ponedjeljak, 20. kolovoza 2012.

Carmelo Bene - ikonoklast koji je šokirao Italiju

Carmelo Bene (1937 – 2002) talijanski književnik, glumac, scenarist i režiser. Parodija i apoteoza histrionske glume. Fantazmagorični kaleidoskop noćnih mora. Peter Greenaway, Kenneth Anger i Derek Jarman u jednoj osobi.

Nostra Signora dei Turchi (1968):

Our Lady of the Turks (Nostra Signora dei Turchi)
Directed by Carmelo Bene. With Carmelo Bene, Lydia Mancinelli, Anita Masini
Italy 1968, 35mm, color, 124 min. Italian with English subtitles
Bene’s first feature film is an adaptation of his novel of the same name, published in 1966 and subsequently transferred to the stage. Bene himself compared the book to Huysmans’ À rebours, which catalogues the manias of a decadent aesthete. In Bene’s case, the protagonist’s obsessions are obscurely derived from the invasion of the southern coastal town of Otranto by Turkish forces. The character (or perhaps characters) played by Bene is haunted by visitations from Saint Margaret, to which he reacts, variously, with panic, ardor and erotic attraction. In keeping with Bene’s aesthetic of interruption and amputation, dramatic action and narrative threads are waylaid and eventually dropped. The film is a savage send-up of the weight of history and the ridiculous importance of the self.

Capricci (1969):



Directed by Carmelo Bene. With Anne Wiazemsky, Carmelo Bene, Tonino Caputo
Italy 1969, 35mm, color, 81 min. Italian with English subtitles
Capricci is a very loose adaptation of the Elizabethan play Arden of Faversham, about a woman who plots with her lover to kill her husband. Bene’s version overflows with allusions—to the paintings of de Chirico and Morandi, and the classics of Italian opera (La traviata, I Pagliacci and La boheme), and a lengthy citation from Roland Barthes’ Mythologies. What emerges is something like a Beckettian commedia dell’arte: a series of sketches with a large cast of broadly characterized artists, prostitutes, cuckolds and hit men engaged in ceaseless, frantic and fruitless plots and counterplots, always at cross purposes. Ultimately, the caprices of the title turn out to be the glorious uselessness of art and the pleasures and discontents of sins of the flesh.


Salomè (1972):


Directed by Carmelo Bene. With Donyale Luna, Carmelo Bene, Veruschka
Italy 1972, 35mm, color, 74 min. Italian with English subtitles
Salomé is perhaps Bene’s most accessible work; on at least one occasion, he called it his best film. Derived from Oscar Wilde’s play, it tells the Biblical story of Herod, Salomé and John the Baptist with occasional slight detours, including a rather blasphemous “Last Supper.” The film is an eye-popping visual feast; Bene himself referred to Salomé’s art direction as “total kitsch.” The sets and costumes are covered with Day-Glo paint and festooned with feathers and elaborate jewelry, sequins and baubles, all edited into a frenzied montage, with few shots lasting more than a second or two. The cast features a gallery of grotesques to rival Kenneth Anger’s Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome.

Don Giovanni (1971):

 Don Giovanni

Directed by Carmelo Bene. With Carmelo Bene, Lydia Mancinelli, Gea Marotta
Italy 1971, 35mm, b/w and color, 73 min. Italian with English subtitles
Although this Don Giovanni includes snippets of the music from Mozart’s opera of the same name, the film is not a staging of the opera but rather a radical re-working of the Don Juan legend. After a prologue that alludes to the many conquests of Don Juan, the rest of the film concentrates on a peculiar kind of love triangle, in which the mother of a young girl competes with the Don for her daughter’s attention. Bene’s Don Giovanni could be considered a “queer” film, mounting as it does a satiric attack on several of the institutions of modern sexuality: binary gender difference, the nuclear family, the machismo of male sexual prowess, and the Oedipal complex itself.

Un Amletto di meno (1973):

One Hamlet Less (Un Amleto di meno)

Directed by Carmelo Bene. With Carmelo Bene, Lydia Mancinelli, Alfiero Vincenti
Italy 1973, 35mm, color, 68 min. Italian with English subtitles
Bene’s version of Hamlet celebrates the power and beauty of Shakespeare’s theatricality, while attempting to strip the piece of the morbid piety that has come to cling to it over the centuries. The film radically condenses most of the action of the play and further deforms the text: lines are repeated; original passages inserted; the “To be or not to be” soliloquy is not delivered by Hamlet but read – in an extremely abbreviated version – by Horatio; Polonius quotes Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams. This film then is perhaps the best example of what Bene called his aesthetic/strategy of contestation. Bene also incorporates a critique of the play’s sexual politics: the male characters sport elaborate and even ludicrous costumes, while the women wear outfits that reveal more than they cover.


Directed by Carmelo Bene. With Carmelo Bene, Lydia Mancinelli
Italy 1968, 35mm, color, 24 min. Italian with English subtitles
Bene’s first film is this short, which features Bene himself feverishly pacing in a suite at Rome’s Hotel Hermitage, until the arrival of an unknown woman disrupts his private rituals.



