Eileen Cowin: MAD LOVE n.6

Eileen Cowin: MAD LOVE n.6

 

EILEEN COWIN,  The Dangerous Edge of Things, 2015,  from Mad Love series, 7.7″ x 9″

How we don’t see

by Rosanna Albertini

The curtain pulled through the open window trembles slightly; sunlight, and rumbling noise from the freeway and birds screeching interrupted by silly mockingbirds who imitate snoring early in the morning, make a density of sounds kept in the distance, outside, by the luminous screen, vibrating and warming. Yes Kristin, for the first time I understand why you painted on canvas a big, vertical curtain with little blue and green flowers. The painting becomes an absorbing screen, an opaque surface  asking things from the world to stay out for a while. For a moment, let me veil their impact. The curtain makes me feel as if my body were absorbing echoes and reflections, I don’t have to see and be touched by the shadows of the day. Sounds, light and wind are filtered. Maybe the Muslim veil over women’s faces, that allows them to see through, though remaining perfectly hidden, is much more than a discriminatory symbol, it could be a privilege.

Not to be seen anymore is the reason one leaves, not to be regarded by people who are only partially in touch with our life and yet ask for attention, surrounding us with a cloud of pressure. I have been biting my tail over and over for decades, chasing a story of mine that followed me like an unknown ghost. I see why people do not usually leave their hometown, or their country, unless their roots have been snatched and pulled out. If they leave, then often they move as if wearing a diving suit that makes them slow, as if the air was water winding its way with unfamiliar vibrations.

It took me a remarkable number of years to realize how strongly my eyes have been wide shut while adapting my senses to the New World’s sky, my nervous system to the vibrations of the soil, and my mouth to the tongue. My perception of American life was that it was going to be forever new. I’m always yearning for the excitement of the new, that’s a curse that makes me think of my own death as the very last adventure. You float over your used body and fly, god knows where. Will I join you, mother? Instead of receiving food from you, or dresses that I did not like, I would rest with you on an apricot tree. We rest and laugh, hidden by the foliage. “Your body was your screen, wasn’t it?” I ask her.

She smiles like Alice’s cat, her smile expands in the air until there is nothing left but an impression of her. She is back being an absence. I can only sing through her genes, enumerating the few keys she gave me to understand her mysterious withdrawing —most likely not knowing what she was doing. A movie and an opera have become indelible clues to discover her. My mother’s pink lipstick was called “indelible.” The cream for her face —why am I remembering such details?— was named from herbs and leaves: “botana.” Names, events, work in my mind like the little pebbles of the fable. Pollicino let them fall behind him on the ground in the woods, so he could find his way back.

There was no way mother and I could miss Pietro Mascagni’s most popular opera. We walked the narrow pathway behind the house, with stinging nettles between two low wire nets covered with vines; despite precautions we did wake up the dogs of the neighbors, and in no more than five minutes were sitting in the smoky room of our Circolo Familiare, the only public TV space in the village. The card players did not stop slamming on the tables, coughing and laughing. “Let’s go to the opera,” she had told me, which for me, at the time, was only one: Cavalleria Rusticana. Had I known that the author was from Livorno I would have been even more confused; I always thought he was Sicilian because the singers wore Sicilian names and costumes. Despite the small screen, and the rural lack of respect for musical performances, amid spectators much more excited by Mike Bongiorno and his TV quiz than by opera singers, I entered with my mother into a space of tension that isolated us from the smoky, humid room. Tension grows, the story makes a strong impression on us: a figurine that seems to have escaped from a Neapolitan crib runs towards the edge of the stage. He wears a short, black vest, a white scarf around the waist and white socks to the knees. The story is about to be doomed. The loud dwarf brings terrible news at the end of a too long vocalization and shouts, “Hanno ammazzato compare Turiddu!” (Somebody killed godfather Turiddu!)

As my mother shivers, I am taken by surprise; I don’t really like that music, or the ridiculous look of the scene, and wait for an explanation. In short: two men were in love with the same woman, and one of them stubbed the other to death. I spent my whole life making fun of the ridiculous way Italian operas expand a long stretch of feelings on the vocal cords. But never had I connected to my mother’s silence, and emotion, during that loud recitativo. It was maybe her real story, safely represented in a fictional space for everybody to see. Her story, there, dramatically resolved: one of the contenders had killed the other. In real life, she was the one who stepped to the Acheron and the two who loved her survived her.

 

EILEEN COWIN,The Possibility of Regret, 2016, from Mad Love series, 6.6″ x 10″

 

THE CHALLENGE : Milan in the Sixties

THE CHALLENGE: to plan and build from zero two recording studios in three months

ALBERTO in Milano

Text and images by ALBERTO ALBERTINI

The best conditions for damage to a company, a family or a political party, are when one creates or tolerates an inner conflict. “The Challenge” was a textbook case: the perfect conflict. The idea of disturbing my peaceful work by giving me a boss who was not really useful to me, but rather involved in projects totally distant from me, created this conflict. I need to emphasize the dimension of the challenge: to create from zero, in an empty loft, two recording studios in three months. The project implied decisions about what to buy and the complete planning, to the slightest details. Not having any intention to replicate the Roman Fonoroma studios, I paid attention not to do what I had learned doesn’t have to be done and, what’s more, I improved my work thanks to my five years of inventions and innovations. I can’t explain the trust I received.

A constant in my planning activity is a certain incompetence. As Anatole France used to say, the specialists of a discipline know everything about it, but beyond that, they grope in the dark. Being an outsider and not a specialist at all, I did not grope in the dark. Never having had the right school over the years, the son of a painter who had been a mechanic and grandchild of a carpenter, I had studied chemistry, physics, photography, film technique on my own, that’s why maybe I had a bent for applying techniques of one discipline to another. I mean, in developing my first sound recorder I applied in the control system of the reels  the technique used in motorcycle brakes. To the film developing system for the Cineservicefilm I had applied the technique used in a steam engine heat exchange mechanism. A panoramic vision, joined to my natural thoughtlessness, allowed me to face problems certainly bigger than me.

After my departure from Rome in 1959, Fonoroma became something completely different and for sure not my responsibility; maybe their investments to try and make “Cinema in Milano” were excessive or wrong. In the late 50’s people in the film business in Rome used to say that Fonoroma was losing in film production what had been gained by dubbing, but was able to recover. But this time, in the 60’s it did not recover. The workers, after various ups and down, organized a cooperative that maintained the prestigious name. But they had to move, abandoning the marvelous palace behind Piazza del Popolo.

 

There was, in Milan, a factory of film development and film and sound printing created in 1945, immediately after the end of the war, as a present to his daughter by a textile manufacturer from Veneto. The name was Filmservice. The audio equipment of Filmservice didn’t have the quality required by the new market: the “Caroselli,” the very first TV advertisements. In ’58-’59 this factory owner asked Fonoroma to manage the sound department. In 1959 I was sent to Milan by Fonoroma as a manager of the department, to be immersed in the hell of an industrialized dubbing system. I was meeting a completely different reality. The transition that leads to the “Challenge” was five years spent as a manager of the Milanese Fonoroma.

For Fonoroma, sending me north was a big opportunity: I was a Northerner speaking the same language as the clients, and a pain in the neck eliminated from Rome. They easily convinced me with a very good salary to go to Milan, where I found a different world in which producing television advertisements had promoted a style of work adapted to short films. Studios, cameras, microphones were all the same as in feature filmmaking, but designed for very short shoots and with top level audio, because each advertisement had to be clear, intelligible and powerful!

They were the fabulous years…a banal commonplace or cheap sentimentalism? Fabulous years are those containing a more or less defined hope, certainly perceived by intuition, a hope today quite hard to feel. Although those Sixties were fabulous indeed, I didn’t know it, but my instinct pressed me to keep going. In those years the construction of the first subway turned the city upside down, it was the time of miniskirts, and the famous Giamaica bar was nearby, but I didn’t have the time to go there, and Paolo Sarpi Street was not one way yet. These were also the pioneering years of the new electronic solid state technology, those tiny worms with three threads sticking out before they became integrate circuits and then microprocessors. Electronics was then something one could touch, made visible by few and simple tools, now instead it’s the unknown, entirely analyzed by processors indicating if it works or not! The new field was so satisfying to me that I also made one of the first solid state commutators. I could describe the technical aspects of my work, and yet they would be impossible to comprehend even for a competent persons today, so much have technologies changed. In another report I will try an accessible description. More interesting are the clouds approaching on the horizon…

When I arrived in 1959 I found the space of the recording studio in Milan was similar to a submarine: steep metal stairs, a closet for machines, another for directing. The room for actors speaking at the microphone, although bigger, was smelling of humidity, dust and the passing of years. Projects recorded there were absolutely inadequate to the new requirements. RAI (the Italian state television network) had a department of quality control and rejected our products that were not good enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A young engineer had renewed these studios in Milan. The son of Fonoroma’s owner, he had either tried to save money, or to put to the test the new electronic devices: transistors. In conclusion, I found myself caught in a multitude of technical and methodological troubles because the feature film sound approach was different from the approach for producing sound for TV advertising; they were both effective, and their conflict was only due to the arrogance of the young engineer. On one side there was a fantastic relationship with clients, actors, dubbers, editors, producers, but on the other hand, I had to deal with the problems created by thermal drift in the circuitry of the studio that lead to a decline in sound quality after a few hours of work. It became necessary to quickly examine the new devices, analyze and solve the design problems.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I remember that between 1962-63, the owners of the Filmservices studios sold the whole activity to a financial group owned by the Cefis. Filmservice became TTC: tecno tele cine. 

