The time-image from pasolini to Cipri and Maresco.
Cipri and Maresco, on the other hand, although equally disturbed by the omnipresence of television, decide to use the piccolo schermo's powers to depict, through the lens of scatology, the irredeemability of Western culture in general and Sicilian society in particular. The duo's TV programs (Cinico TV, Blob, Intervalli, or Schegge, for example) and subsequently their movies, strive to be everything that television is not: instead of filling each and every second with sound and movement, their cameras film silence and inactivity; instead of velline, they offer a freak show; rather than telling a story, they string together sequences that defy our sensori-motor expectations. Their films are populated by low-lifes in a world where nothing really happens. So, whereas Pasolini's ideological engagement often seems contradictory, any historicized impegno has become obsolete for Cipri and Maresco. In fact, the Sicilians' metacinematic tendency often signifies that their films refer to little more than themselves.
The main point of comparison between Pasolini and Cipri and Maresco to be discussed here is their use of the time image to reflect the difficulty or the impossibility of human agency in contemporary society. According to Gilles Deleuze, prevalence of the time-image is an important aspect of Western cinema starting in the post WWII years (Cinema I 206). In the classical cinema prior to this period, the movement-image prevails (as in action movies or westerns), constructing a (chrono)logical narrative in which characters act and react to events and circumstances within specific spatiotemporal parameters. What happens on screen provides an indirect image of consecutive intervals.
In a time-image, on the other hand, time becomes more important than action and movement; time is fore-grounded and its sheer duration is felt. The characters inhabit "any-space-whatevers" (1) because they are wanderers in a universe in which meaningful connections as the precursors to action are difficult if not impossible to construct. Although not a call to action, the time-image is nonetheless an appeal to thought. (2) Since our pragmatic sensori-motor expectations are stymied, we seek to create links with dimensions other than movement, with the non-chronological, non-teleological dimension of time. Scenes of prolonged duration, unusual framings and/or juxtapositions, and apparently aimless movement or illogical sequences of events constitute time-images.
How then is time experienced, presented and not simply represented in Pasolini's cinema? How do his time-images bypass representation and the intellect, making something unseen more important than the seen?
In his first film as a director, Accattone (1961), Pasolini recounts the story of a young man's failed efforts to renounce petty thievery and procuring in favor of an honest livelihood. In one particularly significant sequence, the hapless Vittorio attempts to reconcile with his wife. A wrestling match ensues when her protective brother attacks him and the result of the indecisive fight augurs poorly for the anti-hero's chances to escape vagrancy. The scene remains important, however, as a vindication of the suffering sub-proletariat. First of all, the camera pans the surroundings, focusing all eyes on the incident: everyone in the neighborhood takes a "ring-side seat." More important, Pasolini creates an unusual sound and optical situation. The sound track of the fight scene is Bach's Passion of Saint Matthew and serves to sanctify the struggle as a heroic event of epic proportions in all its timelessness. Rather than contributing to the chronology of the film otherwise punctuated by narrative events, this time-image, lasting more than two minutes, is intended to underscore Accattone's noble status.
In Pasolini's Uccellacci e uccellini (1966), a prevalent time-image is the saunter. The film in its entirety questions the feasibility of Marxism in a neo-capitalist world, as a father and his son meander somewhat aimlessly over hill and dale, all the while in conversation with a fantastical crow that happens to be a Marxist intellectual. It is intimated that their ultimate ingestion of the crow-prophet's flesh, however, will enable them to carry on his struggle. Despite this vague hope for the renewal of Marxism, the two ramblers' final destination is unknown during most of the film. In between the opening and final scenes--both of which find them ambling down an unfinished highway--they experience various picaresque adventures (obliquely related to Marxist ideology) that are also time-images within an already loose narrative framework. In one such adventure, an uncommitted Nino appears all too willing to join a group of teenagers in a line-dance at a cafe where much is made of the barman's opulent head of hair. In another, the wayfarers are pursued for unlawfully defecating on private property. To escape, they traverse water tunnels, play leap frog and run up and down piles of refuse, all in a sequence shot in fast motion. In yet another, Toto and his dad encounter a troupe of amateur actors and attend their play entitled "When Rome ruined the world." As they travel "la-giu," are they not themselves images of time whose inexorable effects trump action?