"The filmmaking career of Carmelo Bene (1937 - 2002) lasted from 1968 to 1973, six years out of a lengthy time spent in the theater that made Bene one of the most celebrated figures of the Italian avant-garde in the second half of the 20th century.
Bene first made a name for himself with a controversial production of Camus’ Caligula in Rome in 1959. Subsequent productions retained this sense of notoriety, and Bene (like Pasolini) quickly acquired a police record. Bene, however, would come to bemoan the controversy his work created, because it attracted an audience looking for shocks and titillation, while he himself was more concerned with reinventing the vocabulary of the theater: sets, gestures, texts.
Bene’s turn to cinema expanded that quest to reinvent. His films resist synopsis because, although they are often derived from narrative sources, Bene uses these sources against themselves and as a springboard for his critique of the stultifying traps of representation and interpretation. The films are wildly inventive and visually arresting on several levels: the performance styles of his actors, including eccentric movements, gestures and grimaces; the sets, costumes and makeup; the editing; and the use of the camera, with stable shots regularly punctuated by handheld camera work, extreme close ups and the occasional baroque use of zooms, dollies, cranes, elaborate pans and exaggerated camera angles. They resemble something like the work of Jack Smith crossed with the experimental Pasolini of Teorema and Pigsty.
One constant feature of Bene’s work is its satire of heterosexuality. The two sexes keep trying to communicate with each other, but always fail to do so. Bene’s work constantly deflates masculinist pretenses at mastery: his male characters tend to be hapless and often hysterical, while his female characters are alternately predatory and remote, and unknowable in either case. But this satire is merely the most visible form of Bene’s revolt against convention and communication. Over and over again in the films, everyday actions become hopelessly complicated or endlessly interrupted. His characters often end up staring quizzically offscreen or even into mirrors, as if they were no more sure than we are of the meaning of what they see. Indeed, identity and by extension agency seem to get suspended, along with meaning. What is left is glorious spectacle and enigmas for the eyes and ears: endless music; babbling, stuttering text; excessive and exciting images" - Harvard Film Archive

"The enfant terrible of Italian stage and screen, actor-director-writer Carmelo Bene, who has died aged 64, shared the distinction with Dario Fo of being a theatrical artist who also became a literary phenomenon. Though most of his writings were for the theatre and cinema, he also published several novels and two autobiographies - one in 1983 entitled, somewhat brazenly, Sono Apparso Alla Madonna (I Appeared To The Madonna).
Eccentric and gifted, Bene was undoubtedly the greatest guitto (barnstormer) of the contemporary Italian stage - a term that he relished. He succeeded in parodying the Italian histrionic acting tradition, as well as being its apotheosis. In the theatre his model was Artaud's Theatre of Cruelty, while the moderns he respected most in literature and painting were Joyce and Francis Bacon. In the cinema he had little sympathy for film-making after Buster Keaton and Eisenstein, though he once confessed to liking Godard's Pierrot Le Fou.
Bene was born at Campi Salentina, just north of Lecce, a city where baroque architecture sits side by side with religious kitsch. A precocious, narcissistic temperament led him towards the acting profession, but he did not last long at the National Academy of Dramatic Art in Rome.
Instead, with a director friend he set up a company and they succeeded in convincing Albert Camus to give them the rights (without payment) to Caligula. The production opened in Rome in 1959, and Carmelo shone in the title role. The next year he restaged Caligula himself, moving closer to his future iconoclastic style.
He soon became a subject for scandal when, at a small cellar theatre club in Rome, the police stopped the performances of his "play", Christ '63, and accused those involved of obscenity, the Church's pretext for halting anything smelling of blasphemy.
From then onwards, though his revolution was more aesthetic than political, he was adopted as a cause by the militant dissenters of the 60s. Even so, only a handful of critics understood his work, and audiences were small. Among his first, and most memorable, productions were disarmingly anachronistic versions of Manon Lescaut and Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi, as well as very personal interpretations of Pinocchio and Hamlet, a text that he repeatedly returned to.
His Hamlet was more inspired by the French surrealist poet Jules Laforgue than by Shakespeare, and he was to do five different versions of it on stage, plus a film feature in 1973, Un Amleto di Meno (One Hamlet Less), and a definitively ironical version in 1987, which he called Hommelette For Hamlet.
Bene made five cinema features between 1968 and 1973, the most notable of which was the first, based on his novel and play Nostra Signora Dei Turchi (Our Lady Of The Turks), inspired by his childhood memories of Otranto, the port south of Lecce. On stage, and also on screen, he created a phantasmagorical kaleidoscope of sound and colour, expressing a nightmare vision of what happened in August 1480 when the Turkish fleet invaded Otranto and massacred 800 of the inhabitants. It was a remarkable example of avant-garde cinema, even if the Sight and Sound critic reported that "it made no sense whatever".
Though Bene's film is more Mediterranean and less cerebral, his closest parallel in cinema is Peter Greenaway. However, though its one homoerotic scene probably would not impress a gay audience, this and other Bene films could also figure well beside the works of Kenneth Anger or Derek Jarman, not to mention Pasolini (in whose Oedipus Rex of 1967 he played Creon).
Bene won his most deserved accolades from Italian and French critics in 1979 with a sumptuously staged and passionately declaimed version of Othello. That same year he also did a memorable concert performance of Byron's Manfred with Schumann's music, first at La Scala and then on a summer night in the ruins of Rome's Basilica of Maxentius. In this, as in his many poetry concerts, he proved that when well supported by electronics, the human voice could be "played" like a musical instrument.
Afflicted with almost every illness in the medical books, and obliged to have four by-pass operations in the late 1980s (repeated in 2000), he reappeared in public in 1994 as the sole guest of Italian commercial TV's most popular late-night talk show. He held his own for two hours against the onslaught of a sceptical but bemused audience.
On returning to the stage, he was given almost institutional recognition. He was even the Christmas attraction in December 1999 at Rome's major theatre, the Argentina, with a new version of Pinocchio, which combined the charm of the old teasing Carmelo with the brilliance of modern technology." - John Francis Lane 

