Tuesday, June 15, 2010

People want to be free

So, yeah, I guess I have now developed a full-blown infatuation with Italian cinema. It started (many years ago) with my love of Fellini; a love I was recently reminded of by the good folks at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. The IJG will be playing the Hammer in August, and as part of an early PR push, the organizers there quoted a bit of Kyle O'Brien's 2008 review of the IJG album, LEEF:

"If ever there were a perfect band for a Fellini film, this is it."

I have no idea whether that is actually true, but I sure hope so. And in any case, it's very flattering.

Of course, not all Italian cinema is made of the same whimsical stuff as a "typical" Fellini film. Fellini himself came to prominence on the heels of what seems to me to be the very un-Fellini-esque genre of Neorealismo, which, generally, errs more on the "emo" side of things.

But even at its most melodramatic, Italian Neorealism is great stuff. And delving into it in more detail has given me some insight into the balancing act that I'm ultimately after with the IJG. To wit: maybe I am more interested than your typical 21st century "jazz composer" in the somewhat "un-jazzy" aesthetic strategies of comedy, satire, irony, burlesque, and even nihilism -- all of which, it might be argued, distance the audience from the art in question (something that has raised the hackles of more than a few of our critics). But these interests are not (and never have been) at the expense of more "serious," "involving" artistic concerns, like beauty, pathos, or empathy. Because to jettison those things would just be silly.

The key is to figure out how to make it all fit together, in one effortless, complex package.

In any case, last night's selection was the classic Rossellini film, Rome, Open City, the screenplay for which was partially written by Fellini. It's a story set during Nazi / Fascist control of Italy, and as you might expect, it is equal parts depressing, moving, and maddening.

I do recommend this film, though I'm not going to write about it at length here. I will, however, share one more thing before wrapping up this post. After discovering that one of my favorite scenes from the film was not to be found anywhere online, I offer the following transcription. It is a rather disturbing exchange between two Nazi officers, concerning the torture of an Italian prisoner. Considering the way it unfolds, I have to wonder if Fellini was the one who inserted it.

Hartmann: Strenuous evening?

Bergman: Not very. But interesting.

Hartmann: Really? How so?

Bergman: I have a fellow who must talk before morning, and an Italian priest who claims the fellow won't, because he's praying for him.

Hartmann: And if he doesn't talk?

Bergman: Ridiculous.

Hartmann: If he won't talk no matter what?

Bergman: That would mean an Italian is as good as a German. That there's no difference between the blood of a slave race and that of a master race. What would be the sense of our struggle?

Hartmann: Twenty-five years ago I led execution squads in France. I was a young officer then, and I too believed that we Germans were a master race. But the French patriots chose to die rather than talk. We Germans refuse to realize that people want to be free.

Bergman: Hartmann, you're drunk!

Hartmann: Yes, I am. I drink every night to forget. But instead I see more and more clearly. All we're really good at is killing, killing, killing! We've strewn all of Europe with corpses, and from their graves rises up an unquenchable hatred. Hatred... hatred everywhere! That hatred will devour us. There's no hope.

Bergman: Enough!

Hartmann: We'll all die without the slightest hope.

Bergman: I forbid you to continue!

Hartmann: Without hope.

Bergman: You hear me? You forget that you are a German officer!

"Hatred will devour us." There are days when I wonder if that is the essence of the human condition.

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