Droll indictment of Italy’s media
A high low point during any trip to Italy happens whenever a television is on. Seemingly at all hours of the day and in front of a large audience, a sexy woman (or four) emphasizes her sexiness while a man emcees. Whether the subject is dating, chatting, or news, the studio lights are bright, the frolic infectious, and the breasts often huge. Proficiency in Italian helps, but only a little. Jiggling is a universal language.
It’s worth noting that the man behind much of this lubricious programming is also the country’s commander in chief. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi made his fortune as a media mogul and continues to control nearly a fifth of Italy’s airwaves. That his idea of good TV includes flattering coverage of his administration and so many empty calories doesn’t interest filmmaker Erik Gandini as much as the culture of televisual dependency Berlusconi’s empire has fostered.
Gandini’s documentary “Videocracy’’ makes spooky comedy of a nation’s addiction to fame. The movie briefly, impressionistically assays an industry that produces a version of the voyeur’s trystathon, “Big Brother,’’ and a late-night quiz show where a correct answer costs a beautiful housewife an item of clothing.
The movie unfolds in a dreamy calm. Gandini finds and observes Enrico, a singing, kicking mamma’s boy whose self-described persona is the Ricky Martin of martial arts. Enrico’s day job is mechanic, and his audition indicates he should keep it. Yet Enrico remains bitter because he knows that were he a woman, he’d be on TV all the time.
To that end, Gandini visits auditions for showgirls — they’re “veline’’ in Italian, and they stand around silent for most of a news broadcast then erupt in movement during a 30-second dance break (the “stacchetto’’). He fashions a couple of glorious montages of them in action, thrusting and twisting, sometimes in only bikinis, heels, and pasties. In his sedate narration, Gandini drolly explains that the prime minister’s commitment to the rights of women inspired him to appoint a former velina as his minister for gender equality.
A lot of “Videocracy’’ is spent inside the entertainment industry and on its shady fringes. The film drops in on a gentleman named Lele Mora, Italy’s biggest talent agent. Mora is a friend of Berlusconi. His Sardinian villa is called the White House, where the only other color appears to be the tan skin of the shirtless, fatless men gathered around his swimming pool. Gandini spends even more time with Fabrizio Corona, a celebrity stalker of sorts. He sells celebrities’ incriminating photos back to them (including, naturally, to the Berlusconis) and becomes a celebrity himself after he emerges from prison (for extortion) muscled, tattooed, and even more camera-ready.
Gandini’s disdain for this particular brand of Italian venality and decadence is as old as Italy itself. But rather than do a lot of pontificating, he lets his footage do the editorializing. Cue the Berlusconi campaign ad starring a cavalcade of women saluting their candidate in song, poolside, and from hair salons. It’s not decadent corruption that worries Gandini. It’s cheesiness. The lust for fame is no different in Italy than in other countries, except that the preference for the lack of talent and taste seem mandated by a prime minister. So Gandini’s lament is tinged with shame as opposed to damnation, and the movie serves as his comical bad dream.