The financial group was concerned with another project, initiated under Fonoroma’s wings, that started to take shape in order to attract to Milan the film production centered in Rome. A “Cinelandia” was supposed to be built by Fonoroma and other investors on the outskirts of Milan. This project would be far from the film processing labs. Because TTC where I worked was in the city center, our actors used to go quickly to the RAI nearby, if the scripts needing to be recorded were only a few minutes long. The new project would have implied inconceivable long traveling, or otherwise disrupted the advertisement production.

My collaboration was as loyal as the one of a dissident in his own party. I was waiting for the right opportunity. The “Cinema a Milano” project continued with general indifference from outside, but for Fonoroma it was a must! A remarkable quantity of money had been invested to build everything ex novo. Since I had built the new film mixing studio in the old TTC place, the director of TTC, seeing how I worked, believed I was in a position to solve his problems. He asked me to build two new studios in the same building, on the top floor, where there was an empty space of 30 x 15 x 5 meters.

The challenge was to accomplish everything in three months and open the activities before the “Cinema a Milano” could open. Their construction were already quite advanced.

From April to September 1965 we planned the entire project, in order to complete it and open in December. This included the planning of acoustic walls as well as the mechanics and electronic components. Orders and construction had to start within planned, rigid times, in a way that every piece could enter the plan precisely at the right time and in the right space: contractors, modified projectors, recorders for magnetic and optical film, general mechanics, plus the parts built by me. At my little table, I had prepared all the audio and network connections, with orders and deliveries precisely calculated.

There, in that empty and bleak, immense pavillion, the ceiling still a naked, sagging roof, masons pour the floating floors and the double walls for  perfect acoustic insolation, carpenters place the pipes for electric and audio connections, while our workshop prepares the frames for the mixing consoles, the consoles and recording machines arrive, with a collaborator helping me we proceed to work at connections, we install the screens…the sheets of paper for invoices are printed: we start recording!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Calculations had been precise. We succeeded in starting to record before the engineers closed the old studio to move it out of town. The hardware project was also supported by a method to manage recordings, archives and invoices, so that the work started immediately in a fluid way. I had learned what does not have to be done and planned all the possible improvements I had discovered in years of work.

These studios, as I had conceived them,  worked for 25 years. The studios of our competitors never took off, stalled in telefilm dubbing. The recording studios were given in the end to private televisions. Now, 2015, I don’t know what remains of the out of town studios. Those I had planned and built do not exist anymore. The whole building was demolished and replaced by a luxury apartments building. It’s a new time. After all, fifty years have passed.

(For the translation of all the technical details and more, I had the invaluable help of my husband Peter Kirby. Thank you Peter!)

 

 

LA SFIDA: progettare e costruire da zero due studi di registrazione in tre mesi

ALBERTO a Milano

La condizione migliore per danneggiare un’azienda, una famiglia, un partito, è la creazione o la tolleranza di un conflitto interno. “La sfida” era un caso da manuale: il conflitto perfetto. L’idea di disturbare il mio pacifico lavoro dandomi un capo che non serviva a me ma ai progetti a me estranei, creò il conflitto cui ho accennato. Quello che intendo sottolineare è la dimensione dell’impresa: creare da zero, cioè da un capannone vuoto, due studi di registrazione in mesi tre. Il progetto comportava la decisione sui prodotti da acquistare e la progettazione completa, nei minimi dettagli. Non intendevo ripetere gli studi romani della Fonoroma, ma fare tutto quello che avevo imparato che non bisognava fare, e in più tutte le migliorie del lavoro in base alle esperienze di cinque anni di invenzioni e innovazioni. Non trovo spiegazione della fiducia che mi era stata accordata.

Una costante nella mia attività di progettazione è l’ incompetenza specifica. Come diceva Anatole France, gli specialisti di una disciplina sanno tutto di questa ma, al di fuori di essa, brancolano nel buio. Io ero al di fuori, e non essendo specialista non brancolavo nel buio. Non avendo mai frequentato la stessa scuola negli anni, figlio di un pittore che era stato meccanico e nipote di un falegname, avevo studiato chimica, fisica, fotografia, tecnica cinematografica per conto mio, forse per questo tendevo ad applicare le tecniche di una disciplina a un’altra. Per dire, al mio primo registratore avevo applicato al freno di svolgimento della bobina la tecnica delle frizioni motociclistiche. Alla sviluppatrice della Cineservicefilm avevo applicato la tecnica dei vasi comunicanti e degli scambiatori di calore delle locomotive a vapore. Una visione panoramica, non unilaterale, unita all’incoscienza congenita di cui godo, mi consentiva di affrontare azioni sicuramente più grandi di me.

Dopo la mia partenza da Roma la Fonoroma non fu più la stessa, non certo per causa mia ma perché gli investimenti per “fare il cinema a Milano” dovettero essere eccessivi o sbagliati. Si diceva, a Roma, che la Fonoroma perdeva, nella produzione di film, quello che aveva guadagnato con il doppiaggio, ma comunque si riprendeva. Questa volta non si riprese e dopo varie vicissitudini, i lavoratori finirono in cooperativa, conservando il prestigioso nome ma cambiando sede, abbandonando il meraviglioso palazzo dietro Piazza del Popolo!

A Milano esisteva uno stabilimento di sviluppo stampa e sonorizzazione film nato nel 1945, subito dopo la guerra, come regalo di un industriale tessile veneto alla figlia: si chiamava Filmservice. Le apparecchiature audio del Filmservice erano di qualità insufficiente a soddisfare le richieste del nuovo mercato: i Caroselli, pubblicità televisiva. Nel ’58-’59 la proprietà di questo stabilimento propose alla Fonoroma di gestire il reparto suono. Nel 1959 sono stato spedito a Milano con l’incarico di gestire questo reparto, immerso nella bolgia del sistema di doppiaggio industrializzato; mi venivo a trovare in contatto con una realtà tutta diversa. La transizione che conduce alla sfida è un interregno di cinque anni passati come gestore della Fonoroma milanese.

Come settentrionale ero una grossa opportunità: parlavo la stessa lingua dei clienti ed ero un rompiscatole eliminato a Roma. Con un’ottima retribuzione mi convinsero facilmente a tornare a Milano nel ’59, dove ho trovato un mondo diverso. La pubblicità televisiva aveva promosso un modo di lavorare su misura dei brevi filmati. Teatri di posa, pellicola, microfoni, tutto come nel cinema vero ma solo per brevissime riprese per giunta con un audio ai massimi livelli perché ogni pubblicità doveva essere chiara, intellegibile e potente!

Erano i favolosi anni…un banale luogo comune oppure sentimentalismo a buon prezzo? Gli anni favolosi sono quelli che contenevano una speranza più o meno definita, sicuramente intuita, speranza che oggi è difficile nutrire. Quegli anni sessanta erano favolosi, io non lo sapevo ma il mio istinto mi sollecitava ad andare avanti. Erano gli anni della città sottosopra per i lavori della prima metropolitana, delle minigonne, del Giamaica a due passi ma che io non avevo il tempo di frequentare e via Paolo Sarpi era a doppio senso, ma erano anche gli anni pionieristici della nuova tecnica elettronica allo stato solido, quei minuscoli bruchi con tre fili sporgenti destinati a divenire circuiti integrati e poi microprocessori. Allora l’elettronica si toccava con mano, cioè la si vedeva con pochi semplici strumenti, ora invece è l’ignoto, tutto analizzato da processori che dicono se funziona oppure no! Questo mi dava soddisfazione ed avevo pure realizzato una delle prime commutazioni allo stato solido. Certo potrei descrivere gli aspetti tecnici del mio lavoro ma sarebbero incomprensibili anche agli addetti ai lavori del giorno d’oggi, tanto le tecnologie sono cambiate.
Tenterò comunque in altro rapporto di farne una descrizione comprensibile.
Più interessanti le nubi che si approssimavano all’orizzonte…

Lo studio di registrazione milanese disponeva più o meno degli spazi che si trovano in un sommergibile: ripide scalette di metallo, un buco per le macchine e un altro per la regia. La sala, il luogo dove gli attori parlano al microfono era più grande, si, ma puzzolente di umidità polvere e tempo. Progetti assolutamente inadeguati alle nuove necessità. La RAI aveva un reparto di controllo qualità e respingeva i prodotti deficienti.

