIAL EXPRESSIONS as Italian?? And what is it with Americans and Sophia Loren? Or is with gays and Sophia loren? Get over her! Ok, she was beautiful and sexy 50 years ago, but so was the Adriatic Sea, Queen elizabeth and Tom Jones, and nobody goes on and on about them. And even 50 years ago, she couldn’t act! Anna Magnani was the greatest Italian actress of that time, not Loren. Claudia Cardinale was a million times more stunning and still is, since she doesn’t have that orange glow that Loren now boasts thanks to fake tan!!! Sophia Loren… Oh dear me. If she’s believable as Daniel Day Lewis’ mother I want to be cast as Denzel Washington’s natural son.

When the original score WOULD have offered the opportunity for drama, tragedy and emotions, Marshall  prefers to cut. So gone is “Simple”, gone is “The bells of Saint Sebastian”… “Unusual way”, one of the most beautiful songs written for musical theatre in the past 15 years, passes almost unnoticed, thanks to an editing that focuses on fountains and architecture rather than on the lyrics. Perhaps the director was trying to distract us from Nicole Kidman’s uninspiring singing… For sure Kidman couldn’t be more wrongly cast as Claudia, a role that requires a passionate, curvy and Italian actress, not an Australian icy queen whose face is paralized by botox.

The fact that Anthony Minghella interfered with the screenplay might have had a role in making a shamble of Nine. I hate talking idly of the dead, but Minghella directed the worst melodramas in cinema history, such as the English Patient, and the horrific Return to Blue Mountain. Minghella’s greatest ability was to take a good book (or show in this case) and turn it into a neverending, boring, over the top, unlikely melodrama, adding some incredibly camp touches on the way. 

Another huge flaw in the film, that contribute to its “heaviness”, so unlike the lightness of its tow predecessors, is the lead actor, Daniel Day Lewis. In 8 and 1/2, despite his crisis, Guido was a charming, handsome, genial womanizer who never lost his sense of humour.  Guido’s “block” in the film and the theatre show was, in Freudian terms, the result of the sense of guilt his Catholic mother has instilled in him. But it wasn’t seen as a world’s tragedy. More like the personal struggle of a supposedly “big” but in fact very small, middle aged man. Guido feels dirty, corrupted, but at the same time he loves his corruption and knows that somehow his art is linked to his dark side. 

Nine the film takes Guido’s crisis incredibly seriously. Daniel Day Lewis is indeniably a great actor, but irony, self deprecation and lightness aren’t his forte. There isn’t one single light note in his Guido, as there isn’t a single Italian note in his odd, vaguely Russian, fake Italian accent. He might have spent months reseraching his role, but perhaps he would have been better off relaxing and having a glass of wine on a beach, as his trying so hard in this case is counterproductive. He just doesn’t GET it.  Mastroianni was charming, funny, melancholic. Raul Julia, who played Guido at the Donmar, shared the same qualities. Antonio Banderas – who played the role on Broadway – was sexy, akward and cocky. DDL is such an annoying, self centred, miserable womanizer with no charm who hardly ever smiles.

In fact… George Clooney would have been much better, thinking about it. He could have winked at his love for silly, glamorous Italian women with big tits and sold Nespresso coffee at the same time! And I’m pretty sure his singing voice is not worse than DDL’s…

Really, somebody should have explained the film to poor Danny, pity everyone is apparently too terrified of him to actually speak to gim. Danny, Danny, why are you so impossible? I was told Marshall didn’t even have the guts to ask him to re-voice parts of his performances where the accent really didn’t work (and this isn’t gossip. This I KNOW. How do I know? I can’t say.) 

Yes, DDL has played some great roles in the past but perhaps somebody should extract the huge pillar stuck inside his behind so he could start relaxing and realising he’s not God, just a performer.

What a pity, what a lost chance… Well, let’s look at the bright side. Since Nine the film will be soon forgotten, I can go on using A call from the Vatican and Unusual Way as audition songs, as they will remain fairly unknown.

For the joy of my friend Billy who always asks me to sing them.

who’s not wearing any clothes? I’m not!!! BAMBINO…

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UPDATES!

I know I know, I haven’t written for ages and I feel very bad…

Now, back to business. So much has happened since the last time I wrote.

Gastritis. Dear my stomach hurts. And I only take one coffee per day, I don’t drink and I hate fried food. How is it possible? Stress? Then the other day I went to a recording studio and discovered 50% of voice over actors have gastritis and acid reflux, due to diaphragm being overused in dodgy ways. Terrible! Somebody should re-fund us, collect money to buy us a new stomach, what are all those cartoon fans doing? Honestly, in the studio last week every other person was suffering from my same problems, we began to compare symptoms and cures and there was Gaviscon passed around like a spliff… SAD!!!

