The poster for the season of experimental films that the late Albie Thoms presented, shows he had invited italian filmaker Alfredo Leonardi to present his selection of new films at the Co-op’s in Sydney and Melbourne. Leonardi is on the poster, but Pier Farri, one of the filmmakers on the programme (but not listed on the poster) came instead.
Albie included Pier in the interview style feature ‘Sunshine City’ in 1973. We showed that at the co-op in Melbourne I think. Albie’s flicker cut feature ‘Marinetti’ about the Italian Futurist (or in a homage to the style of) had been on a world tour in 1970 and I assume he met the programme’s Italian filmmakers then.
‘According to the Filmmakers Co-operatives Catalogue of Independent Film 1975-1976 / The National Film and Sound Archive of Australia,” ‘Sunshine City’ is “A structured diary film which investigates the process of living in Sydney. Uses a repeating light modulation to intensify experience of light, heat, color.”
Yeah, that sounds about how I remember it. In the IMDB cast list of ‘Sunshine City’, Pier is listed as a film composer and actor, not a filmmaker. However his 1973 film ‘Futurist Europe‘ is in the Art Gallery of NSW collection but not mentioned in his own IMDB page.
A segment of the film he showed is included in my film below. He said it was hand processed (as much for the effect as to save money apparently) and it’s hard to tell if the frame border was intentionally ‘grunged’. I remember that he said the death mask he caresses and kisses was a poet, Goethe? Dante? Probably not Marinetti. The caged Lamb and Lion metaphor suggest Goethe, the nose Dante. The screening shown in my film was at Melbourne Uni, and I filmed from the screen. I’ve played with the positive/ negative switches because it seemed ‘right’. Pier’s version is totally in negative. Play this in HD if you can, it’s super8 after all.
Pier stayed with film-maker friends in Melbourne, that’s Magda at the table. The house on the horizon is Arthur and Corinne Cantrill’s in Brunswick Road Moonee Ponds. I can remember that we were close enough to the Royal Park zoo, to sit on their verandah and listen to the lions roar at night.
Friend Howard Lindley was immediately smitten by Pier, so I was asked to film yet another diversion to his unfinished film ‘Easy to Lie’. I don’t know where that footage has gone, there’s a few 100 foot reels still to examine. Howard may have taken his own life just some months after these images were made. It confuses me to think how all that event is twisted up in these images.
The flower seller was at Melbourne Uni, and I remember there was a plot suggestion for Pier to give the flowers to a random pretty girl, which may have happened on the 16mm. The flower lady gave them to Pier for free, she liked him too. Howard took the pictures of me filming Pier or maybe it was another of the filmmakers there, like Michael Lee. It seems too steady and sharp for Howard.
(I’ve now updated a piece about Howard Lindley that was on my Thinktag site for years, and shifted it here to remember.it, now there’s some larger images. )
Issue 8 Cantrill’s FILMNOTES June 1972
I’ve taken these excerpts from the Cantrill’s interview with Pier Farri from issue #8 of FILMNOTES (which has proven to be the best resource for my memory of our experimental cinema and especially good for me as it did have a lot of Melbourne focus.)
As Corinne always reminds us at any screening – ‘Copies are still available’.
Tell us about yourself!
I am 30. I started in cinema 5 years ago. Before that I had worked on a lot of records, I was a musician in a pop group. I learned filmmaking through the commercial cinema: I worked with a friend on a script for a fiction film, and I followed it through, working on the sound mixing. But after a while I realised I was not interested in this sort of cinema – it was too tied to the spoken word: ¾ hour dialogue, 20 minutes music, a few sound effects. It’s a formula; they are all the same. So I started in television with RAI, working on a 3 hour program, ‘THEATRE OFF OFF BROADWAY. Again I was collaborating with a friend, working on the sound mixage, and also the editing of the image. It was a form of reportage on the total situation of theatre in America and we had to translate and dub the actors voices into Italian.
Through all this I started to think about and see another kind of cinema. – different, more expanded: research into cinema, but it took me years to learn what cinema was, I mean coming through the door of Sound, and opening another door which was Editing, with a beautiful complex moviola; and then the shooting. It is so difficult: cinema is so complicated.
When did you come into contact with the New Cinema Movement?
Five years ago, because I was in music, and music and films are strictly connected in Italy as in America. I first saw underground movies when I was with the Living Theatre: we were screening cinema there, and everybody was making films. I worked there on a long 2-hour documentary.
The 70 hour program of New .American Cinema that Sitney took to Europe
in 1967 must have made an impression.
Yes, we were not so isolated. Many American filmmakers come to Rome, mainly to see Rome! And so they bring films. Kenneth Anger, for example: he shot a film in Sicily. Andy Warhol was there a month ago. But at the same time the American cinema didn’t influence at all the Italian cinema; except for the work of one filmmaker, perhaps: Alfredo Leonardi. You see, we have such a long tradition in experimental film, as we call it; not ‘underground’, which is the thing that happened from 1962 until now in the 16mm work in America. We have such a long tradition, with films done in 1916 – PERFIDO INCANTO, the Futurist film, which is so expressionist, but made over 10 years before the Expressionist films.
