Tuesday, April 24, 2012

FULL SERVICE, My Adventures In Hollywood And The Secret Sex Lives Of The Stars

FULL SERVICE by Scotty Bowers with Lionel Friedberg is a very entertaining memoir about a Mid-Western farmboy who was introduced to sex by a friendly neighboring father as a pre-adolescent and when the circumstances of the Depression moved his single parent family to Chicago, found that men, including priests, would augment the money he made from delivering newspapers and shining shoes inorder to fondle him. Bowers never complained about or begrudged anyone who wanted to have sex with him, and was quite pleasantly surprised to discover that he had reached adolescence when he ejaculated for the first time while a fellow was giving him oral sex. Later on, when another fellow paid him to have sex with the fellow's wife, he discovered that while sex with men was fine, sex with women was preferable. World War 2 happened and Bowers joined the Marines. On leave in Southern California, Bowers had his first experience of life in Hollywood. He liked it so much he decided to move there after the war - which included being among the first ashore during the Battle of Iwo Jima - where his younger brother was killed. Discharged in Seattle, Washington, where he met a young woman who became a life-long companion (and mother of his daughter) though they never married, Bowers moved to Hollywood and got work at a gas station on Hollywood Blvd. At the gas station, he had his first experience of being picked up by a movie star who gave him $20 for "a trick". Never using the words "whore", "gigolo", "hustler" or "prostitute", Bowers would get paid for "tricks" by "tricks", or find friends interested in "tricking". Insisting that he never took money for introducing "tricks" to people he knew who were interesting in "tricking", Bowers became the go-to guy for not only movie people but others in the know who were looking for uncomplicated sex. Tennessee Williams wanted to write a book about Bowers, saying that he was the fairy godmother for gay sex in Hollywood, but Bowers objected to being portrayed as a queen and got Williams to promise to never publish what he wrote. When the L.A. Vice Squad began to notice all of the late night activity at the gas station, Bowers quit to begin a career as a waiter and bartender at private parties. At such a party, he met Dr. Alfred Kinsey, who had just created a thunderstorm of controversy with the publication of SEXUAL BEHAVIOR IN THE HUMAN MALE. Kinsey complained of not being able to find women willing to talk about their sex lives, and Bowers told him that he could help. And so Bowers became an uncredited research assistant on SEXUAL BEHAVIOR IN THE HUMAN FEMALE.

The advent of AIDS ended "tricking" for Bowers, and now in his 80s, he decided to tell his story and related some of the show business stories that he knew.

There are three myths which Bowers destroys in his book: 1) that Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn were lovers, 2) that King Edward the Eighth abdicated the throne for the love of Wallis Simpson, and 3) that Clark Gable got George Cukor fired from directing GONE WITH THE WIND.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Age and Scarpelli and Hitchcock


by Francois Truffaut

with the Collaboration of Helen G. Scott

[After MARINE, director Alfred Hitchcock considered three projects which were never made before he actually produced TORN CURTAIN. The projects were THE THREE HOSTAGES, MARY ROSE and R.R.R.R.]

F.T. Your third project is an original screenplay, which you assigned to the writing team of Age and Scarpelli, the writers of BIG DEAL ON MADONNA STREET.

A.H. That one I just now abandoned. Definitely. It was a story of an Italian who immigrates to America. He starts out as an elevator boy in a big hotel and eventually becomes the general manager. He brings his family over from Sicily. It turns out they are a gang of thieves, and he has to try to prevent them from stealing a collection of precious coins that are on display in the hotel. I dropped the project because it seemed to be shapeless. Aside from that, you know that Italians are very slipshod in matters of story construction. They just ramble on.

[Age and Scarpelli would soon go to work with Sergio Leone on IL BUONO, IL BRUTO, IL CATTIVO, aka THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY.]

Thursday, February 2, 2012

13. The "Second Wave" of Comedy Actors part eleven


by Ernesto G. Laura

Similar is the case with Mariangela Melato and Giancarlo Giannini, who became popular in the movies thanks to the light comedies of Lina Wertmuller (in which they formed a pair) that are, however, impossible to confine exclusively to the comedy genre. Melato, born in Milan in 1945, has an intensely active background as a dramatic stage actress; Giannini, born in 1942, in La Spezia, in Liguria, but raised in Naples, was an outstanding Romeo in Franco Zeffirelli's 1964 production of ROMEO AND JULIET in Verona. Both first appeared in the movies in important roles, but not enough so for their artistic personalities to be immediately discerned.

A film by Ettore Scola represented the turning-point for Giancarlo Giannini, namely DRAMMA DELLA GELOSIA: TUTTI I PARTICOLARI IN CRONACA (DRAMA OF JEALOUSY: ALL DETAILS IN THE NEWS, 1970) based on the original idea of transferring a super-bourgeois love triangle to characters who are dirty and ragged outcasts, placing the emphasis on human sentiments. The disputed woman was Monica Vitti, Giannini's rival, Marcello Mastroianni. None of the three was a romantic "hero", the two men in particular seemed a little stupid, but it was precisely the disparity between the modest, indeed wretched reality and the lofty words of love uttered that gave rise to the humorousness of the film.

It was however the director Lina Wertmuller who turned Giannini into a reliable mainstay of Italian-style film comedy. MIMI METALLURGICO FERITO (METALLURGICAL MIMI, OFFENDED IN HIS HONOR: 1972) tells about another love triangle, but in a working-class environment, confirming the mimetic talents of Giannini who, starting off as a romantic matinee idol, comes up with flawless impersonations of proletarian figures, adapting himself to manners and dialects that are not his own, in this case Milanese. Mariangela Melato, in her interpretation of a certain kind of sentimental adn sharp-tongued Lombardy woman, strong-tempered, aggressive and caustic, seems to draw upon the heritage of one of the greatest actresses in the Milanese dialect theater, who in the '30s became a famous film comedy star: Dina Galli. Moving from Milan to Rome, Giannini and Melato were directed by Wertmuller in 1973 and in TRAVOLTI DA UN INSOLITO DESTINO NELL' AZZURO MARE D'AGOSTO (SWEPT AWAY BY AN UNCOMMON FATE IN THE BLUE SEA OF AUGUST) in 1974.