Somebody threw a replica of the Duomo at our Prime Minister, aoch! No, I’m not involved, I swear, why is it that the moment they mentioned the Duomo all my English friends started checking my whereabouts on the day of the aggression??? Actually, In Britain the event made people giggle – Italians using souvernirs as weapons of mass distruction – while in Italy it was treated in an incredible serious way, “this climate of hatred generates terrorism”, “everyone must condemn violence”, bla bla bla. Apparently it’s all a conspiracy led by La Repubblica… Now, I know I shouldn’t joke about such serious stuff but… Some sense of humour sometimes does help. Of course violence is terrible, and Berlusca might have lost an eye, and I’m sorry for anyone loosing eyes and other parts of the body, but the comical side of the event is undeniable. Everything in Italy has turned into a joke, including terrorist attacks! Even though, thinking about it, we could launch a fashion. I propose that everywhere in the world terrorists should forget about guns and bombs and start attacking using local souvernirs. The Statue of Liberty, the Taj Mahal, the Tour Eiffel… If it works Tartaglia should be awared a Nobel for peace. No? Ok, ok, I’ll shut up

Global Warming, recently all posh Brits have decided they’re going to save the world. Or, better, they’ve decided they’re going to tell us, poor mortals, how to save the world by giving up the few things that make our lifestyle more similiar to theirs while they sit in Richmond – the richest borough in London – producing as much carbon emissions as 3 jumbo jets, thanks to their SUVs, air conditioning systems, and swimming pools. This week world leaders got together in Copenhagen looking for a deal to save Earth from self destruction.

I side up with Africa.

Why? Because it’s always the rich telling the rest of the humanity how to live more “ethically” so they can go on living unethically. I know this is superficial and populist and I should be ashamed, but shut up, I’ve never owned a car in my life and I do my best to recycle, even though when you live in 35 sq mt on a first floor you can’t keep 5 different bins in the house or the bed will have to be moved to the main road. I can’t stand “goody goody” toffs telling me it’s a scandal to travel by plane, even for work, when one could do conference calls (lip sync dubbing in conference call? How does that work?). For certain families on a low income cheap airlines have opened a world of possibility, for the first time even working class people can travel outside their country, but they say this is bad, fares will have to go up to discourage people from flying. Who’s going to be discouraged though? I personally can’t afford buying organic food, and I can’t grow my own veggies on the Archway road. Am I a bad person?  Haringey council provides only one tiny box to recycle paper,plastic and metal, all together. And I’m not REALLY sure that there’s somebody at the end of the week who’s going to go through them and separate the metal from the plastic…  The box fills up in two days, after which one is forced to throw everything in the garbage bin.

I’m not saying global warming isn’t a serious risk but I do think the “big” people should start by giving the example.

Christmas! Where does time fly? It was only yesterday that I was complaining about the lack of summer weather at summer times, and now it’s already the middle of December… Yes… Christmas… That special time of the year when the Brits get drunk at office parties and end up making sexual advances to their boss, with the result of not having a job in January… I suspect, with the recession, parties are used to find excuses to make people redundant.  But let’s talk for a second about Christmas cards. December comes and all of a sudden Britain is back in 1910 – no phones, no emails, no cheap flights to visit relatives – cards being the only way to wish somebody a happy Christmas…. I mean, it’s nice, it’s romantic, it’s traditional… But it’s also daft as hell. First of all for most people it’s not a pleasure at all, it’s a duty, a job, they have 347 cards to send to every single person they’d ever said “hello” to, and they need to take a week off work to do that. Then they need to go to the post office and lick 347 stamps on them… Then the post offices are on strike and they panic that their cards are not going to arrive and aunt Guendolen is going to be really offended. Every year it’s a total meyhem but still, every year, the British don’t give up. CARDS NEED TO BE SENT! Therefore, to beat the system, they start writing them earlier and earlier – I’ve heard of people sending their cards in August, just to be on the safe side. Italians are much more practical, they used to just give people a call for Christmas,  but now they don’t even need to do that. They write one SMS and send it to everyone in their address book, including the hospital, the taxi firm and their PIN number (that of course they store as a phone number in their mobile).

Snow. Yesterday it snowed in Britain. Is this news? I mean, I’d like to go to Sweden national TV, and have a newsreader announcing, as a BREAKING NEWS, that “yesterday five inches of now fell on the country”. He would be taken to the hospital with suspect brain damage, which kind of news is it? “Yesterday the sun raised.” Is it news? No, it has been doing so for the past 5 million years. But 5 inches of snow falling in DECEMBER in Britain dominate the BBC news for half an  hour. Why? Because of course the whole country has ground to a halt, literally, airports closed, road blocked, schools shut… I look out of the window, the snow isn’t even enough to properly cover the pavement. HOw is this possible? We’re talking 10 cm of snow, maximum!!! This is a joke. And we’re in Northern Europe, it’s not like we’re in the middle of the Caribbean Sea and it suddenly starts snowing. The best thing was that I made a bet with myself and won. What did I bet? That despite the freezing cold temperatures I would see at least one person with no socks or tights on. I thought I’d have to look around very hard. But no. The moment I arrived at Archway station, there she was: a woman in high heels and BARE LEGS and FEET. Her skin was purple. Now I understand why a bit of snow can stop the whole of Britain. British people don’t have a clue. They’re random. How did they manage to build an empire ages ago, God knows. They can’t plan anything, not even which shoes to buy for winter. They don’t plan medical tests unless they’re collapsing, they don’t plan holidays until the weather is so shit they want to commit suicide, they don’t plan their meals so they end up having lunch at four in the afternoon, hungry enough to eat a bear and his aunt… This is mad. The government should provide every citizen with a Blackberry and force them to use it. Set up alarms. It’s winter: DRIIIIINNNNN, buy warm shoes! It’s one o clock in the afternoon: DRIIINNNN, have lunch!  Like with children. THey can’t be left to their own devices, that’s for sure.

