Carola Spadoni’s images build a bridge between the New York of the Lower East Side and a marginal and at the same time epic, post-Pasolinian Rome. Two places outside every mainstream, but with a high creative potential and an immediate and enveloping fascination, intensely human and vital
and, on account of this, chaotic, contaminated. Precarious places, always on the point of being wiped out by the changing city.
Carola Spadoni sinks her roots as a director into both of them. Coming from a family involved in cinema for three generations, the atmosphere she breathed at home was that of the 1970s roman underground, characterized by experimentalism, by a political approach and intensive dialogue – which
has rarely occurred again in Italy – between various languages: cinema, theatre, visual arts, poetry and, later on, video.
She moved to New York when she was 19 years old, studied cinema at Brooklyn College and remained there until the end of the 1990s, working as camera assistant on numerous independent productions and making her own first shorts. She lived mainly in Little Italy, the crossroads of immigrants, low-profile tourism and new trends, where, just a stone’s throw from her house was ‘Liquid Sky’, the shop selling clothes and techno records which was a compulsory stopping-off place for New York kids and a key place, together with the club ‘Nasa’, for the rave culture in that period.
There she met Chlöe Sevigny, a future grunge icon and an actress for Larry Clatck and Harmony Korine, with her shot various sequences of a work that was never finished. In 1996 she co-founded ‘Open Cine’, a cultural association which organises free open-air screenings on Mulberry Street of classic films, mainly Italian, in line with the idea of making cinema which is also an active intervention to spread film culture. Her first mature works produced in New York include ‘Neighbors’, 10 minutes, 1996, shot in 35mm in a single shot long take and already showing a fine sensitivity in sketching human situations with a high emotional rate. The camera skims over and interweaves three different
stories of everyday life, with an unpredictable noir finale, seen through the windows of a building, in an exercise of style which reflects on the voyeurism of the viewer and of cinema and pays tribute to Altman and to the B movies seen on tv, her first teenage film love. However, Carola spadoni made her
next short film’ Freddy and Victor blind date’, 1997, in Rome, in video.
The ‘American’ smoothness she had acquired in filming is enriched with a visceral blend of true stories, encounters, intime writing, which supplies that ‘personal’ adhesive that is necessary to deepen involvement and emotion, without, however, losing a sense of lightness. , The story is that of the first,
bewildered meeting at a table in open-air bar between a father – played by Victor Cavallo, a poet and charismatic face of the roman avant-garde – and an already grown up daughter – played by Spadoni herself. Reserve, desires, curiosity, gestures of affection, snatches of personal stories are told in roman
dialect, mumbled and wavering, improvised to a great extent, whose rhythm is stressed in the editing by an interplay of shot and reverse shot, reinvented through the use of the split screen. Sequences and stills alternate on the screen, in a visual counterpoint which bears in mind the lesson of expanded
cinema in showing impatience with the limits of the traditional cinematographic vision.
A tension towards experimentalism, a desire to use the image in movement in a different way, outside the canons of standardised cinema, which can also be sensed as a dominating factor in her first feature film, ‘Giravolte/ Freewheeling in Roma’, made in 1998 and edited in fits and starts in the course of the next three years, owing to the small production budget. Despite the low cost, which also deliberately leaves its mark on the aestethics, with live sound and very few virtuosities of shot (apart from a long circular dolly shot at the beginning), the film is in cinemascope, in order to “amplify and
give mythological stature – says Spadoni – to the stories being told”. There are basically three stories, although they are diluted in the destructured and open plot of the film: a group of dropouts having lunch in a shack on the banks of the Tiber when they are interrupted by a young man’s suicide attempt; the bizarre electoral campaign of an aspiring mayor of Rome in the fleamarket of Porta Portese; the arrival of a frenetic american couple (played by Raz Degan and by Drena De Niro, daughter of Robert,an old friend of the director) in the torpid microcosm of a late night bar near the general markets. A journey ‘from dawn til dusk’ through a Rome populated by loafers, poor eccentric devils, an archaic and the same timepost-modern metropolis, whose tourist guide is, once again, Victor Cavallo, whom as he wanders through the city links the various episodes, between improvised sketches and passages of poetry. Her taste for narration, already marked in Spadoni’s previous works, here becomes a continous gift of stories, described in a few strokes through the minimalist pace of the dialogues or by including
the unforseen irruptions in the script of passers-by, seeking to capture the flow of the everyday without ever falling into a documentary style but instead playing on a precarious balance, which is fascinating on this very account, between reality and fiction.
The scenes at the market above all, provide an affectionate and live portrait of a tolerant, interracial, lazily inefficient humanity, immersed in its own goings on and yet still capable of showing curiosity in the surreal slogans proclaimed by the aspiring mayor Victor: “Utopia on the horizon!” or a
Duchampian “Exploit the energy of the peripheral glances!”. Between the highly cultured and plebeian lyricism of Cavallo’s solos and the shots of the stall holders, there is a significant cameo by Alberto Grifi, as himself, a revolutionary – as much as forgotten – filmmaker, an extreme experimenter of a type of cinema suspended between truth and fiction.
After ‘Giravolte’, in 1999 Spadoni organised a screening series of cinema and video from the Balkans in Rome, in which the documentaries of Radio B92 were previewed, the last media channel offering resistance to Milosevic and the war. She returned again to dealing with New York by night scenarios in a music video for Kitchen Tools, and subsequentely went to do a portrait of Arthur Penn for television on the occasion of the great director’s roman workshop, and finally tackling the intense experience of the collective film in the terribile days of the G8 in Genoa.
In the menatime her work also began to circulate in the artistic sphere, where Spadoni’s restless gaze found greater opportunities for experimentation. Her first proper video installation, ‘Dio è Morto/God is Dead’, made in Super 35mm, temporarily sets aside the more narrative aspects of her filmmaking, to drive even further ahead the process of decomposing the filmic image that begun with ‘Al confine tra il Missouri e la Garbatella’. Through the digital treatment of the film, Spadoni elaborates the frames into a stereoscopic double vision, rendered through a twofold projection on angled screens which also aims at an increased physical involvement of the spectator, whose sensation of finding himself no longer in front of, of but ‘inside’ the images is further accentuated by the use of Dolby surround. The long sequence that constitutes the work shows a cowgirl – Fabrizia Sacchi, Leo De Bernardinis favorite actress, as well as of a lot of good italian cinema – who slowly comes along a dirty road. The woman is exhausted, injured and as she walks she begins to get rid of her clothes, but without success, seeing that under every garment there is another just the same. Playing at changing the sign of one of the most ‘male’ cinema genres – Sergio Leone’s western and Peckinpah’s impossibile escapes – Spadoni outlines a small apologue on the difficulty (usually for women, but not always) of stripping oneself of roles and on the need, however, to try to do so. The need to withstand the prevailing banality,
simplifications, the prepackaged gaze, the levelling of differences which leaves its mark on the whole idea of ‘Cinema AlterAttivo’ elaborated by the director, a type of cinema which – as she herself writes – “would comprehend representation in depth to give back to reality its original ambiguity and to the
individuals their own identity as active and thinking spectators”.