Cinema As Embodiment Art: Close Up on Carmelo Bene’s Cinema, Ten Years After His Death

by Gianluca Pulsoni

Carmelo Bene: actor, playwright, novelist, poet, filmmaker, singer, musician, essayist, theorist; several fields on one unfinished quest, both interdisciplinary and undisciplined. Born in 1937, died in 2002, he came to theatre in 1959 to progressively become the last contemporary example of an Italian total artist, considered a genius by all sorts of critics, compared not only to Pasolini but even to Leopardi or Verdi.
Bene is immediately recognised in France, thanks to philosophers such as Gilles Deleuze or Pierre Klossowski and their analysis of his theories and masterpieces. In the UK, North America and other English-speaking countries, he is known for his cinematic research despite a generally incomplete knowledge of the essential body of his work, which remains theatre.
Today, the almost regular circulation of Bene's short and full-length films has clearly revealed him as possessing a rare experimental attitude and, undoubtedly, qualified him as a master, amongst the most prominent underground filmmakers to have emerged from Italy.
In this article, I refer only to his cinema and, specifically, to three of his works which - I think - depict the essence of my thesis. Instead of aesthetical viewpoints, I suggest a culturally-based approach and choose the paradigm of 'embodiment', as explained by anthropologist Thomas Csordas, to correctly introduce and outline his cinematic research and results, an approriate outlook from which to appreciate his radical and sophisticated contribution to modern film practice.