Giancarlo Giannini creates an extraordinary character in another Wertmuller film, PASQUALINO SETTEBELLEZZE (SEVEN BEAUTIES: 1975), where, shifting skillfully from the initial farce to tragedy, the story is told of a nondescript "guappo" (second-rate gangster in the local underworld) from Naples who ends up in a Nazi concentration camp. To introduce humor into such a serious subject was a risk which only a few people could pull off, as the director does through the use of a grotesque expressionistic style.

As to Melato, aside from completely dramatic films (DIMENTICARE VENEZIA, FORGET VENICE, by Brusati, GESU, JESUS, by Zeffirelli), mention may be made of her witty appearance as a hair-dresser in LA CLASSE OPERAIA VA IN PARADISO (THE WORKING CLASS GOES TO HEAVEN: 1971) by Elio Petri and in LA POLIZIOTTA (THE POLICEWOMAN), directed by Steno in 1974 on a script by Vincenzoni and Sergio Donati, where she was a woman policeman in a small town who dares to create trouble for the local powers that be, in agreement with a judge (Orazio Orlando).

At the beginning of the decade, 1980-1990, certain model which Italian-style comedy has lived on till now have run their course, like the so-called rosy neo-realism of the '50s. Several directors have passed away, others have changed their narrative style, sensitive to new tastes. The Comencini who in 1980 produced VOLTATI, EUGENIO (TURN AROUND, EUGENIO), a bitterish comedy about the break-down of relations between parents and childre, in which realistic accents are intermingled with symbolic imagery, time present and time past, even some surrealistic touches, is undoubtedly a far cry from the Comencini of 1952, who directed PANE, AMORE E FANTASIA (BREAD, LOVE AND FANTASY).

New directors, new script-writers, new actors have come to the fore; no limitations exist any more on the subjects to be handled. So comedy is in the process of revising and transforming its traditional image. In the new decade before us everything can be different, everything must be original.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

13. The "Second Wave" of Comedy Actors part ten

by Ernesto G. Laura
Other actors, some of them international stars, have not been taken into detailed consideration here because their comedy appearances fall into a larger and more complex framework of motion picture activities. Such is the case with Marcello Mastroianni and Monica Vitti. Both have important dramatic interpretations to their credit: suffice it to remember Michelangelo Antonioni's LA NOTTE (NIGHT), in which they appeared together. As to Mastroianni, mention must be made of the Fellini films, from LA DOLCE VITA (THE SWEET LIFE) to LA CITTA DELLA DONNE (CITY OF WOMEN), as to Vitti those of Antonioni, from L'AVVENTURA (THE ADVENTURE) to IL MISTERIO DI OBERWALD (THE MYSTERY OF OBERWALD). Even so, the former's natural inclination to irony, the latter's to caricature, often made it possible to introduce moments of genuine humor into dramatic films.
In the 1950s, Marcello Mastroianni was often one of the young leads in the humorous-sentimental comedies that were in fashion. He then reappears in Ferreri's LA GRANDE ABBUFFATA (THE BIG FEED) and in many more recent comedies (among other things, he starred in the musical comedy, VALENTINO, where in the role of the famous silent film star he danced and sang).
Monica Vitti, instead, appeared more regularly in the film comedy genre. Indeed, several films were made especially to show off her particular whimsical personality. For example, the movie versions of several successful stage works: TI HO SPOSATO PER ALLEGRIA (I MARRIED YOU OUT OF MIRTH: 1967) by Luciano Salce, on the play by Natalia Ginzburg, with Giorgio Albertazzi and Maria Grazia Buccella, L'ANATRA ALL'ARANCIA (DUCK A L'ORANGE: 1975), it too by Salce, from the play by Home and Sauvajon, adapted to the screen by Bernardino Zapponi, with Ugo Tognazzi, John Richardson and Barbara Bouchet, AMORI MIEI (MY DARLINGS: 1978) by Steno, from the play by Jaja Fiastri, with Dorelli and Enrico Maria Salerno, NON TI CONOSCO PIU AMORE (DON'T KNOW YOU ANYMORE, DARLING: 1980) by Corbucci, from an old play by Aldo De Benedetti which had already been made into a film in 1936 at the time of the "white telephone" comedies. The film which revealed most completely the gifts of Monica Vitti, a modern actress who even so identifies herself with the character emotionally, from within, was LA RAGAZZA CON LA PISTOLA (THE GIRL WITH THE PISTOL), directed in 1968 by Mario Monicelli from a story by Sonego adapted to the screen by Sonego and Magni. She is a farm girl from a small Southern town with a very closed mentality, who is "dishonored" by a local boy and goes looking for him in America to kill him and "wash away the disgrace," imagining at every stage of the journey the different ways the execution will take place. Vitti is extraordinary in depicting the various stages in the evolution of the girl, who, as the journey proceeds and she gains new experience, gradually begins to feel less and less disposed to carry out the ritual murder, more a woman, more modern, more mature.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

13. The "Second Wave" of Comedy Actors part nine


by Ernesto G. Laura

Several well-known figures, already popular on television or in the theater, sought in this period to break into movies. Such was the case with Roberto Benigni, a Tuscan cabaret comedian, who in BERLINGUER, TI VOGLIO BENE (BERLINGUER, I LOVE YOU), directed in 1977 by Giuseppe Bertolucci, he is a provincial yokel full of complexes with regard to women. Benigni revealed a sure talent in CHIEDO ASILO ("asilo" means both refuge and kindergarten, so SEEKING REFUGE or SEEKING KINDERGARTEN), directed in 1979 by Marco Ferreri, where he is an eccentric, absent-minded, unconventional and utterly engaging kindergarten teacher who, ignoring all known pedagogical methods, succeeds in capturing the attention and then the affection of his pupils. The symbolic ending provides the allegorical key to a comedy in a category by itself, where satire and irony, a sensitivity to lofty values and a deep hope for the future blend together in a memorable achievement.

