Prod.: Ambrosio 16mm. L.: 71 M. D.: 90’41” A 16 F/S. Bn.
The Earthquake in Messina, or the Rules of Reality
The very nature of the audiovisual form sets into motion a game between reproducing and investigating reality, the result of which is never final.
If we wanted to use critical means to show the distance between an actual fact and how the media represents it, we could take the unfortunate example of an unforgettable 1908 event, the devastating earthquake that hit the provinces of Messina and Reggio Calabria at the end of the year, which attracted national and international attention. The main issue confronting the viewer regards information – today we would call it communication, decidedly more invasive and up to date – and how reality is represented. What are we aware of? What do we truly know? And, more importantly since we are also dealing with reproductions of still and moving images, what do we see? Clearly the event’s intelligibility is at stake, on a cognitive and sensory level. “Submarine telegraph cables, telegraph, telephone and train lines are down in more than one place and the news arrives in bits and pieces,” reported Il Giornale d’Italia the day after the disaster. We are violently dragged into a situation where the ability to know teeters in extreme chaos, similar to a situation of conflict where the usual means of transmitting information suddenly plummets and falls apart.
It is not a coincidence, from an interpretive point of view, that in order to deal with an enormous catastrophe a state of emergency is declared, and, as a result, the normal administration of justice is suspended. In this way, the situation becomes analogous to a state of war steeped in semantic fog.
Mechanical means of recording inevitably involve the issue of time and the experience of its perception. The press of the time still tried to measure the margin of difference between the actual event and its subjective duration: “A first tremor at 5:23 AM on December 28 that lasted 32 seconds! Have you ever noticed on the small minute dial of your chronometer how brief a half-minute or thirty-two seconds are? And yet half-minute was more than enough time to raze an entire regioni” (L’Illustrazione italiana).
The nature of images condemns them to an ephemeral and fleeting life, to a kind of death in life. Perhaps that is the reason why a handful of paintings painted “from life” in a matter of minutes captures the breadth of entire centuries, both hypnotic and mortal.