Timothy Reckart is an animator and filmmaker, now in cinemas with his first feature film The Star. His short film Head Over Heels (2012), was developed as graduation work at London National Film and Television School: screened at Cannes Film Festival, it won over thirty international awards and was nominated as Best Animated Short at the 2013 Academy Awards.
At first glance, this stop-motion short film seems to follow a well-known pattern: it takes off from a surreal premise, then proceeds to explore all of its possible implications. But there’s more.
What really makes for an engaging experience is its stunning character development, which cleverly avoids the traps of mainstream romanticism. The elderly couple depicted in the movie is facing a daily routine made of mutual intolerance and little, rude acts of spite, at a time when any affection seems to be lost; with striking sensitivity, Reckart weaves a small parable on the glaciations every love story may inevitably go through.
Yet every crisis has two faces, being both destructive and fertile, and it can turn out to be a chance to start over.
In the director’s own words,
when two people are in love, it’s not this perfect machinery that you see in a Hollywood film, the moments don’t fall into place, you continuously have to make an effort and adjust […]. They’re different people and they constantly have to renew the effort to stay together. And actually it’s the differences and the difficulties that provide them opportunities to show love for each other.
We all know how hard it is for talent to emerge in the art field. That is why from time to time, in my own small way, I have tried to give voice to young promising artists; some of them went on with their careers with excellent results, as did Fulvio Risuleo whose work I wrote about and who then won the first prize of the “Semaine de la Critique” at Cannes Film Festival.
I say this not to brag about my farsightedness, but in the secret hope that Bizzarro Bazar might turn out to be bringing good luck also in the future: today I would like to present you with a curious Italian stop-motion short film which in my view is a true little gem.
Entitled Adam and Eve Raised Cain, it was written, directed, animated and edited by Francesco Erba, born in 1986, from Bergamo.
Before discussing the short with his author, I advise you to take some 20 minutes off and let yourself drift into the fark, disturbing atmosphere of this little film.
The short film starts off with a declaration of love to Sci-Fi B-movies from the Fifties (Jack Arnold, Roger Corman, Bert I. Gordon and their giant radioactive monsters), and goes on to pay homage even to the father of fantasy in motion pictures, Georges Méliès.
But the true references here are to horror and science fiction film directors from the Eighties, Carpenter, Hooper or Cronenberg. These nods are perfectly inserted in their context (an all too rare occurrence these days): the main character’s passion for monster movies, for instance, becomes a pivotal dramatic element in a scene where the child’s toys are sold, a psychologically scarring moment for little Albert.
Any citationism, even when done with a purpose, entails the risk of breaking the spectator’s identification, projecting the public “outside” of the film, and lessening its emotional impact. It could be because of the visceral and painful nature of the themes addressed in this short, but Francesco Erba succeeds in the task of creating an even stronger connection with his character: it’s as if, when observed through the filter of the American movies the 80’s generation grew up with, Albert’s trauma became more recognizable, more humane – despite his rough stop-motion puppet appearance.
Since he was a child, Francesco has been living and breathing cinema. How could he tell a tale of fear and love, if not by going back to those films which frightened him or made him fall in love?
This, in my opinion, is the admirable subtlety of Adam and Eve Raised Cain, a sensitivity which many narratives of nostalgia lack.
Behind the animated film facade, behind the entertainment, Erba is depicting a world of solitude and mental cages. And whenever he relies on some vintage stylistic elements, he’s not throwing them to his audience like peanuts just to stimulate some cinephile pavlovian response: he is using them because, to him, they still represent the best (maybe theonly) way to really tell us about the wounds and anguish tormenting his character, both a victim and a perpetrator.
I asked Francesco Erba a few questions about his work.
How was this project born, and how did you manage to make it happen?
The concept for Adam and Eve was one of many sitting in my “Ideas” folder, on my laptop. After spending much time working with and for others, I decided it was time to shoot something new for myself. Sifting through the folder (and discarding all million-budget ideas!), the one that was left was a live-action version of Adam and Eve.
I started working on it, inserting new elements and focusing on the structure until I realized what I was really trying to tell: my film was about imprisonment, in all its possible meanings.
Once the script was completed, it started to dawn on me that this film could – should – be realized in stop motion: enclosing some puppets in a 1.5x1m box would cartainly take this idea of “imprisonment” to the extreme.