Il progettista del rinnovamento degli impianti di Milano era un giovane ingegnere, figlio del padrone degli studi romani, che aveva voluto sia economizzare, sia sperimentare i nuovi dispositivi elettronici: i transistori. In conclusione mi sono trovato in una moltitudine di guai tecnici e metodologici perché la scuola di suono cinema era diversa da quella del suono pubblicitario, pur essendo entrambe valide erano in conflitto per via della supponenza del nuovo progettista. Se da un lato si era instaurato un fantastico rapporto con i clienti, attori, doppiatori, montatori, produttori, dall’altro mi trovavo a gestire apparecchiature che principalmente soffrivano di deriva termica tale che dopo qualche ora la qualità del suono decadeva. Dunque necessità di studiare i nuovi dispositivi, analizzare i problemi e risolverli.

Intanto, la proprietà dello stabilimento sviluppo, stampa e sonorizzazione film (Filmservice) cedette tutta l’attività ad un gruppo finanziario facente capo ai Cefis, mi pare fra il 1962-63. La Filmservice diventa TTC: tecno tele cine. Questo gruppo era preoccupato da un altro progetto, promosso da Fonoroma, che cominciava a prendere forma, per attirare a Milano le produzioni cinematografiche romane. Avrebbe dovuto diventare una “Cinelandia” fuori città, dove la Fonoroma avrebbe deciso di trasferirsi. Sarebbe venuto a mancare lo studio di doppiaggio che faceva da supporto all’attività di sviluppo film. Siccome lo stabilimento dove lavoravo era in centro città, gli speakers facevano un salto dalla vicina RAI per registrare testi di pochi minuti. Il nuovo progetto avrebbe richiesto tempi di spostamento impensabili, ovvero sconvolto l’attività pubblicitaria.

La mia collaborazione era leale quanto quella di un dissidente entro il proprio partito. In definitiva aspettavo l’occasione giusta. Tra l’indifferenza generale il progetto “Cinema a Milano” andò avanti, doveva! Furono investiti parecchi capitali per costruire tutto ex novo. Poiché io avevo costruito il nuovo studio mixaggio film nella vecchia sede TTC, il direttore di questa, vedendomi al lavoro, mi reputò in grado di risolvere i suoi problemi e mi contattò proponendomi di costruire due nuovi studi nello stesso stabile all’ultimo piano dove esisteva uno spazio libero di 30X15X5 metri.
La sfida consisteva nel farlo in tre mesi e aprire l’attività prima dei “facciamo il cinema a Milano”, già avanti con i lavori.

Da aprile 1965, inizio dei contatti, a settembre, il progetto doveva essere pronto per l’esecuzione che doveva terminare in dicembre. Questo implicava sia la progettazione murario-acustica che quella meccanico elettronica, cioè far partire ordini e costruzioni con tempi previsti e impegnativi in modo che ogni pezzo si incastrasse in tempi e luoghi precisi: impresa di costruzioni, proiettori modificati, registratori su film magnetico e ottico, meccanica generale più la parte costruita da me. Anche tutte le connessioni audio e rete, erano preparate da me a tavolino, ordini e consegne calcolati con precisione.

Ed ecco che nell’immenso padiglione vuoto e squallido, il soffitto ancora a tetto nudo e spiovente, i muratori posano i pavimenti galleggianti e le doppie murature, per un perfetto isolamento acustico, i carpentieri posano le tubature per le connessioni elettriche e audio, la cabina elettricità, l’officina prepara lo scheletro del mixer, arrivano le macchine, con un collaboratore si procede alle connessioni si installano gli schermi…si stampano i fogli lavorazione/fatturazione: si registra!!

I calcoli erano stati precisi, riuscimmo a iniziare le registrazioni prima che gli ingegneri chiudessero il vecchio studio per trasferirsi fuori città. Il progetto dell’hardware era affiancato anche da un software: il modo di gestire le registrazioni, le archiviazioni e le fatturazioni cosicché il lavoro iniziò subito scorrevole. Avevo imparato ciò che non bisogna fare e progettato tutte le migliorie possibili osservate durante il lavoro.

Quegli studi, così come li ho concepiti, hanno lavorato per 25 anni. Quelli dei concorrenti non decollarono mai, ripiegarono sul doppiaggio di telefilm e i teatri di posa infine ceduti alle nuove TV private. Ora, 2015, non so cosa sia rimasto degli studi fuori città, di quelli che ho progettato io, più niente. L’intero palazzo demolito e al suo posto una nuova costruzione residenziale di lusso. Segno dei tempi, in fondo sono passati cinquant’anni.

 

 

Eileen Cowin: MAD LOVE N.5

Eileen Cowin: MAD LOVE N.5

EILEEN COWIN, Lost in Translation from the Mad Love Series, 2017 5.5″ x 8.2″
Courtesy of the artist

Not just self, maybe before
by Rosanna Albertini

The apricot tree was a large umbrella spread over a square piece of ground sown with potatoes. A green hedge separated this part of the garden, the hole for garbage and the henhouse, from the pine tree and the rose garden. After the beans had been completely harvested, I used to move the sticks into the potato field. Because they were five time higher than me, I pretended they were poles for building my favorite space: a sort of teepee made out of wooden sticks crossed at the top. Before the dew was frost on the clogs, almost never before November, the soil was soft enough to keep my construction quite steady. It was a difficult achievement for a seven year old; my home was often falling apart like a house of cards, scratching my arms legs and feet – but the final contentment was beyond description. I had my own house, and an unrestrained mind freedom. I didn’t mind of all those strange people inside the big house. They weren’t usually able to find me until dark, but it must be said that quite often they also forgot I existed. If they called, I believe I did not answer, sitting as I was on the inner curve of the moon. In summertime, before the grass was cut, it was even easier to disappear in tunnels through the blades, or astride the branches of a pear tree. God knows what I had in mind, lots of stories that were all vividly true since pretending is not lying; pretending is a secret work that one does not share with anybody. Besides, I was encumbered by theological doubts. Perhaps because people were not yet feeling safe, immediately after the end of the war, and quite often children died young, the local Catholic community (four nuns and one priest attended by his sister) had probably decided that children, at least, had to die sanctified, having received the sacraments at age six and seven. The elementary school started at age five, a year after we could chew the doctrine book listening and memorizing, rather than reading. It was easy: Italian or Latin, it did not matter. Because of the long skirted people who had told us that our heart had to connect to those words, we were seriously charmed. Our families never knew how influential the Catholic rituals had been on our small lives. We did not know what it is to be smart. Naive, dumbfounded creatures, my friends and I were a group of about fifteen children not really capable of separating the fairy tale territory from the church discipline. Like a small army wearing pink or blue overalls, each of us brandishing one carnation, we walked to the cemetery at every funeral. Not to chat or burst out laughing were the hardest things, being the circumstance only a normal death in which our feelings were clearly not involved. Did we even have feelings? Maybe not, I don’t remember. And now, as I look back at those years with no rules, I see the strange tall people in the big house must have loved me very much, if they left so much space around me.

EILEEN COWIN, Merely an Episode from the Mad Love series, 2017 5.5″ x 8.2″
Courtesy of the artist

Eileen Cowin: MAD LOVE n.4

EILEEN COWIN, Untitled from the Mad Love series, 2014 5.5″ x 8.2″ Courtesy of the artist

EILEEN COWIN, Untitled from the Mad Love Series, 2014    5.5″ x 8.2″
Courtesy of the artist

A migration story

by Rosanna Albertini

In your old age you used your wooden prosthetic hand as an advantage against the many obstacles a working woman encounters, starting with the train’s schedule. You were always late. One morning, after grabbing the handle while the wheels were already turning on the rails, the door slammed on your hand. Four fingers were blocked outside. The station master dropped his hat, and almost fainted for he couldn’t understand: you were smiling through the window, over the locked door. “Didn’t you see they are wood?” you screamed after him. The wooden hand had several clones in the dresser’s drawers. If we found one of them in the kitchen and you were not at home, the main concern of everyone was, “Again, grandmother forgot the hand!”

As if it wasn’t enough, for two years at the hospital you became an experimental human field for doctors. They dug two channels through your right arm: one underneath the wrist, the other before the elbow, trying to figure out how to connect an artificial limb to the tendons. Having maimed soldiers in mind, – it was one of  World War I years, 1916 or 1917- they used you as a guinea pig and irretrievably broke your tendons. A seventeen year old girl could only be sacrificed to the young men’s future. You spent two years educating your left hand to writing and sewing, probably growing beautiful in your acceptance of a physical imperfection that did not prevent you from being admired. Soldiers used to throw secret messages on folded pieces of paper through the hospital’s windows. After leaving the hospital, your left hand got used to serving dinners. Your parents had invested in a restaurant with the money paid by the factory for your accident. Such a dreadful sequence of facts seem to have only strengthened your tenacity: this was always, for you, the best of all possible worlds. As a matter of fact, at the restaurant you met grandfather. His love messages were hidden underneath the emptied, dirty plates.