Another Pasolini film foregrounds time through the use of the stroll motif in combination with superimposed memory-images. In Sequenza del fiore di carta (part of Amore e Rabbia, 1969), we find Ninetto randomly walking down a street in Rome. The time-image consists of the contemporaneity of Ninetto's presence of blithe innocence ("L'innocenza e una colpa," warns the voice from above), and superjacent images of war, suffering and violence. The interference of these images obscures the present; we in fact forget the person walking down the street; chronological time is suspended. What's more, the shots shown are not Nino's recollections; the time-image forces us to make sense of them ourselves. In this sense, they are deterritorializations in Deleuzian terms--excursions into unexplored territory through the rejection of the a priori--whose aberrance and unfamiliarity call for contemplation and thought.
A final example highlights the time-images of the turbulent landscape seen throughout Pasolini's 1968 film Teorema, the story of the life-transforming visitation to a bourgeois family by a Christ-like individual. The repeated shots of Mount Etna volcano evoke primal space, making it the scene of primordial forces that will eventually bring the characters to realize the artificiality of their existence. Significantly, variations in the landscape sequence are shown four times during the film.
Thus Pasolini's use of the time image does not totally eclipse narrative. His time-images create the possibility for change by providing content, albeit of an episodic nature. Space is recognizable for the most part; there is still a reason to believe in this world (Deleuze, Cinema II 171-3). The Friulian's hopes that Marxism might be reformed and that the homogeneity of modern society might be revitalized through the sacred, remain. Indeed, Pasolini's reliance on montage indicates that he does want to express a point of view to the spectator. His films have a theorematic quality: he uses close-ups, obsessive images and sacred music to give his characters and narrative events a hieratic dimension.
In contrast, the time-image in Cipri and Maresco becomes nihilistic. Theirs is a post-apocalyptic vision of humanity trapped in a wasteland. As opposed to Pasolini, a prevalent use of sequence shots instead of montage signifies less interference on the part of the filmmakers who, after all, have nothing to say. Narrative events are almost entirely overshadowed by the weight of time. Whereas for Pasolini, an atheistic worldview does not exclude Catholic values, use of religious music and symbology in Cipri and Maresco's films accents the disconnect between the official church and the people for whom it is supposed to provide sustenance. Many scenes are simply scandalous for the average viewer. Cipri and Maresco undo the action-image in a variety of ways, challenging it by and in time.
In Lo zio di Brooklyn (1995), two mafia midgets involved in a war with the local leader Don Massimo bring the mysterious uncle to stay with a family of brothers. The visitor never speaks or acts and his presence in the town--whose only industry is casket making--has no impact on anyone. Meanwhile, funeral processions in the locality are frequent; a man in black socks and underpants talks to the audience about the film; a psychic advises a would-be singer; a cyclist, victim of a bicycle thief, turns up in unlikely places.
Furthermore, the fixed shot in this film is frequent. The host brothers live on the uppermost floor of a dilapidated building. There are two takes of the staircase, filmed from below and from above, lasting one minute and fifteen seconds. The duration of these on-screen non-events clearly exceeds their narrative usefulness. The object filmed is even erased by means of the static long shot that makes time the center of attention. We forget who was going up or coming down; the person who initially begins the climb is not the one who emerges at the top. What's more, the obvious meta-cinematic reference to the staircases crucial to the plot in many Hitchcock films, serves to underscore by contrast their lack of importance in Lo zio di Brooklyn.
In addition to capturing inertia, Cipri and Maresco film movement that seems to lead nowhere. As such, it is not a matter of action that masters time indirectly by means of representation. On the contrary, movement flows from time and is subordinate to it. To illustrate this point, we examine another clip from Lo zio di Brooklyn, in which a funeral procession progressively accelerates back and forth in front of a blank wall. First the carriage with the casket, then the mourners, first from left to right, then from right to left until finally they are running in opposite directions before our eyes. The entire sequence lasts about four minutes. Where are the deceased and the mourners headed? Moreover, there is little distance between the procession and the wall; this lack of depth might reflect not only the ability to advance but in addition, the superficiality of movement (and of the movie camera) in general.
A further way in which Cipri and Maresco present time is through vocal, rather than instrumental, musical interludes. Characters begin singing for no reason other than perhaps the spontaneous need to feel something, to gesticulate, albeit gratuitously. In a typical sequence, also from Lo zio, there is an alternation between movement and staticity. During the song, a religious procession halts and the singer from nowhere intones some incomprehensible lyrics. Once his song ends, the singer freezes and the procession resumes. Meanwhile, a familiar undressed individual has stood motionless in front of the house. This scene is incongruous because the mise-en-scene features random actions performed by characters oblivious to one another. No possible analogies or correspondences can be asserted to convert the passage of time (two minutes and fifteen seconds) into meaning.