And this brings me to the end of this post.

Should I not hear from you, have a very happy Christmas!

The King is naked

I’m sorry I haven’t posted for a while.

Yesterday I thought I’d be back to my blog with some funny entries about my holidays and multiculturalism on the Lake District, but I had to change my mind and ask you to wait for those while, once again, I express my disgust at Silvio Berlusconi.

First of all, well done Supreme Court: the infamous “Lodo Alfano”, the law proposed by the PM’s supporters that would have given Berlusconi immunity, was yesterday rejected as anti-constitutional. And so it should be, I mean, even pure and simple common sense can see how absurd and undemocratic the idea of a Prime Minister immune from persecution would be. Berlusconi’s supporters – who tend to behave like worshippers rather than thinking people – say it’s a scandal, that the Prime Minister is too busy with important things to waste his time in a courtroom.

Sorry? I don’t get the argument here. A Prime Minister should dedicate his time to govern and improve his country, true, which is WHY perhaps people who have pending trials SHOULDN’T run for Prime Minister and most definitely SHOULDN’T be voted. Most Italians at the past elections thought nothing of the many charges against “Saint Silvio” and placed their trust in his great “talent” as a statesman (which he still has to prove, considering the whole world treats him as a clown, but of course Silvio’s people refuse to read the foreign press, they’re all a bunch of communists, even the Times, even Sarkowzy and Angela Merkel. Yes, right…)

Anyway, going to back to what I was saying, yes, a Prime Minister should govern undisturbed, but it’s up to him to know his life is so transparent nobody can start digging into his past and find huge skeletons. Being Prime Minister shouldn’t mean one becomes untouchable and beyond the law. Quite the opposite, a Prime Minister, as the representative of a whole country should make sure to abide the law in every single detail of his life, in order to give the good example. He’s more tied to it than a private citizen. If a private citizen breaks the law, they’re punished, no matter whether they’re unemployed, heart surgeons or top politicians. No matter whether they have more important things to do for the community. How can they serve the community when they don’t respect its rules? How can Berlusconi expect the Italian people to abide the law, when they see their Prime Minister breaking it and getting away with it?

But perhaps that’s what Berlusconi really wants. To discredit the law. His despise for the judges has always been open, and after yesterday it’s turned into a war. This is disgraceful for democracy. Even more disgraceful and abominable is his attack towards the President of the Republic. It means he doesn’t respect the basics of the Italian constitution. He doesn’t get its democratic fundamentals. He screams that all judges are communist, and his worshippers repeat it after him. It’s ridiculous. You can’t accuse a judge of being impartial just because he rules against you. The Prime Minister has to show respect for the judicial system. But Berlusconi thinks he’s above the law, he’s sick in the head, in his mind he’s a fabulous Roman Emperor whose role is to lead Italy to its past splendors, surrounded by a cheering crowd and by a series of naked young women.

He believes in his greatness to the point of thinking it gives him total immunity. He can do as he pleases, say what he pleases, and whoever disagrees has to shut up or face consequences. But his crazy dream isn’t what happens in a democratic republic, his crazy dream is a scene from “Caligula”. But despite his power, despite his presence on every TV channel, despite his rants against the “communists” (where are the communists in Italy, somebody must explain to me, as I want to meet them and give them a WWF badge – they’re far rarer than Pandas nowadays, even Fidel is about to die…), Italy has proved once again that it’s not just “il paese dei campanelli”, a happy-go-lucky country where people are happy to forget their brains in exchange for PANEM AND CIRCENSES. And when all hope seems lost, this country gets back on its feet and starts fighting. Berlusconi with his behavior has signed his own condemnation. He has managed to operate a miracle: he’s forced the Left to get together in a united front. The Left parties are terrible at getting on when it’s time to govern, but God they’re good at opposition! And Silvio is making them stronger by the day. After his attacks against the “red” judges and the Communist President of the Republic, he has openly offended Rosy Bindi during a TV debate, saying she was more “beautiful than intelligent”. For my foreign readers, Rosy Bindi is 60, overweight and notoriously unattractive. With his words that swine who calls himself Prime Minister has managed to imply she’s ugly and also stupid. Which is undeniably a very mature, politically deep, articulate way to close an argument. Shut up you ugly bitch, he practically said. And, even worse, one of his “lieutenants”, also present during the TV show, while Rosy Bindi was speaking yelled, “you’re an acid spinster”. The level of the debate in Berlusconi’s circles is always very intellectual… Now, after all the scandals with the escorts, pin up girls etc etc, Berlusconi should have learned to respect women – at least in public – but no, of course. He obviously thinks that any female who isn’t blond, slim and adoring should just disappear.

At every passing day a bit more of his real character is revealed. His megalomania is now totally undisguised. His disrespect for the institutions open. His paranoid belief in his sex appeal and in his right to treat women like geishas openly thrown at the world. He’s sick, he’s obviously lost it.