Nanni Moretti (ECCE BOMBO, a distortion of the Biblical phrase, "ecco homo": Behold the man!, so BEHOLD BOMBO), Maurizio Nichetti (RATATAPLAN and HO FATTO SPLASH!, I MADE A BIG SPLASH!), Carlo Verdone (UN SACCO BELLO, A BIG DEAL) are rather more comedians in the classic tradition than light comedy actors. Situated between the comedians and the light comedy actors are Lando Buzzanca and Pippo Franco, the latter firmly anchored to the cabaret spirit.

Monday, January 30, 2012

13. The "Second Wave" of Comedy Actors part eight


by Ernesto G. Laura

The sixth important new name in comedy films is Rome-born Enrico Montesano, formerly as well-known television comedian and showman. He stands out from the others in his fondness for the proletarian "oddball", always based on a meticulous observation of really existing human types, and for his allegiance to Rome, its quarters and hits dialect: by no accident he was perfectly equipped to replace Manfredi in the stage revival of the musical comedy, RUGANTINO. Montesano has been active in films since 1970, first in a long series of pictures - more farces than comedies - in which he was the partner of the late Alighero Noschese, the best-known Italian imitator and a popular television entertainer, all of them directed by Bruno Corbucci. The same couple reappeared in a film directed by Mario Camerini, IO NON VEDO, TU NON PARLI, EGLI NON SENTE (I NO SEE, YOU NO SPEAK, HE NO HEAR: 1971), a re-make of a previous film by the same director, CRIMEN, a delightful parody of mystery films. Subsequently, the actor turned his interests to modern comedies, like LE BRAGHE DEL PADRONE (HIS MASTER'S BREECHES: 1978) by Mogherini, from the novel by Terzoli and Vaime, or PANE, BURRO E MARMELLATA (BREAD, BUTTER AND JAM: 1977) by Giorgio Capitani, from a French play by Francis Dorin, adapted to the screen by numerous teams of scriptwriters, including Montesano himself, the director and Giuseppe Patroni Griffi. In the highly enjoyable first episode of QUA LA MANO (GIMME YOU HAND: 1980) by Pasquale Festa Campanile, he is a modest carriage driver in modern Rome, who has a mania for betting and who one day lets himself be persuaded to bet that he would appear with the Pope in St. Peter's Square to bless the faithful. So he starts lying in wait to approach the Pope and the two men become fast friends (the Pope is Philippe Leroy, whose foreign accent and modern style clearly allude to the present Pope). Along with modern comedies, however, Montesano has also appeared in several satirical films set in other historical periods, the best of which is IL LADRONE (THE THIEF: 1980) by Pasquale Festa Campanile, which follows the adventures of a thief in Palestine at the time of Christ.

Friday, January 27, 2012

13. The "Second Wave" of Comedy Actors part seven


by Ernesto G. Laura

Renato, also returning to his full name, Renato Pozzetto, stuck instead to a single character, the nice young boy, slightly indolent but full of good intentions, and rang up one success after the other, exaggerating perhaps only in quantity (which is often to the detriment of a deeper investigation of the characters). He was, in any case, unquestionably one of the surest comic talents of the '70s, as was apparent starting with PER AMARE OFELIA (TO LOVE OFELIA), directed by Flavio Mogherini in 1974, for which he won the "Silver Ribbon" as the best first-film actor. He played the part of Orlando, a young business manager who tries to get rid of an Oedipus complex that prevents him from loving women, a piercing criticism of the phenomenon of "Momism". In PAOLO BARCA, MAESTRO ELEMENTARE PRATICAMENTI NUDISTA (PAOLO BARCA, ELEMENTARY SCHOOL TEACHER, PRACTICALLY NUDIST: 1975), also by Mogherini on a story by Ugo Pirro, he plays the carrying role in an amusing comedy of manners on a certain provincial bourgeoise mentality in Sicily.

DUE CUORI UNA CAPPELLA (TWO HEARTS, A CHAPEL: 1975) by Maurizio Lucidi seasoned a love triangle with black humor and a bit of suspense, with Pozzetto, inconsolable habitue of a cemetery who falls in love with a young widow, equally assiduous in her visits to a neighboring grave (she was Agostina Belli). STURMTRUPPEN (STORM TROOPERS: 1976) brought the Cochi and Renato team back together again, thanks to Salvatore Samperi, the director who started with tragedies like GRAZIE ZIA (THANKS, AUNTIE) and CUORE DI MAMMA (MUMMY'S HEART), which already included however satirical and grotesque elements, and ended with comedies, always as a way of criticizing the moralism of modern society. STURMTRUPPEN is a comic strip that first appeared in a Rome evening newspaper and was subsequently collected into numerous books: Bolognese cartoonist Bonvi recounts the vicissitudes of the Nazis at the front during the war with a fierce satire aimed both at the fanatical officers and the block-headed troops. In the film, Cochi and Renato wrote the script of their individual characters (Ponzoni was the factious and haughty officer, Pozzetto the dim-witted soldier), contributing to the realization of a sort of filmed cabaret act. GRAN BOLLITO (BIG STEW), directed in 1977 by Mauro Bolognini, cast Pozzetto as one of the potential victims of Shelley Winters in the role of a murderer who became famous all over Italy right after the war, revisited however in a satirical key. At present, the most convincing result attained by Renato Pozzetto (who also directed a film, SAXOPHONE, in 1976) is LA PATATA BOLLENTE (THE HOT POTATO: 1979) by Steno, who delicately confronted, in the style of a light comedy of manners, the problem of homosexuality. Pozzetto was a factory worker in Lombardy who, for having gone to the help of a young boy beaten up by a gang of toughs and taken him home to get well, is teased maliciously by his fellow workers, who accuse him of not being "manly". The young boy is, in fact, a homosexual and he steps aside when he realizes that the worker, while not thinking in the least of having an affair with him, would be forever cut off from his working environment if he remained his friend. The subject is thorny, but director and leading man (the other is actor-singer Massimo Ranieri) carry it off playing on nuances and avoiding vulgarity.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

13. The "Second Wave" of Comedy Actors part six


by Ernesto G. Laura

As has been seen, the "second wave" of Italian-style comedy actors were almost always from Northern Italy, introducing into the world of comedy, situations and figures, mentalities and customs far removed from the traditional Roman milieu. By no accident, the script-writers were also different.