I knew all too well that to shoot this film in stop motion, as I had it layed out and with the resources at hand, it would take at least 2 years of work. I had to prepare a complete storyboard, character studies and preliminary drawings, set and prop construction, sculpting and mold making, motion tests, all leading up to several weeks of shooting in a dark room. And then the digital effects, and compositing the live actors’ eyes on the latex puppets, a process that had to be done frame by frame…
I mustered up all my masochism, started filming, and in the end I discovered I was even too optimistic. It took nearly three and a half years to complete the short movie!
Was the choice of stop motion limiting or did it give you more freedom? Which challenges were the most tough in producing the film?
Stop motion, which I do not consider just an animation technique, but THE animation technique, has an unquestionable charm which transcends time and technological innovations. But it can also be a real bitch!
If on one hand it allows full artistic freedom even on a tight budget, on the other it is certainly demanding in shooting time, shooting process, scenic design (sometimes down to miniaturization). Every aspect needs to be considered in advance, carefully calculated and measured, and you very often have to use your ingenuity to bypass problems: if I cannot move my camera, then I need to build a slider rig, and so on.
All these limitations, I think, really disappear when looking at the final result, at what you can create with this incredible technique. Take for example the movies produced by Laika today: they teach us that stop motion, although very old and almost the same age of cinema itself, has no limits other than those dictated by budget or creativity.
Adam and Eve seems to tap into the current vein of nostalgia for the 80’s (Super 8, Stranger Things, the San Junipero episode from Black Mirror, etc.). Did any film in particular inspire you? Is there some director’s work you had in mind while writing the script?
The short was filmed back in 2011, before this new wave of nostalgia for the cinema of the 80’s and 90’s (at least I chose to put it online at the right time!). Inevitably, it ended up containing many elements from the films I grew up with, which are now part of my DNA; these are references I cannot leave out of consideration.
Actually when you think about it, even those cinematic references coming from my imprinting are enclosed, like the rest of the story, in a chinese box system. Besides the cinema from the 80’s and 90’s, I chose to include some references to the films those very directors took inspiration from and sometimes plagiarised, namely monster movies from the 50’s. Taking it to the extreme, as I did with every aspect of the short, I went even further, paying homage to Méliès himself.
Sometimes directors get asked to summarize in few words the style they’re aiming for. My answer, right from the start, was: “thinkRob Zombie doing stop-motion animation”. A coarse, wicked, sharp and sometimes repulsive style, which had to be recognizable in each aspect of the film.
But ofcourse I’m semplifying. If I think back to all the directors who inspired me, it might look like a meaningless list, and yet in Adam and Eve‘s world of opposites and extremes they make perfect sense to me: Carpenter, Cronenberg, Jackson, Spielberg, Selick, Park Chan-wook, Harryhausen, Quay, Svankmajer, Peter Lord and Aardman, Laika… they all influenced in a creative way the approach I chose for this short film, and its genesis.
The film shows extremely adult themes: phobia, alienation, family violence, unwanted pregnancy, despair. Yet all this is filtered through obvious irony: the handcrafted animation and the homages to the imaginary of American cinema make the film a “second level” experience. I personally find this ambiguity to be one of the strenghts of the project. But in your intent, should Adam and Eve be seen as pure entertainment, or taken more seriously?
This is one aspect of the “research” which I very humbly try to carry on with my work. One of he constants that can be found in everything I’ve done until now, from short films to music videos, from a pilot for a children TV show to the feature film I’m working on, is a search for the limit and the balance between two opposite extremes.
Using stop motion (which is often regarded as a technique for “children movies”) to tell an adult story, making an adult film about imprisonment, alienation and phobias with latex puppets, this is already a strong combination. To “cage” a real actor’s eyes inside the puppet, thus closing him within these narrow limits, to me is a further exaggeration of this concept. If you then imagine myself, the animator, stuck in strange positions and “prisoner” of a small dark room, the narrative gets really dizzying!
And what about the entertainment? Well, I’m not one of those who think cinema has the power to save the world, but it certainly makes it a little better. To me, films should not try to give answers, just to ask questions and create emotions. It you’re looking for important answers, you’d better get a ticket for the museum, rather than for the movie theatre.