What I see looking at me right now from teeth to toes, is both your lives, mother and grandmother. I read vestiges in irrelevant gestures; I am the only person in the world who can give them a meaning. Since I have only one body, to make your magnificent ghosts compatible in the only space I have is not a matter of choice. I rarely allow my feelings to be transparent, or I strike the comic note. After all, the marks of yours I recognize in my own person are free from both your wills and my own. I walk on grandmother’s straight legs, and often I hold my right wrist, using my left hand like an open fan that completely covers the right hand mysteriously shrunk in a fist. It was grandmother’s most frequent gesture. Does it make sense? It did to her, to me it’s almost embarrassing, a religious gesture out of church. I’m covering a stump although my right hand hasn’t lost four fingers all of a sudden, as happened to her, when the four fingers of the right hand were cut off by a sharp mechanism of a thread producing machine, the common thread for sewing. Was the nocturnal factory life during World War I as bloody as the battlefields? Did I intensify such a mimic gesture after I moved to the U.S? Perhaps I am binding our lives with double thread, grandmother, bringing you back through me into this country that you met first when you were sixteen. It was in 1914. While sleeping on the bridge of a transatlantic steamer, or  learning English thanks to a waiter —you were sent by your family to join an uncle who had a drugstore in Pittsburgh— you certainly could not anticipate the stories to come, very much like Candide: back to Italy after a year with chilblains at your feet because you had spent the Pittsburgh’s winter wearing rubber boots; sent to Switzerland as a baby sitter to make money, this time you only had to cross a lake; brought back to your village at the beginning of World War I by your parents who, ignorant of neutral politics, wanted to have their child at hand. They surely lost the grab. Of you right hand, only the thumb remained.

A strong, rough awareness of my body, without shame or fear, grew in me since I was a child thanks to grandmother’s frankness and unusual metaphors. Bathing outside, in a wooden bucket full of water warmed up by the sun, was a sort of pagan ceremony on which she often put the ornament of unforgettable sermons such as, “remember, take a lot of care of your vagina, keep her always clean because it is your second face.” By the same natural franchise I worked on her skin often damaged by a common sickness that eats the tissues and produces large itching crusts. Never revolted, like the girl of a fairy tale who cleans up louses from an old woman hair and receives a generous reward, I cleaned the wounds, spread pomades, noticing every time as a miracle the simple fact that her skin, though injured, was the softest, clearest, good smelling skin I had ever touched, a rose petal. To be allowed to touch her was my reward, and perhaps my talisman against the senseless order into which my life was coerced. My will to love was reinforced by each visit, bringing flowers to my goddess, rushing as fast as possible up to the fourth floor —there was no elevator— through the smell of bleach on the gray marble steps cleaned early in the morning by the lady concierge, opening the door with impatience and finally, being at home. Who cares that we did not have a kitchen, only a three flame burner underneath a beige and brown curtain next to the front door and the bathroom for washing dishes and clothes. We had a big room and a wide terrace with flowers at the top of a modest building that survived the war. Via Cantoni, 10. It seemed a palace to me because of the constant care, the pride of people who lived there keeping it shining, no dust in the corners.

        The Sundays were filled with movies, or little trips out of town with grandmother and a boyfriend of hers who was an artists specializing in chapels and monuments in the cemeteries just like Lucio Fontana, —Fontana’s father had a company of funerary production —  usually ending in some tabaccheria to check the football game’s results. Totocalcio was the oracle for poor people, a chance of unexpected little money. Then we were running home to look at our receipt. When we won, not very often, grandma was not telling me so the following week we could have a surprise feast instead of our daily eggs and polenta. After dinner, and sometimes in the morning, coffee at the twin apartment on the same floor, the home of a skinny lady smoking so much that her fingers were browned by nicotine. At her kitchen table we did not need TV, almost nobody owned one at the time. It was enough to make the point about famous homicides, love stories among celebrities, other love stories among close family members, political scandals, whispering if a niece of the skinny lady had worked as a prostitute in a house when the houses were still legal before the “Merlin Law.” The two old ladies were dogged readers of newspapers and passionate storytellers. But a moral had to appear from some detail. Yes, the niece was a prostitute, she had a girl, “and you know, the girl wears glasses.” Punishment was as natural as inevitable. The final litany included a formal “thank you, Enrico.” We used to look toward the bedroom, sending our thought to the defunct husband looking back at us from a framed picture on the dresser. There was a red carnation in a vase in front of the picture, just one, to testify his wife’s gratitude. She changed the flower every month, the very day she received the money from his pension funds. Not a bit of nostalgia among us, and we laughed at our cynical detachment. He had been a socialist.

Money of course was the main subject of complaint. Sometimes, daydreaming about my future, grandmother and her friends could see nothing but a job as a secretary at the top of their wishes. They were fairly perplexed, mumbling with discomfort, as they realized my Latin and ancient Greek were not likely to become profitable in a commercial world. But their talking did not make me worried, any future was inconceivable. Besides, I was too busy discovering other people’s stories coming to me from the books. Yet I was far from suspecting that Helen’s role in the Troy war could have been compared to my mother’s disruptive function in our family war. After years of serious preparation for sure, the war exploded as soon as grandfather died, bringing grievance and stinginess into my goddess’ life. “Mother, don’t be angry at me. Sure, I was on grandmother’s side. More than once I felt hatred wrapped in silence flowing between the two of you. And I was myself in a muddle for my attachment to her was unassailable. The only version I have did not come from you.”

EILEEN COWIN, Untitled from the Mad Love series, 2014 5.5″ x 8.2″ Courtesy of the artist

EILEEN COWIN, Untitled from the Mad Love Series, 2014      5.5″ x 8.2″
Courtesy of the artist

INDIAN CASTLES – CHATEAUX EN ESPAGNE

V o y a g e   en   I n d e  

Chapter I:   Free music for six hands    by Rosanna Albertini

PHOTOGRAPHS by BIANCA SFORNI

IN-414

To Bianca:

Questo viaggio in India è la mia osservazione di te come artista senza esserti fisicamente vicina. La parte immaginaria scaturisce dalla distanza, dalle poche cose che so e le molte che non so.  Quello che capisco e sento essendo tua amica.  E’ un viaggio mentale, attraverso le tue sensazioni dell’India, ma sopratutto è la storia di un’amicizia, forse di due amicizie: surreale, semplice. La scrittura fa il testo. Se vuoi, l’India c’è come pre-testo in senso positivo. Ha creato l’occasione. Per dare un senso alle immagini che non sia solo per te e per me, devo metterle in movimento in un contesto che parli a tutti. 

This journey to India is my observation of you as an artist without being physically close to you. The imaginary part comes from distance, from the few things I know and the many I don’t. What I understand and feel being your friend. It’s a mental journey through your sensations of India, but first of all it’s a story of one, maybe two friendships: surreal, simple. Writing made the text. India is here, if you want, as a pre-text, in a positive way. It gave us the occasion. In order to give the images a meaning that won’t only be for you and me, I must put them in motion in a context which is for everybody.

Bianca Sforni (artist) traveling in India
Claudia Gianferrari (gallerist) crossing the US by car
Rosanna Albertini (writer)  at home, in Los Angeles

with special participation of: Peter Kirby, John Cage, Baruch Spinoza

India, 2016

BIANCA.     Did you sleep well? I was on a horse (equine) in a marvelous light. I slept there and you too, maybe, tomorrow night.

R.     Remaking my bed the morning after, I touch one of the sheets with palm and fingers flat on the cotton, over a print with ships, palms and American Indians of the time when Columbus mistook them for real Indians: my India for the day.

CLAUDIA.      She calls from Las Vegas, on her way to Los Angeles: “Can you make me some pasta? No cilantro please.”

R.     For how many?

CLAUDIA.      We are three, I have a nephew and an adopted son with me.

R.      Having been friends for fifty years, since middle school, when Claudia hadn’t yet discovered contact lenses, I plan pasta for dinner.

Cooking with India on my mind, I’m assaulted by smells as they spread from Indian restaurants in America. Immediately, I send a message to Bianca asking how is the smell of India. I am a person who can feel a smell only thinking about it.

BIANCA.      The smell of India is the same as Pasolini had mentioned: you don’t feel it.

India, 2016

India, 2016

IIM-INDIA 2016
JOHN CAGE.      Our poetry now is the realization that we possess nothing.
Anything therefore is a delight (since we don’t possess it) and thus need not fear its loss.
We need not destroy the past; it is gone. At any moment it might reappear and seem to be and be the present.

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JOHN CAGE.      Would it be a repetition?