Cochi Ponzoni and Renato Pozzetto are Milanese. As "Cochi and Renato" they appeared in cabaret theaters around the end of the 1960s and from there went on to television where they presented their repertoire in a series of highly popular broadcasts, both in shows of their own and as entertainers. Skinny, properly groomed, restrained in word and gesture, Cochi served as a counter-attraction of the more conspicuous humor of Renato, fat and indolent, with the drooping eyelids of the hypocritical "lamb". Without the help of important scripts, mostly improvising, Cochi and Renato were the kings of "nonsense". They made a point of looking provincial, with their Milanese Italian, their little daily experiences as nice lower middle-class youngsters. Which is the very reason for their popularity: their brand of humor (delightful, certain little songs with utterly absurd texts) did not have people rolling in the aisles as happened with the older generation of comedians, but sought rather to keep audiences on an intermediate, but constant level of merriment, also with fleeting, but lucid glimpses of sadness.

In motion pictures, even though they did make some films together, their paths divided right from the start. Cochi, resuming his full name, Cochi Ponzoni, aimed at carefully constructed characterizations that were different on each occasion. His most important picture was perhaps CUORI DI CANE (A DOG'S HEART: 1976) by Alberto Lattuada, from the fine allegorical novel by Nikolai Bulgakov. Moscow in the immediate post-revolutionary years, the years of Lenin, reconstructed with great figurative imagination in the Cinecitta studios (utilizing basically the same set as Fellini's AMARCORD), is the setting of the strange adventure of the dog, Bobikov, whom a scientist, with a complicated operation, changes into a man, only to change him back into a dog when the man claims his spiritual independence, his freedom. The film, like the novel, is an allegory of the period of the NEP ("New Economic Policy") and uses the dog to portray the proletariat admitted to the Palace of Power but then driven out again by the de facto alliance between the new Soviet bourgeoisie and the surviving Czarist bourgeoisie. In this grotesque, bitter parable, in which satire is a vehicle for sharp historical criticism, only an actor of great resources like Cochi Ponzoni could manage the transition, not so much physical as psychological and spiritual, of the dog into a man, which on the one hand means the transition from instinct to reason, on the other the discovery of the tender feelings of the heart.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

13. The "Second Wave" of Comedy Actors part five


by Ernesto G. Laura

Paolo Villaggio (born in Genoa in 1938, therefore more or less a contemporary of Dorelli and Celentano) reached the theater in the late '60s (with experimental and avant-garde texts of a grotesque nature) after working in cabarets. But real popularity came to him from television where he emerged as an unconventional comedian and an equally extraordinary showman: instead of trying to win his audience, he assailed it, sometimes even insulted it, he was provocative. This attitude contained a criticism from within of the old approach to television and enormously appealed to the general public: he was one of the first intelligent, indeed "intellectual" comedians.

In motion pictures, he was used as a guest star, like every other showman launched by television: for example in Monicelli's BRANCALEONE ALLA CROCIATA (BRANCALEONE IN THE CRUSADES). Lino Del Fra directed him in the leading role of LA TORTA IN CIELO (THE PIE IN THE SKY: 1971), a bizarre, fiercely anti-militaristic fable in which he plays a war-mongering general (the story was based on a book by Gianni Rodari).

Before becoming an actor, Villaggio had been a modest office clerk in a metallurgical firm. It was from this experience that he drew the portrait of a shy, frustrated office clerk full of complexes, constantly mistreated by his superiors and mocked by his colleages: the book-keeper FANTOZZI. This was the name of a humorous novel with which he made his debut as a writer and which was an immediate best-seller. The neurotic Fantozzi, who creates troubles and calamities wherever he goes, becomes the vehicle for bringing to the screen the world of big business with a stinging satire that never misses the mark. FANTOZZI was made into a film in 1975 by Luciano Salce, on a script written by Villaggio himself with Benvenuti, De Bernardi and Salce. As an actor, Villaggio was the ideal interpreter of his literary creation, and whoever had seen him in his conventional aggressive and polemical stance could not fail to admire the way he succeeded in getting inside this pathetic figure of the born loser. Salce and Villaggio had the courage not to surround him with the usual "sex-bunnies" but with two character actresses from the theater who were full of satirical "bite", Anna Mazzamauro, the office colleague, and Liu Bosisio, the wife. Equally amusing results - also in book form - were obtained by the ensuing IL SECONDO TRAGICO FANTOZZI (THE SECOND TRAGIC FANTOZZI: 1976), directed again by Salce with the same principal actors. Villaggio went on to play similar roles in two other Salce films, IL...BELPAESE (THE FAIR LAND: 1977), written by Villaggio with the director and with Castellano and Pipolo, and RAG. ARTURO DE FANTI, BANCARIO PRECARIO (ACCOUNTANT ARTURO DE FANTI, TEMPORARY BANK CLERK: 1980).

