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Aug 25, 2010

Videocracy – The Barbican: Discussion Panel with Erik Gandini

by Abi Weaver

This evening, with Panel discussion hosted by Index on Censorship, was certainly an extremely intriguing one, full of belly laughs mixed with uncomfortable silences and an exciting debate to follow. Italian-born and Swedish-bred director Erik Gandini’s potent film ‘Videocracy’ began as a beginner’s guide to Berlusconi and Italian TV – and why the two are almost synonymous. Through interviews with a charmingly talentless TV wannabe Ricky (and his doting madre), the successful yet apparently completely soulless tv agent Lele Mora, possible future Berlusconi, Fabrizio Corona, and even a Presidential neighbour from Costa Smerelda who has turned herself into a party photographer on the basis of his invitation, Gardini paints a very vivid portrait of the tasteless commercialism of Italian tv that seems to mirror the personality of Silvio Berlusconi; “The television of the President”.

The audience, as for Napoli Napoli Napoli, seemed again to be strong in Italians, and the atmosphere was expectant. Straight away Gandini skilfully manipulated us with carefully selected images and an almost deadpan voiceover (akin to Michael Moore but with subtlety), forcing us to laugh hard at ‘TV-Republic’ Italy before the comprehension of the horrifying realism set in: Lele Mora gazed unnervingly mouth-open into the camera in his all-white house, before blithely showing off the collection of Mussolini’s hymns he had saved on his phone, complete with animated swastikas; dead-eyed young girls auditioning to be Veline, the voiceless dollies who keep the televised audience “tuned in” with their 30-second gyrating Stachetto dance, were shamelessly clapped by their grandparents; Corona’s initial refreshing celebrity cynicism as a paparazzo extorting money by taking compromising pictures – he’s the modern Robin Hood “but I don’t give it to the people, I give it to myself” – spiralled into the degradation of self-marketing – even going to far as to oil his completely naked body on camera (apparently for the benefit of the high physical standards of the Swedish audience Gandini told us afterwards). Throughout we were kept us giggling but shaking our heads in utter disbelief, and at times with mouths hanging further open than Mora’s. The biggest laugh probably came from a singalong propaganda film of women ecstatically chanting the chorus line “Thank God Silvio exists,” which in the UK would have been difficult to stomach even as satire.

Gandini’s message seemed to be that underneath this apparent expression of happy-go-lucky artlessness is a shallow pit lacking censorship and promoting caveman-like sexism amongst other unsavoury beliefs. In the discussion he was asked by John Kampfer of Index on Censorship whether Berlusconi was an Italian phenomenon, or whether this terrifying experiment into reality TV that has sapped Italy of its culture would have happened without him. Gandini agreed that whilst Berlusconi was, as a man who had elevated himself to the exalted position of President of television and then the country through “having fun”, unique, but that the culture of banality will present itself as harmless and fun, but there is always something scary in it, and that the two were linked: he likened it to a science fiction where a man infiltrates the television for so long he becomes it. And yet, when the BBC were initially Executive Producing the piece, Gandini felt pressured by them to adapt the delivery to the way they wanted it; it was in danger of ironically becoming a film about a man who wants TV to be like him, by a man who was being made to be like TV. Although Gandini came up against some criticism for not portraying the more recent developments in Italian television, such as Sky beginning to break the monopoly of programming, and Berlusconi having had to mortgage control of some of his companies to the Vatican, thus altering some more explicit content, he stuck firm to his presentation of the facts, such as the ones his film ended on that hit home his message that Italy’s TV-watching population are sexist, limited and censored through ignorance.

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Posted in: Blog, Comment, Highlights

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