Jury presentation #1
by Tomaso Aramini
The enfant terrible of Italian ’68:
In the political and artistic turmoil of the decade ’68-’77, director Romano Scavolini established himself as the boldest filmmaker in the Italian experimental scene both in the content proposed to the audience both in the cinematic form pursued. Considered a child prodigy as he shot his first feature film at the age of 18 while working as a longshoreman in Germany, the “enfant terrible” of the Italian cinema made his first truly professional full-length feature Blind Fly in 1966, a controversial analysis of aimless violence brought on by the central character’s lack of motivation and purpose in life. The film made the rounds of major international festivals and promoted him to the ranks of “cult” filmmaker. The film spiked numerous controversies in Italy that caused its ban from public release. Two years later, he wrote and directed The Dress Rehearsal a complex structured “Joycean” odyssey on a group of young Marxist insurrectionists preparing a Revolution, characterized by a high degree of formal experimentation in the montage that breaks the commercial mechanisms of engagement between the spectator and the characters on screen that can be generalised as the identification spectator spectacle. The Dress Rehearsal is, then, a radical statement against bourgeois cinema and its techniques of annihilating, putting asleep the spectator’s consciousness. The film, although being critically acclaimed, was again banned from public screening. During this period, Romano continued to make numerous shorts and documentaries on anthropology and social struggles. In those films, he further developed his ideas of an alternative cinema in which the disruption of space/time linearity served as a device to wake the spectator’s consciousness to a new political thinking and being in the world.
In 1976, he settled in the USA. In 1980, Romano wrote and directed The Savage Hunt on the crimes of the Greek fascist junta and, finally, in 1981 he wrote and directed one of the most powerful and fearful films of all time: Nightmare. Variety placed Nightmare as the third grossest domestic sale in its opening screening weekend counting a distribution of just 127 cinemas nationwide. Misleadingly labeled as a horror film, Nightmare is a powerful critique of psychopharmacology, deeply popular in USA, as an easy way out to suppress the psychological contradictions the capitalist mode of production originates on the subject, contradictions that re-surface in the film’s protagonist as repressed libido, dysphoric sexual relations, impulse to kill to stop his recurrent terrifying nightmares.
Nightmare perturbed the USA’s audience for its symbolic implications: not just because Romano subverted Hitchcock’s grammar, in which you never see blood on the screen, and here you see plenty of, but because that blood represents the wounds, the cracks of USA’s middle class sub-consciousness: a society, founded on systematic repression may it be class, racial, or even psychological, all for the tranquility of the petty bourgeois man, that in the film gets engulfed by the “irrational, by the very flaming energies it wanted to control, to cast aside which take the shape of an uncontrollable killer. Not surprisingly, ambulances were put on stand-by outside the New York’s cinemas.
Once moved back to Italy, in 2004 Romano started The Apocalypse of the Monkeys, a six hour long trilogy that synthesizes his political views, his philosophical beliefs as well as over 40 years of aesthetic experimentation. The Apocalypse of the Monkeys can be considered his Summa Theologica, or Romano’s last thoughtful and brave provocation on traditional cinema itself. In The Apocalypse of the Monkeys, Romano de-structures the foundation of today’s society and its representation via a new cinematographic grammar that brings to the maximum tension the stream of consciousness’s technique in which multiple stories and characters flow on different planes of awareness, intentionality, and being. Romano’s new dramaturgy in this film brings forward Brechtian ideas of epic theatre: in The Apocalypse, the mise-en-scene and the editing won’t focus on what the characters feel, but on how the character becomes conscious, and on what they are conscious of. Romano’s Apocalypse objective is to free the spectator from its role as a mass-spectator of mass-spectacles, from the representation of reality as a system of commodities, to conceive reality as a modifiable system of social relations in which consciousness and freedom can be sought and struggled for.
This retrospective focuses on Romano’s boldest shorts made during the 60s and early 70s. These films reflect on the hottest political issues of the 70s, from anti-imperialism to the black liberation struggle up to nowadays ontological and political stances against the highest stage of society of spectacle, the one that turns every person in a spectator of commodities. Moreover, in these films we see Romano’s radical ideas being put into practice: specifically different methods of subverting traditional storyline and breaking traditional mechanisms of editing. These films emancipate the spectator, de-alienate her from her passive role, to call for action, in a highly poetic fashion, which is Romano’s signature. The signature of an incredible all-around author, a militant of subversive cinema, for too long forgotten and ostracized.
Quiet Fever (1964), 10’
An experimental reportage made of animated photos denouncing the crimes of Imperialism.
Solitude (1966), 11’
A man walks through a contemporary metropolis that swarms of advertisement posters, call boxes, dingy walls.
Ecce Homo (1969), 10’
A film inspired by The Dialectic of Enlightenment by Adorno and Horkheimer: hands as an instrument of capitalist exploitation, human alienation, and war.
L.S.D. (1967), 10’
A hallucinatory voyage on the last days of a poet before committing suicide.
Beat Diary (1968), 11′
A couple wanders in the suburbs of a metropolis questing for happiness.
So Close, So Far (1970): 10’
A lyrical and dramatic overview of the Roman suburbs. From the Olympic district to Ostiense (gasometer) up to Fiumicino. Commented by city noise and music.
We Shall Overcome (1968), 12’
Sharp and uncompromised agit-prop visual poem dedicated to the Black Liberation Struggle that pushes forward Santiago Alvarez’s editing techniques.