Only if we thought we owned it, but since we don’t, it is free and so are we.
Most anybody knows about the future and how un-certain it is.
What I am calling poetry is often called content.
I myself have called it form. …
Each moment presents what happens.

India, 2016

India, 2016

India, 2016

 

R.      Photographs. I tell Peter the more I look at them the more they are silent.
The artist gave them life during her dialogue with the light. Peter smells romanticism from afar. I click by instinct, so I’m not a photographer. Bianca is, instead. Peter makes a point which is crucial:

PETER KIRBY.      The photographer finds the frame for each image. That’s what makes her different from one who takes snap-shots. She hunts for the image and clicks when she finds it.

R.      My impression is, she might wait for the time between two heartbeats, like the archer. We still have feelings, but they move inwards. The image becomes a secondary effect of desire.

 

INDIA 2016-
JOHN CAGE.      In other words, there is no split between spirit and matter.

R.      John, you said it partakes of the miraculous when it happens, that I only have to a-wake to the fact. Would you like some pasta with mushrooms? I’m not sure I can. Maybe it works for music. A poem, a photograph, they are like doors. You can open them or not. If you do, you dive into their silence and find your own story. Art is the miracle. Artists.

India, 2016

BARUCH SPINOZA.      Desire is man’s very essence, insofar as it is conceived to be determined, from any given affection of it, to do something.
Exp.: We said above, in P9S, that desire is appetite together with the consciousness of it. And appetite is the very essence of man, insofar as it is determined to do what promotes his preservation. 1664-65.

R.     Claudia’s appetite was inextinguishable. My mothers meals! Claudia couldn’t wait. I don’t know where you are, now that you passed to the clouds. Can you read me? I think you sent Bianca into my life, and me into hers. She was one of your artists. I never told you that the first time Bianca and I met, in New York, we look at each other for a while through the frames and lenses of our glasses, without a word. Only one thought, untold: “Are you Claudia’s friend”?
It was forever. We celebrated our triple connection with a lunch you would have recognized as excellent. Let’s share some India this time. To the next.

INDIA 2016-

ROMA in the 50s – MAKING FILMS WITHOUT MONEY N.2

more or less…
a brief story of ITALIAN CINEMA IN THE 50’s

N.2

by ALBERTO ALBERTINI – February 2017, Milano (Italy)

Photographs: Alberto Albertini

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Films were made without money, and Rome in the meantime was becoming modern. On the outskirts houses grew like mushrooms. But in the old center and by the river, as if displaying her beauty around squares and parks, Rome was wearing colors like an old lady with gorgeous dresses in decline: washed out bricks and layers of plaster on crumbling walls. The fading colors gave the impression the city was pink, or maybe it was the air, warmed up by the colors. Capers and herbs peeped out from the cracks between stones. The air announced a southern sweetness, as the South wasn’t far.

At the end of a sunny winter, wanting to visit her son Alberto and his family, my grandmother Rosa Maserati Albertini brought me to Rome. It was my first time. Images I’m adding to Alberto’s text are the record of that visit. Grandmother’s attitudes vaguely recall Ingrid Bergman’s. As for me, engulfed in the clumsiness of my ten or eleven years of age, I didn’t know where to place my hands, no less my feet. Besides, my red little coat with golden buttons made me feel like a Napoleonic soldier. I hated that coat, but it was the only one I had and children, in those times, did not have the right to choose what to wear. Luckily, the photographs are black and white.

Alberto was our tour guide and the photographer. His job at Fono Roma had evolved: in a few years he had become an expert in sound recording and dubbing techniques, an inventor as well as an organizer. But I didn’t have any idea of his professional life. It all reemerged in his writings for this blog. The premise of his involvement in the film industry, that made him an inside observer, more or less a historian, are in the following posts:
https://albertini2014.wordpress.com/2016/09/11/roma-and-fono-roma-early-1950s/
https://albertini2014.wordpress.com/2016/09/22/roma-and-fono-roma-2-early-1950s-again/

Rosanna Albertini

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Film making was a well established kind of work in Rome, for shooting and sound recording and mixing. The first film dubbing studio was made in the early thirties. Later, it was Cinecittà. The end of the war brought mainly financial and organizational deficiencies. The big films were shot when possible and were marked by the trauma of war. They confronted tragic subjects with a few tools and not-professional actors not so much by necessity, but rather wanting to sweep the past away and give birth to stories urging to be told, somehow, by a literary realism. The least literary film, the driest and most rigorous, still is Umberto D, 1952, by Vittorio De Sica. That’s why film making, in the fifties, was reorganized on the wave of the ‘neorealist’ success. Production companies appeared, sets were reorganized, with everything was needed for the most incredible productions.

The music – happy time! – was still made with the an orchestra. Musicians had to be suited to the kind of film. Roberto Rossellini, for obvious reasons, put his brother in charge of the job, basically to develop only one theme, as Roman Vlad used to do: Gothic was his speciality. Occasionally some real composers appeared, those having a ‘serious’ career who were not interested in money, maybe because money wasn’t sure … Mario Zafred, Valentino Bucci and Marcello Abbado with twelve-tone music! Although musicians liked to conduct their own pieces, they were not excellent conductors. Nino Rota used the best conductor available: Franco Ferrara.

Always in a black pullover, tall and slim, Ferrara was the image of sobriety: essential, courteous, with no useless words. His speech was fast, the voice never loud: the orchestra could move as if suspended from his baton. The same orchestra of Cinefonico, under other conductors, was swaying as if rocked by the wind. Music for film was then composed according to different scenes and recorded while projecting the film section in a continuous loop; the conductor had to find the way to adapt the musical emphasis to the events in the scene by accelerating or slowing down the tempo.

 

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Because the music was original, and all the parts of the score were hand copied, there were often mistakes due to the copyists. The same section with the same instruments, therefore, could sound wrong and bring up conjectures about why a certain musician was playing a different note.

Ferrara, after a first reading of the musical piece for a loop, used to explain and ask to repeat the beats, mumbling how to do it: here we are, more accent it’s OK, now everybody restarting from C. In particular, I remember when he asked the trombones to anticipate just a fraction of a second, because he could hear the sounds late in their coming from the back of the recording studio: no more than six, eight meters! Or he asked different musicians to repeat a difficult beat to find the best execution. He was the conductor always taking care of Nino Rota’s compositions.

The episode that stayed with me more than others is Ferrara recording the ouverture of Il Barbiere di Siviglia for the titles of the homonymous film. Films based on operas were popular: the singers and orchestra had four hour shifts. Ferrara’s rehearsal lasted the entire shift, beat by beat, repeating until he reached the point he really wished. At the end of the shift he recorded only once, it was the good one. How good? Exceptional, an exciting surprise. I would love to track down that movie to rethink about it after so many years.

 

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Films revealed the variety of style and research also in their soundtracks: traditional, popular with climatic influences such as a moderate sun warming Rome, or music sailing over twelve-tone spheres. Music was often inseparable from the film. Nino Rota’s theme hovering on I Vitelloni, 1953, Federico Fellini’s third film, keeps a sorrowful and shady eye on the ‘boys’ thoughtless lives. Leopoldo Trieste and Achille Maieroni are alone on the pier, it’s night … what a scene … and the street, the solitary trumpet telling the other meaning of that film: solitude?

The foley artist. When you shoot the film with live sounds of the scene, you would say the only thing missing is music. Not so simple. The sound track, in the 50s, had to be completely rebuilt. The guiding track was just a guide: it contained the actors’ voices that needed to be dubbed, the director’s voice, the unrequested ambient noise. Strangely, the foley artist was the main tool to improve the sound track. What were the requirements? A memory organized as if the film roll were recorded in is brain, instantaneous responses and a lot of fantasy. (Film’s rolls are 305 meters long -1000 feet- equivalent to eleven minutes.) When the foley artist opened his suitcase one had the impression that an old gleaner had arrived looking for scraps: sets of keys, coconut shells, boxes and empty small containers, whistles, glasses, small and big clogs, tiles, dishes, little cups and a lot of other things. The studio kindly used to offer a door having only the frame and a handle for that specific noise. With all these objects the artist was able to recreate all the sounds necessary to follow the events. Other sounds: wind, rain, street traffic, were added by standard loops (loops were sound tracks on short films that we could close like rings and let go with uninterrupted movement; it was our job as sound technicians to open the sound faucet at the right moment.) At the beginning we had two foley artists, each with a different mindset: the older depended on a multiplicity of objects, not to be out of resources for an unexpected noise; the other instead, had the ambition of creating any kind of noise with very few essential objects, and was able to do it. His memory and responses as fast as lightening. Using the objects like musical instruments he could obtain different sounds from the same object.