Then my question is, why do people keep supporting him? Why do people in his party prefer to cover their eyes and ears, accept what are clearly the angry rants of a seventy-plus millionaire who wants to rule the world, rather than get together and GET RID OF HIM? Why don’t they support Giancarlo Fini, the only intelligent mind in the Right? I’ll never vote Fini, but I have the greatest respect for the man. Italy at least won’t be the world’s laughing stock if he took Berlusconi’s place. The Left parties will have no common enemy anymore and will start fighting each other again. I’m suggesting this against my own interest… Right wing voters, please wake up! Have you been hypnotized? This is truly scary. I have incredibly smart, strong, independent female friends who still want to defend Berlusconi and his behavior with women. I know some very law-abiding, serious, motivated men who think the Lodo Alfano should have passed… What’s happening to you? What are you scared of? Are you terrified of loosing your big guy with the big fake reassuring smile who was going to make you all as rich as him? He’s the Wizard of Oz!

He’s made of smoke!

He’s deluded you all.

There’s nothing behind his façade. Just emptiness!

You’ve all turned into munchkins!

But you can return to being human beings if you want. Just say it. Go away. Back somebody else, anyone else! Honestly, this is a dream. A nightmare.

It’s like in the Emperor’s new clothes, they don’t want to admit the King is naked. But he is! He is, and they can see it but still they pretend he’s wearing gold! Please, stop this farce. The King is naked (yuk).

Now, let’s get serious, elect somebody else and allow Silvio to rot in prison. But perhaps that is also a dream…

Italians, accents, dialect test and Roman actors… OR “Quelli che a Como sono tutti de Trastevere…”

I don’t often agree with Northern League representatives. In fact, I deeply despise their racism, narrow mindness, and public display of “masculine and Nordic dominance”. I’m often scared of their abusive outbursts. Other times I find them totally hilarious, like when they recently proposed that teachers from the South working in the North should take a local dialect test to prove that they can really blend in and understand the people they’re teaching (how many kids speak dialect in Northern Italy, really? If you know one, please, take a picture of him/her, as they’re as rare as white bears as far as I can see).

The idea of the test immediately reminded me of comedians Aldo, Giovanni e Giacomo and the sketch where a Southern Italian Vampire sneaks into some farmers’ house looking for “victims” only to be confronted by two racist “Northerners” who not only aren’t scared of him, but immediately suspect him to be a “terrone” (derogatory for Southern Italian). In order to confirm their suspicions, they test him with “l’inganno della CADREGA”. CADREGA is a Northern word for “chair”. When the farmers ask the Vampire, “would you care for a CADREGA,” he panicks as he has no clue what they’re talking about. He tries to buy his time by using all the Milanese expressions he can think of. But the farmers aren’t impressed…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XqmTdtoCmEs

A few days ago, another member of the Northern League complained that all actors on Italian TV spoke with a Roman accent. No matter where a series is set, Roman is what we hear. He went on to mention a TV drama about the life of Pope Giovanni XXIII. The much loved pontiff was from the mountains near Bergamo, and spoke with the distinctive accents of that area. However, Massimo Ghini, the (usually very good) actor who portrayed him on TV spoke with a Roman accent. This, according to the Northern League’s guy, was unacceptable and another proof of disgusting Roman dominance. Of course, once again, his “externation” was followed by choruses of criticism. The mentioned Ghini said that he tried to portray the man, his essence, his humanity, not his “exterior”.

Ay me, ay me… what am I forced to say….

Ghini is blantantly wrong.

I totally support the Northern League guy. AHHHHHHH

Before you call an ambulance to check on my mental state, let’s make one thing absolutely clear:

I agree with the complaint raised by the politician for diametrically opposed reasons, ie not out of narrow-minded parochialism and irrational hatred for “Roma Ladrona”, but because Italian actors, if they really want to be as good as their foreign counterpart, have to grow beyond the limits of our little country and go further. Bey0nd provincialism, neoralism, beyond the boundaries of their native regions! They’re ACTORS for God’s sake. They have to stop playing themselves and learn what their profession is really about.

Acting is hard work.

Of course, yes, there are actors who become a sort of “universal archetype”, actors who can just be themselves and by so doing portray something that is so specific, so true, so human, it goes beyond geography and time. I think of Chaplin, Tati, of the Italian Toto’, comedians who became eternal masks, like Arlequin. But such actors don’t usually play “roles”, really. Stories are written around them. They’re a separate category.

Outside that narrow category are all the great, professional actors who play roles. They are blank canvasses ready to receive characters, turn into them, prepared to be moulded into a new creature who might vaguely look like them but who isn’t them. Of course they will always bring their own humanity into a role, their emotions, truths. I don’t believe much in pure “method”, in loosing yourself into somebody else’s story to the point of forgetting who you are. It’s dangerous, and it’s unnecessary. How can anyone, really, ever stop being themselves completely? We all bring our own humanity and being to the characters we play.

As one of my teachers said, acting is about being totally true under a set of made up circumstances. Being true, though, doesn’t imply speaking only in your every day accent. That would be simply lazy. It’s as if Meryl Streep had refused to do a Polish accent in Sophie’s choice and gone for her native New Jersey twang saying “the important thing is the humanity of the character not how she speaks.” Sophie was a Polish immigrant! Of course how she spoke was part of who she was, her identity, her humanity. In the USA or in the UK or even France, no actors will ever think that they can spend their all careers just using their native accent. A good ear for accents is considered a crucial skill anywhere outside Italy.

Because an accent isn’t just a way of pronouncing or pitching a word. It’s a whole way of being. I know it very well, as a foreigner living abroad. I’ve been trying to master my British accent for a number of years now, and recently my coach said something that was totally illuminating: “Lara, you’re Italian in the way you move, in the way you do your hair, in the way you look at people. You’re Italian before you even open your mouth. Think English, dress English, use your body as an English woman and you will also sound more English.”

