We’re in a slump: let’s have a good laugh

This is the title of the review by the writer, journalist, wit and feared television critic Sergio Saviane regarding L’arte di far ridere (‘the art of comedy’), the ‘comic cavalcade’ created by Alessandro Blasetti and broadcast on the RAI 1 channel over the course of five evenings, from December 26th 1973 to January 1974. Right from the first lines, Saviane hurls himself like a ferocious beast on the programme scheduling choices for this holiday period, point- ing his finger at television executives who have stuffed “Italian homes for whole afternoons and evenings with a constant stream of comics, old shows that have been repeated numerous times, and exhumed idiotic programmes”. He goes on to write that it wouldn’t be surprising if the schedulers, enlisted in the “national laughter campaign” against the “depressing climate of financial restrictions, had mistaken Blasetti’s programme for a chance-con- sumption show, chosen specifically for thought revellers”.

Blasetti worked for over eighteen months on gathering togeth- er material, viewing over 250 films. His archives house a large and well-documented body of evidence regarding this monumental research project carried out with the help of professionals of the calibre of Lianella Carell, Carlo Romano and Giulio Cesare Castello. In order to fully understand the lengthy and demanding undertaking embarked on by Blasetti to give the programme a precise identity, we would have to quote the whole epistolary dialogue with Suso Cecchi d’Amico, who relentlessly reprimands her friend, to which he answers: “With the passing of the years, your fondness for me must have grown. You lashed me with certain slaps that made me think the ceiling was the floor. Before this you drenched me with the whole of Lake Como. Now you ask me: Will you make up your mind? What do you want to do?” Blasetti asks Ms. d’Amico not to rush him. He declares that he wants to give the programme an amusing and light structure, remaining nonetheless faithful to the idea that he originally expressed when accepting the project: to show “how serious, how difficult and yet how beneficial the art of comedy is”. He also adds that he is not willing to limit the topic, nor to “leave prestigious talents of good humour outside the door, always demanding a cultural passport approved by critical severity”, because “Suso my dear, I believe that you can make your hair stand on end when you restrict yourself. Because when you restrict the field, you condition it. And instead you have the duty to analyse it thoroughly”. 

And in Saviane’s opinion – and in that of many other critics, including Bassoli, Cesareo, Cirri, Doletti and Geron – the director succeeds in his intent. He identifies, in the relationship between the writer, actor and director, one of the weight-bearing platforms to the multiple forms that comedy is expressed in, while he pin- points the other essential element in the topics satire focuses on. Blasetti offers an open and extremely airy framework, where the director’s in-scene presence is only slightly perceived. The editing is unrelenting and never complacent, and the alternating of classic comic cinema pieces with scenes involving writers/performers from the theatre, circus, variety shows and television itself make the whole well-balanced. The trick of showing a projection room where the same comic masters seem to find themselves, almost as if by chance, watching the fireworks display means that Fellini, Zavattini, Totò, Clair, Tati, Campanile, Gregoretti, Age & Scarpelli, Risi, Monicelli, Sordi, Valeri, Caprioli and Salce are turned into the audience to their own and others’ art of comedy. The interviews become amusing tales, swift exchanges of wisecracks and knowing looks seasoned with liberating laughter. “Through this process”, Saviane rounds off, “Blasetti erects his great monument to the cinema that has made billions of people laugh all over the world during its lifetime.”

This presentation of the programme, albeit partial, aims to be the first in a series exploring Blasetti’s lengthy and prolific production for television, involving his creation of various programmes starting in the early 1960s through to the late 1970s: from Gli italiani del cinema italiano (‘Italians in Italian cinema’ – 1964), to Storie dell’Emigrazione (‘emigration stories’ – 1972) and I racconti di fantascienza (‘science fiction tales’ – 1979) through to Il mio amico Pietro Germi (‘my friend Pietro Germi’ – 1980), to name but a few.

(Michela Zegna)

Programme curated by Alfredo Baldi e Michela Zegna