 

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When a film is sold abroad, it has to be supplied with an international track. It’s the film soundtrack with music and effects, but without dialog, so that the buyer has only to add the dubbed voices and complete the film in the local language. The international sound track had to be produced also for the Italian edition of Italian films, -it was a requirement of the production process. Such was the case for India, 1958, by Roberto Rossellini. The older of the foley artists was chosen for the international track’s sounds, the more traditional. Albeit the sound generation was artificial, collateral actions could help : finding the best way to place the microphone, following the sound levels or altering their ‘color.’ The foley artist was very much satisfied with my work, finding himself surprised: the effects seemed true!

An aside about the aesthetic of film sounds: Our brain works on his own, when watching the film. Think of the power of music transforming the meaning and emotional impact of a scene. The same happens with noise. The brain recognizes any (or almost) noise coinciding with the action. The task of the foley artist is therefore simplified, because his sound imitation is never perfect. The foley artist, for instance, created the illusion of a transatlantic liner uttering uuuuuuuuuuuuu and blowing on a cut in a postcard in a vertical position. It was convincing to me until I saw the first cinemascope film with magnetic stereo sound: the port of New York with many ships in transit: I was upset! Space, depth, truth, all immense!

Dubbing is accepted without discussion. I believe nobody today questions it, but the problem exists and there is nothing to be done: either one reads the subtitles or follows the film. Better to follow the film; when it’s dubbed, though, we see it and listen to it as if the voices were the real voices of the actors. Paradoxically, voice and acting of dubbers could even turn out better that the original, and it wouldn’t be right. I’ll mention as an example one of the first films by Bergman: I saw the original projection in Swedish and, not understanding the language, I noticed the very sharp, violent quality of the voices. Everything was dramatic. When I saw again the same film, dubbed in Italian, it was deflated, the story seemed useless.

 

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più o meno …
piccola storia del CINEMA ITALIANO ANNI ’50

n.2
di Alberto Albertini, Febbraio 2017, Milano

Mentre i film erano fatti senza soldi, in periferia Roma diventava moderna. Le case crescevano come funghi. Ma nel centro, e lungo il Tevere, come se la città mettesse in mostra la sua bellezza intorno alle piazze e nei parchi, Roma era sfumata dai colori dei mattoni e degli intonaci sui muri vecchi, e dal fascino senza tempo delle rovine antiche. Capperi e erbe spuntavano dalle crepe. Era pervasa da un senso di calore, mentre l’aria annunciava la dolcezza del sud, non lontano. In uno scorcio di inverno soleggiato, la nonna (Rosa Maserati Albertini) mi portò a Roma per una visita alla famiglia di Alberto, che era suo figlio. La mia prima volta. Le immagini che seguono documentano quella visita. La nonna aveva atteggiamenti da Ingrid Bergman, e io, con la goffaggine dell’età della crescita, non sapevo dove mettere le mani, tantomeno i piedi. Per giunta, portavo una cappottino rosso coi bottoni dorati che mi faceva sentire come un soldato napoleonico. Lo odiavo, ma era l’unico che avevo. A quel tempo i bambini non avevano diritto di scelta. Per fortuna le foto sono in bianco e nero.
Alberto era la nostra guida turistica nonché fotografo. Il suo lavoro alla Fono Roma ebbe svariati sviluppi: in pochi anni, da semplice tecnico del suono era diventato inventore e organizzatore. Non avevo nessuna idea della sua vita professionale. Per me, è emersa dai suoi scritti per questo blog.

Il mestiere del cinema era ben radicato a Roma, sia nelle riprese che nelle sonorizzazioni. Nei primi anni trenta era sorto il primo studio di doppiaggio film e, successivamente, Cinecittà. Alla fine della guerra le carenze erano prevalentemente finanziarie e organizzative. I grandi film girati con i mezzi possibili, segnati dal trauma bellico, avevano affrontato temi tragici con pochi mezzi e attori non professionisti non tanto per necessità, ma per il desiderio di spazzare via il passato e dar vita a qualcosa che era impellente dire, anche se si trattava di realismo un tantino letterario. Il film meno letterario, il più asciutto, rigoroso, rimane Umberto D, 1952, di Vittorio De Sica. Dunque, gli anni cinquanta si trovano a riorganizzare le fila sull’onda del successo ‘neorealista’. Nascono case di produzione, si riorganizzano i teatri di posa, tutto l’occorrente per le produzioni più incredibili.

Bei tempi, il commento musicale si faceva ancora con l’orchestra. I musicisti adeguati al genere del film. Roberto Rossellini, per ovvi motivi, assegnava l’incarico al fratello Renzo, praticamente sviluppi di un solo tema, come Roman Vlad, specializzato nel gotico. Apparivano anche fugacemente compositori veri, cioè dediti alla carriera seria, non interessati al denaro o forse perché questo non era sicuro…Mario Zafred, Valentino Bucchi e Marcello Abbado con composizioni dodecafoniche! Spesso i musicisti avevano l’ambizione di dirigere personalmente le loro opere ma non erano ottimi direttori. Nino Rota si avvaleva del massimo disponibile: Franco Ferrara.
Sempre in maglione nero, alto snello, Ferrara era sobrio nel senso che era essenziale, cortese, senza una parola di più. Parlava rapido non alzava mai la voce: l’orchestra viaggiava come se fosse appesa alla sua bacchetta. Con altri direttori, la stessa orchestra del Cinefonico ondeggiava come cullata dal vento. Erano tempi in cui la musica per film era composta sulle diverse scene e registrata proiettando ad anello continuo il relativo brano del film; il direttore si industriava di far coincidere le sottolineature musicali agli eventi delle scene accelerando o rallentando i tempi.

Essendo le musiche originali, e tutte le parti copiate a mano dai copisti, spesso la partitura conteneva errori di copiatura. Succedeva così che stessa parte, per gli stessi strumenti, poteva differire e causare congetture sul perché un musicista suonava una nota diversa.
Ferrara, dopo una prima lettura del pezzo relativo ad un anello, spiegava e faceva ripetere le battute canticchiando come farlo: ecco più accentato ecco così va bene, ora tutti dalla lettera C. In particolare ricordo quando chiese ai tromboni di anticipare di una frazione di secondo perché sentiva il ritardo del suono che proveniva dal fondo dello studio di registrazione: non più di sei otto metri! Oppure faceva provare e riprovare una battuta difficile a diversi esecutori per far eseguire quel rilievo dal più idoneo. Era naturalmente il direttore fisso delle composizioni di Nino Rota.

 

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L‘episodio che più mi è rimasto impresso è stato quando ha registrato l’ouverture de Il Barbiere di Siviglia per i titoli del film omonimo. Allora erano ancora in voga film basati sulle opere e i cantanti lirici, i turni di registrazione orchestra erano di quattro ore. Ferrara provò per tutto il tempo del turno, battuta per battuta, ripetendo finché non fosse emerso il senso da lui desiderato. Alla fine del turno registrò una sola volta perché era quella buona. Buona quanto? Eccezionale, una sorpresa emozionante. Come mi piacerebbe rintracciare quel film per giudicarlo a distanza di tanti anni.

Anche nella musica il cinema si distingueva per la varietà degli stili e di ricerca; tradizionale, popolare con influenze climatiche tipo il tiepido sole di Roma, fino a musiche naviganti nelle sfere della dodecafonia. Musiche spesso inscindibili dal film. Ne I vitelloni, 1953, il terzo film di Federico Fellini, il tema di Nino Rota incombe, vigila dolente e ombroso sulla vita sconsiderata dei ‘ragazzi’. La scena con Leopoldo Trieste e Achille Maieroni sul molo, soli, di notte…e la strada, con quella tromba solitaria che racconta il secondo significato del film, la solitudine?

Il rumorista. Girando il film in presa diretta, con l’audio della scena ripresa, sembrerebbe di dover aggiungere solo la musica. In realtà non è così semplice. Negli anni cinquanta la colonna sonora doveva essere ricostruita completamente. La colonna guida era appunto una guida: conteneva le voci degli attori da doppiare, la voce del regista, i rumori ambiente indesiderati, dunque bisognava ricostruirla e qui si concretizza il ruolo del rumorista. Quali erano i suoi requisiti? Una memoria come se il rullo fosse registrato nel cervello, riflessi istantanei e molta fantasia. (I rulli del film sono lunghi trecentocinque metri -1000 piedi- pari a undici minuti.) Quando il rumorista apriva la valigia sembrava che fosse arrivato un robivecchi in cerca di rottami: mazzi di chiavi, gusci di noci di cocco, scatole e scatolette vuote, fischietti, vetri, zoccoli e zoccoloni, piastrelle, stoviglie, tazzine e molto altro. Una porta, con il solo telaio e una maniglia, era gentilmente offerta dallo studio per il relativo rumore. Con questi oggetti ricreava tutti i rumori necessari a seguire gli avvenimenti della scena. Altri rumori, tipo vento pioggia traffico stradale erano aggiunti con anelli di repertorio ( gli anelli erano, sono, colonne sonore su film di breve lunghezza in modo che si può chiuderli ad anello e farli girare continuamente; noi fonici aprivamo il rubinetto del suono al momento opportuno). In principio i rumoristi erano due ma con scuole di pensiero diverse: il più anziano puntava sulla molteplicità degli oggetti per non trovarsi mai sprovvisto di fronte al rumore imprevisto, il secondo aveva l’ambizione di creare qualsiasi rumore con pochissimi oggetti essenziali e ci riusciva. Aveva memoria e riflessi fulminei. Usando gli oggetti come fossero strumenti musicali, estraeva suoni diversi da uno stesso oggetto.