The cinema allows us to see the process of the penetration of man into the world and the inseparable process of the penetration of the world into man.
Edgar Morin.
L'incarnation! Ce n'est pas cela qui nous intéresse ici! Mais de savoir tout ce dont un soufflé privé de corps est capable pour contrefaire jusqu'à cette affligeante forme: serait-ce sa félicité qui se produirait ainsi sous nos yeux ou bien serait-ce une jouissance encore bestiale dès lors qu'un esprit se la procureait?
Pierre Klossowski.
The corpus of Carmelo Bene's cinematic works is composed of five movies, Our Lady of the Turks (Nostra Signora dei Turchi, 1968), Capricci (1969), Don Giovanni (1970), Salomè (1972), One Hamlet Less (Un Amleto di Meno, 1973); three medium length films, Hermitage (1967), Il Barocco Leccese (1968) and Ventriloquio (1970), the last two of which are apparently lost, and a documentary that remains unseen, A proposito di "Arden of Feversham" (1968). All these works are directed by him and feature him as a performer. They all display a marked degree of independence and autonomy, both in their production circumstances and creative vision, and generallly exemplify what a radical approach to exploring film aesthetics and techniques can ideally be: a way to disclose new possibilities for thinking and doing cinema.
Unaffiliated to any movement or artistic group and not holding to any theory of authorship, Bene's iconoclastic research still appears isolated in film history and practice, comparable perhaps to only a few others, like Chris Marker or Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci-Lucchi, whose efforts also conceive of film as fieldwork and cinema as dialogue between cinematic language and other disciplines or tendencies.
In his autobiography (published in 1998) Vita di Carmelo Bene, he called his filmmaking experience between '67 and '73 his "cinematic digression". What does this mean? At first reading, that it was just a period in his work, one probably brought about by a historical situation which encouraged and allowed artists to cross arts boundaries easily and re-frame aesthetical issues constantly. But there is more to it than that. As he theorized digression in his late works, especially in his late poetry, this definition - 'cinematic digression' - may be translated as synonymous with meditation, or suspension, or even with a phenomenological viewpoint. Also, undoubtedly, it describes a central and meaningful passage, a kind of technological turn in his career and research. In those years - from 1967/68 to 1973 - Carmelo Bene left his first experiences of the stage, begun in 1959 playing Camus' Caligola in Rome, and approached movies, determined to test the magic of image technology as related to performing practices.
Hermitage, defined by Bene as "a rehearsal for lenses", beyond any literal rendition - its narrative trace comes from one of his anti-novels, Credito Italiano V.E.R.D.I - displays his immediate attitude to thinking a cinematic language completely based on actor's movements and actions, and more specifically, on his presence and his schemes. Camouflaged or naked, still or moving, his body seems to play and be played at the same time, shifted by objective and subjective tensions, both metaphorically and visually speaking.
Bene had often argued how an actor should always be a "human lens". To better understand such critical and operative thinking, we may refer to one of the earliest and most intriguing television interviews he did, which is relevant in attesting to his genuine interest in some expressive filmic qualities discovered through the experience of Buster Keaton and his slapstick comedy. He considered the American as a kind of "human wide-angle" in film history, against "chaplinism", which describes the conventional way of playing and displaying feelings. In the conversation, after a preamble where the interviewer recaps the logic of Keaton's general narrative structures, we hear Bene arguing for Keaton's incongruity and view of reality, both seen as ways to challenge society. Also, in his replies, he masterfully outlines some underlying principles which lead to his never formalized film theory on directing and playing. I collected, re-ordered and translated the relevant passages:
...It's an anti-Chaplin formula. An uncritical formula, that's because you can talk about formulas, not forms [...]. If you like, you may say it's a 'stirnerian way': neither positive nor negative hero, no good and evil, this world does not exist, at least it doesn't exist as us, so we are not this reality, but also only we exist, so that we are the unique reality upon an Earth - imagine it spherical, round, conceived by Columbus - completely soaped where you slip and slip and slip, continually. Sometimes, someone can manage to stay in a state of equilibrium - as Keaton does, et voilà - and suddenly everything falls into place. You may say ability. Of course, but what is it for? He does it to prove it's possible to be crafty, that means Chaplin, but only if you're interested in success or money. [...] Keaton finds you can't lose or win, there are no friends or enemies and we are never born yet. This is the issue. Even when he's close to reality, he only gets stuck in a reality.
Moreover, about the approach to being both director and actor at the same time:
...Keaton is in front of the camera when he plays as if he was behind it. In this sense, he's a 9mm, a 25mm, a 400mm, a telephoto lens, a ‘fish-eye', a human wide-angle [...]. But Keaton is not the first who was behind and beyond the camera: there's Welles, the phenomenon Orson Welles and the phenomenon Laurence Olivier, but just to be clear [...] In Olivier, it's a reality which films another reality, so it is not the same reality behind the camera which crosses the line to auto-criticize itself from there. I mean, it's something filmed, but not filming itself anymore. [...] There's no dialectic, no objectivity: since they are not 'human wide-angles', they aren't lenses, so they miss any objectivity [1]
Our Lady of the Turks
Our Lady of the Turks
Our Lady of the Turks pursues and emphasizes the study of human body, from a formalistic and quite static viewpoint to a more complete and fascinating exploration, where it seems to be conceived according to the famous French philosopher Merleau-Ponty's formula, "setting in relation to the world".
Whether celebrated as a poem, visionary and autobiographical, or even as an essay on South Italian geography and its myths, magic and religion, it can be considered a rare masterpiece for how perfectly its outstanding visual qualities match a complex framework, focused on both a lyrical and humorous anti-linear narrative and on a marked technical discontinuity of traditional filmmaking. But what makes a difference here, I guess, is the efficacy with which Bene approaches such thematic and stylistic challenges all-in-one, as both author and actor, shaman and patient of his own imaginary.
Once again, comprehension of body becomes essential. The theatrical side of Bene comes from the well-known revolutionary French artist Antonin Artaud. Like the Italian, he worked between theatre and cinema and was the first to understand the relevance and necessity of an approach to body as a new paradigm for a complete filmic and theatrical renovation, against any form of text dictatorship.
Artaud theorized the 'theatre of cruelty', but this definition is often misunderstood. 'Cruelty' refers to method and simply stands for a rigorous attitude towards theatrical practice and artistic matters. In his last writings, he expanded this outlook by focusing on the idea of the 'body without organs', another of his influential topics and more a philosophical category than a staging guideline. Cruelty and body without organs are strictly related in artaudian metaphysics, as one gives method and the other gives content. They are two sides of the same process, where practice is literally more relevant than any product and the doer fatally more artistic or just more 'living' than any work. Two decisive understandings Bene reprised and transformed, as both author and actor of his own works.
In Our Lady of the Turks, within an evident baroque imagery, Bene displays a paradoxical stylistic rigour - his 'cruelty' - based on a continuous dialectic between epic and ridicule as principles used to avoid risks of fixed forms and suggests how the immortality of body the film narrates - his 'body without organs' - is given by collapsing boundaries between filmic techniques and theatrical approaches to avoid the risk of fixed viewpoints. Thus the impression of a complex and rich system of textures this movie gives is undoubtedly true and extremely fascinating, but lies, literally, on its surface, far from the inner sense of this operation. This is chiefly methodological and seems geared towards creating a distance from any theory of authorship,  as well as emphasizing its difference from old and new avant-gardes, through a distinctive attention to form conceived by Bene not as an aesthetic goal to achieve but as a momentary tension to perform and beat.
