by Laurence Hoffmann
Le Conversazioni, a public conversation between visual artist Francesco Clemente and writer Jay McInerney with moderator Antonio Monda was an intimate affair for many reasons.
Antonio Monda’s exquisite introduction honored the recent passing of Jonathan Demme. An excerpt from Philadelphia (1993) shows Tom Hanks, in the final stages of AIDS, explaining opera to his attorney Denzel Washington. Both are deeply moved by the opera’s forceful beauty and strength. Monda’s use of a film excerpt about music is interesting given that music is the one art form not in the foreground of the evening’s discussion.
Monda closes the event with Chaplin’s Gold Rush (1925). Another peculiar choice, his use of the silent movie is if to signify that words do not (always exclusively) carry the narrative – body language and context are crucial. This poignant film about the Great Depression illustrates the power of imagination versus the power of money. In this story, the poor are “richer” than the wealthy. Chaplin playing with forks and bread to music is indeed a memorable, poetic scene.
Meanwhile artist Francesco Clemente’s selections reflect the traits of edgy movies (what he terms “psychedelic”). These are films with non-linear, disruptive narratives; provocateur cinema of the sixties and seventies. A documentary by film maker Gianfranco Rosi is a rarity of its genre. El sicario (2010) shows an assassin for Mexican drug cartels sitting in a motel room with a bloc of papers as if ready to draw. Clemente’s other selections include Glauber Rocha’s Antonio das Mortes (1969), a sparking mix of Marxism and spaghetti western as well as African traditions and Brazilian culture; Alejandro Jodorowski’s The Holy Mountain (1973) about mysticism and esotericism, symbolism and reincarnation; and finally Conrad Rooks’s Chappaqua (1967) which features Beats Burroughs and Ginsberg; and Ornette Coleman, with a score by Ravi Shankar. Philip Glass is music coordinator and Robert Frank cinematographer.
Clemente’s art could be considered figurative, and yet the portraits are of expressionistic quality (not quasi surrealists like his film choices). Monda wonders if the central theme in Clemente’s work is spirituality.
McInerney’s choices are more contained in form and content. They are mostly black and white films, as if to emphasize that the essence of storytelling works best when stripped of the glamour of colors. They are also primarily linear. Fellini’s La dolce Vita (1960) narrates the descent into deprivation of disillusioned tabloid columnist Mastroianni. Clemente goes into explaining his Fellini favorite: Tobey Rabbit, an E.A. Poe story, written by Fellini with Ennio Flaiano and an uncredited Pasolini. McInerney’s other selections are Alexander MacKendrick’s Sweet Smell of Success (1957) where NYC and music by Elmer Bernstein are the centerpieces; Wim Wenders Der Amerikanische Freund (1977), based on a book by Patricia Highsmith, tells the tale of the art dealer tricking an art restorer to commit murder; Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954) illustrates the battle of the outsiders helping the commoners against the oppressor.
The event was well attended. Friends of Antonio Monda were illustrious personas of the contemporary cultural scene: Pappi Corsicato (who presented at the recently ended Tribeca film festival Julian Schnabel: a Private Portrait …the perfect encounter of art and films), Erica Jong and Salman Rushdie…
It was indeed a compelling evening for lovers of culture denoted by the constant intermingling of all art forms with fiction and reality woven together.