Videocracyby Kavish Chetty / 20.08.2010
Italians have a popular representation in cinema and literature: macho, Machiavellian, masculine – perfectly dramatic, their musical language with its curvaceous notes; their gesticulating fingers, their goon-honour in the Godfather. So, it comes as nothing other than affirmation that the Italian males in Videocracy are militantly masculine: they command women, they mainline their arteries with power and wealth: their Italy is the Italy of excess and decadence, hypersexualisation in the land that gave us Passolini’s Salo.
But this film isn’t about men. It’s about television, and the power of the image; the image that holds society in thrall, that defines the male in ‘straitjacket-terminology’, that defines the female as a sexual plaything; just an aggregate of sculptured asses and pendulous breasts and lips wet with desire. This is the opening shot of Videocracy. Flesh, flesh flesh! Here a nipple on a bed of areola, there the curve of an ass bulging out of virgin-white bikini briefs. This is the television of Italy. This is the image in every household of that much-maligned screen. The television: that slaughterer of brain-cells, that perpetual lowerer of standards.
Videocracy explores the cult of television and celebrity in Italy, a strange country where President Berlusconi the Arrogant runs 6 of the 7 free TV channels. It starts off innocently enough via the dreams of young Riccardo. Riccardo, like most young brain-dead youths dreams of making his way onto the television screen: he is a source of tragicomedy, a likeable dumb-ass who can’t sing worth a ten-second fuck, but wants to mix the martial arts of Bruce Lee with the singing style of has-been Ricky Martin. He intimates later on in the show how difficult it is for men to break into TV, while girls have it easy because they’ve got a certain anatomical allure that executives might want for themselves. He basically hints that if he was offered a lead role in an Italian feature film, he’d sell his ass for the chance.
And from there the director charts a route throughout Italian TV culture. He exposes first the ‘make-or-break’ media mogul Lele Mora whom he captures smiling like an expectant dog at the camera while playing a Mussolini-hymn ringtone on his cellphone. He exposes then the paparazzo-king Fabrizio Corona, a garish entrepreneur who claims, “I’m the modern-day Robin Hood. I take from the rich and keep it for myself.” And from there, Silvio Berlusconi who commisioned a public advert, in which hosts of women sing the chorus “Thank God that Silvio exists!” – what the fuck is going on here?
With a dramatic soundtrack that might be a few steps closer to the conspiratorial Zeitgeist-like hyperbole than should be allowed, the documentary is still thrillingly handled. The reality of this culture made me cringe and laugh and then slacken my jaw as every “Oh no, he’s not going to really, is he?” moment fulfilled itself. Celebrity, crass consumerism, corruption and power, television, objectification: all the usual liberal targets are here lined up and then sniper-shot. The temptation with documentaries like this is to shrug off the consequences as melodramatic. But if director Eric Gandini is showing off the all-too-fucking dire consequences of the rise of the image, I’m a little uneasy.