In The Time Image, Gilles Deleuze pointed out the framework of Bene's films, paralleled with Antonioni's due to theoretical similarities in the conception of time, and analyzed them as theatrical ceremonies where subject is constantly subjected to various schemes, from liturgy to parody. The relevance of these rituals primarily proves how the body is also culturally thought, within what sociologists use to define as habitus:
[A] principle generating and unifying all practices, the system of inseparably cognitive and evaluative structures which organizes the vision of the world in accordance with the objective structures of a determinate state of the social world: this principle is nothing other than the socially informed body, with its tastes and distastes, its compulsions and repulsions, with, in a word, all its senses, that is to say, not only the traditional five senses - which never escape the structuring action of social determinisms - but also the sense of necessity and the sense of duty, the sense of direction and the sense of reality, the sense of balance and the sense of beauty, common sense and the sense of sacred, tactical sense and the sense of responsibility, business sense and the sense of propriety, the sense of humor and the sense of absurdity, moral sense and the sense of practicality, and so on. [2]
Don Giovanni is what may be called an exception in Bene's movies, since it is the only feature film to be entirely conceived for cinema, whereas the others also had stage versions. Filmed in his house in Rome, played by four 'figures' or 'situations' (some of his famous statements about the dramatis personae he used define the actor and character as figure and situation), Don Giovanni is a powerful effort that indicates the other main concept, beside habitus, we may relate to his unsystematic theory of film: perception.
Vaguely inspired by a tale by French writer Barbey D'Aurevilly, it unconventionally depicts a triangle between Don Giovanni, a woman and her daughter, where sight is conceived as the exclusive source of action throughout the movie, from strategies of seduction to mechanisms of perversion.
But what is a sight that is related to seduction or perversion? It's essentially a sight related to its origins, the human face conceived as 'soul mirror', otherwise identified with its inner consequences, desire or pleasure, both understandings that were already theorized in Stilnovism and Romanticism. I suggest that what Bene offers in Don Giovanni is an additional meaning, focusing on what sight exercises, in neither an aesthetical nor emotional way, but in a phenomenological vision, perception. In this case, perception leads to a state of indeterminacy of things.
Don Giovanni
Don Giovanni
So, if perception is the leading quality in sight, indeterminacy is the result of a perception that collapses any boundaries between objectivity and subjectivity. Perception still exists, the world still persists, but they start floating and overlapping. Perception as world, world as perception: in such passage consciousness, sight and body are conceivable as the same force which seems to coincide with the act of seeing:
consciousness projects itself into a physical world and has a body, as it projects itself into a cultural world and has its habits: because it cannot be consciousness without playing upon significances given either in the absolute past of nature or in its own personal past, and because any form of lived experience tends toward a certain generality whether that of our habits or that of our bodily functions [3]
Merleau-Ponty defined more radically the concept of perception by arguing how it paradoxically ends in objects since it is always richer and more indeterminate than the physical world itself, which is a secondary effect of reflective thinking. So, to understand perception means for him to introduce another essential concept such as pre-objectivity, which explains the way the process of objectification conducts to a pre-abstract condition, characterized by a self-perception into an embodied world and a perception of the world into an embodied self.
Anterior to conventional means of expression, which reveal my thoughts to others only because already, for both myself and them, meanings are provided for each sign, and which in this sense do not give rise to genuine communication at all, we must... recognize a primary process of signification in which the thing expressed does not exist apart from the expression, and in which the signs themselves induce their significance externally... This incarnate significance is the central phenomenon of which body and mind, sign and significance are abstract moments [4]
In Don Giovanni such a unity between expression and thing expressed is given by the film's whole framework and emphasized by the paradoxical relation between bodies and sight. The tactile way the camera discloses the figures' bodily presences in fragments which set and move to exceed the limits of shot and image interacts with a baroque use of light and an anti-conventional abuse of techniques like zoom, in order to increase an enduring impression of indeterminacy, obfuscation, fluctuation. Furthermore, these effects get an abrupt but still fluid punctuation, which is conceived in musical terms as a dissonant and sight-based composition, since it overlaps Don Giovanni's glance like a obsessive dissolve in every image in which he's absent throughout the movie, to establish a sort of rhythmical counterpoint where the poles of viewer and viewed progressively become reversible and indefinable.
When both poles of the duality are recast in experiential terms, the dictum of psychological anthropology that all reality is psychological no longer carries a mentalistic connotation, but defines culture as embodied from the outset.
If we do not perceive our own bodies as objects, neither do we perceive others as objects. Another person is perceived as another 'myself', tearing itself away from being simply a phenomenon in my perceptual field, appropriating my phenomena and conferring on them the dimension of inter-subjective being, and so offering 'the task of a true communication'. As is true of the body, other persons can become object for us only secondarily, as the result of reflection. Whether or not, and under what conditions, selves do become objectified becomes a question for the anthropology of the self. In addition, the characteristic of being 'another myself' is a major part of what distinguishes our experiences of the social other from that of the sacred [...] which is in a radical sense 'not myself'. [5]
The author of this passage is the prominent anthropologist Thomas Csordas. His concept of embodiment which is argued in a famous paper and based on Bourdieu's idea of habitus and Merleau-Ponty's idea of perception is what I use to read and introduce differently the essence of the Carmelo Bene's cinematic experiments of the '60s and '70s. If you replace 'anthropology' with 'cinema', the resulting 'cinema of the self' appears as a possible definition of Bene's film practice. His efforts introduce to film what would be scientifically called the 'pre-objectivity of life' - for him, the invisible "musicality of images" - and to re-frame the cinematic self in a huge, new outlook where dualities like mind and body, subjective and objective, directing and acting, perception and action, collapse into what Gilles Deleuze defined as "logic of sensation" in relation to painter Francis Bacon's methods
So, what is the consequence of this collapsing? I suggest two different but related levels which seem necessary for describing his movies as 'living bodies' and defining his approach to cinema more correctly.
One level is theoretical and is internal to his cinema. If you use the concept of 'embodiment' to analyze Bene's cinematic works, I think it can be perceived how his presence is totally absorbed within all the frameworks of the films he conceived and made. He is in them, both the figures he plays and the visions he evokes. Once displayed, they embodied him. As body, actor, author, he should not be seen as an object to be studied in relation to any culture - his movies, his research - but should be considered as a 'subject of culture', in both the active and passive senses of the word 'subject'. Or, more specifically, as an 'actor of culture', according to the definition Italian anthropologist Piergiorgio Giacchè gives to his global artistic practice, by emphasizing Bene's constant attitude of producing and manipulating creative materials. His movies are transfigured variations of his self.
The other level is methodological and is external to his cinema. It is also possible to use 'embodiment' in order to study the whole career of the Italian artist from his cinematic digression, which - from this perspective - proved a decisive passage in the development of his techniques. In this case, it led him to a new comprehension of technological matters in editing, sound recording and lighting but also to a personal conception of image, which is particular because it is based on internal musical forces instead of external visual qualities, an aim he later pursued in his TV theatre. He exclusively related all these acquisitions to himself as paradoxical inorganic extensions of his acting and bodily features. In this sense, he embodied cinema as a way to set himself differently, as a new being - stage machine or body without organs - in relation to the indeterminacy of the living world and the fieldworks of art practices.

