October 24, 2022 12:56 pm
“I knew I was mentioning Mussolini. Mussolini was Mussolini. Ok. It’s a nice quote, very interesting. I know who said it. But what difference does it make if it’s Mussolini or someone else? It is certainly a very interesting phrase. There’s a reason I have 14 million followers on Facebook and Twitter. It’s an interesting quote that can be a source of debate ”.
The prologue focuses on Donald Trump. To which a journalist asks for an account of his quote from Mussolini taken from a Twitter account, “ilduce2016”, which was actually a trap account designed to show that Trump tweeted serious nonsense with the greatest ease as long as it had extremist content. Yet he was still elected to the White House.
Perhaps he could have been put in difficulty by pointing out that the allies, including the United States, waged war on the axis countries, including Italy, after the terrible Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and that on Italian and European soil there are large cemeteries dotted with tombstones of young soldiers who died in combat, partly because of those who said that “interesting phrase that can be a source of debate”.
But the removal of memory, the hole existing inside it that takes away the meaning of things (of which Trump’s tweet and statement are clearly revealing and which now also involves the United States and not only various European countries, in a sort of blobs that spreading in every part engulfs everything), historically concerns first of all Italy itself. A country where, since Silvio Berlusconi entered politics, the dictatorship that never existed – communism – seems to be the big problem, while the one that really did exist – fascism – is removed.
Removing any real responsibility, self-fulfilling, is a behavior that seems to pervade large layers of Italian society since the end of the Second World War. How many times do we hear in the media, or in simple conversations between people, raising the question of our responsibility towards others, towards the countries that have had to suffer the barbarism of the Nazi-Fascist war?
The documentary was presented in Venice March on Rome by the American Mark Cousins - a visionary of auteur cinema, to whom we owe, among others, the extraordinary The story of film: an Odyssey (2011) – manages to hit the mark on this as well. He narrates in the first person but he does it with an intimate, confidential, whispered tone, as opposed to the fascist and martial ones. The of him is a masterpiece in which the lesson of history never becomes a little lesson little lesson counterproductive of which the French are specialists.
Moreover, he joins a masterful lesson in cinema and on the meaning of the medium of expression within the twentieth century. Framing, off-screen, editing. These are the three magical words of his narration. Those of the cinema.
Giving back and falsifying reality
But Cousins goes much further. Because he investigates multiple holes: those existing in the reality itself and those present in a film that was the propagandist apology of the march on Rome and therefore of fascism. Holes that are welded together as one, those of cinema and those of historical reality.
After the Trumpian prologue, cinema comes immediately. At the opening of the shadows, vibrant, moving, volatile, flow on the walls of today’s Rome as if they were the shadows cast by a magic lantern – among the ancestors of cinema (and modern cinema) – and at the same time the reminiscences of the shadows of memory , or the shadows of history. Suddenly an inscription peeps out: “Cinematography is the most powerful weapon”.
Between truth and manipulation, cinema was central during the twentieth century in restoring reality to the world as well as in falsifying it. For the latter he operated the propaganda. For the first, however, says the whole appeal of US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt “to all women and men of good will” to go and see the cinema The great illusion (1937), one of the greatest pacifist films of all time that the master Jean Renoir directed in the United States where he fled after the Nazi invasion of France.
But let’s go back to Italy, and to cinema. It begins in Naples with archive images of the first Italian director, Elvira Notari, shot during the feast of the Madonna del Carmine. We are in 1922. “The century is young. He is recovering from an atrocious war. And it has a bright new art form. The cinema”.
Then a jump. “Special trains pour wonderful fascist forces into Naples”. It is the caption of the silent film And ask! by Umberto Paradisi, central film among the many told here. “It is late October 1922”. The National Fascist Party, founded in Milan three years earlier, holds a fascist rally here in Naples on 24 October. But as Cousins points out “30 thousand were expected, about half arrived.”
