Monday, October 18, 2010

DVD Must-See: Erik Gandini's VIDEOCRACY, a jaw-dropping look at Italy's TV & politics

Hasn't Italy always occupied a special place in the hearts and minds of many Americans: chianti and pasta, la dolce vita (the real thing and the movie), the sexy and the sen-sual -- times ten. Get ready to have your preconceptions rattled by a documentary now out on DVD: VIDEOCRACY. If you've kept up on the doings of the current and seemingly-forever Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, shown on the poster at right, what the movie is saying may not come as a surprise.  How it says this, however, is practically guaranteed to shake you up. Your first question, post-viewing, may be: How did the movie-maker manage to get such incendiary footage?

My guess is that the filmmaker -- Erik Gandini, shown at left -- simply looks so much like the Eurotrash his movie covers that everyone simply assumed he was just part of the gang. (This is not necessarily a pejorative, Erik; Eurotrash can be quite appealing visually.) Gandini proves a good listener, too, and damned if he doesn't get his subjects, two of them in particular, to spill a pile of interesting beans. Being of Swedish/Italian ancestry, he also knows his Italian history and so plies us with just enough information to get us started down the road to.... well, you can barely imagine where.

In addition to that ever-smiling head-of-state, above (and thanks to Willie the Shake we know that "one may smile, and smile, and be a villain"), we come into very close contact with two gentlemen, both of whom are agents of a sort. One of these caters to the television world, finding "talent" wherever it may lie and grooming it for performance status.  The other earns his lucrative living from the celebrities that these "talents" then become. He has their pictures taken by paparazzi in positions that range from unattractive to compromising, then he sells the photos -- not, as expected, to the media but to the actual celebs themselves, who want them kept from view.

Further, the man in charge of the paparazzi photography is the protégé of the television talent finder, the latter having acted as mentor to the younger man. And both are firmly connected to Berlusconi: the talent-finder is a long-time friend, while the photo-seller remains at more of a distance but is still quite symbiotic. Mr. "Talent," one Lele Mora -- seen above in his all-white bedroom like some latter-day Liberace-without-piano, and below, expounding on his love for Mussolini (if you made this character up from whole cloth, you couldn't create a richer picture of sleazy, would-be high-toned, right-wing entitlement) -- discovers Italy's hidden talent and then gooses it into celebrity mode.

From where does this talent come?  Ah, from the huge pool of television-addicted Italians who get their "news," ideas and entire life from the tube. While this behavior is certainly not reserved to Italy, the country does seem to be in the forefront of the turn-us-into-consumer-sheep movement preferred by media moguls from Murdoch to Berlusconi. Did I mention that Silvio owns Italy's most popular TV stations, newspapers and magazines?  This fact continues to turn Italy even further into a kind of Mediterranean-based banana republic.

But back to that "talent," some of whom we meet in the course of the movie -- which begins in the 1960s, with the first of many programs devoted to getting Italian women to remove their clothes in the guise of "quiz show" set in a high-toned bar. Now, young women from all over the country vie for the chance to become "veline," or showgirls (see above), on the ever popular TV programs. Even some older women have these same dreams: Consider the poor lady, below, who, as part of her audition, strips and dances up a (not quite) storm. The TV powers-that-be are less than impressed.

We meet one bedazzled (by TV) and befuddled (by the lack of its response to his "talent") young man named Ricky (at left) and his mom, with whom he lives. Ricky's skill, such as it is, combines sing-ing and martial arts, and the result looks and sounds even goofier than you'll expect. But our boy perseveres. So ingrained into the everyday Italian psyche is the need to be on TV that nothing, it seems, can stop a guy (or gal) who's got a dream. If only some leader would come along to teach or induce the populace to dream about something more edifying.

But now to the most provocative (in so many ways) fellow in the film: that photographic "agent" who dogs the celebrities that his mentor Lele Mora has helped created. This guy is certainly the movie's most sublime -- and photogenic -- example of Eurotrash: Fabrizio Corona, shown primping (above) and lounging (at right). Things go swimmingly for awhile, until Corona runs afoul of the government (and perhaps his mentor), is prosecuted for extortion and ends up doing a short prison term, during which he figures out a plan to increase his fame and his coffers. It works, and before you can say, "Aren't you the exhibitionist!" Corona is bragging about himself and his life and then taking a shower in full view of the filmmaker's camera, massaging his large member, full-frontal and semi-erect, and enjoying every second of it.  (I have to admit,
I was, too).

What happens to this wild, crazy (and very sleazy) guy?  You'll find out. Meanwhile, the on-screen statistics shown at movie's end indicate where the western world is headed in terms of the joining of media, politics and power -- for which Italy can serve as the current fool's gold-standard by which, eventually, the entire world may be judged. Comcast/NBC/Universal merger, here we come!

Videocracy, via the increasingly vital company Lorber Films, is available now for sale -- or rental at Netflix, Greencine or Blockbuster.

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