Alone Against All

The catastrophic cultural antagonism of Carmelo Bene
by Nick Pinkerton  

"Whatever the public blames you for, cultivate it: it is yourself." This is the sage advice of Jean Cocteau, and few took it so much to heart as Carmelo Bene, the mosquito in the room of the late-'60s art-house scene, who self-styled himself into one of the great cultural antagonists of the 20th century.
 Carmelo Bene
Carmelo Bene
When Bene, actor, director, playwright, novelist, memoirist, poet, and provocateur, died in Rome, aged 64, in 2002, the consensus was that he had been a figure of artistic significance since the moment of his first public success, a 1959 performance of Albert Camus's Caligula. Whether Bene's significance was that of a maestro or that of a natural disaster has been less readily agreed upon.
The catastrophic quality of Bene's work is implicit in the best-known English-language assessment of his film art—five features and a handful of shorts, produced between 1968 and 1973. In his 1974 Film as a Subversive Art, the late, lamented Amos Vogel described Bene as a kind of cinematic volcano: "Bene's films are visual, lyrical, and auditory cataclysms, whose lava-like outpourings are of unequalled hallucinatory perversity."
More recently, it has been difficult for anyone to form an educated opinion on the subject of Bene outside of Italy. I hesitate to call it Bene's "homeland," for though he was born in 1937 near Lecce, in the heel of the Italian boot—apt for a sadist—the contentious Bene didn't care to acknowledge his birthright, telling Cahiers du cinéma's Jean Narboni in a 1968 interview: "Culturally, I'm not Italian but Arab."
Soon it will be less difficult to experience this mad Arab's one-man jihad, sacking the treasures of Western art. RaroVideo, a company specializing in neglected Italian fare, has recently announced the forthcoming release of Bene's Silver Lion-winning 1968 debut feature Our Lady of the Turks on Region 1 DVD, and an extraordinary variety of his work is already viewable on YouTube, sans subtitles. (You don't need them.)
This is all welcome news, but the real event is Rome's Cineteca Nazionale's having struck new prints of Bene's cinematic corpus, which have recently appeared at Cambridge's Harvard Film Archive and are now traveling to Anthology Film Archives. Bene's films beg to be seen on the big screen. In part this is because it's the best way to appreciate their overbearing opulence. In part it's because, when watching them in the privacy of one's living room, it is very difficult not to succumb to the desire to turn these haranguing, babbling, burbling movies off—"less difficult to experience" doesn't mean the same thing as "easy to watch."
Reporting from a Venice Film Festival where Bene was the single noteworthy Italian director presenting, having crossed a picket line protesting the organizers, Gideon Bachmann's review of Bene's Salomé from the Winter 1972-'73 Film Quarterly yields a typical (allergic) reaction: "I have never liked Carmelo Bene. He is ugly, arrogant, self-centered, politically neutral—and genial. His work in the theater, where he began his enfant-terrible career, was flamboyant, formalistic, drooling, and often naive. His stock-in-trade is épater l'intellectuel!, and both on stage and on the screen his works are beset by ostentation....Exposing oneself to a work by Carmelo Bene, whether on stage or in the cinema, one is constantly sandwiched between fatigue of the eye and frustration of the soul." And yet, concludes Bachmann, faced with the undeniable evidence of Salomé, "while rejecting [Bene] as a person, I am forced to appreciate him as an artist."
A brief portrait of that artist: Having avoided military service by posing as a homosexual, Bene headed for Rome at age 17, leaving behind Apulia, his Catholic upbringing, and his Jesuitical education—later the author of cinema's great auto-crucifixion scene in Salomé, Bene was one of those lapsed believers whose scriptural education and negative zealotry could elevate churlish heresy to the level of great religious art. After enrolling at the Accademia Nazionale d'Arte Drammatica "Silvio D'Amico" in 1957, Bene promptly dropped out. He debuted onstage the following year in a Nino Massari play, but it was Alberto Ruggiero's production of Caligula that made Bene a star of Rome's (literally) underground "cantine teatrali," or basement theater, in a role that anticipated a career much preoccupied with the degenerate and decadent. Operating his 26-seat Teatro Laboratorio in bohemian Trastevere, Bene was famously involved in a scandal that involved an Argentine ambassador being pissed on. No less pertinent to his future filmmaking, he began to develop a repertoire that combined standard bearers of the avant-garde (Alfred Jarry, Mayakovsky) with fractured versions of the classics (Marlowe, Shakespeare, Pinocchio).
Aside from his own films, Bene would be a fixture in outré Italian productions of the late '60s and '70s, when Rome was an amphetamine-fueled Hollywood-on-the-Tiber. Atypically restrained, Bene played Creon, the uncle and brother-in-law of the doomed Oedipus Rex in the 1967 interpretation of Sophocles by Pier Paolo Pasolini (also featuring Julian Beck of New York's Living Theatre, whose work Bene deflected comparisons to). In Franco Brocani's 1970 Necropolis, Bene appears looking incredibly depraved and drunk on Johnny Walker, opposite Warhol starlet Viva; in Mario Schifano's 1972 Umano non umano, Bene and longtime partner and collaborator Lydia Mancinelli play an anxious eight-minute domestic bedtime scene, her settling in and reading while he smokes at the edge of the bed, fidgets, and finally settles down to mysteriously rumble under the covers.
Here a few words about Bene's screen presence are in order. A Guardian obituary hailed him as "undoubtedly the greatest guitto (barnstormer) of the contemporary Italian stage." Onscreen, Bene's guttural tantrums, sense of the grand and grotesque, and unabashed relish at tearing through trunks of costumery suggest a missing link between Orson Welles and Alice Cooper. Or perhaps there is a more apt contemporary reference; in the Cahiers interview, Narboni asks Bene about Jerry Lewis. Bene claims ignorance, but the comparison holds water, for despite coming from vastly different traditions—Lewis from American vaudeville, Bene from the European avant-garde—both specialized in playing the quixotic man-child, by turns louche, zombified, pompous, groveling, narcissistic, ogreish, and simpering, eyelash-batting innocent. Like Lewis, who served his apprenticeship under former Looney Tunes director Frank Tashlin, rubber-faced Bene was essentially a live-action cartoonist. Unlike Lewis, Bene's background was unmistakably Catholic, with all the baggage that implies. His preferred pitch of performance was that of a mad street-corner shouter, his voice wildly switching registers as though there were a dozen different men contending to speak through him. A line in Our Lady of the Turks has it that "being a saint means giving up control"—but to a devout Italian audience of the period, Bene, with an unearthly growl emanating from the back of his throat, undoubtedly seemed more like a man possessed.