According to this philosphy, Adam and Eve is of course to be taken as a visual experience and not just as an artistic research: I think the scenes in which I “physically” enter the main character’s brain to show his past. make it clear that it’s also meant to be a product of pure entertainment.
This short film must have been quite a training ground. Will you continue with animation? What are your future projects?
I am finishing my first live action feature film: here my personal research has evolved even further, as my movie is narratively and stylistically composed of an investigative report, a mockumentary and a more “traditional” film.
In the last few months I have been working on a TV animated puppet series for 5/6-years-old children, a project I very much believe in, and which gave me the opportunity to experiment with a different kind of animation.
As for stop motion, its “call” is very strong, despite the huge sacrifices that Adam and Eve demanded. One day I would love to be able to film my peculiar horror version of Peter Pan, or another small short film on Tesla and Edison.
A director’s work is often based on human interaction and mediation… I confess I sometimes miss being alone in my little dark room, moving my puppet’s head frame after frame!
Yesterday, at the age of 87, Herschell Gordon Lewis passed away.
This man remains an adorable, unique paradox. Clumsy director yet a crafty old devil, completely foreign to the elegance of images, who only ever made movies to scrape out a living. A man who unwillingly changed the history of cinema.
His intuition — even slightly accidental, according to the legend — was to understand B-movies had the task of filling, unveiling mainstream cinema’s ellipses: the key was to try and put inside the frame everything that, for moral or conventional reasons, was usually left off-screen.
A first example were nudies, those little flicks featuring ridiculous plots (if any), only meant to show some buttocks and breasts; a kind of rudimental sexploitation, not even aiming to be erotic. H. G. Lewis was the first to realize there was a second taboo besides nudity that was never being shown in “serious” movies, and on which he could try to cash in: violence, or better, its effects. The obscene view of blood, torn flesh, exposed guts.
In 1960 Hitchcock, in order to get Psycho through censorship, had to promise he would change the editing of the shower scene, because someone in the examination board thought he had seen a frame where the knife blade penetrated Janet Leigh’s skin. It doesn’t matter that Hitch never really re-edited the sequence, but presented it again a month later with no actual modification (and this time nobody saw anything outrageous): the story is nonetheless emblematic of Hays Code‘s impositions at the time.
Three years later, Lewis’ Blood Feast came out. An awfully bad movie, poorly directed and even more awkwardly acted. But its opening sequence was a bomb by itself: on the scene, a woman was stabbed in the eye, then the killer proceeded to dismember her in full details… all this, in a bathtub.
In your face, Sir Alfred.
Of course today even Lewis’ most hardcore scenes, heirs to the butcheries of Grand Guignol, seem laughable on the account of their naivety. It’s even hard to imagine splatter films were once a true genre, before gore became a language.
Explicit violence is today no more than an additional color in the director’s palette, an available option to knowingly choose among others: we find it anywhere, from crime stories to sci-fi, even in comedies. As blood has entered the cinematic lexicon, it is now a well-thought-out element, pondered and carefully weighed, sometimes aestheticised to the extremes of mannerism (I’m looking at you, Quentin).
But in order to get to this freedom, the gore genre had to be relegated for a long time to second and third-rank movies. To those bad, dirty, ugly films which couldn’t show less concern for the sociology of violence, or its symbolic meanings. Which, for that very same reason, were damn exciting in their own right.
“Blood Feast is like a Walt Whitman poem“, Lewis loved to repeat. “It’s no good, but it was the first of its type“.
Today, with the death of its godfather, we may declare the splatter genre finally filed and historicized.
But still, any time we are shocked by some brutal killing in the latest Game of Thrones episode, we should spare a thankful thought to this man, and that bucket of cheap offal he purchased just to make a bloody film.
New miscellanea of interesting links and bizarre facts.
There’s a group of Italian families who decided, several years ago, to try and live on top of the trees. In 2010 journalist Antonio Gregolin visited these mysterious “hermits” — actually not as reclusive as you might think —, penning a wonderful reportage on their arboreal village (text in Italian, but lots of amazing pics).
An interesting long read on disgust, on the cognitive biases it entails, and on how it could have played an essential role in the rise of morals, politics and laws — basically, in shaping human societies.
Are you ready for a travel in music, space and time? On this website you get to choose a country and a decade from 1900 to this day, and discover what were the biggest hits back in the time. Plan your trip/playlist on a virtual taxi picking unconceivably distant stops: you might start off from the first recordings of traditional chants in Tanzania, jump to Korean disco music from the Eighties, and reach some sweet Norwegian psychedelic pop from the Sixties. Warning, may cause addiction.