Quando si vende un film all’estero, occorre accompagnarlo con la sua colonna internazionale. È la colonna sonora del film completa di musica e rumori ma senza i dialoghi in modo che l’acquirente possa aggiungere solo le voci doppiate e quindi avere il film completo ma nella lingua locale. Per i film italiani, il modo di produrre comportava che la colonna sonora internazionale dovesse essere prodotta anche per l’edizione italiana. Questo era anche il caso del film India, 1958, di Roberto Rossellini. Per la registrazione della colonna internazionale fu scelto il più anziano dei rumoristi, il più tradizionale. Anche se la generazione dei rumori è artificiale, esistono azioni collaterali coadiuvanti: trovare il miglior piazzamento del microfono e seguire i livelli del suono o modificare il ‘colore’. Il rumorista fu molto soddisfatto del mio lavoro e si sorprese perché gli effetti sembravano veri.

Occorre però fare una digressione sull’estetica del suono nel film. Il cervello lavora molto di suo, quando vede il film. Ne è prova il commento musicale in grado di cambiare significato ed emotività ad una stessa scena. Altrettanto accade con il rumore. Il cervello identifica per vero qualsiasi ( quasi ) rumore che coincide con l’azione. Questo facilita il compito del rumorista perché l’imitazione che fa del rumore non è mai perfetta. Il rumorista creava l’illusione del transatlantico facendo uuuuuuuuuu e soffiando su una cartolina tenuta di taglio. Era convincente finché non ho visto il primo film cinemascope con stereo suono magnetico: il porto di New York con numerose navi che transitavano: sconvolgente! Lo spazio, la profondità, la verità, immenso!

Il doppiaggio è fuori discussione. Credo che nessuno oggi si ponga il problema che invece c’è ma non ci si può fare nulla: o si leggono i sottotitoli o si segue il film. Meglio seguire il film, però quando è doppiato lo vediamo e sentiamo come se la voce fosse quella degli attori. Paradossalmente, la voce e la recitazione dei doppiatori potrebbe addirittura superare quella dell’originale, che comunque non sarebbe giusto. Posso, ad esempio, citare il caso di uno dei primi film di Bergman: ho assistito alla proiezione originale in svedese e benché non potessi capire la lingua, notai che le voci erano asperrime, violente. Tutto era drammatico. Quando l’ho rivisto doppiato, si era sgonfiato, la storia sembrava inutile.

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ROMA IN THE 50’s : MAKING FILMS WITHOUT MONEY

more or less …
a brief story of ITALIAN CINEMA IN THE 5O’s  

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by ALBERTO ALBERTINI – January 2017 -Milano (Italy)

Photographs by Alberto Albertini

Just a reminder: Alberto is my uncle, my father’s brother. Ninety years on his shoulders did not decrease his enthusiasm and his imaginative life. All his pieces in this blog (13 so far) have been requested by me and written for the blog, as far as the scroll unfolded. This on line work that we share  is inquiry about the arts of our time as well as archeology of our family life, our common tree where we hung words and images as they surge in our mind, and feelings, regardless how hard they sometimes are.  RA

While films were made without money, at the edge of the city Rome was developing a modern style. Houses grew like mushrooms. Poles were hammered into the ground for the foundations, buildings got higher and, in a short time, filled the streets. There was a valley whose wild side, near the Vatican railroad, was the border between the urban reality and the countryside. Today one wouldn’t recognize the place. Alberto and his family lived in one of those new buildings.

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Enrica, Alberto’s wife and his love for seventy five years, with their children Mietta and Claudio

One wouldn’t find in other nations, I think, the same cinema that was boiling in Italy during the 50s. True, it was coming after Neorealism, that took everybody by surprise a few years before, yet it was really something else, made out of of research and adventures coming not as much from the the Neorealism experience, as from financial constraints: how to make cinema without money.

Cesare Zavattini was the major reference point, with directors and screenwriters around him, often recurring in later films on and supported by Cinema Nuovo, Guido Aristarco’s magazine of cinematographic criticism (I still have some copies) in which Cesare Zavattini used to write his journal. His notes were minimal observations of the ways people behaved or were pleased to utter words in vogue. He cared about peculiar, necessary details to set the customs of an age.

Actors, wanting to check if it was worth being sign up for a film, or if it was risky, used to visit the set and see if Vittorio De Sica or Totò were in the cast. If so, that meant there was some money and it was good to accept the engagement. The minimum wage. One of the ways to provide money for movies was the minimum wage. The bank, the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro, would grant the money in relation to the project, but most of all to the cast. Director and actors were on a list of names at the Bank specifying: with this cast, the minimum wage is… the presence of a certain actor, or actresses in the movie meant the minimum wage would rise.

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Serious films, comedies, the new comedy, impossible films, failed films, opera in a film. Nothing was neglected, neither serials nor social inquiries. I believe it was Zavattini who promoted a series of inquiry films, with no equivalent afterwards. I remember: Italians swivel their heads to look at girls.

The first genetic mutation of neorealism was Due soldi di speranza [Two Cents Worth of Hope, 1952] in which realism was contaminated with the comedy chromosome and the brilliant dialogues of Titina De Filippo. Followed various Pane amore e … eccetera. Every time a film was successful, imitations in the same genre were proliferating.

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Some films did not find financial support and remained incomplete: “Ciofanna, Ciofanna,” declaimed Ingrid Bergman in Santa Giovanna al rogo by Claudel, directed by Rossellini, and the actor who was supposed to perform with her refused to do it: if they don’t pay me, I don’t perform! Who ever saw that movie? Maybe that was the reason why Ingrid Bergman went back to the U.S.

A Filomena Marturano shot by Eduardo De Filippo, with Titina in it, was never released. Some films with unknown financial support, maybe not very interesting, never went around. I remember Vacanze al mare [Vacation by the Sea] with beautiful music by Nino Rota but never released. Un medico di campagna [A countryside doctor], in which a striking Giovanna Ralli appeared for the first time, maybe with Fabrizi, was dispersed into space, or came out with a different title.

Rossellini in India is a book dedicated to this period. The story of his affair with Sonali das Gupta is believable, yet another malicious story says that, while the crew was shooting the film, he seduced a guru’s wife. And the two stories aren’t incompatible. A seducer, Rossellini? No doubt, but it would be better to call him an enchanter. His favorite editor, Iolanda Benvenuti, told me that often times she and the other women collaborating with him had to wait hours and hours in order to work, making up in their minds violent reactions against him as soon as he would appear: and he happened to arrive at ten in the evening, very quickly enchanting them all. They were incapable of reacting.

Professional film making was a concept in evolution also because, in order to be professional, one had to adapt to the new technical possibilities. Neorealist films had proved it was possible to work with actors picked up from the street, not actors at all, thanks to the director’s talent and thanks to the possibility to dub, replacing the non-actors voice with the voice of real actors. The sound, recorded along with images, had the only function of guiding the post-synchronization, in a word, the dubbing.

One could hear the director’s voice telling the actors how to move: here you go, forward, go on, continue as you are doing, turn, stare at the house… and so on. Many males and females, in such a way, stepped into the film world without acting or diction school, and it often happened that good looks helped more than expressive abilities. Some of them studied, and improved, some others left, women especially, a few ended with a good marriage. Some industrialists created production companies to organize the promotion of their protégées. Rizzoli created an important house of production, and signed up Miriam Bru.

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Claudio (left), Mietta (right)

Actors swing in their jobs, so between pauses and waiting moments either for the scene requirements or the set preparation, they get lost in chatting, gossiping about colleagues. Rumors about Vittorio De Sica telling he had two families, and used to spend the evening with the legal one, but instead of sleeping there he was spending the night with the other. The two ‘wives,’ I think, were Giuditta Rissone and Maria Mercader. He was constantly searching for money that he regularly lost gambling, and this was the reason why he accepted daily jobs the producer was using to increase the minimum wage and not spend too much. Yet, in the meantime De Sica shot films such as Umberto D.

Abandoned by Rossellini when he shot Stromboli with Ingrid Bergman, Anna Magnani was the protagonist of La carrozza d’oro by Jean Renoir. In the middle of a financial storm, and waiting for the director, Anna Magnani let herself go through long conversations about her life. At forty eight she had the opportunity, in Bellissima, with Visconti, to perform the non-acting, along with Walter Chiari on the bank of a stream, as if they were two people meeting there to discuss something. The dialogue unfolds a without script, only following the director’s generic suggestions. The top of realism or the strongest truth? It wouldn’t be art, would it? The scene couldn’t be better, a flower for anthology.

