The retrospective at this year's Venice film festival is dedicated to Italian experimental cinema of the 1960s and 70s.
Designed by Enrico Magrelli and his team (Domenico Monetti, Luca Pallanch) from a commission and idea of Mostra director Marco Muller, it has been conceived in full consistency with the Mostra's Orizzonti section, which is dedicated every year to showing short medium and feature length films showcasing new trends of world cinema. Research, experimentation, new languages, "non mainstream" and cross-discipline works are therefore represented both in the premieres of Orizzonti and in the Retrospective section. No doubt many will also make a connection with this year's presentation of an impressive restoration of Nick Ray's We Can’t Go Home Again.
The retrospective includes many films that were never (or seldom) shown outside of Italy, among which a great number of absolute discoveries, as well as the long-awaited true restoration of Alberto Grifi's Anna (the version shown in Bologna did not include the final 10 minutes of the film) and of its 11 hours of non-edited material.
Before the retrospective—and the festival—begins, I talked to Enrico Magrelli, head of Italian Cinematheque, Cineteca nazionale (Fondazione centro sperimentale di cinematografia) about the 68th Venice Mostra Retrospective "Orizzonti 1961-1978".
The retrospective reflects what could be called a "movimentista" approach, meaning films made outside of the "institutional" circuits, and closely linked with the movements in the arts.
This explains, for instance, the presence of films by artists like Mario Schifano and Nato Frascà, better known for their painting. In that sense, everything will remind the audience that links between cinema and other artistic disciplines are a constant trend in the history of cinema.
All directors present in the retrospective were not involved in any "distribution" or "market" preoccupations. It was more about an "extended" approach to cinema, where–without theorizing i –the camera finds a new freedom and a new mobility. Its history runs parallel, if not underground, as a discreet and semi-hidden flow of cinema. What is often called the "rhizome" syndrome.
The retrospective spans over the years 1961-1978. These are the years of the Italian "economic boom," when a deeply popular cinema emerges, gathering millions of spectators, marked by the triumph of Italian comedy, the new central genre of the production system. Other sensibilities, and artists more attracted by experimentation, found little distribution space in this context. Only cine-clubs in the big cities could give access to the "non-industrial" cinema and satisfy the audience's curiosity. They also played an important part in the diffusion in Italy of (mainly) American and European "new cinema" and "other cinema."
The retrospective closes in 1978, at the beginning of a difficult 10 year term: maybe the worst years in Italian history, or at least, one of the most tormented period for post-war Italian society. The boom years had ended with the end of the sixties. The period had been very rich in terms of auteur cinema existing next to popular cinema (the two not being totally antagonist), but the political climate (ultra left and ultra right terrorism), an aggressive television medium and the birth of commercial T.V. next to public RAI made the experimental cinema of the boom years almost disappear. Soon will come the age of "video art"…but that's another story.
Italian cinema started then a degradation process that would lead to the disappearance of many theatres and distribution channels, until the situation started improving in the 2000s.
A strong opposition exists when a strong popular cinema exists: thus non-mainstream cinema in Italy suffered from the global cinema crisis of the 1980s and 90s.
The films presented in the Venice program, as part of the whole production context they belong to, show a common desire to make cinema with faces and presences, bodies and real situations, all carried away in a poetical and often political flow.
It is easy to draw the lines that bring together many artist of the period. As in other parts of the world, Italian experimental cinema is also made through the connection between artists: musicians, painters, theatre directors and writers, dancers and actors work together or more often constitute an informal community that may express itself through cinema.
No doubt one of the central figures of the period is Maria Schifano, for the large quantity of films he made, as well as his being linked with the American avant-garde, specifically with the Warhol scene, and to the pop and beat musical scene (see his 1971 Umano non umano, featuring Mick Jagger and Keith Richards next to Alberto Moravia or Carmelo Bene).
Schifano's work shows how much Italian non-mainstream filmmakers produce a cinema not of "conservation and construction" but a cinema of action. His Vieni dolce morte (Come Sweet Death) is a diary of a trip in India that questions myth and future, youth and the feeling of the present, one could say in a Mekas way, or else as an experimental neorealista chronicle. A non-narratice piece, without any heroism, but with a powerful sense of movement and life. Maybe a return to the beginnings of cinema…
Carmelo Bene is also a central figure of the period. His multi-faceted talent had a strong influence, and his presence is one of the common point of many works of the time, apart from his own production (see the impressive Hermitage). A whole part of his artistic action and presence is still to be rediscovered through his participation in many television shows. A new task for cinema institutions! A retrospective of his work will take place in Boston and New York in the fall, and it is not to be missed.
Less expected maybe is the figure of Marco Ferreri, whose name and person appear in many research films of the period. Ferreri has certainly been a contact point between the experimental scene of the time and the industry, in particular with its great popular actors (like Tognazzi, probably the most ready to take risks outside of industrial popular cinema). Ferreri himself can be considered a true modern futurista, always in movement, unpredictable and generous.
There is a connection between this part of Italian cinema and the nuovo cinema directors: precise exchanges, family-like relationships, attention to the work of the others, cooperation and mutual help. Just note the link between late Paolo Brunatto (a true "alternative" filmmaker and a tireless traveller) and Bernardo Bertolucci, or the unexpected relationship between Augusto Tretti and Michelangelo Antonioni, an important helping hand to the film Il potere (The Power) at the time. The film was released theatrically, and made a strong impression on young and older cinephiles. Tretti, like the very obsessive Romano Scavolini (see his Diario Beat) are true mavericks. Scavolini later made himself some name in the States with a horror film, the famous video nasty Nightmare (1981). Paolo Breccia's Sul davanti fioriva una magnolia (In Front a Magnolia Flower was Blooming) is a good example of the part played in this period by the film school, the Centro sperimentale di cinema. This is Breccia's diploma film, supported by Roberto Rossellini, with collaborations from Peter Del Monte and famous art critic Giulio Carlo Argan, a fascinating mix between Roman intellectuality and Godard's influence.
Another approach of the term "non-mainstream" is represented in the retrospective by films lie Axel Rupp's The City (a reminder of British Free Cinema) and by the films of the Garriba brothers, Mario and Fabio. Both of them did not have a distributor after their first pieces and even started others jobs. Still, Il punto (The Point) is considered an important piece today (Nanni Moretti finds it totally "Morettian"), and their short films represent a form of innovation of their own.
Alberto Grifi's Anna remains one of the most significant non-mainstream film in the history of Italian cinema. The version shown in Venice is a full restoration of the 225 minutes of the original film. The eleven hours of shot material are also now being restored, and it is fascinating to see how they contain another film, or maybe a few others, like "alternative Annas." One can see Grifi himself, his doubts and crisis, together with special appearances (Jane Fonda in conversation with Grifi and Anna) and material shot in the streets that captures everyday life events and faces. This material should be then put together and made accessible, as another film and as a documentation about a real non-Hollywood action film.
Interviewed by Marie-Pierre Duhamel, Venice, July 2011