It was really my admiration for Italo Spinelli’s Asiatica initiative coupled with his personal charm (I later came to know that he was one of the best performers that I’ve come across), idiosyncrasy and an unfinished affair in India that got me on the flight to Rome via Mumbai. After having been intrigued with his unique invite to participate in the Archive to the East / Memory of the World Project wherein one would be given entry to the Luce Cinecitta Archives and a camera to shoot in Rome… it was my turn to open a personal Pandora’s Box. It was none other than the footage that I’d myself shot over many years across generations of Digital Cameras and preoccupations.
Cinecitta was being converted into an Amusement Theme Park (which it in many ways already survives as) I was told at the Coffee Corner down the corridor, Fellini’s cradle and homeland. Clearly it mattered to everybody around. Apart from the series of strikes in the Govt. sector organizations such as Cinecitta, Bangladeshi citizen-immigrants (it’s a crazy system) spilling over the vastness of the ancient capital and my friends’ increasing despair with the way the Festival itself was struggling against Zeitgeist et al. that struck the first chords after the tryst with destiny part. It was a waking up… inside the body of a giant called Time. Most people worth their salts maintain that Time is an illusion, a Frankenstein that never happens. But, while in Rome… Here, Then (also a Mao Mao film) to me and, possibly my closest allies for those days in Rome – filmmakers Mao Mao, the Bad Boy of Beijing Film School himself and Hady Zacak, cool professor from Lebanon (both were making their counterparts for the series) it was more real than the Circus Maximus or the Coliseum. And from the extremely ‘given to evolutions’ manner in which it has conducted itself till date… one might even think, that It’s here to stay longer than we wish. The various cuts & bruises that followed in my encounters with the Frank fellow therein show as various versions of the same struggle…
4 hrs. to Mumbai
Although Italo and Marco Aureli of Associazone Culturale Mnemosyn has arranged for a special fees-paid Visa (third world indie movie’s little delight), it takes around 3 hours to get the Papers.
Meanwhile… MUMBAI: OCTOBER ‘12: AROUND THE VISA OFFICE
Earlier in Pune / Parsi Ex-Capital
In 1944, an elderly lady in Rome wanted a documentary to get made on Don Pieto Morosini, a Catholic priest assassinated by Nazis for helping the Resistance against German Occupation. The war ravaged landscape of Rome with an equally devastated Cinecitta presented the two young filmmakers the task of articulating something incredibly up close and epical in a language that has been leashed by Hollywood models ever since the Great Wars threatened to plague the world.
The artists grappled with the prevalent human condition with an understanding that will later go on to become its own lexicon in the lingua franca of Cinema.
Before his friend could get in touch with actor Aldo Fabrizi who the Director, Roberto Rossellini, wanted to play the priest in re-enactments for the film, his financier, the same lady, decided to produce another documentary about brave Roman children who also fought against the Occupation. Fellini, the writer, therefore suggested a fiction instead of two non-fiction films. Rome, the Eternal City, became the confluence of what was/is and what becomes of that. Roma, città aperta (Rome, Open City)- the shooting began; Nazis had pulled out of Italy just a couple of months earlier.
Fellini’s Roma resonates with this strange Fabular exchange among the City and the Narrator, a shooting of the City transforms into a journey into the abstracts of dreamlike-ness. In those crossroads Film finds the listener(s) and poet(s); it’s angels and heretics.
Inside the recording booth at Rome University, disgusted with the fragility of my own voice I muttered … if only I were alone. You are alone, I heard Marco whisper in quiet assurance, Just try to forget that you are not. Beating the ground to catch up with Angelo Olivieri jamming with the film’s roughcut I wonder where it’s all headed to… First, Double Helix… looking at the real and reel through found images from Mussolini’s Archive, then quickly changing to Clouds Over Rome …
Open City is a military term that clarifies during War that the defense for a City are down and pleads the invader to not use force in case of any intented takeover, roughly. Roma, città aperta is one of the 15 films listed in the category Values on the Vatican film list. Mussolini, if I’m not really off in recalling, few years before the war had established Vatican as an independent State.
Roma, città aperta tells another story; the Neo-real in a way, comes as redemption of the Real, not in its simulation. Travelling through the archives of Istituto Luce, through newsreels, photographs and smell of Nitrate across the digital divide (never touched the films, but their low res digital copies), in an Italy paying in Euros the price of being Europe which I find strikingly similar in overall architecture plan as a ship ready to sail (Noah’s Arc!), I arrived at a crack of time…Clouds were wandering all over Rome, playing with our absent gazes under the Mediterranean light.
Under the same clouds that took over the roman sky those few days, the ones which drifted across the Newsreels, continents, prints on my hotel wall, a monstrous sculpture outside my hotel window… under those same clouds, when they burst over the coliseum one sultry night I dreamt that Calcutta, city I was born in four odd decades earlier, was also born an Open City, fated for conquests. It is the same City I found under the gaze of changing lenses, a city opened by gaze, redeemed by reflection.
On its centenary Kundera mourns Cinema in the name of Fellini.
Fellini’s Roma has always haunted me. The bleaching out of images in the Catacomb, the continuous interchange of perspectives complicating our perception of subject and form, the end resounding with the angst and drone of motorcycles in an ancient city, asleep in its tombs; a prophecy of our Postmodern times perhaps. Perhaps also an atonement for betrayed testaments.
In that dream I got a little glimpse of what Fellini did as he wrote a fiction in place of facts, the same story that becomes a generic prophecy in the hands of ‘film-makers’. Federico Fellini, whose televised funeral turns him into the great orphan of Film History, was laying down foundations for the Cine-citta aparta, laying down defenses, submitting to magic of the real and changing the essence of a war-worn phrase in favor of a requiem called Cinema.
Shortly afterwards the world witnessed several turning points; the lighting over the Vatican followed by a new Pope opening up the gates of faith to include all and sundry, reminded me of Don Pieto Morosini. Is it Fellini’s dream, after all?
Hope the gates stay open, long long enough, if not Forever.