It’s so true. The English sounds are produced by placing the whole of your body in a different position. Each idiom, each accent is only the final result of a whole culture.

Pope Giovanni XVIII was a simple man from a small mountain village. His delivery had the sweet, dark, slow cadence typical of that area. It had nothing to do with the more uptempo cadenza of the Roman accent. He came from a cold, hungry, underdevelopped region where winters were harsh and God could be seen in the beauty and the terror of the surrounding Alps. In his accent he carried this whole world.

If Ghini had been born in the US he would have spent two months in Bergamo in order to master his accent before beginning to shoot. But in Italy old Massimo feels perfetcly entitled to say “it’d be ridiculous for a Roman actor to do a Bergamo accent, it would have been fake and prevented me from portraying the character’s real soul.”

No, mate, it ‘s ridiculous that a Roman actor can only play Roman, that is ridiculous. It’s ridiculous that Italian viewers are so used to the equation Roman-accent-equals-TVlanguage that they didn’t even NOTICE! If you had used a Bergamo accent, it wouldn’t have been ridiculous. It would have been “acting”. Ever heard of it? Unless what you’re saying is that YOU would have been ridiculous, because you can’t do accents, in which case it’s your problem. If you can’t do an accent without sounding funny or loosing your ability to be believable you’re lacking a skill, pure and simple. 

I actually rate Ghini quite a good actor, and if even such a professionist can be so adamant about the unimportance of an accent, it means that Italian acting is totally out of sync with the acting we see in the rest of the world. This because our TV and Film industry are still set in the past. In a pre-multicultural, pre-multilingual, pre-internet, pre-alphabetized Italy, where people didn’t really know much about what was going on outside their own town, and couldn’t understand any idiom other than their native dialect and standard Italian. In such a world, the media had the important role of educating the masses, getting them to speak proper Italian – often with hint of a Roman accent because TV and Film companies were based in the capital and so were most of the actors.

This is why it’s normal in Italy to hear actors speak with Roman accents no matter where something is set. It’s normal for actors not work on their accents as if it wasnt’t part of their characters and it’s normal for viewers not to notice. 

The Italian soap “Vivere”, that concluded in 2008 after running for 10 years or so, was set in Como. People in Como have a STRONG accent. Not a particularly pleasant one, let’s face it, but very distinctive, almost Swiss. Do you think the production bothered keeping that detail in mind? Of course not. In fact, mainly because of political reasons, they ended up with a cast of mostly Roman actors. The few Milanese actors who did get a job in the soap and who could have at least brough some more authentic Northern flavour, spoke Standard Italian. They sounded like a dubbed version of themselves. DOPPIAGGESE is the term… If they had used a Northern accent I’m sure they would have sounded ridiculous to most viewers. Because Italians aren’t used to accents on TV. Especially, and the League guy is unfortunately right, to Northern accents. Proof is that when they cast the soap “Un posto al Sole”, set in Naples, they wanted Neapolitans. For “Montalbano”, set in Sicily, they use Sicilian actors (or people who can do the accent). So why is it that every inhabitant of Como in “Vivere” sounded as if they’d just arrived from Trastevere? Why can’t we have actors from Como, Milano, Genova, Bologna, Trento, Torino, speaking in their own accent rather than being forced into a standard diction that takes spontaneity and personality away? 

It’s time for a revolution here…

There are cases when standard diction is necessary. On stage, for instance. If you act Shakespeare in Italian, or Checov, or Ibsen, it makes sense to have a neutral diction. In period drama set at the court of some noble man, neutral diction is also welcome.

But in 2008 Como??? Where are the COMASCHI? e be’ be’, il comasco l’e’ un po’ bruutto neh?

Another example:

I was probably the only person in Italy that, at the end of the excellent movie “Giorni e nuvole”, wondered why was the film set in Genoa when Margherita Buy had a Roman accent, Alabanese a neutral accent and the girl playing their daughter a strange East Northern accent. Were the characters from somewhere else and had only recently moved to Genoa? They didn’t act as they were. Why didn’t the daughter speak like her parents and why in fact she didn’t speak Genoan, as any kid in that city would? Italians don’t think such details are important, the film is good, the actors were good, what’s the difference?

There’s a big difference. The difference is that I would have asked Margherita Buy to do a Genoan accent. Because she speaks the same in every single movie. She’s good but she will never be as good as a Kate Blanchet or a Meryl Streep because she’s a prisoner of herself, of her Roman accent and of her repetitive delivery. She can just play neurotic Roman. And she’s lucky enough to work in an industry where that is not only accepeted but demanded. So good for her. But don’t be surprised if our actors aren’t rated much abroad. They don’t push beyond their own limits. They comfortably sit on their own glories and go on playing “generic”. Because that’s what happens when you don’t care about they way a character speak. You turn them into “anybody”.

This trend in my opinion is the sum of two opposite fenomenons: dubbing and neorealism.

