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Giorgio Mangiamele

 

 

Some notes on the films of
Giorgio Mangiamele

by Graeme Cutts


These notes were prepared for a three-session retrospective of Giorgio Mangiamele's films, screened at ACMI, Federation Square, Melbourne, on Monday 20 January and Wednesday 22 January, 2003.

Introduction to Ninety Nine Per Cent and Clay. (PROGRAMME 1)

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.

Welcome to this screening of Giorgio Mangiamele's films, for whom we must thank the CAE, and the co-operation and assistance of ACMI and ScreenSound.

 
 
Ninety Nine Per Cent

Ninety Nine Per Cent (1963) is the fourth and last of what may be called the "migrant" films made by Giorgio Mangiamele. A "migrant" film, because it deals with the trials and tribulations of an Italian migrant widower with a young son to care for.

It is Giorgio's only comedy. Familiar themes are there: money and work, drunkeness and reference to a contemporary social phenomenon, "bodgies", and the visual of leaves falling or blowing in the wind - indicating perhaps change of mood and/or time passing - a threshold. Logistically it is interesting, because he had built up through the years what amounted to, in a sense, a repertory company - a handful of regular actors and technicians. Giorgio told me that, the idea of the film "was a possibility within the migrant situation....But, in any case I don't think you have to copy fact or reality to make a film. ..." The Savoy (a cinema that used to be in Russell Street, Melbourne, and screened a lot of European films) wanted to let it run for a long time, but had been warned not to take the film...

Clay (1965): "Visually it's frequently a poem brought to life with some breath-takingly poignant and arty shots ." (Variety, NY, 14 December 1964)

Written initially in Italian as Argilla, Clay is a cinematographic poem.

 
 
Clay

A lyrical tragic love story. Negative B&W images lead us into this other world: like Cocteau's Orphee seeking Eurydice. This nether world of tragedy. The leaves are there, and the rain. The story is sultry and stormy, like the weather. And there is work. Nick says: "I want to work". Wood is shifted; Clay is moulded; Drains are cleared. And the priest comes to ask for food: the image is reminiscent of Nosferatu. Money is rejected and thrown like a gauntlet and blows in the wind like leaves. Drink-driving has a mention: You've been drinking, says the policeman. Only half a bottle, is the reply!

The film was made for the Film Festival circuit, and was shown at Cannes and Edinburgh, and at the Melbourne and Sydney Film Festivals.


Introduction to The Brothers, Sebastian the Fox: The Painter, Boys in the Age of Machines, Il Contratto. (PROGRAMME 2)

 
 
The Brothers

The Brothers (1958) is the third of Giorgio's migrant films. The first, Il Contratto (1953), will be screened in this programme after interval. The second, Unwanted (1957), has been lost. It was made with students at a cinema school in Russell Street, Melbourne.

The school had been set up by someone else, but had run into difficulties. Giorgio found out about it and took it over. He arranged for the actors Margaret Dobson and Robert Clarke to teach acting, shot some scenes of the students so they could observe their screen acting, edited the material, and called it Unwanted. Soon the school shifted to Giorgio's studio in Rathdowne Street, Carlton, and out of that came The Brothers. The younger brother is played by Ettore Siracusa, who later became his assistant. There were a lot of migrants in his early films, because that was his social world, his contact with the new. The screenplay is by Robert Clarke and Ian Howard, but I suspect that the story came from Giorgio. Look for the familiar images of leaves, drunkeness - the man who won 500 pounds on the races, who is then pursued by the newsboy Peter, the younger brother, the "little dago kid", who wants to save his brother from trouble with the police by getting 400 pounds: which leads to the strong "money scene" - notes strewn to the wind - "take it, take it... If you think it's worth the trouble. If you think you can kill for it, come and take it, if you think it'll make things easier. Money only makes people worse than they are...."

Sebastian the Fox: The Painter (1963) is one of 12 episodes that Giorgio photographed for the director Tim Burstall (with music by George Dreyfuss). This episode features an interesting performance by Barry Humphries as the other painter.

All the episodes are delightful: Sebastian is a string puppet (by Peter Scriven) in a real life setting: the series was made for children, and was shown on ABC TV, and incidentally should be shown many more times, as should all the films in these programmes.

And the photography is superb, which is why Tim Burstall used Giorgio's talents.