Bene first succeeded in putting his demons on film in the 25-minute Hermitage, undertaken in 1968 as a sort of dry run for his forthcoming first feature. Padding around Suite 804 in Rome's Hotel Hermitage, Bene is haunted by a bronze-skinned female apparition played by Mancinelli and by bursts of Verdi's A Masked Ball, the latter cued by the onscreen presence of an urn of cyan roses. Bene spends much of the film swaddled in a diaper-like loincloth, undressing and dressing and undressing before a gilt-framed rococo mirror before finally donning a gold-embroidered robe fit for a sultan. Lolling restlessly, his body is rag-dollish, his head rolls unsupported on his neck, his face is obscured beneath a layer of what appears to be flaking plaster. With his sunken, heavy-lidded eyes, Bene has the appearance of a Caravaggio adolescent grown up and mired in debauchery.
In Hermitage we can identify a number of presiding themes and techniques: the indolent tossing-and-turning performance, pricked with unquenchable horniness; the tawdry theatrical-gels-and-fake-flowers opulence; the image of the decomposing mask, which would reach an apotheosis in Salomé's skin-peeling "Dance of the Seven Veils." The furor of the multi-layered soundtrack, often a babble of overlapping voices, assembled in post-sync—a continuity from Bene's stage productions, which experimented with multiple mics and tape tracks. The butcher's-block editing, displaying what Bene called his "surgical indiscipline of montage," full of counterintuitive cuts designed to bait, aggravate, overwhelm, frustrate, and nauseate, which would build, in the films to come, from pelting to full-blown tempest.
The rehearsal of Hermitage completed to his satisfaction, Bene commenced with Our Lady of the Turks. Bene had first given this title to an autobiographical and historical novel published in 1966 by Milan's SugarCo, the material of which he rewrote for the stage before finally preparing it as a film. Bene shot in his home province, making expressionistic use of architectural landmarks in and around the port city of Otranto, including the 19th-century Moorish-style Palazzo Sticchi and the Cathedral, with its reliquary of martyred bones, a memorial to a 1480 sneak attack by the Ottomans. Bene plays the lead(s), a miraculously survived and still-living witness of the Turkish slaughter of Christians who is sometimes a bandage-swaddled slapstick hero, sometimes a knight-errant, sometimes a mad monk and his own molested novice—a literal staging of the back-and-forth, one-man, two-voices arguments that recur in Bene's vocal performances. In each of these iterations, he is on the trail of Saint Margherita, played by Mancinelli, whose curtained red hair against the blue Aegean is but one lovely color effect in this vibrant, chromatic procession, a film veined with moments of startling Mediterranean beauty that Bene systematically subverts with ignominious hamming, at one point walking into a Romantic waving field of wildflowers only to whoopee-cushion the lovely scene with a pratfall.
 Our Lady of the Turks
Our Lady of the Turks
It's said that Douglas Fairbanks Sr., at the height of his fame, would engineer every aspect of his robust films so as to make his actions seem effortless. If a scene called for Fairbanks to bound onto a tabletop, for example, he would have the table's legs sawed down until it stood at the exact height that he could comfortably jump without appearing to tax himself. Bene's approach is virtually the exact opposite—simple acts are made to seem impossibly complex, inelegant, and even excruciating, from throwing oneself off a balcony (Our Lady of the Turks) to serving a cup of tea (Don Giovanni). Most difficult of all is making love, which in Bene's films takes on the aspect of a lopsided wrestling match, attempted in spite of the insurmountable intervention of, say, a fettering suit of armor (Our Lady of the Turks and One Hamlet Less) or impotent old age and desiccation (Capricci and Salomé). It's as though Bene was formatively impressed by Buñuel's scenes of frustrated passion—the young man struggling toward consummation, yoked to the immobile cultural cargo of a grand piano, clergymen, and Commandment tablets in Un Chien andalou, or practically the entirety of L'Âge d'or—and embarked on a career of playing elaborations on them.
Capricci (1969) begins with another scene of interminable flailing, Bene engaged in a knock-down, drag-out, hammer vs. sickle duel with a painter, played by Tonino Caputo, in the latter's studio. From here, the film forks into two narratives. One has Bene, wracked by an agony of giggles, wearing a red scarf, pleather jacket, and spray of gore, trapped in a junkyard demolition derby with Au hasard Balthazar's Anne Wiazemsky. In the other, a woman played by Ornella Ferrari plots the assassination of her feeble, hacking husband by way of a poisonous painting, a story that at one point quite abruptly shifts its scene to the clapboard set of a spaghetti western.
Like most of Bene's theatrical work, Capricci is an "interpretation" of an existing text. The ostensible source is an unattributed Elizabethan drama concerning a case of mariticide called Arden of Faversham. Allen S. Weiss, in The Drama Review, describes Bene's adaptation technique thusly:
To work in the "hollow" spaces of the text; to eliminate or "subtract" the major dramatic structures of a play in order to reveal a revolutionary "minor" discourse; to break open the representational system of both text and theatre....Bene insisted that he never offered a personal interpretation of Shakespeare (and, by extension, the other classics he treated), but rather a critique. What he attempted was to unfix their classicism, undo their ideology, and disrupt their established theatricality...not to contest official theater, but to proffer "the spectacle of the ridiculousness of spectacle."
There is a scene in Capricci where Bene gets out of the banged-up car in which he and Wiazemsky are bloodying up the upholstery, to get under the hood. Bene begins as though to attempt a repair, then commences wreaking havoc with pliers and hammer. This summarizes Bene's technique of adapting literature: He's no mechanic, but a brake-cutting vandal.