Neorealism brought Italian cinema to the big screens of the whole world back in the ’50s thanks to films portraying the situation of the country in the aftermath of the war. “Bicycle thieves” or “Rome open city” are incredible masterpieces where real people were taken literally from the streets to act their own life. This led to the idea that good acting equals being natural and being natural equals being yourself.  Slowly but surely neorealism died but the prejudice it created remained. Leading, for instance, to the silly idea that stage actors can’t do films because they’re too “trained”. Because stage actors speak standard Italian and sound fake, while film actor speak… er… Roman, mostly. Sometimes Neapolitan, because somebody at some point in history decided Neapolitan is a “language” so Neapolitan actors in Italy have a special status and they’re allowed to do their own thing. Or, some times, they speak other accents, but only if they’re “characters”  verging on caricatures (like Abbatantuono always playing the arrogant Milanese, Angela Finocchiaro playing the “sfigata” Milanese).

Perhaps if stage actors were allowed to act, and therefore cast as coming “from” a particular place (requiring a particular accent, rather than as some generic “person” who speaks as if they’d landed on Earth from an Episode of “Sentieri”) they would do a better job. If somebody for a change forced them, required them to act, to learn a skill, to use a REAL accent, they might actually prove that they have the capacity to do it.  

But let’s talk about dubbing, and I’m walking a very thin line here because I’m speaking against my own interest, since dubbing is what has been feeding me for a long time…

Italian dubbing is by far the best in the world. And I’m not saying it because I’m part of it, it’s a simple truth. We work at the highest standard. Italian “dubbers” are far more than voice over artists, they’re great actors who really re-create the acting of the big screen stars they voice on the dark. Sometimes, even to improve it, believe it or not. To the paradoxical point of turning, for instance, a poor actor such as Silvester Stallone into a very fine thespian thanks to the talent of an artist such as Ferruccio Amendola.

However, for all its highly accurate technique, finely tuned skills and amazing talents,Italian dubbing has one huge flaw: No dubbed film bothers with accents. No matter whether actors are British or American, speaking with a Tennessee or a York accent, no matter if they’re foreigners speaking English with a German or Spanish accent, no matter what, dubbing is done in STANDARD ITALIAN. Full stop. With very few exceptions such as the Godfather – dubbed with a Sicilian accent – or My Fair Lady, where Eliza was given a ludicrous Pugliese accent (which raise another issue: who do you translate accents? Impossible task?). 

Now, traditionally the great dubbing (the one for films) happens in Rome. Roman “dubbers”, despite protesting the contrary, very often slip into Roman habits (“sarebbe” with a closed “e”, “vabbene” with two “b” and various double consonants appearing in the wrong place…) Even those who aren’t from Rome try their best to colour their impeccable diction with some Roman hints, in the attempt to achieve the much requested “naturale, buttato via” tone…

Can you start seeing a pattern developping here..?

The result of 80 years of dubbing is first of all a general standardisation of acting. The moment you take accents away, all films pretty much sound the same.

Second, the Italian audiences have grown up, generation after generation, with the innate, never questioned convinction that great acting equals standard Italian (with a hint of Roman). Regional accents from anywhere else are just funny, you cant take them seriously, they make you laugh. Standard/Roman Italian is what all Hollywood actors speak in every film showed in Italy. Consequently, Italian actors think that Standard/Roman Italian is how you need to speak in films. Or TV. Simple.

The world has changed so quickly in the past 80 years that dubbing is, regrettably, a thing of the past, but Italians are conservative at heart and I suspect another 80 years might pass before people in my country will seriously consider subtitles.

Dubbing and the residues of neorealism have generated this shared belief in the acting/directing/producing community that characters on TV and in films exist as “entities” totally independent from their surroundings and the language spoken around them. As if there was a dicotomy between what a character is and how he/she sounds. As if the voice wasn’t part of the body, as if it didn’t have any history, any background. People, real people, are the way they sound. The soul doesnt only speak through the eyes, it also speak through the quality of the sounds we produce. Even now, in Italy, beautiful but inept girls are cast in main TV roles and then dubbed (with a neutral, slightly Roman accent). As if a voice could be forced upon a person, as if the voice was an exterior thing, an accessory – like a hat or a dress – as if the voice was always a voice “over”, as if we were all born mute and waiting to be dubbed.

PS:  To Romans. You live under the  – unfortunatly wide spread – delusion that Roman equals “general Italian”, as if it was a sort of Esperanto or a Swiss passport guranteeing neutrality.It is not. Roman is spoken in Rome. Roman is a REGIONAL, not national accent. And a very strong one. Get real.

Dear me, I do sound like Bossi now….

Oh mia bela Maduninaaaaaaaaa

Swine comedy

Today I woke up feeling postively shit. Aching all over the place, slight nausea, a sore throat… Under any other circustances I would have blamed my insane idea of going to a Pilates class despite my tracksuit being soaked in rain after being caught in a storm of monsonic proportions (welcome to Britain’s summer: it’s been raining since the beginning of July in this God forsaken country…) Any normal person at my place would have forgotten about the class and returned home to change and take a hot bath. But I decided to proceed to the gym and go through an hour of excercise watching my wet clothes dripping and leaving a puddle under my Swiss Ball. Add air conditioning blowing on me (WHY do they need air con when the temperature outside is 17 degrees only the Lord knows) and you have a sure recipee for bronchitis. 

