June 15, 2024


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Zorn thinks big: Hannigan is a true ‘wonder woman’ of the contemporary Torino Jazz Festival 2024: Videos, Photos

The Torino Jazz Festival had an ace up its sleeve: the support and collaboration of the National Cinema Museum (remember that Turin was the first cradle of Italian cinema). A support that has translated not only into the making available of rare films (once again the intense and problematic ‘Paris Blues’ by Martin Ritt escaped me, one day we will have to talk about it seriously, provided it re-emerges on some local platform), but in a real production.

It may seem a little cruel to come and talk to you about two films that only had a fleeting passage at a festival for the benefit of a few dozen lucky people. But I also do it because there is a slim hope that both films could make their reappearance elsewhere, especially in some Italian festival which could in one case benefit not from a simple repeat, but from something more and new.

In fact, ‘Steve and the Duke’ by director Germano Maccioni saw its editing completed just a couple of days before the screening, and after the Cinema Museum had made a decisive contribution in raising the funding for the operation. In other words, without the Festival and the Museum the work would hardly have seen the light.

‘Steve and the Duke’ is a complex work and, as we will see later, still in progress. First of all, it has two directors: one off-screen, Maccioni, and the other ‘on-screen’, Franco Maresco. While Maccioni worked hard in front of slow motion to select and give complete shape to a very large raw shot, Maresco is the narrative voice – but almost always in the foreground – of this sort of cinematic stream of consciousness fed by the memory of the Sicilian director.

The work is spread over at least three floors, with a sort of Chinese box structure. The first, which acts as a frame, is that of the present: Maresco and Maccioni drive through Palermo at night in search of places of memory, a reconnaissance accompanied by Maresco’s discouragement in the face of the changes in his city.

The second is that of the Palermo Pop Festival of 1970, perhaps the first in Italy together with that of Zerbo: an event that now appears almost mythological, and which represented the swansong of a Palermo season of intellectual vivacity (remember that the congress of Gruppo ’63 took place right there), destined to be completely submerged by the wave of blood and violence of the following decades. If I’m not mistaken, not even the stadium that hosted him no longer survives.

Among many pop stars, more or less ephemeral, Duke Ellington’s band made a surreal appearance, which sparked the imagination of the few but enthusiastic Sicilian jazzophiles who experienced it as something almost supernatural (it has also been written a novel on the subject). And this despite the far from excellent performance of the Duke’s team, now headed towards a melancholy sunset avenue. Mediocrity of which Maresco, a great jazz enthusiast, was perfectly aware: but the event gave birth in him to the temptation to investigate this music ‘behind the scenes’, starting to adventurously – and often dangerously – film all the jazzmen who came across him shot in the following years. After the first annoyed and even hostile reactions, he slowly managed to build a relationship of trust and intimacy with many musicians.

And here we arrive at Spasimo, in 1999. Maresco convinces Steve Lacy, now a friend, to play a solo series of Ellington songs. The performance is filmed by a real ace of the steadycam (at the time a heavy and difficult tool to handle, unfortunately I don’t remember the name of this good operator): the footage is of an extraordinary intensity, with the camera continuously rotating around the saxophonist, with first exciting plans that capture all the tension of improvisation. This is told to you by someone who in distant years was lucky enough to see Lacy play two meters away in a defunct blues club in the Milanese hinterland.

But there’s not only this: in the interval between one song and another there is a confidential and extraordinary interview in which Steve Lacy reveals his relationship with the Duke, and with his laconic, wise answers as a Zen master he offers us a lucid and unconventional look at African-American music and its myths. In this, urged by a very empathetic and participatory Maresco, who also brings into play his personal worries as a failed pianist. The result is a portrait of Steve which, in terms of subtlety and psychological depth, far surpasses the average jazz documentary I have seen so far.

Unfortunately this little treasure took the form of a production by Telepiù – Canal Plus, a quality broadcaster unfortunately overwhelmed by the subsequent wave of cathode junk. It would take a Zev Feldman of cinema to track down the rights relating to this documentary and to unravel the legal tangles that certainly imprison him. But if even a true champion of Sicilian cosmic pessimism like Maresco nourishes a thread of hope about the liberation of these extraordinary materials (see tasty dialogue via web with the audience of the Cinema Massimo in Turin), we now need another festival that embarks on the The adventure of making this Ur-Film evolve, as philologists would define it, into something broader and more complete: the reward would be the first of Lacy’s splendid Ellingtonian interpretations, a ‘coup’ that would certainly be the envy of many. “Spes ultima dea”: I launched my message in a bottle among the waves of the web….