Speaking of time, it’s a real mystery why this crowdfunding campaign for the ultimate minimalist watch didn’t succeed. It would have made a perfect accessory for philosophers, and latecomers.
The last issue of Illustrati has an evocative title and theme, “Circles of light”. In my contribution, I tell the esoteric underground of Northern Italy in which I grew up: The Only Chakra.
During the terrible flooding that recently hit Louisiana, some coffins were seen floating down the streets. A surreal sight, but not totally surprising: here is my old post about Holt Cemetery in New Orleans, where from time to time human remains emerge from the ground.
In the Pelican State, you can always rely on traditional charms and gris-gris to avoid bad luck — even if by now they have become a tourist attraction: here are the five best shops to buy your voodoo paraphernalia in NOLA.
Those who follow my work have probably heard me talking about “dark wonder“, the idea that we need to give back to wonder its original dominance on darkness. A beautiful article on the philosophy of awe (Italian only) reiterates the concept: “the original astonishment, the thauma, is not always just a moment of grace, a positive feeling: it possesses a dimension of horror and anguish, felt by anyone who approaches an unknown reality, so different as to provoke turmoil and fear“.
Which are the oldest mummies in the world? The pharaohs of Egypt?
Wrong. Chinchorro mummies, found in the Atacama desert between Chile and Peru, are more ancient than the Egyptian ones. And not by a century or two: they are two thousand years older.
Some days ago Wu Ming 1 pointed me to an article appeared on The Atlantic about an imminent head transplant: actually, this is not recent news, as neurosurgeon from Turin Sergio Canavero has been a controversial figure for some years now. On Bizzarro Bazar I discussed the history of head transplants in an old article, and if I never talked about Canavero it’s because the whole story is really a bit suspect.
Let’s recap the situation: in 2013 Canavero caused some fuss in the scientific world by declaring that by 2017 he might be able to perform a human head transplant (or, better, a body transplant). His project, named HEAVEN/Gemini (Head Anastomosis Venture with Cord Fusion), aims to overcome the difficulties in reconnecting the spinal chord by using some fusogenic “glues” such as polyethylene glycol (PEG) or chitosan to induce merging between the donor’s and the receiver’s cells. This means we would be able to provide a new, healthier body to people who are dying of any kind of illness (with the obvious exception of cerebral pathologies).
As he was not taken seriously, Canavero gave it another try at the beginning of 2015, announcing shortly thereafter that he found a volunteer for his complex surgical procedure, thirty-year-old Russian Valery Spiridonov who is suffering from an incurable genetic disease. The scientific community, once again, labeled his theories as baseless, dangerousscience fiction: it’s true that transplant technology dramatically improved during the last few years, but according to the experts we are still far from being able to attempt such an endeavour on a human being — not to mention, of course, the ethical issues.
At the beginning of this year, Canavero announced he has made some progress: he claimed he successfully tested his procedure on mice and even on a monkey, with the support of a Chinese team, and leaked a video and some controversial photos.
As can be easily understood, the story is far from limpid. Canavero is progressively distancing himself from the scientific community, and seems to be especially bothered by the peer-review system not allowing him (shoot!) to publish his research without it first being evaluated and examined; even the announcement of his experiments on mice and monkeys was not backed up by any published paper. Basically, Canavero has proved to be very skillful in creating a media hype (popularizing his advanced techinque on TV, in the papers and even a couple of TEDx talks with the aid of… some picturesque and oh-so-very-Italian spaghetti), and in time he was able to build for himself the character of an eccentric and slightly crazy genius, a visionary Frankenstein who might really have found a cure-all remedy — if only his dull collegues would listen to him. At the same time he appears to be uncomfortable with scientific professional ethics, and prefers to keep calling out for “private philantropists” of the world, looking for some patron who is willing to provide the 12.5 millions needed to give his cutting-edge experiment a try.
In conclusion, looking at all this, it is hard not to think of some similar, well-known incidents. But never say never: we will wait for the next episode, and in the meantime…
…why not (re)watch The Thing With Two Heads (1972), directed by exploitation genius Lee Frost?
