Rai of Hope

By James Norton

a-rai-of-hope.jpgFrom the Programme

Italian television offers untold riches to the cinephile, if they know where, and when, to look

It is a little-known fact that Italian television is the finest in the world. In most respects, Italian shows are the most moronic and atrocious to be found anywhere, but amongst this glittering morass one sole programme makes up for all the rest. This is a cinephile’s dream entitled Fuori Orario - Out of Hours or Cose (Mai) Viste - Things (Never) Seen and is to be found a few nights a week from about 1or 2 a.m till dawn on Rai 3,traditionally the Communist channel. The programme consists of a double or triple bill of fabulously obscure movies of the sort we all love and despair of ever seeing, broadcast or even otherwise. To take a given week: a Straub, Fassbinder, Renoir triple bill; Sokurov’s opaque Stone, Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Ozu, Glauber Rocha, Dreyer and Godard…

On New Year’s Eve 2003/4, shortly after midnight, while the population was munching on their lucky lentils, the programme welcomed in the year with the latest in Straub and Huillet’s Sicilian films. But on the same day for 2004/5, they pushed the boat out so far it fell off the edge of the world. Piazzas cleared as the population rushed home and switched on the box.

Characteristically the slot started with several minutes of a grinning ghoul festooned in fairy lights to a soundtrack of White Christmas, then editor / presenter Enrico Ghezzi giving an impassioned introduction to the night’s theme and selection. Some of his introductions are culled from previous years’ editions, others are shown with the voice out-of-synch with the talking head. He is an admirer of Guy Debord, and maps out filmic derives, aleatory and oneiric excursions through cult and hidden cinema, neglected classics and found footage.

After a few ancient shorts, Bunuel’s Milky Way began, abruptly interrupted by Armenian montage maestro Artavazd Pelechian’s short Earth of People (see the previous issue of Vertigo for a rare interview with AP, available for purchase via the website). When that ended the Bunuel resumed for a while until pushed aside by Laurel and Hardy cavorting in a maze, then an astounding hour of rushes from Paradjanov’s The Colour of Pomegranates, much of it imagery absent from the completed film but just as visionary: the angel of death holding a test card, men with feather headresses, gold leaf haloes, naked women on Persian carpets pouring huge bottles of water over themselves, llamas in cathedrals, flaming tombstones… this just a selection of five hours of rushes purchased from the Armenian film archives. Meanwhile, Bunuel’s pilgrims have progressed further down the road to Santiago, but we never see them get there, because Chaplin crackles into life to entertain us.

Ghezzi is clearly a maverick broadcaster but his activities extend far beyond the distribution of bounty to insomniac cinephiles. A former film critic, he began his televisual career as the film programmer for Rai 3, curating themed cycles of cult films. This evolved into a radical broadcast in 1985 called Magnificent Obsession, 40 hours of continuous films, trailers and interviews celebrating 90 years of cinema. In 1987 he published a book on Kubrick and directed an acclaimed short film, Gelosi e Tranquilli The Jealous and the Calm. The following year saw the first Fuori Orario, with Ghezzi and his team trawling the world’s film and television archives for obscure, transgressive and unsung treasures.

Exactly a year after the G8 manifestations and violent police response in Genoa, unedited footage of the events were shown on Fuori Orario, leading some viewers to believe they were watching live coverage of renewed rioting in the city. Ghezzi was phoned by irate Rai bosses in the middle of the night demanding to know what was going on.  

Other striking examples of Fuori Orario programming have included a literally never before seen sequence from WellesDon Quixote; Philippe Garrel’s last film, coproduced by the series, shown a couple of days after its festival debut and, as if to annihilate accusations of dumbing down, 23 hours of video-recorded Gilles Deleuze lectures.

Since 1989 he has also been the editor, with Marco Giusti, of the popular satirical show Blob. The success of Blob is as striking as the existence of Fuori Orario. The show airs almost nightly at prime time on Rai 3 and acts as a radical and comedic counterpoint to television news, operating both on the level of cinematic erudition and vulgar comic derision. The amorphous title is apt: recent editions have included a send up of a veteran Moscow correspondent with Mosfilm classics, Rocky and Communist rallies; a provocative juxtaposition of King Fahd’s funeral and the Bologna train bombing which occurred exactly 25 years earlier; a montage of Iraq peace protests following a quote from and image of the incendiary journalist Oriana Fallacci, all leavened with absurdity, out-takes and as much compromising material of Silvio Berlusconi as can be fit in (this year’s Venice Film Festival included highlights of Blob and Fuori Orario’s past and current glories.)

So, if you want a culturally enriching holiday, go to Italy. Avoid the museums and the monuments, sleep all day and watch TV all night. It’s the people’s visionary cinematheque, it’s free and it never closes.

James Norton is a researcher and producer working in arts television in London.