“Presented as an accurate portrait of the rise of fascism, it distorted its reality. A disturbing reality “. And ask! triggered an avalanche. And yet Mussolini is often out of range from the trigger of this avalanche, or at least taken up in a long shot. The absence of him at the beginning of And ask! it is like a hole, underlines Cousins, one of the many in the film: “Holes that reveal his anxieties, his politics”, those and that of Mussolini. More than 17 minutes pass before Paradisi shows it to us in the foreground. A disturbing face and look. “Is this the right way to do it? Isn’t there something reminiscent of horror cinema? ”Asks the American documentary maker again.
The march of A Request! it had to be “perfect, Virgilian”. Although then there are some sequences where the mud emerges
Just nine days later Mussolini became the youngest prime minister in the history of Italy. Towards the end of And ask! “The ambiguous presence of Mussolini becomes more decisive” and this will have “consequences for Italy. And for the world “.
Paradisi’s film was an accomplice, hiding the truth. For example on the fact that the 1922 Naples rally was not crowded at all. The director “gathers the people in the foreground to fill the shots and frames the crowds in wide shots to suggest a multitude”. Cutting of the shots and editing therefore radically change perception, change reality, the meaning of things. Then the film leaves Naples. A march is hastily organized in Rome, to “make the power of Rome their power”.
And ask! it almost always deceives: when it begins we are shown that the date is October 28 or 29 “while what follows was probably taken on October 30 and 31”. Cousins asks himself a specific question: “Why omit or lie about these three days?”. Among the various and complex reasons he highlights one, very practical: rain. A deluge welcomed the march of the Black Shirts, the ground was muddy. “And being soaked, cold, disheartened, was not heroic”, light years away “from the image that the fascists wanted to show the world“. Although then there are some sequences where the mud emerges. Reality cannot be completely kept out. The rain, notes Cousins, “created confusion, it was too real”. A real-world mockery, in fact.
History and junk
Instead, the march had to be “perfect, Virgilian”. Cousins lets you breathe images, images of vestiges of an imperial past whose nostalgia has made and makes Italy even more an Italian, today still too often provincial and spiteful. But then he too reveals his deception: they are images from the Cinecittà film sets in Rome. A deception in reverse, of course. Imperial images that are instead historical junk and, at the same time, a great moment of cinema as an art of the twentieth century and of the truly glorious history of post-World War II Italian cinema.
In truth Mussolini was not on the march, but in Milan, ready to flee to Switzerland if the coup d’état failed. Once it was clear that everything was in order he boarded the train to Rome, quick to take all the honors of the success of the march. And the power. However, Paradisi manipulates once again the reality of the facts, their chronology, suggesting that he arrived first by inserting those images “inside the action”.
On 31 October Mussolini, now president of the council, is in Piazza Venezia with the king. A handful of days that have turned history upside down. There are not only the most famous ten days of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia. But the seven days that lead the fascists from Naples to the government of Rome. The American director underlines the departure from the days of Naples for the chronology of the events that led to the coming to power of fascism. “What happened?”, Cousins wonders, who manages to return the daze, both of him and of the story, wondering about the almost inexplicable “speed of events. How easy it had been. On how the center had capitulated ”. Cousins is skeptical to say the least about Mussolini’s claim to have imposed the march on Rome. “There is a bigger story behind it. A hidden story? ”.
The crowds that seem to cheer Mussolini at the Quirinale are there and there aren’t. It is all a montage, which obscures what is seen in spite of everything. Even at the altar of the fatherland, Paradisi, as at the Quirinale, continues “to triple reality” by means of editing.
The same march had to deviate and turn back. Operators like the crowd watch in amazement at this reverse gear. “The weary marchers were denied the battle. And in return he was given a ceremony. A strut in the Eternal City ”, is Cousins’ reply. “But the climax of this ceremony was denied him.” If readers want to become spectators, they will discover both the reason and the infernal play with real dates and situations reinvented by montage.
The march on Rome was not a real march. It was not a real insurrection. The marchers did not know they were lending their faces to a facade. A facade behind which hidden powers moved, the darkest hole in Mussolini’s rise. And the film also goes into it. A darkness made of lies upon lies whose waves, says Cousins, swept the world. The march on Rome was a great fake news, unfortunately done with art.