The second feature film of Cipri and Maresco is the tripartite Toto che visse due volte (1998). Part 1 centers round the tribulations of Paletta, a sex fiend who is crucified when he steals the Mafia leader's offering from the town shrine. Part 2 recounts the trials of a couple of homosexuals, one of whom dies while the other is crucified after stealing his ex-lover's ring. In part 3, the Mafia and a Christ-like figure collide after the occasional miracle worker resuscitates one of the Mafia's victims. Following a gluttonous and lascivious last supper, the local boss dissolves the ersatz Christ in an acid bath. And in the end, it is the town fool from part 1 who is crucified between Paletta and Fefe. What forms do the time-images in this film take?
In another version of halted action, the viewers attest for nearly five long seconds to what appears to be a freeze-frame. Three Mafiosi coming under a bridge literally stop in their tracks and were it not for the appearance of a cat coming on screen left, we might have been fooled. The action ensues as the boss and his two subordinates continue under the arch and enter the town. The rupture in their progression draws attention to time per se at the expense of incipient action. One might also conceive of this sequence as a meta-cinematic element: an emptying out of the freeze-frame's ability to capture a significant moment. But how could there possibly be a true freeze-frame in the absence of any crucial moment in a non-existent plot?
On the other hand, still-lifes are frequent in Cipri and Maresco's first two features films. Rather than inanimate objects, however, these are shots of quasi-immobile people staring in one direction. Sometimes we know what they are staring at, sometimes not. For instance, in Toto, one witnesses: 1) a group of men facing in the same direction as they masturbate in a lavatory, 2) a foursome of "women," some seated, others standing, before what turns out to be a shrine, 3) a collection of individuals carefully arranged in rows (but staggered so as to all be visible) transfixed on a doorway as each awaits his turn will the local prostitute. According to Deleuze (Cinema II 272), the prevalence of people as seers or spectators instead of actors is one of the hallmarks of the cinema of the time-image. Whereas the elements of a standard still-life are secondary to symbolism and/or allegory, the agency-bereft characters of Cipri and Maresco's cinema remain subordinate to temporal forces. They watch and wait, biding their time within surroundings in ruins, beset by a universe of non-events.
Clearly, the Sicilians' films have no plot or unequivocal message to transmit. Hence the frequency in their cinema and television programs of action hollowed out by the weight of time. Maresco sums up as follow the significance of the "tempi morti" in their films that feature:
un'umanita ... con un senso di vuoto incredibile. Noi, in qualche modo, anticipiamo questo vuoto; noi, in pratica, diciamo attraverso il nostro lavoro che e assolutamente inutile qualunque movimento ma non solo con la macchina da presa ma in generale. (Toto DVD supplement)
It is clear that the secular sacred was a constant in Pasolini's work. This is a force, an energy, a Nietzschean will to power able to transform itself, in a state of becoming, increasing the possibilities for life. It harkens back to originary worlds prior to hierarchies and divisions that are the realm of elementary impulses, the scatological, the erotic, the alimentary: elements of Bahktinian carnival and the means to historical and metaphysical revolt. Such transgressive images are also abundant in Cipri and Maresco's work, enacted by a host of dehumanized creatures. But in their films, sacred forces cannot transform themselves and emanate from no more than an exhausted, degenerating life, making the Deleuzian time-image just another void. (3) One might ask whether Pasolini's final film, Salo, was not a demonstration of such entropic energy. What films would he have made after that? Would Porno-teo Colosso (Pasolini's film project at time of his death) have been any less devastating? Why continue to make films that have no story to tell, no ideology to defend, no hope for the human race? Can we view such cinematography as a form of engagement? In the Pasolini of the sixties and early seventies discussed here, the reconnection to the mystical-religious would enable the human to affirm ultimate reality and find liberation. In Cipri and Maresco, the sublime immensities are still there, but the tired bodies in the grips of time are powerless to access them.
Nonetheless, the photographic beauty of the Sicilian team's imagery has not gone unnoticed. In all their movies, in fact, the composition of images, their symmetry, use of light and shadows, careful positioning of subjects, is striking. Take for example the last twelve minutes of Grazie Lia. Breve inchiesta su Santa Rosalia (1994), consisting entirely of a still shot of the sky--sunrises and sunsets, light and darkness, clouds constantly passing overhead--, a tremendous time-image. Such photography evokes the eschatological domain. This is what Cipri himself has to say about such images: "credo che nelle nostre immagini ci sia anche qua una componente mistico-religiosa, proprio il fatto di vedere dei luoghi con queste sceni ... la citta circondata della montagne" (Toto DVD supplement).