But, as we all know, the UK is in full swine flu panic these days, the Tube is covered in disgusting posters of people sneezing – drops flying from their nose all around them as if a sneeze was some sort of atomic bomb. “CATCH IT, BIN IT, KILL IT” says the poster in capital letters, meaning you’d better sneeze into a tissue unless you desire to be lynched by the crowd standing on your same train. Japanese tourists wear little masks, Italian young people on study holidays carry disynfectants with them and obsessively keep washing their hands like Lady Macbeth while checking whether they’ve taken the correct branch of the Northern Line. Only the British pretend not to care, too “superior” to be bothered by pandemias, stoic to the very end… 

catchitkillitbinit

So I drag myself to the lounge feeling sorry for myself and wondering how the hell I’m going to contact my boyfriend to tell him I cant meet him in Waterloo (his mobile is broken and he’s not home… The joys of technology…) I turn on the TV and, of course, swine flu is the first news. The governement has issued an order for anybody suffering from flu syntoms NOT to go to a doctor or an emergercy room. Right. You’re asked instead not to leave home and to ring a helpline, where some random call centre operator WITHOUT MEDICAL BACKGROUND (and probably just arrived from Poland) will go through a series of questions with you to establish whether you have contracted the abominable disease.

NFS2

Alternatively, you can take the same test online. Of course, being an hypocondriac but also suspecting a chance for comic relief, I immedately switch on my laptop and take the test.
“Is the patient in a state of confusion? Do they cry a lot (babies only)”
Hmmm, lets see… I’m confused most days of my life about most things and totally unable to make rational choices… And I do cry a lot, despite not being a baby. Does it count? It’s not a newly developed condition though, I’ve had it my whole life, so unless I was born with swine flu, that’s a no.

 
“Has the patient’s colour turned to grey or blue?”
Oh, dear, I hope not. To be honest I’ve never seen anyone turning blue while having flu, unless they’ve already reached corpse state… are we sure this virus comes from pigs and not from alien creatures?

 
“Are they having a fit right now?”
Actually, I’m about to have a fit because my idiotic neighbour has left his smelly dog on the stairs once again, as if our communal areas were a dog recreation centre….

 
“Or, despite any pain they may have, is the patient completely unable to move their chin down to touch their chest?”
Darling, after 10 years of Pilates I’m so flexible I could touch my bum with my chin while singing the Marseillese if I really tried… What are you talking about?

 
“We will now check if the patient is suffering from flu. Does the patient have a high temperature and at least two of the following symptoms?
Widespread muscle and joint aches
A cough
Headache
Blocked or runny nose
Sore throat
Vomiting”

Oh my good I have them all! I’m fucked. I have swine flu, I’m going to die. Hold on, though. This list contains the most generic symptoms ever. They can appear in all sorts of diseases, from laringitis to malaria to… pregnancy!
Let’s click and proceed, perhaps the test will get more detailed…

 
“Is the patient also experiencing any of these additional symptoms:
“Breathing much faster than normal (particularly children) . “Hmmm, NO.

“Thick, yellow, green, brown or bloody phlegm. “Yuk, NO

“Uncharacteristic changes in behaviour such as drowsiness, new confusion or appearing terrified.”

Well… I appear very terrified. Mostly because if this is the way Britain is planning to cope with a potentially lethal disease, wE can just all commit mass suicide now.

How can anyone be diagnosed online? Or on the phone? And by somebody who’s not a doctor? Of course the country now counts 100.000 cases, a bunch of young call centre operators have the power of declaring you sick without even seeing you.  And how do they know I’m not making up the symptoms just to be given Tamiflu and then sell it online on Ebay?

The problem is that if I do have flu and I start feeling worse, no hospital and no doctor would accept to see me, unless I’m really really sick. It happened to people I know. They went to the emergency room only to be sent away in case they infected the doctors! This is histerical. It’s a sit-com. Instead of having a medical team wearing protective masks and testing people for real British hospitals are now treating potential flu sufferers like outcasts. First they created wide sperad panic, now that people are positively scared they expect them to just stay home and take an online test, as if flu diagnosis was like one of those Facebook games: “Which actress of the past are you? Go through the test and find out! Congratulations! You’re Beth Davis!” Damn, I wanted to be Marilyn Monroe…

People who are declared sick by the “infallible” computer/phone test, will be asked to stay at home and contact a close friend or relative who will have to go and collect Tamiflu from a special centre and then pass it to the sick person through a letterbox, to avoid contact…

Great system.

What if somebody doesnt have any buddies or relatives living nearby and available? Will they die in seclusion? Shall we all nominate a couple of Tami-mates, ready to run and get antibiotic for us?

And what if somebody doesnt have a letterbox????

This is just hilarious, if it wasn’t also very tragic. Most of us will go through swine flu and come out fine, with or without Tamiflu. However other people will be “cleared” only to discover at too late a stage that they have swine flu and perhaps suffer very serious consequences.

Tamiflu has been randomly given away to people who might not need it at all and potentially refused to real sufferers, with the risk not only of running short of supply but also of making the virus drug-resistant. 

This is the third world. I’m truly disgusted by public services in Britain, from hospital to schools to transport .This country is falling apart.