After the black and white intense realism, Luchino Visconti shoots Senso in color (1954); the battles scenes, as the touch of the artist had made them totally believable, are still impressed in my mind. Was he inspired by Giovanni Fattori’s paintings? Meanwhile people spread stories about how expensive it was to work with Visconti: for the curtains in Senso, he wanted to have them dyed the color of tea using real tea!!

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Claudio with sheep

Dino Risi shot Poveri ma Belli [Poor but Beautiful] 1957, launching a new pseudo-realist trend with actors who later became professional. Luciano Emmer, after Le ragazze di piazza di Spagna 1952 shot a documentary about Picasso artworks in Provence, followed by Camilla, 1954, the story of a maid. Vittorio De Seta was making his unusual documentaries, about fishing for swordfish, and Gillo Pontecorvo at his very beginnings made a report on Porta Portese in Rome. (To be continued)

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Alberto with his children in the Fifties

più o meno …
piccola storia del CINEMA ITALIANO ANNI ’50

di ALBERTO ALBERTINI – Gennaio 2017 – Milano

Mentre i film erano fatti senza soldi, in periferia Roma diventava moderna. Le case crescevano come funghi. I lavoratori battevano a lungo pali nel terreno per fissare le fondamenta, poi iniziavano a far salire gli edifici e in poco tempo avevano riempito la contrada. Il confine tra città e campagna è uno dei fianchi della vallata. Oggi la zona è irriconoscibile. Alberto e la famiglia vivevano in una delle nuove case con appartamenti.

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Non credo che si possa trovare, in altre nazioni, un cinema paragonabile a quello che bolliva negli anni cinquanta in Italia. Se è vero che esso era successivo alla grande sorpresa destata dal neorealismo, pochi anni prima, è da rilevare come in realtà da esso si sia discosto e proliferato in miriadi di ricerche e di avventure, in parte conseguenza dell’esperienza, non tanto estetica del neorealismo, ma finanziaria: cioè come fare del cinema senza soldi.

Il filo conduttore nella direzione ricerca fa riferimento a Cesare Zavattini col supporto di registi sceneggiatori, ricorrenti spesso nei film a seguire e a loro volta supportati dalla rivista di critica cinematografica Cinema Nuovo, di Guido Aristarco ( ne ho ancora alcuni numeri ) sulla quale Cesare Zavattini teneva un diario. Annotava osservazioni minimaliste sui comportamenti o sul compiacimento che alcuni provano nel pronunciare parole in voga, a riprova della sua attenzione ai dettagli, ai particolari determinanti per inquadrare il costume di un’epoca.

Per verificare se una scrittura valesse la pena, non fosse un rischio, gli attori si recavano sul set per vedere se erano presenti, e lavoravano, Vittorio de Dica o Totò. Se c’erano, significava che c’erano anche i soldi e si poteva accettare la scrittura. Il minimo garantito. Una delle modalità per finanziare i film era quella del minimo garantito. La banca finanziatrice, cioè la Banca Nazionale del Lavoro, concedeva il finanziamento in funzione del progetto ma soprattutto del cast. Il regista gli attori, avevano il loro listino presso la banca che diceva: con questo cast, il minimo garantito è … la presenza di certi attori, o attrici, nei film, non aveva altro scopo che di elevare il minimo garantito.

Film impegnati, film commedia, la nuova commedia, film impossibili, film falliti, opera lirica filmata. Nulla di trascurato, inclusi film a episodi o di indagine. Credo proprio che sia stato Zavattini a promuovere una serie, forse senza seguito, di film indagine. Ricordo: Gli italiani si voltano a guardare le ragazze.
La prima mutazione genetica del neorealismo fu Due soldi di speranza, 1952, film realista ma con il cromosomo della commedia e i dialoghi brillanti di Titina de Filippo. Seguirono i vari Pane amore e…  ecc. da ogni film di successo proliferavano le imitazioni di genere.

Film che i soldi non li hanno trovati e sono rimasti incompleti: “Ciofanna, Ciofanna,” declamava Ingrid Bergman, nella Santa Giovanna al rogo di Claudel, regia di Rossellini, e l’attore che doveva recitare insieme a lei si rifiutava: se non mi pagano, io non recito! Chi ha mai visto quel film? Forse è per questo che Ingrid tornò in USA. 

Una Filumena Marturano girata da Eduardo e con Titina, mai uscito. Film che non si sa come siano stati finanziati perché di scarso valore e mai visti in circolazione. Ricordo un Vacanze al mare con un bel commento musicale di Nino Rota ma mai uscito. Un medico di campagna, la prima apparizione inquietante di Giovanna Ralli, forse con Fabrizi, disperso nello spazio o uscito con altro titolo.
Rossellini in India, è un libro dedicato a questo periodo. Spiega credibilmente la sua storia con Sonali das Gupta, ma i maligni raccontano che mentre la troupe girava Roberto seduceva la moglie di un guru e le due storie non sono incompatibili. Rossellini seduttore? Sicuramente, meglio incantatore. Mi raccontava Iolanda Benvenuti, la montatrice, di sua fiducia, che spesso lei e le collaboratrici l’attendevano ore e ore per lavorare e loro si facevano progetti di violente reazioni non appena fosse arrivato, magari arrivava alle dieci di sera e in breve tempo le incantava tutte senza che fossero capaci di reagire.

La professionalità era un concetto in evoluzione anche perché i professionisti erano influenzati dalle nuove possibilità tecniche. Il cinema neorealista aveva dimostrato che era possibile lavorare anche con attori presi dalla strada, cioè non attori, grazie al talento del regista e alla possibilità di doppiare, di sostituire la voce dei non attori con quella di attori. L’audio, ripreso insieme all’immagine, serviva solamente come guida per la post sincronizzazione, il doppiaggio. E si udiva la voce del regista dare suggerimenti agli ‘attori’: ecco, vai avanti, avanti, avanti così, girati, fissa la casa… ecc. Così, molti e molte entrarono nel cinema senza scuola di recitazione e di dizione e, spesso, più che le capacità espressive giovava il bell’aspetto fisico. Qualcuno studiò, si perfezionò, qualcuna uscì di scena e qualcuna concluse con un buon matrimonio. Alcuni industriali misero in piedi case di produzione per promuovere le loro protette. Rizzoli creò una importante casa di produzione, e scritturò Miriam Bru.

Il lavoro degli attori è altalenante perché composto da pause, attese, sia per le esigenze di scena che per la preparazione dei set e dunque non rimane loro che di chiacchierare, pettegolare sui loro colleghi. Di De sica dicevano che aveva due famiglie e lui passava la sera con quella legale ma poi invece di andare a letto con questa si recava dall’altra. Le due ‘mogli’, mi pare, erano Giuditta Rissone e Maria Mercader. Aveva continuamente bisogno di denaro che regolarmente perdeva al gioco e per questo accettava lavori a giornata; servivano al produttore per elevare il minimo garantito e spendere poco, ma intanto girava anche film come Umberto D.

Anna Magnani, lasciata da Rossellini mentre lui girava Stromboli con la Bergman, era protagonista ne La carrozza d’oro di Jean Renoir, del 1952. Nel mezzo di vicissitudini finanziarie burrascose, nell’attesa del regista la Magnani si concedeva lunghe conversazioni sulla sua vita. A quarantotto anni ebbe l’occasione in Bellissima, 1951, con Visconti, di recitare la non-recitazione insieme a Walter Chiari, sull’orlo del fiumiciattolo, come fossero due persone che si trovano lì per discutere. Il dialogo si svolge senza copione seguendo solo le generiche indicazioni del regista. Il massimo del realismo o il massimo della verità? Non sarebbe arte perché, vero? Eppure la scena è insuperabile, da antologia.

Dopo l’intenso realismo del bianco e nero, Visconti gira Senso a colori, 1954, mi rimangono impresse le scene delle battaglie con il tocco dell’artista che sa ricostruire l’evento con totale credibilità. Si sarà ispirato ai dipinti di Giovanni Fattori? Intanto raccontavano che era costosissimo lavorare con lui: per i tendaggi di Senso volle che fossero tinti color the col the!!

Dino Risi girava Poveri ma belli nel 1957 lanciando un nuovo filone pseudo realista con attori che poi professionisti lo sono diventati. Luciano Emmer, dopo Le ragazze di piazza di Spagna del 1952 aveva girato un documentario sulle opere di Picasso in Provenza e successivamente Camilla, 1954, la storia di una domestica. Vittorio de Seta girava i suoi insoliti documentari, sulla pesca del pesce spada, e Gillo Pontecorvo, anche lui agli inizi, faceva un rapporto su Porta Portese. (Continua)