Monday, January 23, 2012

13. The "Second Wave" of Comedy Actors part four


by Ernesto G. Laura

At the outset, Celentano used the stage-name "Adriano il Molleggiato" (Adriano The Rolling Spring), and in fact the way he swayed around his long double jointed body as he sang was one of his immediately recognizable trademarks. From the "rolling spring" he passed to dancing and in DI CHE SEGNO SEI? (WHAT'S YOUR SIGN?: 1975) by Sergio Corbucci he portrayed with great spirit and genuine talent a young man from the outskirts who takes part in a dancing contest. In the second episode of QUA LA MANO (GIVE ME YOUR HAND), "Acqua santa e rock 'n' roll" (Holy Water and Rock 'n' Roll), directed by Pasquale Festa Campanile in 1980 and written by Ottavio Jemma and Enrico Oldolini on a story by the latter, he appears in several rip-roaring dance numbers as an energetic and naive priest from Romagna (certainly not forgetting Guareschi's Don Camillo) who has a "mania" for dancing and on Saturday night gets dressed up in civilian clothes and slips off to the discotheque of a neighboring town. As a director, the actor-singer beat all box-office records with YUPPI DU in 1975, a film he edited and also helped write. As in his songs, Celentano tries to sustain deep human values, in the present case those of love, but he does so with the innocence and sometimes the superficiality of the self-taught man. It's the story of a poor devil, Felice Della Pieta, who lives in a dreary damp hovel in Venice with his second wife, Adelaide (actress Claudia Mori, his real wife). It's a destitute but peaceful life, in which the deep bond of love helps the couple face all the hardships and deal with all the problems. But things become complicated when his first wife, Silvia (Charlotte Rampling), reappears; she had been given up for dead, and precisely for having drowned herself in the river, whereas actually she had simply run away from that hopeless life. Drawing upon various stylistic sources, with inklings of even Bunuel and Fellini, Celentano comes up with a "grotesque" full of humor and vitality with some visual ideas of extraordinary effect (Milan, the big city Felice has never seen and where he goes to find Adelaide, his only true love, is given an almost dreamlike quality, with crowds of people with their faces painted all white). The innocent yokel, ignorant of the "guile and cunning" of the world or of the value of money reappears, as a type, in the other film directed (and also written and produced) by Adriano Celetano in 1978, GEPPO IL FOLLE (GEPPO THE FOOL).

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

13. The "Second Wave" of Comedy Actors part three


by Ernesto G. Laura

As to Adriano Celentano (Milanese like Dorelli and a year younger, having been born in 1938) success in films also came some time after his professional debut. In the beginning, Celetano made a name for himself in dance halls and vaudeville theaters as an imitator of Jerry Lewis. Between the late '50s and early '60s, Italian pop music underwent a deep change, leaving behind the tuneful sentimental ballads it had thrived on for decades and embracing the new phenomenon of "cantautori", that is of singers who wrote their own songs, using a more essential and direct language, music in which the guitar was preferred over the big bands of yesterday, a sharp, pounding beat that led the new pop stars to be known as "howlers". Celentano, abandoning imitations, soon revealed a dynamic, outgoing vulcanic personality. He appeared briefly as a night club singer in Fellini's LA DOLCE VITA (THE SWEET LIFE: 1959), then carried on with a not particularly outstanding film career for several years, as his popularity grew in the field of television, pop concerts and records.

Meanwhile, imitating Sinatra, he formed the "Adriano Celetano Clan", consisting of singers, musicians, arrangers who since then have worked permanently for him. In 1968, Pietro Germi, as mentioned above in the chapter devoted to him, insisted upon having Celentano for the title role in SERAFINO, a rustic peasant comedy. In 1971, Alberto Lattuada starred him in BIANCO, ROSSO E... (WHITE, RED AND...) with Sophia Loren. In RUGANTINO (1973) by Pasquale Festa Campanile, he brought to the screen the musical comedy that Nino Manfredi had appeared in on stage.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

13. The "Second Wave" of Comedy Actors part two


by Ernesto G. Laura

Dorelli would subsequently find a good director in Pasquale Festa Campanile, who directed him in DIMMI CHE FAI TUTTO PER ME (TELL ME IT'S ALL FOR ME: 1976), a whimsical criticism of conventions in which the actor appears with Pamela Villoresi, Grazia Maria Spia and Andrea Ferreaol (the script was by Castellano and Pipolo), in CARA SPOSA (DEAR BRIDE: 1977), written by Franco Verucci, and based on the idea of the platitude that the man from Milan is a hard worker whereas the Neapolitan is an "artist" but a slacker (here, in fact, Dorelli is a dreamy idler, while the excellent Agostina Belli is a Neapolitan girl with her feet on the ground, constantly at work), in COME PERDERE UNA MOGLIE...E TROVARE UN'AMANTE (HOW TO LOSE A WIFE...AND FIND A MISTRESS: 1978), written by Gianfranco Bucceri, Roberto Leoni and Luigi Malerba, which attempts to place the typical French "pochade" into an Italian framework.

Less persuasive, the adaptation of Piero Chiara's novel, IL CAPPOTTO DI ASTRAKAN (THE ASTRAKAN OVERCOAT: 1979) by Marco Vicario which impoverishes the original merits of the novel. Johnny Dorelli's gentle and expansive nature was nicely coupled with the sharp, polemical wit of Monica Vitti in AMORI MIEI (MY DARLINGS: 1978) by Steno, and in PER VIVERE MEGLIO DIVERTITEVI CON NOI (TO LIVE BETTER HAVE A GOOD TIME WITH US: 1978) by Flavio Mogherini.

Monday, January 16, 2012

13. The "Second Wave" of Comedy Actors part one


by Ernesto G. Laura

In the decade, 1970-1980, a "second" wave of Italian-style comedy actors appeared on the scene, along with Sordi, Tognazzi, Manfredi and Gassman, who maintained their popularity.

Some of them already worked in films, even in leading roles, but had not had a real opportunity to rise from the ranks of qualified professionals to a star status around which a film could be built.

Such was the case of Johnny Dorelli (Giorgio Guidi, born in 1937, the son of a well-known pop singer of the '30s, Nino D'Aurelio). Small of stature with a good-natured disposition prone to smiles, Dorelli was launched into show business in America by the conductor, Percy Faith, and in the '50s often appeared there on television. Returning to Italy, he won several San Remo Song Festivals and from there won easy access to Italian television where he introduced the formula, common in America but at that time unknown in Italy, of the singer who was also an entertainer, hence able to carry the weight of a full show, establishing immediate contact with the audience. With all this, it was obvious that motion pictures would seek to exploit his gifts as a singer, as well as his immediately apparent merits as an actor, but in the beginning he was used in second-rate films or only as a singer. PANE E CIOCCOLATA (BREAD AND CHOCOLATE: 1974) by Franco Brusati, which has already been mentioned with regard to Nino Manfredi, and his extraordinary performance, revealed an unexpected Dorelli in the cameo role of an Italian industrialist who has fled to Switzerland for tax reasons and then commits suicide when his wife abandons him. The simplicity of manner, the good-heartedness, the smile that Dorelli had already identified with his "personage" here became the dramatic defense of a man who is sliding inexorably towards self-destruction.