Perhaps we can see it in Rome?
Yes, but it is so bureaucratic – you have to apply 2 months in advance to the Italian Cinetheque. (It’s bad that film classics are so inaccessible compared with books.) That’s why I’m waiting for the video-cassettes, because at that point, really, they have to make copies.
There’s a lot of good history and background to the New Italian Cinema in this interview, and of the politics that drives it. Get a copy if it interests you. I’ve selected more of the personal, and some bits that talk about the ‘medium’ at the time, like being pre-video cassettes. Fred.
The (commercial cinema) media (isn’t the) camera, it’s the movie house: this is really important. You go there, not to be alone, but to be with thousands of people. What does it mean? In the movie house you have the dark, but you don’t have the silence. With 16mm the medium changes. The movie house is a little movie house – perhaps literally a house. That’s why yesterday I was so embarrassed in that big Dendy theatre because it was the wrong medium. It is a question of dimension; of people who are there. So I always say that the commercial people are making monuments, we are making sculptures. Sculpture is for the house and garden, so strictly personal. Universal, but personal. The commercial people are making public images of nations, because our government pays a minimum of 50% of the cost of every Italian feature film. ·That’s why we have a big industry. But if you want to be paid you have to submit the script first and it has to be accepted by 22 committees. If I want to blow up a 16mm film into 35mm I can’t. It is impossible. There is only one way: if you want to make a film for theatres the government has to be part-producer.
Monuments have to be planned very carefully, because it is an image of the government and it costs a lot of money. It is produced by the government and therefore by the audiences. The audience produces. The rest of the money comes from private investors or distributors. Distributors means directly – the movie house. The owner of the movie house looks at the audience reaction to the recent films; to this or that actor or director, and they say, OK, I can give you 2 million now to make a film in the same style. Therefore it is the audiences who produce the films.
THE NEW CULTURE OF AUDIO-VISION
The commercial filmmaker has the problem of giving back the producer a million dollars, but I think even so it is possible within this industry to make art, but it is”industrial art”. But now we want to expand cinema into new areas of audio vision. Cinema is one thing, but audio vision is much wider, embracing the filmic sense. I can use it for research into death/magic/hypnotic realms. So I found my vocation in another area; not in conventional cinema, because that is so violent, I couldn’t live in that world. It is inhuman – competitive, aggressive, no morals: actors commit suicide daily! They are only concerned with making money but in the cruellest way. In Rome, you know, which is a poor, poor, poor city – it is 5 times more poor than Milan, for instance: we have 200,000 unemployed – there are no factories in Rome. The only industry is cinema. It is dramatic, dramatic.
With underground or experimental film, you have to remember that cinema tradition was entirely developed in 35mm film, within the film industry, so that is the cultural tradition we have behind us. And many-experimental things were done within cinema before 16mm arrived. ‘The first pan was developed in the cinema – it took 14 years to move the camera, to make a closeup it took 12 years. It is a visual culture developing, but in slow motion! It isn’t so easy.
But the Co-op there is not as organised as here: we are pretty anarchist. We have a couple of reviews published that I hate: too formal, too abstract: the theory of the theory of cinema – it is alienation. We are also very much isolated from the rest of European film making – but the trouble is we are overpopulated – we close the mind and ignore each other.
Do you do any political film work?
Yes I am involved in an association called Italia-China, with the Chinese. It is a friendship association. We receive a lot of papers, films from China to develop a knowledge in every sense: cultural, free Chinese lessons – it really opens the mind to the Chinese. I think it is very important. I give part of my time to this – looking after the films there. But I am not making political films.
What did you expect to find in Australia?
I was in my home town when I was asked to go – it’s close to Bologna – and I was there to vote in an election. There Alfredo called me asking if I could go. There had been someone else ahead of me who has more seniority within the Co-op. I should say that while the Co-op works here very openly – Saxon – there we work always like the Mafia – rather secretive! So I came at very short notice. I hoped I would find tropical radiancel .Alfredo told me it was autumn here, but I never thought it would be a real winter. As for film, I knew there was some tradition of underground, never thinking to find such organisation.
It is easy to be a prophet and say that there is a great future for audio-visual development here. You have no great tradition in 35mm production to hold you back, and the government is pouring money into pushing 16mm for everything: schools, television; that’s very important. We don’t have 16mm – even television uses 35mm. It is a new society – all this technology. In our country the government helps only the rich – giving millions of dollars to industrial film production.
Pier Farri’s films in the Italian program are two parts of a self-portrait: AVANT-GARDE PRAYER and FAUST. Both are entirely composed of negative images – an anti-world of black fire and water, white shadows. He says ” It’s a self-portrait of an artist who has a problem of a choice between tradition and the avant-garde: to be free or disciplined.” Part two shows the same artist who wants to make his own alchemy: this is his choice. It’s a self portrait in negative showing the negative side of an artist.