Many critics do indeed underscore the religious dimension of Cipri and Maresco's work. Emiliano Morreale interprets the use of religious music in their films as an effort "per sancire la presenza, al di fuori delle vicende e del mondo dello schermo, di qualcosa come un Destino, una Voce d'Autore, un altrove" (8). (4) In like manner, Bruno Fornara affirms that: "il motivo del sacro, del desiderio del sacro, della sua inarrestabile degradazione e della sua ostinata persistenza faceva da esplicito filo conduttore" (4). If their cinema is hierophanic, then, it is in the sense that the sacred cannot be eliminated, that it is a given of human existence at the root of the creative impulse, even when that creation is ugly, nihilistic, stillborn. Pirandello another Sicilian, seems to sum up the mystery of creation as negativity without employment:
Io penso che la vita a una molto triste buffoneria, poiche abbiamo in noi, senza poter sapere ne come ne perche ne da chi, la necessita di ingannare di continuo noi stessi con la spontanea creazione di una realta (una per ciascuno e non mai la stessa per tutti) la quale di tratto in tratto si scopre vana e illusoria. ("Lettera autobiografica")
Cipri and Maresco's third feature film, Il ritorno di Cagliostro (2003), is about the Trinacria Cinematografica's failed attempts to make Sicily the rival of Cinecitta. Are the two directors sounding the death toll of cinema or its rebirth? Signaling a definitive stagnation or the existence of Italian cinema that since the eighties has become an archipelago of autori, disconnected from one another and operating in the absence of shared ideological, ethical or esthetic bases? They appear to agree with Pasolini, who in a 1972 interview with Enzo Biagi (clip strategically included at the end of Cipri and Maresco's "Arruso" sequence in Enzo, domani a Palermo, 1999) stated that "La parola speranza e ovviamente cancellata del mio vocabolario."
Fortunately, the pirandellian impulse has continued to engender creative images in a changing Italian cinematic landscape. Lest we forget Sorrentino, Torre, Garrone, Munzi, Crialese, Muccino, Luchetti, film critic Vito Zagarrio's documentary Gli invisibili (2009), as well as his essay Cinema italiano anni novanta (2001) outline a productive present and a promising future for his country's cinema.
Benfante, Marcello. "Toto di Cipri e Maresco rivive per la terza volta." La Repubblica 15 April 2009.
Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema 1. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press, 1986.
--. Cinema 2. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press, 1989.
Fornara, Bruno. "Uomini e zii tra terra e cielo." Cineforum 372.2 (March 1998): 3-6.
Frappat, Helene. "F pour fantome." Cahiers du cinema 580 (June 2003): 56-8.
Morreale, Emiliano. "Fuori del tempo, dentro al cinema." Cineforum 372.2 (March 1998): 6-8.
Pasolini, Pier Paolo. "Aboliamo la TV e la scuola d'obbligo." Pasolini e il Corriere. Ed. Piero Ostellino. Milano: Editoriale Quotidiani, 1986.
Pirandello, Luigi. "Lettera autobiografica." Le lettere. 15 October 1924.
Toto che visse due volte. Dir. Daniele Cipri and Franco Maresco. Perf. Salvatore Gattuso, Carlo Giordano, Pietro Arcidiacono. Tea Nova, 1998.
Zagarrio, Vito. Cinema italiano anni novanta.Venezia: Tascabili Marsilio, 2001.
(1) Franco Maresco describes as follows the team's intention of universality: "eravamo interessati piuttosto a cogliere un'aspetto della citta e a transfigurarlo. Quindi abbiamo sempre isolato ... una parte della citta ... doveva diventare nessun luogo, fuori del tempo" (Toto DVD supplement).
(2) According to Maresco, their films constitute exceptions in the current Italian cinematic landscape because "abbiamo temi fortissimi che sono l'omologazione, la fine del mondo, la morte, il dolore, il senso della vita. Siamo tornati, come dire, a una sorta di pensiero forte e secondo noi e necessario" (Morreale 10).
(3) Concerning this play of forces, Deleuze writes that there is "a type of exhausted force, even when it has remained quantitatively very large, and it can only destroy and kill, before destroying itself, and perhaps in order to kill itself... No matter how large it is, it is exhausted because it no longer knows how to transform itself. It is thus descending, decadent and degenerate" (Cinema II 140).
(4) Marcello Benfante admires in Toto "un retablo di struggente perfezione stilistica in cui la bruttura di un mondo oscurato restituisce ... una luminosa bellezza che ci riconcilia con i detriti della nostra quotidiana catastrofe," thereby concluding that Toto is "un'opera scabrosa quanto ieratica".
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|Title Annotation:||Pier Paolo Pasolini, Daniele Cipri and Franco Maresco|
|Author:||St. Ours, Kathryn|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||May 1, 2011|
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