The interest aroused by PANE E CIOCCOLATA (BREAD AND CHOCOLATE) enabled Dorelli to escape the rountine of second-rate films and seek a path of his own within Italian-style comedy. UNA SERA C'INCONTRAMMO... (ONE EVENING WE MET...: 1975) by Piero Schivazappa was based on the novel AMARE SIGNIFICA... by Italo Terzoli and Enrico Vaime (in the 1970s, after a long absence, the Italian humorous novel regained popularity: the new authors included Carlo Silva, Umberto Simonetta, Castellano and Pipolo, and the Terzoli-Vaime team). The main comical idea, with its overtones of bitterness, involved the passion of an enormously fat girl (German actress Fran Fullenwider) for a skinny little workman (Johnny Dorelli), a situation complicated by the fact that the girl, who was very possessive, was also a rich man's daughter. The Lombardy setting added flavor to the film both as scenery and in the use of an Italian idiom that was a blend of different dialects, both far removed from the usual Roman environment of Italian-style comedy.

Friday, January 13, 2012

12. Pietro Germi Vs. Moralism part four


by Ernesto G. Laura

The director returns to a popular world in SERAFINO, which is 1966 won first prize (ex-aequo) at the Moscow Film Festival. On a script written by Giovannetti, Benvenuti, De Bernardi and Pinelli, Germi tells a story about a small Ciociaro town of farmers and shepherds, cut off from the modern world. Most of all it is the portrait of Serafino, a country yokel, lumpish and uncouth but good at heart and very asute, who manages to extricate himself, amidst swindlers and swellheads, and to get along with unruffled serenity, veritable symbol of the pure, unspoiled popular soul. By no accident, of the people around him the only figure who is to a certain extent lovable and positive is Asmara, a young village prostitute, the mother of countless children (excellently portrayed by Francesca Romana Coluzzi). Of particular interest the dialogue, where for the first time slighting "bawdy" verbal expressions are used, typical of the way a peasant would speak. The film launched the acting career of a pop singer, Adriano Celetano, who will be further discussed in the last chapter, revealing in him outstanding qualities as a spontaneous and appealing actor.

At the time of his death, Germi was preparing AMICI MIEI (MY FRIENDS: 1975), which was then directed by Mario Monicelli with the utmost respect for the intentions and desires of the late director, so that while Monicelli appeared in the credit titles as the director, a notice was added with the words: "a film by Pietro Germi".

After Sicily, the Veneto and Lazio, now it was Tuscany which, from the time of Giovanni Boccaccio's classic novelle, has been the land of the practical joke, the sarcastic jibe, the sometimes even cruel prank. Five fifty-year old friends, distinguished professionals in life, are used to getting together from time to time to play sensational jokes in the most unimaginable places, often devised, planned, and carried out on a large scale. Life, however, cannot be brought to a halt byt his childish way of staying twenty when you are more than twice the age, and the death of one of them would end by giving them a glimpse of the bitter fact that the days of games and horseplay are over. Whimsical, bizarre, jocose, interrupted by frequent thrusts of grief and drama, AMICI MIEI (MY FRIENDS) blends the finest qualities of Germi and Monicelli in a satirical representation of penetrating depth. The five friends are Tognazzi, Philippe Noiret, Gastone Moschin, Adolfo Celi and Duilio Del Prete, while Bernard Blier plays the part of Righi, their chosen victim.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

12. Pietro Germi Vs. Moralism part three


by Ernesto G. Laura

In 1966, Germi won the Gold Palm (ex-aequo) at the Cannes festival with SIGNORE E SIGNORI (LADIES AND GENTLEMEN), in which he moves his criticism of manners to the Veneto bourgeoisie, using the town of Treviso as his geographical and social setting. Veneto writer Luciano Vincenzoni collaborated closely with the director on the story and script (Age and Scarpelli helped with the latter), fitting together a mosaic teeming with figures, large and small, of a colorful human "bestiary", caught in the merry-go-round of hypocrisy which Germi attacks with a firm polemical thrust. A multitude of well-known actors moves through the film, each given a space of his own: from Alberto Lionello to Olga Villi, from Gigi Ballista and Gaston Moschin to Virna Lisi and Franco Fabrizi.

One gets, even so, the impression that Germi didn't preserve on screen everything he had observed and that the film, however amusing and well-constructed and however skillful the dialogue, offers a less definitive picture of that bourgeois society than it could have been, sometimes bordering on the caricature sketch, which is something less than satire.

L'IMMORALE (THE IMMORALIST: 1967) was polemical, starting from the title itself. Instead of the analysis of a provincial society, as in his other two comedies, the director (with the collaboration on the script of Alfredo Giannetti, Tullio Pinelli and Carlo Bernari) pauses to shed light on the paradoxical situation of a single character, a violinist who, with a certain seriousness of his own, takes up with other women aside from his wife, ends up having three homes and three families, children included, and is forced to run from one train to another to keep his different wives happy and also wearing himself out from the fulfillment of his marriage "duties", until he dies from a heart attack. Germi doesn't pass judgment but is interested in exploring the soul of this man, who from the outside would seem to be a kind of playboy but is capable, instead, of a very special and sincere kind of loving of his own. Ugo Tognazzi was the violinist, Stefania Sandrelli, Renee Longarini and Maria Grazia Carmassi his three women.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