This trashy little gem feature the tragicomic adventures of a rich and racist surgeon — played by Ray Milland, at this point already going through a low phase in his career — who is terminally ill and therefore elaborates a complex scheme to have his head transplanted on a healthy body; but he ends waking up attached to the shoulder of an African American man from death row, determined to prove his own innocence. Car chases, cheesy gags and nonsense situations make for one of the weirdest flicks ever.
Lost Property (2014) is a short movie directed by Åsa Lucander, a London-based Finnish illustrator.
It tells the surreal story of an old lady who enters the Lost Property Office every day, eager to retrieve something she has lost; but, for some reason, the office worker doesn’t seem to be able to find the stuff the woman is looking for.
Dealing with the theme of loss, this poetic short delicately leads us towards an unexpected, touching conclusion.
Jan Švankmajer secured his place in the pantheon of animation, and is now rightfully celebrated as one of the greatest innovators in the art of stop motion. Since the 60s, his work influenced countless directors, from Brothers Quay to Terry Gilliam, from Henry Selick to Tim Burton and, in Italy, Stefano Bessoni.
If you are still not familiar with Švankmajer’s works, it is never too late. This post is a very brief introduction to the surreal inventions of an extraordinary author.
His many short films and six feature-lenght movies (the best known being a macabre adaptation of Alice) build a pareticularly dark and unsettling view of the world, where animate objects seem to often fight each other to death and, on the other hand, human beings have bodies capable of sudden, uncanny transformations; there is no certainty, in this tragic and mocking universe, no real hope.
Below you can watch the second episode of Dimensions of dialogue (Možnosti dialogu, 1982), a short film divided in three sections. Erotic desire, with its animal-like poetry, gives birth to something that none of the two lovers had envisioned: an unwanted feeling, perhaps, which demands attention and care. The cruelty exploding in the second part is the bitter twist in human relationships, the pain we sometimes inflict to each other. And the abstract quality of the scene makes it a universal symbol, as if this wasn’t simply the story of a woman and a man, but any couple’s inevitable curve trend.
Food and the act of eating, in Švankmajer’s works, play a fundamental role. Like sex and evacuation, it is what reminds us that we are beasts. The director makes use of this in a satyrical way, to depict a humanity in the grip of brutal instincts, beyond class differences and any superstructure. The short film Food (Jídlo, 1992) is once again devided in three episodes; in the middle section, Lunch, the two dining companions know no dimension other than excruciating hunger. But their social class is different, and in the end the bourgeois business man, with a sly trick, will overcome the vagabond.
The cynicism of the animator from Prague especially arises in his stunning Meat Love (Zamilované maso, 1988), an ironic take on the concepts of vanitas and memento mori.
Even today, aged 81, Švankmajer has no intention to retire, and keeps on working tirelessly. His next feature film, Insects (Hmyz), is due to be released next year.
Il 2 gennaio, all’età di 56 anni si è spento Mike Vraney. Sicuramente il suo nome non vi dirà molto, ma questo eterno adolescente dall’entusiasmo senza freni è stato il fondatore della Something Weird, una distribuzione home video che ha cambiato a suo modo la storia del cinema. Giusto per chiarire, se non fosse per lui l’ormai celebratissima pin-up Bettie Page e il padrino del goreHerschell G. Lewis non sarebbero forse oggi così sconosciuti.
Mike aveva una missione: scovare, distribuire e rendere noti al pubblico tutti quei film a bassissimo budget, prodotti in maniera oscura, che rischiano di venire dimenticati come spazzatura. Collezionava in modo ossessivo film assurdi, weird, talmente folli o brutti da possedere un innegabile potere di seduzione: le pellicole, insomma, in cui le ristrettezze economiche o l’incompetenza della troupe rendono comici e stranamente poetici tutti quegli errori che in un film mainstream non potremmo mai tollerare.
I produttori di questi film spesso li tenevano chiusi nel casssetto, ritenendoli ringuardabili e invendibili. Vraney, scandagliando i loro archivi, scovava le “perle” nascoste, e comprava i negativi, di cui essi erano ben lieti di sbarazzarsi.
Poi, spiazzando tutti, ci faceva i soldi: per questo motivo era stato soprannominato affettuosamente “il quarantunesimo ladrone”.