Another comparison between Maresco and Lacy: here we come across one of jazz’s many missed opportunities, Steve in Miles Davis’ group. We are compensated with a nice ‘Blue in Green’ which however makes us think about how much we have lost. Thanks to the owner of the channel who saved this ‘sliver’ of RaiTre from twenty years ago, I don’t even want to think what happened to this material in the RAI archives…

The appointment with ‘Zorn 3’ by Mathieu Amalric was also extraordinary in its own way, but for different reasons. Amalric is a leading character of that French cinema so snubbed in our area, but which boasts a much firmer grip on reality than ours, in part notable now a warehouse of pre-packaged products for TV.

Amalric is an extroverted character with an irresistible communicative power, and this must have facilitated his penetration into the sancta sanctorum of Zorn’s workshop. In addition, of course, to a bullet-proof faith in Zornia, as demonstrated by the fact that there are three documentaries he dedicated to the American musician: unfortunately I lost the first two, but I must say that the third lives a life of its own, and perhaps it is the most intense and fascinating of the three.

Amalric has one thing in common with Maresco and Maccioni: he is a staunch practitioner of the ‘close-up’. ‘I don’t use the zoom, I walk into him,’ the French actor and filmmaker states without hesitation. But while Maresco uses a bare-bones crew, but essentially conventional and professional, the Frenchman projects himself into the action armed with a single mini video camera, always shooting by hand, continuously and in real time. It will then be up to the slow motion editors to rough out and select: in fact Amalric has great regard for them, bending over backwards to pay them more than the lowest average in use in the sector.

The prey of Amalric’s voyeuristic voracity this time are Zorn struggling with the staging of his ambitious opera ‘Jumalattaret’ and Barbara Hannigan, the protagonist he chose.

Zorn thinks big: Hannigan is a true ‘wonder woman’ of the contemporary music scene. She is the soprano dedicatee of works by various composers, she is the protagonist of a series of world premieres, and she has also recently jumped onto the podium with baton in hand to try her hand at conducting.

Yet this character, as soon as she receives the score of Zornia’s work, is overcome by a long series of doubts and anxieties about her suitability for such an unusual role and in musical territories foreign to her: and already here we can sense the fabric and the talent of an artist completely alien to leading lady poses, which given her CV she could well afford.

The entire first part of ‘Zorn 3’ is a sort of tormenting epistolary novel that runs between a doubtful and anxious Hannigan and a persuasive and persuasive Zorn like the Serpent of Genesis.

So persuasive that at a certain point the action moves to Lisbon, to a rehearsal room of the Gubelkian Foundation, which will host the premiere of Zornia’s opera in its splendid auditorium overlooking a park.

And it is here that, leaving behind Zorn’s encouragement and generic reassurances, Hannigan’s real battle with the score begins, assisted by the very capable and tireless Stephen Gosling who accompanies her on the piano in the reading and rehearsal. Without shame or pride, the soprano points out and addresses all the most critical passages of the work, exemplifying the risks for its performance. With Zorn’s presence she begins a gradual and assiduous work of polishing and rewriting many passages, which gradually lose their theoretical abstractness and gradually move closer to concrete executableness.

Between anxieties, errors, rewritings, liberating laughter and a progressive gain of confidence we arrive at the final shots, where Hannigan enters the scene for the first performance, also facing the difficulties of the theatrical interpretation of a piece with a fantastic and mythological setting.

A document in many ways extraordinary for everyone, essential for the Zornian faithful, who, to the amazement of Amalric in France, wanted it to be programmed in the ordinary circuit. But our man must have been even more amazed by the recent request from a German producer who intends to distribute it together with the other two ‘Zorn’ in Austrian and German cinemas. And who cares about the poor Italian Zornians? Another stone thrown into the pond.

For now let’s settle for the French trailer: at the end some short sequences of ‘Zorn 3’, with the composer and Hannigan in action in Lisbon.


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