After putting in work on what ended up as another of cinema's many failed Don Quixotes, the next canonical work to receive Bene's wrecking-ball renovation was, in 1970, Don Giovanni, a collision of Mozart's opera buffa and Barbey d'Aurevilly's "Le plus bel amour de Don Juan." Bene plays the Don, with Mancinelli his lover (alternately stripped bare and clothed, from shot to shot), and Gea Marotta her obstinate unibrowed girl-child, whose affections the Don attempts to ply with badgering puppet shows, toward unwholesome ends, as she nervously slurps on her rosary and does exercises on a long-dead piano. The soundtrack is a combination of Mozart's aria, a fell wind blowing, obnoxious percussion, teeth-grinding clatter, and readings from Spanish, French (St. Thérèse de Lisieux), Italian, and English (Shakespeare's Sonnet No. 123; a pecksniffish Brit voice reciting Delacroix's criticisms of Ingres, many of which might equally be leveled at Bene; a juicy line from Borges, tying together two of Bene's great preoccupations: "Copulation and mirrors are abominable because they multiplicate the number of human beings").
Given his career-long siege on the storehouses of Western high culture, in which Don Giovanni is but one skirmish, Bene has been rightly regarded as a disciple of Antonin Artaud ("What is most important, it seems to me," Artaud wrote, "is not so much to defend a culture whose existence has never kept a man from going hungry, as to extract, from what is called culture, ideas whose compelling force is identical with that of hunger"). Bene shared with Artaud a desire to burn the cobwebs away from theater and shake loose the vital "compelling force" of the texts that he attempted—and here it should be noted that a profound mistrust of women was a consistent theme of those texts. It is certainly at the heart of that old misogynist Mozart's Don Giovanni, whose Act 2 has a duet of priests earnestly warning "Beware of woman's crafty scheming/This is the Order's first command!/Many a man of wiles not dreaming/was tempted and could not withstand/But then he saw he was mistaken/The truth he came to know too late/At last he found himself forsaken/Death and damnation were his fate." Given Bene's contentious relationship with the works that he throttlingly interpreted, they become as much confrontations and auto-critiques as confessions of Bene's own troubles with women—certainly this Don Giovanni is more concerned with the swinish tyranny of his clammy, feverish Don than with women's duplicity.
 Don Giovanni
Don Giovanni
True to form, Bene's next production centered on a hoarse shouter-down of feminine perfidy, John the Baptist. Salomé was Bene's most ambitious work to date, a Super-16 superproduction filmed on a Cinecittà soundstage. The source is Oscar Wilde's 1891 play of the same name, which Bene first staged—or perhaps regurgitated is the word—at Rome's Teatro delle Muse in 1964, with a cast drawn in part from the Ceccano prison.
Bene stars as Herod, Tetrarch of Galilee, wearing a crown of greasy ringlets; his stepdaughter, Salomé, is played by Donyale Luna, a six-foot-two Detroit-born African-American model whose extraterrestrial exoticism had previously been exploited by Otto Preminger's woeful Skidoo and Fellini's Satyricon. An animated camel through a needle's eye and flushed butts being swatted with feather paddles are the opening fanfare of Bene's blasphemous carnival, staged in a floating world of fruity neon tracery and heaped flora, set against a black background and immersed in black water. Actors jabber out across ambiguous distances, everything reflected in the pool and refracted through the rude prism of Bene's flashing editing.
Bene later cited the overwhelming work involved in his lapidary productions as his reason for quitting filmmaking, describing the pre-production of Salomé: "Twenty-two million plastic roses arrived from Paris and Naples, painted fluorescent colors one by one..." After such an exhausting effort, there can't help but be an element of slackening and anticlimax in Bene's follow-up and final film, 1973's One Hamlet Less, which returned him to a text he'd first manhandled in 1961 at the Teatro Laboratorio (and which he would plunder again for Italian television in 1978 and '90).
 One Hamlet Less
One Hamlet Less
As in Capricci, One Hamlet Less braids together two distinct narrative strands. One concerns a troupe of actors led by Bene and Mancinelli, who's credited as "Kate, the First Actress in Elsinore." The other is Shakespeare's Hamlet, played on a soundstage, with Bene in the lead role. The text, in by-now familiar fashion, is demolished, its ruins subsequently raked through and reassembled with ill-fitting spare parts, including the Symbolist free verse of Jules Laforgue, Freud's Interpretation of Dreams (significantly mouthed by that fusty old know-it-all, Polonius), and a play-within-a-play scene from Arthurian legend acted out before a blue-screen backdrop, which associates fickle Guinevere with fickle Gertrude. Bene makes it clear, however, that he isn't obediently parroting the sexual skittishness of Shakespeare and his Dane, but trying to flee its legacy, as that of a cultural patriarchy: "I don't care about my throne," cries Bene the actor to Kate, the First Actress in Elsinore. "The dead are dead. Let's see the world. Paris, my life: To us!"
With this, Bene retreated from movie theaters, but his public struggle with the accreted centuries of Western civilization continued unabated until his death. He continued to televise performances—here there is material for another essay entirely—and gave rock-star performances worthy of arena-era Pink Floyd, reading Byron's Manfred at La Scala, declaiming The Divine Comedy to an audience of 100,000 from Bologna's medieval Torre degli Asinelli.
For all this public breast-beating, Bene's howling, alone-against-all protest was more a cultural brushfire than a Vesuvius—but the artifacts left behind in the embers are still livid and vivid, punk avant la lettre. And the controversy continues! Most recently, Bene made the news when his sister, Maria Luisa Well, demanded an investigation into the circumstances of his death, accompanied by accusations of foul play—this despite the fact that it was public knowledge that the ailing, hard-living Bene had had two quadruple bypass surgeries. But even if Bene wasn't murdered, he lived in such a way as to assure that plenty would've been happy to do the job—and like a truly great pest, he won't stay dead

Carmelo Bene's Capricci at AFA

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