The Late Show: “Che Cosa Sono Nuvole?”


My contibution to the Beyond Admirable David Cairns’ Blogathon “The Late Show,” is my favorite film by Pier Paolo Pasolini — presented here in its entirety.

As you can see this film, shot in 1966 as a segment of the otherwise forgettable omnibus Cappricio Italiano, starred the great Italian comic Toto, and Ninetto Davoli. To summarize the action, as there are alas no subtitles on this print, the film concerns a group of life-size puppets performing Shakespereare’s Othello. The heart of the action is a dialogue between Ninetto’s puppet Othello and Toto’s puppet Iago. Othello can’t understand why Iago hates him, and Iago explains that it’s his fate to be betrayed. There is much exceptionally delicate interplay between Ninetto’s Othello and Laura Betti’s Desdemona. Ardiana Asti appears as Bianca and the superb comic Franco Franchi (in particularly animated form) plays Cassio. At the climax Othello refuses to go on with the play as he declines to submit to fate. The audience revolts, destroying the puppets, which are taken away by the singing garbageman, Domenico Modugno. As they lay on the heap of garbage on which they’ve been toeed Othello/Ninetto looks up at the sky and asks Iago/Toto what he’s seeing. “Clouds” Toto says. “What are Clouds? (Che Cosa Sono Nuovole?)” Ninetto asks. “The wonders of nature,” Toto replies as Ninetto sighs and smiles.

Domenico Modugno, an incredibly important Italian pop singer/songwriter, who executes the title song more or less throughout the film, did offscreen vocal duties for Pasolini (and composer Ennio Morricone) in the first film made with Toto an Ninetto, Uccellacci e Uccellini (aka. The Hawks and the Sparrows) A third Toto-Ninetto film The Earth As Seen From the Moon (for the Sylvana Mangano-starred omnibus The Witches) was also shot that year. They were the last works of Toto’s long and distinguised career as a kind of Chaplinesque “Everyman.”

Ninetto was just a street kid, Pasolini noticed hanging around the shoot of his 1964 international breakthrough film The Gospel According to Matthew (an international hit for supposedly being a truly pious representation of Christ’s life, despite the fact that its maker was a gay athiest.) Pasolini recognized that Ninetto, who had never acted before, was a “natural,” and partnered by him with Toto. As you can see they were perfection together. Ninetto went on to work with Pasolini on all his subsequent films except Salo. The characters ( or more to the point figures) in Pasolini’s notorious epic are eith victims or executioners, and Paolini could not bear to see Ninetto as either. For Ninetto was the love of his life.

Pasolini had considerable difficulty as a gay man in Italy in the postwar era. Born to the bourgeoisie he was anti-bourgeois in every way — save for his presentation of self in everyday life. (I had the great pleasure of meeting him in New York in 1966 and 1968 and on both occasions he struck me as a profound intellectual in the guise of gentlemen of overwhelming sartorial elegance.) He was thrown out of the Italian Communist Party for being gay. And he had no interest in living a conventional gay life — which in one of his late essays he likened to conventional straight life.

Ninetto loved “Pa” dearly, but wanted to get married and raise a family. This saddened Pasolini to a great extent, though in one of his late poems about it he accepted it as his fate.

Ninetto was the last person to see Pasolini before his murder, as they had dinner together only hours before the tragedy.

Gay Jeopardy Bonus Points: As you can see the poster for the play in the film is a reproduction of Velasquez “Las Meninas.” This great painting was the primary subject (or is it object?) of Michel Foucault’s masterpiece The Order of Things, which can be downloaded for free HERE.

And now to sing us out, Domenico Modugno at the 1958 Eurovision Song Contest.

I think y’all know this one.

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