Or perhaps Europe is falling apart, western civilization as we know it is falling apart, we’ve reached our climax ages ago and now we’re heading for our zenith, every country in its own perverse way: Italy with politicians who use their power to hire a court of prostitutes in the total indifference of most of the population. Britain with a public system that is collapsing, and a political system that most of the population dont give a damn about… All over Europe right wing parties and racists are gaining support…

At the end of the online test the computer has decided I dont have swine flu but that I should stay home just in case and seek extra help if the symptoms worsen. Extra help where, since I wont be allowed to see a doctor? What if I do have it, just in a mild version – as most people – and I’m now going to infect every person I get in contact with? Since I had my tonsils removed at the age of five I’ve never, ever had high fever, not once, even when I do get flu. How can they be sure unless they test me?

Oh come on, I cant die without watching the last ever episode of Guiding Light in September… It’s out of the question.

I’d better laugh and hope it’s laringitis.

Un’altro passo verso un regime… Another step towards a regime…

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HERE COMES THE SUN, LALALA…

Finally, last week, the sun reached the British Islands. Temperatures soared to 25 degrees, every single patch of grass pullulated with Britons sun bathing and turning progressively pink (ignoring the weather man warning always to wear sun screen – the weather man in Britain sound like a HIV campaign: REMEMBER, ALWAYS WEAR PROTECTION), crowds of Pimm’s drinkers gathered outside pubs and restaurant… It was fun, colorful, it was… a normal week in late spring.
This for about two hours. After that, a word started crawling its way up to the British collective conscience… It’s HOT. Oh dear, it’s so hot, it’s scorching! people started winging, oh my goodness I’m sweating!!
The first reaction of “aliens” like me in front of such complains is usually “are you kidding?” It’s been raining for a month. 25C isn’t scorching, it isn’t even remotely near to hot. 25C degrees is just about pleasant, it’s what allows you to leave home, for a change, without looking like an onion – covered in layers of clothes that you’ll have to peel off only in order to put them back after five minutes. 25C during the day still means night temperatures of around 13C. Not exactly “sitting outdoors” conditions. At 13C people in “normal” countries wear coats and hats!
But the best thing happens on the Tube. Come late May, at every station loudspeakers start broadcasting the message “in this hot weather always carry a bottle of water with you when travelling on the London underground.” I want to suspect Travel for London is rehearsing a comedy show as I can’t imagine anyone dying for lack of dehydration on a twenty minute journey on the Tube. You must always carry a bottle of water if you’re crossing the Sahara, if you visit the Death Valley, if you’re on a boat in the middle of the sea. But on the Tube??? Are they serious???
The only result of such panicked messages is to install in the British minds the absurd idea that hot (or what they think is hot, ie 25 degrees) is bad. Hot is dangerous. Hot is only to be enjoyed in very small doses or when on holiday abroad…
Result, after three sunny days Britons starts missing the rain. They do. I swear. They truly truly do.
“Oh, but it’s so boring having hot weather for months,” they say, “isn’t it?” No it isn’t. It’s called SEASONS. Spring is warm, summer is hot, autumn is mild and winter is cold.
“Miserable weather produces great arts, culture and literature!”
Hmmm… Can I kindly remind you civilization started in Greece? Where temperatures all through summer stay well over 33C??? And how about the Renaissance? Florence isn’t exactly renowned for its rain. How about French and Spanish poetry and novels and arts? You’re not making any sense! You’re a country of miserable sods who enjoy their misery!
Anyway, four days later of course the sun goes away again and the rain comes back. The weather man, looking particularly pleased, says “finally we can enjoy some fresher nights” (FRESHER? It’s so bloody freezing I need the heating on) “and rain is very good news for our gardens!”
Oh, the gardens, of course. Nothing is more important than gardens in life, isn’t it. You might need to drink yourself unconscious to relieve your misery but God forbid your dahlias should suffer!
Honestly, I think there’s something profoundly wrong with this country, which explains its problems, its general unhappiness, its violence and its ridiculous levels of alcoholism. People who can’t enjoy the sun, who can’t enjoy the warmth, who can’t enjoy what such things do to your body (apart from making you sweat), can’t enjoy life. Summer is a celebration if life at its peak. People strip off their clothes, let themselves be more in contact with nature, stop hiding. They stay out until later hours because there’s more light, they socialize, eat together, talk together. In “normal” countries summer is the time to sit outside our house in the evening and talk to your neighbours until the early hours. Of leaving work behind. Of eating lighter food and have ice creams.
Summer is sensual, intense, passionate. All adjectives unknown to the British psyche.
Because the British can’t appreciate such things, because they’re attracted to them but scared of them, because they can’t produce endorphins in a natural way, they need artificial enhancement to avoid getting suicidal. So they drink. Alcohol is their substitute for sunny days. Alcohol is what makes them intense, chatty and inhibited. They drink and drink and they can’t see that all they need is to start enjoy life starting from right in front of them: the elements. So even when they do have the opportunity of grabbing “natural enjoyment”, they refuse it. They start moaning that it’s too hot.

Yes I know, now you’re all wondering why the hell I’m still in London if I resent the British so much. Well, number one, London is full of non-British, which is what makes it a great city. Two, there’s only one thing that sunny countries have been unable to produce, at least in the last 2000 years: great theatre. Yes, I’m in London for the theatre. Theatre has undeniably proved itself to be the greatest love of my life… Some people move abroad to follow their love… I did it for mine.
Which is why I’m really looking forward to the invention of a time machine. Then I’ll travel back to ancient Greece, where, they had it all: theatre, arts, literature, philosophy. And all of this open air.
Now, wouldn’t that be swell!