Il suo business funzionava proprio perché era lui stesso in prima persona un fan sfegatato di tutto ciò che di bizzarro il cinema di serie B o Z è riuscito a sfornare. Il catalogo della Something Weird propone al pubblico una gamma sorprendente di “filoni” e generi di cui pochi, anche fra i cinefili più smaliziati, avevano sentito parlare prima che Vraney li distribuisse. Vi si trovano enfatici filmati “educativi” anni ’50 sui pericoli della strada (che talvolta erano degli splatter ante litteram), e sugli esagerati e irrealistici danni della marijuana o del sesso; i nudies cuties, film di inzio anni ’60 che con il pretesto di una striminzita trama proponevano i primi, scandalosi (per l’epoca) nudi femminili; introvabili e rari loop erotici/striptease dell’era del proibizionismo, fra cui appunto quelli di Bettie Page; film pensati per i bambini, ma per un motivo o per l’altro risultati completamente distorti e angoscianti; peplum con scenografie da recita scolastica; spaghetti-western messicaneggianti ridicoli e raffazzonati; i primi film della storia a rappresentare il “terzo sesso” (l’omosessualità), con tutte le ingenuità che ci si può aspettare; e, ancora, cartoni animati svalvolati, detective privati guardoni, assassini pazzoidi più pericolosi per il loro overacting che per la crudeltà, film celebri reinterpretati da un cast interamente di colore, e tutta una galassia di seni, culi, melodrammi, pubblicità ambigue, film di guerra e di avventura senza guerre né avventure (sempre per motivi di budget).
Le proposte editoriali della Something Weird sono talvolta uno spasso già dal titolo. Eccone alcuni: The Secret Sex Lives Of Romeo And Juliet (Le segrete vite sessuali di Romeo E Giulietta) Fire Monsters Vs. The Son Of Hercules (I Mostri del Fuoco contro il Figlio di Ercole) Masked Man Against The Pirates (L’Uomo Mascherato contro i Pirati) Superargo Vs. The Faceless Giants (Superargo contro i Giganti Senza Volto) Diary Of A Nudist (Il Diario di una Nudista) Adult Version of Jeckyll & Hyde (La versione adulta di Jeckyll & Hyde) The Fabulous Bastard From Chicago (Il Favoloso Bastardo di Chicago)
Il cinema, si sa, è un’arte che si mescola e si confonde con l’industria: con buona pace di chi sbraita che i film dovrebbero essere questo o quello, sia i blockbuster di Michael Bay che gli esperimenti di Guy Debord sono cinema. E allora, se qualcosa ci insegna la meticolosa ricerca di Vraney, è che si possono trovare delle piccole pepite anche nell’immensa “fogna” dei film di consumo, quelli che un tempo venivano girati esclusivamente a fini economici, senza alcuna aspirazione artistica… ma che offrono di sicuro almeno una sana risata se non proprio, in rari casi, qualche breve e fulminea illuminazione. E ci fanno riflettere su quanto complessa e variegata sia stata nell’ultimo secolo la produzione cinematografica, e sul patrimonio che andrebbe completamente perduto in assenza di persone come Mike.
Il Cinema, pensatelo che arriva da voi a bordo di un fuoristrada ammaccato e impolverato; dopo una giornata di sudore e fatica, immaginate che il Film vi attenda nel fresco della notte, quando le ombre sono calate, per raccontarvi storie di eroi e terribili pericoli.
Negli anni ’80, in Ghana, non era facile andare al cinema. La corrente elettrica era ancora poco diffusa, e per questo motivo le sale di proiezione si trovavano soltanto nei grossi centri. Per chi viveva nei villaggi, muoversi per raggiungere il cinema avrebbe comportato una spesa impossibile.
Ma con l’arrivo del videoregistratore, le cose cambiarono. I proprietari dei cinema decisero di portare i film in giro per il paese, per massimizzare i profitti. Nelle piccole comunità rurali cominciarono ad arrivare, dalla capitale Accra, i cosiddetti “cinema mobili”: si trattava in realtà molto spesso di un semplice televisore, a cui era collegato un videoregistratore; il tutto era supportato da un vecchio e rumoroso generatore. In altri casi i cinema mobili erano organizzati un po’ meglio, con un videoproiettore e un minischermo che veniva drizzato sulla stessa automobile scassata su cui viaggiavano i proiezionisti.