12. Pietro Germi Vs. Moralism part two


by Ernesto G. Laura

DIVORZIO ALL'ITALIANA (DIVORCE, ITALIAN STYLE: 1961), awarded an Oscar in 1963 for the best original story and script (written by Ennio De Concini, Alfredo Giannetti and the director himself), takes Germi back to Sicily, not however the Sicily of the mafia but rather of the high land-owning aristocracy. Since at that time divorce didn't exist in Italy and local society would not have tolerated cohabitation, Baron Fefe, in order to marry his enticing little cousin, Angela, must first of all get rid of his wife. At first, he fondles various kinds of perfect crimes in his imagination, then as an expert connoisseur of the rigid moralistic mentality of his world, gets the idea for a highly unique "Italian-style divorce": force his wife to commit adultery, catch her redhanded and then he would be authorized, according to a certain article of the penal code, at that time still in force, to kill her "for reasons of honor". To be sure, he would spend a few years in prison, with all the comforts a rich man could afford, but thanks to "good conduct" he would soon be released and able to wed the charming Angela. The story unfolds, agile and amusing, linking together minor and major figures, people and geographical and social backgrounds. Marcello Mastroianni is an utterly absurd Fefe, indolent, sly, bored, without a job or a serious worry in the world, the prototype of an impoverished and effete aristocracy which Germi eyes with the maliciousness of great satire, just as the arm of satire serves him to attack those aspects of the penal code which to the modern conscience seemed more than out-of-date.

Moral outrage was the mainspring of the director's second comedy of manners set in Sicily: SEDOTTA E ABBANDONATA (SEDUCED AND ABANDONED: 1964), written by Germi with Luchino Vincenzoni, Age and Scarpelli and centered entirely around the agitated figure of Vincenzo Ascalone, the father of family who even on his death bed is obsessed with defending the "family honor". A much more mature work than the previous one, with characters more deeply explored, developments more complex, it is to be considered one of the most successful products of Italian-style comedy and of Germi as a director, starring an actor who up to that moment had been relegated to secondary character roles, Saro Uzi, and Stefania Sandrelli, an actress whom Germi discovered and rightly supported: her aggressive and exuberant Agnese confirms the qualities that emerged in the Angela of her first film, DIVORZIO ALL'ITALIANA (DIVORCE, ITALIAN STYLE).

Monday, January 9, 2012

12. Pietro Germi Vs. Moralism part one


by Ernesto G. Laura

When in 1952 Pietro Germi brought to the screen one of the best-known French "pochades" of the Belle Epoque, LA PRESIDENTESSA (MME. LA PRESIDENTE), many people were shocked and perhaps even outraged. The Genoese director (1914-1975) had, in fact, made a name for himself with several films of vigorous dramatic impact and fervent social commitment, along the lines of a non-ideological Socialism of an humanitarian cast that enjoyed quite a tradition in Italy (think of the fiction of Edmondo De Amicis at the turn of the century). In 1949, IN NOME DELLA LEGGE (IN THE NAME OF THE LAW) had brought to the screen for the first time and with no holds barred the dangerous subject of the Mafia in Sicily; in 1952, IL CAMMINO DELLA SPERANZA (THE WAY OF HOPE) followed the journey of a group of poor people from the South towards the border to seek work abroad. A shy and private man, but actually, behind a screen of gruffness, warm in his affections, sympathetic to the poor and humble, prepared to fling himself courageously into the battles he felt were just, he created in films wonderfully human figures of workmen, of simple laborers, often played by himself. All at once in 1961, he changed genre and for the remaining years of his life became one of the foremost representatives of comedy. Actually, he had changed nothing but the accent. Germi was one of those directors who was concerned about communicating with the largest possible number of spectators. Comedy struck him at a certain moment as being more suited to that purpose, while maintaining the same human and social interests as before.

Friday, January 6, 2012

11. Comedy Dresses Up part five


by Ernesto G. Laura

Among the comedies in costume, set in other periods and other countries, the representation of characters and environments of old Russia was chosen by a sensitive director, Alberto Lattuada, capable of completely identifying himself with that world, uniting a sense of humor, a knowledge of the culture and a gift for recreating its particular flavor (through scenery, costumes, the style of acting).

IL CAPPOTTO (THE OVERCOAT: 1953) brought to the screen one of the finest novels by Nikolai Gogol, but contrary to the director's usually scrupulous attention to historical detail, he moved the story from the 19th century to the present day and, while avoiding any specific geographical indications, from Russia to Italy. Akakij Akakievich became Carmine De Carmine, the film was shot on location in the Lombardy city of Pavia. It is the story of a little man oppressed by the authorities. One day Carmine decides to put together the little money he owns to buy himself a new overcoat, which is so handsome that the modest tailor who made it shadows him to admire the effect it has on passers-by. But the coat is soon stolen and for Carmine nothing remains of the sole blessing that had made him happy for a day. Carmine dies and as a ghost has a much more lively time compared to his grey and monotonous existence; constantly appearing and reappearing in the life of the city mayor, his persecutor, the symbol of cynical and self-interested "power", he persuades him to mend his ways. The script-writers, including Cesare Zavattini who contributed many amusing gags, provided the director with a script respectful of the Gogol original but also full of new inventions. Stylistically, the film deliberately wavers between realism and the surreal fable, benefiting enormously from the presence of a comedian at that time famous for certain elements of "nonsense" introduced into the light theater revue and instead poorly exploited by motion pictures which up till then had humiliated his talents in farces of no importance: Renato Rascel. Placed in a specific psychological framework, Rascel endows his Carmine with a quality of suffering that is never over-stated and can also find expression in a sudden comic twist. Italian comedy, by combining Lattuada's narrative and dramatic talent and Rascel's gifts for humor, attains with IL CAPPOTTO (THE OVERCOAT) one of its highest and most ambitious achievements. (Lattuada would go on to direct CUORE DI CANE - A DOG'S HEART, which will be discussed in a later chapter).

