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SPECIAL EVENT
GIUNI RUSSO A VOICE FOR THE SONG OF NAPLES


Thursday 1 January 1970

SPECIAL EVENT
GIUNI RUSSO A VOICE FOR THE SONG OF NAPLES

Teatro Zancanaro, Saturday 18 Oct. 2003, 20.30pm

NAPOLI CHE CANTA / THE SONG OF NAPLES (E.F.A., I 1926)
Dir.: Roberto Roberti;
technical director: Carlo Montuori;
cast: Tecla Scarano, Rodolfo De Angelis, Adolfo della Monica;
dist.: Pittaluga; 35mm, 1975 ft., 30' (18 fps), George Eastman House.
Preserved and printed 2002. Italian and English intertitles. Traditional Neapolitan music performed by Giuni Russo

In the spring of 2000 the George Eastman House received a letter from an elderly lady from California. Her handwritten message made a reference to three reels of nitrate film which had allegedly been smuggled in the late 1920's by a relative from Italy, who feared that Mussolini would order its destruction. The print was being offered to the Museum as an unconditional gift. However, the title of the film she was writing about - The Song of Naples - seemed harmless enough. Why would the Fascist dictator bother to deal with something which appeared to be nothing but a routine piece of folklore on celluloid? Nevertheless, an offer presented under such unusual terms could not be ignored. The three reels were sent to George Eastman House, and quickly identified as Napoli che canta, directed by Roberto Leone Roberti. The print was in such poor condition that there was no way to view it as it was, and two years had to elapse before restoration was completed. Only then the strange story evoked by the donor began to make some sense: after the opening scenes with the customary shots of Neapolitan urban landscapes and street musicians (beautifully shot and with tinted, toned and stenciled sections), Roberti's elegy to Mediterranean culture gradually shifts to a plaintive, vaguely polemical tone. A song is staged as a silent dialogue between a prison inmate and his fiancée; later on, a boat of emigrés is seen leaving the harbor while a mother stands by the shore with a baby in her arms; pain, disillusion and nostalgia are tinged with religious undertones in the last frames of the film. We will never know to what extent the story of Mussolini's opposition to the film is grounded in reality; however, Napoli che canta is indeed much more than a silent film musical, and it is hard to believe that the recollections of its donor could be a pure figment of her imagination. Her name is Elinor Leone, a relative of film director Sergio Leone. The print has Italian and English intertitles, a clear evidence that the film had been shown in the United States to immigrant audiences. George Eastman House acquired in July 2003 a large set of posters, stills, theatre programs, business letters and lobby cards from Michael Ruggieri, a distributor of Italian films in New York, an invaluable time capsule of a long forgotten episode in film distribution for ethnic minorities. As luck would have it, one of the boxes contains publicity material for Napoli che canta (and who knows - maybe it was Michael Ruggieri who had distributed this very print, and added English intertitles to it). This impressive and yet fragile corpus of historical documentation (it was left for decades in a hot and humid environment) is now undergoing conservation work at the Museum. As a longtime admirer of Italian singer Giuni Russo, I thought of her unique soprano voice as the ideal accompaniment to a silent film, with or without Neapolitan music. With the help of her collaborator Maria Antonietta Sisini and of the singer Aurelio Fierro - a true icon of traditional music in Italy - Giuni has located all the songs mentioned in The Song of Naples, and had them arranged into a suite celebrating the beauty and the melancholy of the real-life story depicted in the film. Her participation in this project is a fitting tribute to the people who were forced to leave a homeland plagued by poverty and political oppression. As far as I'm concerned, it is also the fulfillment of a dream: Giuni Russo in person, singing by the screen of the Pordenone Silent Film Festival.

-Paolo Cherchi Usai

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto
Palazzo Flangini Biglia
Viale Zancanaro
33077 Sacile (Pordenone) Italia

http://cinetecadelfriuli.org/gcm/

Helen Dobrensky,



Helen

Manager International Press Relations
Email:helen@digitfilms.com    


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