Tutta la gente del paese, dopo una dura giornata di lavoro nei campi, poteva finalmente raggrupparsi e passare un paio d’ore di divertimento assistendo a spettacoli provenienti da Hollywood, ma non solo. Venivano proposti anche film di kung fu e arti marziali, così come gli ultimi successi di Nollywood (l’industria cinematografica nigeriana).
I proprietari dei cinema artigianali che attraversavano il Ghana in lungo e in largo avevano però un problema: l’autopromozione. Ovviamente, non facendo parte di un circuito di distribuzione ufficiale, non avevano a disposizione alcuna locandina con cui pubblicizzare i loro film. Così i “boss” del cinema mobile ghanese cominciarono ad appoggiarsi ad artisti locali, per prodursi da soli i loro poster.
Si trattava di locandine realizzate a mano – spesso su ritagli di tela provenienti dai sacchi di farina: opere uniche, che venivano religiosamente avvolte e riutilizzate infinite volte, in ogni paesino, villaggio o centro abitato per promuovere la proiezione del film, finché non erano completamente distrutte.
Gli artisti che dipingevano queste locandine non sempre avevano visto il film in questione. Si basavano quindi sul titolo e sulle immagini che suggeriva, tiravano insomma a indovinare cosa potesse succedere nella pellicola; oppure cercavano di ricopiare le locandine occidentali inserendovi però elementi che avessero un certo appeal per il pubblico ghanese. Questo risulta in un effetto spiazzante, per chi conosce i film in questione, perché nelle locandine si riconoscono inesattezze, dettagli inventati e situazioni che non c’entrano assolutamente nulla con la vera trama.
Un’altra caratteristica peculiare di questi poster cinematografici è la mescolanza di alcuni tratti palesemente africani con molte altre influenze, come ad esempio alcuni accenni cubisti o surrealisti. Alcuni di questi pittori, infatti, provenivano da scuole d’arte in cui avevano ricevuto un’educazione più o meno formale e, nonostante sbarcassero il lunario in questo modo, provavano ad inserire elementi più “raffinati” per far mostra del loro stile. Laddove i poster hollywoodiani, per risaltare nell’abbondanza dell’offerta, miravano alla sinteticità e al design accattivante che sottolineasse i volti delle star, i pittori ghanesi si concentravano invece sulla spettacolarità della scena epica, sullo shock della crudeltà, sul dettaglio macabro in grado di impressionare grandi e piccini.
Alla fine degli anni ’90 le televisioni e i videoregistratori calarono di prezzo, e sempre più famiglie ghanesi furono in grado di acquistare la propria postazione TV; così i cinema mobili sparirono a poco a poco, e con loro questi manifesti folkloristici che perfino Walter Hill dichiarò “spesso più interessanti dei film stessi”. Oggi le locandine ghanesi sono molto ricercate dai collezionisti d’arte popolare africana – tanto che alcuni artisti continuano a produrle anche per i film più moderni.
Quello che affascina in questi poster è innanzitutto il loro gusto kitsch e infantile, che di primo acchito ci sorprende e ci diverte, particolarmente oggi che siamo consumatori smaliziati ed iperimbottiti di blockbuster ed effetti speciali roboanti. Ma ad un secondo livello è impossibile non avvertire, di fronte a queste locandine, una piccola punta di nostalgia: sembrano parlarci di un’innocenza ormai perduta, quell’incanto primitivo delle immagini in movimento, il terrore e la meraviglia che ci si aspetta da un film d’avventura.
Lo confessiamo. Anche a noi è capitato, tanti anni fa – in ragione della nostra allora giovane età? o perché erano diversi “i tempi”? – di provare un lungo brivido di trepidazione di fronte a una locandina che prometteva emozioni forti. Forse quello che ci commuove in questi poster è proprio il riconoscere quel tipo di ingenuità che ci permetteva (e permette ancora, di tanto in tanto) di vivere il cinema come un viaggio immaginario, una favola, un sogno costellato di suggestive emozioni.
Falk Peplinski è l’autore di questo cortometraggio documentario che narra la quotidianità del dentista Pushkar e del suo maestro Pyara Singh, che operano nei pressi della stazione ferroviaria di Jaipur. Nonostante il tono ironico, questo breve (ma intenso!) filmato vuole essere una dichiarazione d’amore per l’India, paese in cui tutto può succedere…