Thursday, January 5, 2012

11. Comedy Dresses Up part four


by Ernesto G. Laura

FAUSTINA (1969), Luigi Magni's first film as a director, is to be sure given a modern setting but ancient Rome plays an important part. The main characters, in fact, are "tombaroli", that is those people who steal from Roman and Etruscan tombs, who are specialized in archeological plunder and then sell the precious finds to foreign collectors. The sudden appearance in that milieu of a young dreamer would captivate Faustina, the "tombarolo's" black wife, leading to a series of consequences to be explained mostly by that strange profession and the background of ruins where the characters live. Enzo Cerusico, an Italian better known in America than in Italy as a result of a number of television serials and appearances on Broadway, was the poetic inamorato, Vonetta McGee the young bride, Renzo Montagnani the coarse robber.

The satirical force of G.G. Belli's sonnets in Roman dialect seems to inform Magni's next film, NELL' ANNO DEL SIGNORE (IN THE YEAR OF OUR LORD...: 1969), it too appearing in the wake of RUGANTINO. The period and place are the same: Rome around 1825, identical the actor set against that historical background, Nino Manfredi, who is Cornacchia, a cobbler who pretends to be illiterate but is actually Pasquino, known all over Rome for his anti-papal invectives. The imaginary events are interwoven with a true historical episode, the execution of the conspirators of the Carboneria (a secret society from the time of the Risorgimento), Montanari and Targhini, which took place, as a plaque indicates even today, in Piazza del Popolo. Also appearing in the film were Ugo Tognazzi, in the role of the treacherous and shifty Cardinal Rivarola, and Alberto Sordi in that of a fanatical monk.

In 1970, Magni wrote and directed, less successfully but always on a high level of entertainment, SCIPIONE DETTO ANCHE L'AFRICANO (SCIPIO KNOWN ALSO AS THE AFRICAN), where the action was carried back to Imperial Rome in order to satirize the political intrigues of power at the time the Roman General was preparing to defeat Carthage. Along with Marcello Mastroianni in the title role, Magni used his brother, Ruggero Mastroianni, a well-known Italian film editor, Vittorio Gassman, Turi Ferro and Silvana Mangano.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

11. Comedy Dresses Up part three


by Ernesto G. Laura

In the '60s, the transition from a light theater, with the shallow and evasive forms of the musical revue, to that form of theater, Anglo-Saxon in origin, known as musical comedy, led to excellent results in RUGANTINO, which opened at the Teatro Sistina in Rome in December, 1962, and after a triumphal Italian tour, appeared on Broadway in 1964, with Nino Manfredi in the title role. Rugantino was a young man in the Papal Rome of 1830, addicted to practical jokes and women and friend of the inn-keeper Mastro Titta, who was also the public executioner. In the end, accused of a murder he hasn't committed, he is beheaded. The chief merit of the comedy, aside from the tuneful music of Armando Trovajoli, lay in the exact reconstruction at once affectionate and satirical, of a popular Rome that no longer existed but was perfectly familiar both in its human and moral values and in the images handed down by old prints. The authors of the text and directors of the show were Piero Garinei and Sandro Giovannini, inventors of the Italian musical comedy, on the one hand, and Massimo Franciosa and Pasquale Festa Campanile, who were also film writers, on the other. Luigi Magni collaborated on the text.

It was the enormous success - unexpected, at least to that extent - of RUGATINO in the theater that gave rise to the Italian-style film comedy in costumes of the past, related to Rome in particular. In 1964, Franciosa and Festa Campanile, again with the collaboration of Luigi Magni, wrote (and then directed) LE VOIC BIANCHE (THE TREBLE VOICES), which ingeniously brought several of the basic ingredients of RUGATINO to the screen: once again the setting is in Papal Rome (but in the 18th century), the main character is a young man who devotes most of his time to chasing women and ends up on the scaffold. This time the story deals with the subject of "castrati", those poor but good-looking boys who in the 18th century were subjected to a delicate surgical operation after which, with the loss of their manhood, they could sing with "treble" (or falsetto) voices in concerts and in the foremost opera houses. The film lapsed into moments of heavy humor, into some vulgarity, but was interesting, even so, in the way it utilized the authentic exteriors of Rome (villas, gardens, archeological remains) to set the story in a non-fortuitous framework and to recreate the imagery of old prints. What was impossible in the theater became easy in the movies: the natural scenery (the film was shot almost entirely on location) lent a remarkable suggestiveness to even the more banal sequences.

It seems proper at this point to stress the decisive contribution a "lover of Rome" like Luigi Magni must have made to both RUGANTINO and the Franciosa and Festa Campanile film. It was only natural that he should have continued along this path on his own as a fully independent artist.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

11. Comedy Dresses Up part two


by Ernesto G. Laura

In the specific sphere of comedy, without contaminations from other genres, the highest level reached in the search for a type of comedy linked to remote periods is to be found in the diptych directed by Mario Monicelli: L'ARMATA BRANCALEONE (BRANCALEONE'S ARMY: 1966) and BRANCALEONE ALLE CROCIATE (BRANCALEONE IN THE CRUSADES: 1969). In a purely imaginary Middle Ages, a tattered and pompous knight, Brancaleone da Norcia, puts together an army as tattered and beggarly as he and marches off, engaging barbarians and running into adventures of various kinds, towards a town in Apulia of which he is to become the feudal lord. Age and Scarpelli, co-authors of the script with the director, have firmly established a true historical framework within which to interweave parodistic variations of every kind, drawing upon the grand tradition of popular legends, with allusions to famous films and novels and the original creation of a long series of merrily eccentric human types: for example, the Teofilatto of Gian Maria Volonte and the Zenone the Saint of Enrico Maria Salerno of the Abacucco of Carlo Pisacane (Capannell, the little old man in I SOLITI IGNOTI). For once, the second film was not inferior to the first, indeed the more specifically historical setting of the Crusades made it possible to concentrate the action around a specific nucleus and to use new actors in comically delineated roles: Luigi Proietti, Paolo Villaggio, Lino Toffolo, Gianrico Tedeschi. In the two films, Gassman is given a perfect vehicle, because all his past and present as a famous tragic actor can be summed up in a character who takes himself seriously, who declaims, preaches, poses as a hero, a great condottiere; and Gassman, precisely, can see such a figure in its true light, resorting to the acting techniques of the dramatic actor to immediately transform them into laughs and display a ferocious sarcasm.