notes on the films of
by Graeme Cutts
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.
to Ninety Nine Per Cent and Clay. (PROGRAMME 1)
ladies and gentlemen.
this screening of Giorgio Mangiamele's films, for whom we must
thank the CAE, and the co-operation and assistance of ACMI and
Nine Per Cent
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
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...
(1965): "Visually it's frequently a poem brought to life
with some breath-takingly
poignant and arty shots ." (Variety, NY, 14 December
in Italian as Argilla, Clay is a cinematographic
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!
was made for the Film Festival circuit, and was shown at Cannes
and Edinburgh, and at the Melbourne and Sydney Film Festivals.
to The Brothers, Sebastian the Fox: The Painter,
Boys in the Age of Machines, Il Contratto. (PROGRAMME
(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.
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...."
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.
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
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
(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,
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.
to The Spag, The Crucifixion: Bas Reliefs in Silver
by Matcham Skipper, and Beyond Reason. (PROGRAMME 3)
(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.....
(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).
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!!
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.
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.
images courtesy Rosemary Mangiamele, apart from Ninety Nine Per
Cent, courtesy Raffaele
Graeme Cutts, May 2003
to Giorgio Mangiamele profile