Boys in the Age of Machines (1964). Directed, photographed, and edited by Giorgio, for Academy Film Productions, a Golden Fleece Presentation. A film designed to promote apprenticeships for boys in industry. Historically important, because it was actually shot in the Vickers Rowolt factory in Johnston Street, long ago disappeared, as has also this basic idea of apprenticeship. Golden Fleece has also disappeared, I think, or absorbed... In any case it was quite common in those days for big companies, like Shell and Philips for example, to make so-called documentaries or informational films basically to promote themselves: there was still a market for such films. Although TV had been in Australia since 1956, "educational" films were still needed and used in schools. Videotape had not yet made an appearance, and most material shown on TV was made on film...

 
 
a young Mangiamele

Il Contratto (1953). This film is unfinished, a work in progress if you like. It is silent, but, as to the narrative, it is pretty clear generally what is going on. It is Giorgio's first film in Australia. The first of the so-called migrant films, it deals with the "contract" scheme that Australia had put in place to encourage migrants (from Italy and other countries probably) to come to Australia to work. The contract commitment was to stay and work for two years. Unfortunately, in Giorgio's experience, upon arrival, there was little or no work. (Australia experienced over the '50s and early '60s a number of short "recessions", which may have had something to do with the situation: there were things starting up, like the Snowy River Power scheme, but there was still a lot of general unemployment). Giorgio made a film about it. A feature length film, intended to be in Italian, possibly bilingual, and with sub-titles? The credits are in Italian, so obviously it was intended for an Italian audience (in Italy, or "little" Italy, Melbourne?).

Anyway by the time he had enough money to complete the film, he felt it was no longer relevant. It was shot with a Bolex 16mm clockwork camera, using B&W reversal film with a magnetic sound stripe: which was used for several of the following films. In spite of the trials and tribulations of the protagonists, trying to find work, dealing with drunkeness and sexual harassment, getting enough money to buy a car ..., things seem to work out in the end: look out for the superimpositions done in-camera.

A very incredible work for a person, who basically had just stepped off a boat at Victoria Docks, Port Melbourne, and within a fairly short time started to make a very interesting and astute comment about what he found and observed, and is optimistic: life is good. He was on a contract: no immediate work prospects, but worked things out, and got a movie camera.


Introduction to The Spag, The Crucifixion: Bas Reliefs in Silver by Matcham Skipper, and Beyond Reason. (PROGRAMME 3)

 
 
shooting Beyond Reason

The Spag (1962) . The third of the migrant films. An incredibly strong film about work: the lack of it, different sorts - the newsboys, hanging out the washing, teaching reading, music and guitar, the green-grocer, the shoe-shop owner. Also the recurring theme of drinking: the drunken driver, who kills The Spag. Visually, there are also numerous shots through windows. Giorgio spoke of "dago" and things like that being written in graffiti style in the condensation on the window of his studio. Tonino drawing the treble clef in the condensation: the mother looking out before she learns what has happened. A shot which is mirrored very early in Clay when Margot looks out of the window of the van and sees Nick on the side of the road.....

The Crucifixion (1963). Another example of cinematographic work for Tim Burstall. Tim made a series of art films, and Giorgio photographed two of them: this one and On Three Moon Creek: Australian Paintings by Gil Jamieson (1963).

Beyond Reason (1970) lives up to its name. A miracle that it's being screened at all, says Lola Russell, a steadfast member of Giorgio's "repertory" group. The original negatives, "the mother", disappeared from the laboratory. Two prints survive: one that Giorgio rejected, because the colour wasn't right, and one printed at another laboratory, which was then screened. It was subjected to a 5 year stint in New Zealand, as you will see from the credits, Columbia was the distributor. No-one in NZ would pay for it to be returned to Australia. Finally money was raised here to save the film from an ignominious fate on a local NZ tip. It was serviced as well as could be done, and then sent off to the provinces here to be projected on poor equipment etc. And that is the print that is going to screened tonight!!

 
 
shooting in PNG

Giorgio said that it was a film that he liked very much. "It's not like Clay, it's more verbal". It is obviously more "commercial".

In 1979 he went to PNG on contract till 1982. Film Victoria was established about 1976, but Giorgio got little joy from that, and so he accepted a contract with the PNG Government, where and for whom he made five films: basically PR documentaries to promote PNG. One (Sapos.) was particularly significant, being the first feature to be made in Pidgen. In doing this he also formed the basis of a PNG Film Unit. The films seem to be lost.

After returning to Australia, he continued to write and develop scripts and submit them to the various funding bodies with no success. Fortunately, we have the films that have been shown in this season, and his final script Sogeri Road.


All images courtesy Rosemary Mangiamele, apart from Ninety Nine Per Cent, courtesy Raffaele Lampugnani.
Graeme Cutts, May 2003
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Melbourne independent filmmakers is compiled by Bill Mousoulis