Already sanctified in life, since he died in 2021, the memory machine has never stopped. The documentary Franco Battiato. The master’s voice by Marco Spagnoli fits into a broader question, that is, how to remember Battiato and his musical research today, properly
In the first sequence, the sound engineer Pino “Pinaxa” Pischetola disassembles the piece one instrument at a time Permanent center of gravity by Franco Battiato, of which he, among other things, was a historic collaborator. It is one of the most famous songs of Italian pop, the ones with the refrain that everyone knows and a video clip – with a famous choreography by Battiato himself – that has remained in the collective imagination.
But only by messing up this perfect toy, which sounds simple and familiar to everyone, you understand how complex it is: the chorus of the engraved, madrigalist style, arises from the superimposition of four take different, the same voice of the Sicilian singer is recorded twice to give life to that almost spectral “split-like” effect, which perhaps we had never dwelt too much on; and then the saxophone line that recalls the sixties, the rhythm that flirts with disco music, the orchestra in the background that seems to have been borrowed from classical music. Technical issues, Battiato issues.
Permanent center of gravity is in The master’s voicethe album which in 1981 transformed him into a mass phenomenon (it was the first released in our country to exceed one million copies sold) and which gives the title to this Franco Battiato – The master’s voice, documentary film by Marco Spagnoli at the cinema from 28 November to 4 December. There they were contained, among many others, too Cuckoo e White flag. As Alice, a singer and another of her historical collaborators, recalls, “at the time, wherever I went, there were those songs in the background”.
Behind an album like this there has never been anything normal: son of the choice to close with experimentation (“I decided to be successful”, Battiato would have announced at the time to the label that was about to put him under contract), is composed from apparently easy and deadly songs, but in reality complicated, stratified. The lyrics, for example, brought into the vocabulary of songwriting terms and expressions that no one had ever put into metrics before him – moreover in such a catchy one: the “Euclidean Jesuits dressed like bonzes to enter the court of the emperors of the Ming dynasty”, the “Tantric Shaivism of the Dionysian style, the pornographic struggle of the Greeks and the Latins”. In short, a breviary of how Battiato understood pop music.
But Spagnoli’s work fits into a broader question, namely that of how to remember Battiato properly today. Already sanctified in life, since he died on May 18, 2021, the memory machine has never stopped: books, documentaries (The courage to be Franco BattiatoRai) and tribute concerts, the largest of which is thatInvitation to travel with the best of Italian pop from all generations, which has become a live record and a television special curated by Pif. Result, now it seems that everything has been said and that collective hagiography has expired in rhetoric: Battiato for many and for a few, Battiato with many friends, spiritual and ironic Battiato, Battiato and The cure. How does it come out? What’s left to tell?
The real novelty of a documentary like this, then, is in the initial part, the “nerd” part
Franco Battiato – The master’s voice in some ways it overcomes these problems starting from the format of the film projected in theaters. It’s the first time this has happened to him, and in some ways the absence of a precedent helps. And then, compared to TV, shooting a film for the cinema allows you to develop a slightly less generalist insight and to have opportunities, including visual ones, that the director has managed to seize. The “plot”, so to speak, of the journey of the record producer Stefano Senardi (a longtime friend of the singer-songwriter, here in the guise of interviewer and “conductor”) towards Battiato’s Milo is credible, some panoramic views of the sea are evocative and the alternation between archival footage, cutlery interviews and other “dirty” ones is pleasant.
Especially in the finale, if anything, the work tends to unravel a bit and get lost in the more trite and established narration, as if in the hour and a half of duration there should be absolutely all, and then here – again, here too – Battiato linked to friends, the memories of others, attention to the spiritual dimension, sanctification. Even the choice of guests, from this perspective, is not very fresh: Mara Maionchi and Vincenzo Mollica, for example, add little if not the usual story of how much those who knew him were attached to him and were fascinated and liked by him.
The real novelty of a documentary like this, then, is in the initial part, the “nerd” one. Reconstructing, that is, Battiato and his pedagogical pop taking him as a model The master’s voice and the previous, less known, Patriotsrather than a huge but already widely analyzed piece like The cure, and remain strictly related to music. Thus, to deepen his research from the sound point of view, and to demonstrate the courage he had as an artist, restoring justice to the freak he was for Italy even before Italy itself began to consider him “normal” .
It is what is most needed now for the story of the Sicilian singer-songwriter, but which is never really developed. And if for fans and experts it is in any case not a new aspect, it is for a wider and less attentive public, which Spagnoli and Senardi among other things meet by relying on excellent explanatory sequences (including the opening one of Pinaxa, which gives a good idea) and to the interventions of someone like Morgan, capable of giving a small lesson with his usual enthusiastic attitude, as a popularizer.
The fact that today we talk about Battiato above all for his acclaimed human depth, in the end, should not make us forget that he was a long misunderstood revolutionary, who had to earn a success and never take for granted the affection of the public, given the foundations of departure. Concentrating on the innovative scope and the technical depth of some of his songs, underlining how behind the immediacy of his hits there was an almost cultured research work, can be a way to tell it from now on. In order not to transform the right epithet of “master” that is given to him in every celebration into an empty shell. And don’t forget that everything in him left and returned to music.