review: VIDEOCRACY by Erik Gandini, Sweden 2009

a fascinating and sometimes chilling visual essay, videocracy examines italy in the age of media baron and current prime minister silvio berlusconi.

erik gandini is an italian filmmaker who went to film school in sweden. u see some of that influence in his work – a certain sparesity in narration which is more than compensated for by the cinematographic content of the film. gandini loves the documentary form on account of that flexibility – u can communicate what reality feels like without having to articulate what it is.

at the beginning of the film he explains how u have to be inside of italy’s berlusconi-induced video culture in order to understand it, it’s not enough to look at it from the sidelines. and inside we go as the film plunges into a collage of footage from tv shows. one of the producers explains how the images and sounds that emanate from berlusconi’s tv programming represent the man himself, his persona. he likes naked voluptuous women, fun parties, loud colors, and money and that’s what u see on-screen.

reality tv is immensely popular in italy and so is the idea that there is no point in just “being” unless u r “seen.” we meet a young man who has been training to become a cross between jean-claude van damme and ricky martin for 12 yrs so he can be on a tv show. he complains about how girls get all the gigs: “the girls will do anything to be on tv. they have an advantage. it’s not fair. why should i be a mechanic for the rest of my life?”

he is right. girls do have an advantage. many of them dream of becoming velines, tv show dancers who accompany the host on stage. they never speak but perform a rather ridiculous dance which is meant to engage the audience in between breaks. whether they r velines or housewives on reality tv, women r constantly objectified, degraded. i couldn’t help ask myself whether it’s worse for women to be hidden away by the taliban or to be stripped naked in front of cameras by talk show hosts. of course there is the question of free will – but is there?

we are introduced to a cherubic friend of the prime minister’s: lele mora is the most powerful talent agent in italy. he can turn regular people into super stars. everyone wants him. he’s a master puppeteer. gandini’s camera lingers on his face – an odd mix of beatific smiles and sleazeball ambiguity.

one of his proteges is a man named fabrizio corona. he employs paparazzi to hound celebrities and sells their compromising photographs back to them. he gets 80 days in prison for extortion but comes out tanned, buffed up, rebranded and fully merchandised. he becomes a celebrity and starts making some serious dough – his job is to show up at parties where people can get pictures taken with him. when he starts to lose his touch, he decides to go to murder scenes and ask the families of murder victims to sport his t-shirts in exchange for money. that doesn’t work out too well. he straps a video camera onto his body and secretly films his own divorce proceedings. he’s a survivor.

it’s a nightmarish world – surreal in its vulgarity, horrifying in its vacuousness, disturbing in its ability to produce mass appeal. the film ends with some text: 80% of italians get their information from tv. it’s the legendary panem et circenses and we would do well to recognize where we’re headed.

girls auditioning for the much desired job of veline.