Rick Canelli, Fabrizio Corona, Marella Giovannelli, Lele Mora
SnagFilms: 6 Aug 2010
It’s not a question of ideology, it’s a question of lack of values, lack of morality. Italy has become a country where words don’t work anymore. “Videocracy” means the power of the image.
“The problem of becoming famous is that there are so many girls,” observes Ricky Canevali. “They’re willing to do anything to get on the fast track to stardom. Nowadays, Italian television is full of girls.” An aspiring celebrity, Ricky practices karate in his backyard and dance moves in front of his bedroom mirror. He sees himself as a combination of Jean-Claude Van Damme and Ricky Martin. He’s been working at his dream for years, he says, but still, “The girls always steal our places. It’s the girls that attract an audience. People at home here in Italy, as soon as they see half-naked girls in G-strings, they’re interested.”
Ah, the girls. If only they’d keep their clothes on. Ricky notes that it’s harder for men to make the same moves. Gazing out on the rain from the balcony of the home he shares with his mama, he explains, “If you had to give a part of your body to some powerful man, there’d be rumors.” Because, of course, there are no such costs for women, who only do what they must. The camera slowly circles Ricky as he ponders his expectations and disappointments, stalled career… and its intrinsic paradoxes. Girls are the problem. And yet, he continues, “More fame means more girls. You see, it means everything.”
Ricky’s view is a point of departure for Videocracy. Erik Gandini’s film, premiering 6 August as part of SnagFilms’ SummerFest, is part excursion and part meditation on TV in Italia, the many ways it shapes experience. At once a means and an end, fantasy and reality, TV does seem to mean “everything.” While most everyone might see TV as all-consuming and -consumed, the Italian experience is especially acute, the film contends, because of Silvio Berlusconi. In 1973, he established the fledgling cable TV company Telemilano (images here suggest the primary impetus was a call-in game show featuring housewives stripping). Today, Berlusconi owns Mediaset (Italy’s biggest media corporation, consisting of three national television channels), Publitalia (the largest advertising and publicity agency), and Arnoldo Mondadori Editore (the largest publishing house). “The television of the president has multiplied,” the film submits, “and made the president of television into the president of the whole country.”
That president understands the power of TV, having “selected a TV show girl to become his minister of gender equality.” Yes, Berlusconi is a perfect storm, bringing together television, politics, and sex. “For us who grew up with it,” Gandini narrates, “it’s been a lifelong experience. You can’t make sense of it from the outside. You have to get closer, deeper, inside of it to make sense of it.”
That sense is relative. Though Ricky is a most avid consumer and emulator of TV—for now he works he as a studio audience member, hoping against hope that he’ll be seen—his observations aren’t precisely those of an insider. For those, the film turns to Lele Mora, introduced in his white-on-white bedroom, on the telephone. “If anybody can turn the dream into reality, it’s him,” says Gandini, “The most influential TV agent in the country.” Drawing inspiration from Mussolini, Mora observes a bevy of clients—tanned, buff bodies laying poolside on his Sardinian estate—as he explains his process: “An agent has to program them, make them grow, dress them, teach them how to behave, what to say, how to dress, tune into their minds.” Did he mention he’s a close friend of the president?
As Ricky says, it means everything. Even those who profess to challenge this interlocking system of image and effect are immersed in it. Here the example is Fabrizio Corona, Mora’s former assistant, now a photo agent who culls and sells back to the famous paparazzi pictures. Where Mora is introduced in bright-white-lightness, Corona first appears in the dark, literally prowling the streets, the “commander” of squads of “photo snipers.” In 2007, Corona was arrested and spent 77 days in prison. He emerged a star, that is, a TV fixture. “I planned everything in prison,” he asserts. “The song, the t-shirt launch. This didn’t happen by chance.”
Who could doubt him? Corona reflects Mora reflects Berlusconi reflects… Ricky. The television universe is a seeming series of mirrors. When Corona gets hold of photos of Berlusconi’s daughter Barbara and she objects (she doesn’t “like the way she looks”), Berlusconi purchases the photos and then, perfectly, publishes the photos himself, in one of his own magazines. While preparing his body for a public appearance—naked and sculpted—Corona declares his admiration for Berlusconi’s play, “as an Italian businessman.” He goes on to pose for photos, girls on all sides. Berlusconi too, appears surrounded by a crowd of admirers. Television means everything.