I’m on a journey to go deeper into Italian popular music of the 20th century.
So how about spnding sometime with il Molleggiato, the flexible one. You could say he’s an Italian Fred Garrity if you’re from the North of England, like me, and your references for 1960s music are Merseybeat and UK pop. But he of course is Adriano Celentano.
Celentano is from Milan. Born in 1938, he is the husband of Claudia Mori, singer, actor. She met Celentano on the film set of Uno strano tipo / A Strange Type (1963), a comedy by director Lucio Fulci. Rock and roll, black and white. Celentano takes his show to a small town on the coast of Naples to find he has been precdeded by a lookalike who has wreaked havoc among the townsfolk who hold Celentano responsible. In real life Mori and Celentano sneaked off from their worlds and got married post haste.
This conflation of real life music with Italian comedy of manners precedes A Hard Day’s Night (1964). It’s at the centre of the surf films. Spaghetti surf?
Celentano is a child of rock and roll, of the American actor Jerry Lewis and first started playing in rock and roll with Enzo Jannaci (also a cardiologist!) and Giorgio Gaber, who pioneered the musical genre known as teatro canzone or song-theatre.
To see what he does with his body, how he shakes up the Italian establishment, the church, see him dressed a priest, dancing through the aisle in the church or cooking. in the kitchen. The cuts and chops as he prepares food, pulling strong dance movements in the simple kitchen. The film is choreographed like sampled audio.
To watch some of Celentano’s work is to enter a world I didn’t know existed. It fascinates me, this crazy era of film, like Rivette’s Celine et Julie vont en Bateau (1974). Yuppi Du (1975) with its dream sequences and songs about money and love. Comedy with serious issues at its core about relationships, loyalties, the meaning of interpersonal behaviour. The film is cut in a bold chopping style. This is comedy arthouse. And music plays an important part in this surreal breaking up of narrative. What does Yuppi Du mean? Maybe someone will tell me. Maybe it will all become clear as my Italian improves.
Charlotte Rampling plays Silvia, the wife of Celantano’s character Felice. She has committed suicide, apparently, and left him in poverty to look after their daughter which he does with his second wife played by Claudia Mori. Silvia arrives in beautiful yellow chiffon as a vision as he leaves yellow flowers in memory to his wife. The vision breaks into a slapstick argument as he realise she is really alive and throws the flowers into her face – slap! He continues to talk to her gravestone. And in his confusion dances in a superstitious ritual as if to rid the demons from the graveside. I’m understanding the video from the physical comedy and through my poor Italian, no subtitles, no English translation.
I find it bold and charming – the comedy in the surreal world that Celantano builds up. I enjoy the making of sense in this nonsense world. The colour that underpins the exchange. The green reeds. The yellow chiffon. The Hat with pink flowers that Sylvia drops at the graveside. The muddy brown of the fishing boats establishing the rural poverty and the world of hard, dirty, watery work in which Felice is embedded.
The world of poor Italy is set against the artistic life of the city of Venice. The men who work on the boats are contrasted with the silken world of photoshoots and cinema. Strange sound art editing changes the look of the scene which flicks between storm and coloured visions altering reality. It’s like music video rather than cinema as we know it. But it is cinema. It’s not a music video. The scenes of emotional turmoil are created in snippets with storm, purple and yellow explosions, Rampling/Sylvia striding through the centre of the picture on her impossible long legs.
A yellow fiesta breaks out with saxophones, horns, brown, yellow, tunes swinging round the canals and bridges. Dancing, a strong cast of balck women dancers (though not in lead roles) who I want to know more about, synchronised women from the church in yellow cassocks and lace surplices. Stop motion frieze frames centered on the motif of a photographer and a painter freezing and setting off time.
There’s a fragrance of love in the air
It’s penetrating far deep in my heart
And the star it was reborn in the sky
And it died the day she went away
Yuppi du yuppi du yuppi du
Yuppi du-i-du yuppi du
Yuppi du yuppi du yuppi du
Yuppi du-i-du yuppi du
I feel the sound of a thousand colours
Which paints this scene this act of love
I hear the music that comes from the water
That rises from bowels of the earth
The guitar strums. Rampling walks with her parasol. Her hair bouncing. Der de dun de der, across the canals she walks as if on a cat rope being nailed down as she goes. We see up her skirt from below the boards of the walkway. The beat of her show is a musical instrument as is the happer through which the nails are hit into the wood.
A silent film section is scored with subtitles. Celantano holds the white unbrella above her head as they walk together. There is no rain. ‘I did it for you,’ Silvia says in subtitles. She pretented to be dead for him. Wet Venice moodily broods in the background.
Violence against women is part of the backdrop. Fights. The world that Sylvia has escaped. She hears the knife fights and the rape as she sits in the kitchen. What is going on? My imperfect Italian makes the film even more surreal. Social comment, protest feed surrealism. It’s not just about emotional disturbance but physical inter-relationships.
I’m just about to head off to the Apennines to the town of Atina, Frosinone, Lazio with a group of ambitious, reckless, headstrong, creative artists. I need to see this film, and other Italian films out of the box. What will we make? Will we dance like Celantano down the mountains? Have we got enough chiffon scarves to last us out. Can we protest against hatred, violence, breakdown, how can we express our domestic difficulties, challenge wrongdoing, change ourselves for the better?
Soon the storms will break for the end of summer. We refuse to go home.