Thursday, June 18, 2015

Jazz e altre visioni: Jazz Films by Gianni Amico

One of my latest discoveries in the world of European jazz films comes from Italy. The films in question are two shorts directed by a largely unknown Gianni Amico whose early death (1933-90) and the fact that many of his films were made for Italian TV has added to an unjust obscurity.

However, his name might have a special resonance for those who have seen the chapter of Jean-Luc Godard's Histoire(s) du cinéma dedicated to Amico. Why when Godard aspires to praise Italian cinema in his film history project he chooses Amico as a symbol of that cinema and certain tendencies in it? The answer could be in one of Amico's films, released on DVD by Cineteca di Bologna.

Histoire(s) du cinéma

Cineteca di Bologna has put together a collection of three of his films, two of which (Noi insistiamo! Suite per la libertà subito and Appunti per un film sul jazz) about jazz, and the other one, Il cinema della realtà, mostly about cinema, featuring interviews with masters of Italian modern cinema such as Rossellini, Antonioni, and Pasolini.

Johnny Griffin in Appunti per un film sul jazz
Biographical information and first hand observations about Amico, his cinema and his politics can be found on a 40-minute long documentary featured on the disc, in which, among others, Bernardo Bertolucci, whose Prima della rivoluzione (1964) was co-written by Amico, reminisces about his late friend and collaborator. A combination of personal passion and political commitment connected Amico to the avant-garde jazz of the 1960s out of which at least two films were produced.

Mal Waldron talking about resistance
Noi insistiamo! Suite per la libertà subito, the shortest of the three film on thus DVD, is a photo-based visual essay on Max Roach's groundbreaking Freedom Now! album, using photographic material to reconstruct the  history of violence against black Americans, edited along three pieces from the album, starting with Triptych (Prayer, Protest, Peace).

Steve Lacy reflecting on Thelonious Monk

The second film, Appunti per un film sul jazz [Notes for a film about jazz], is far more interesting in its use of jazz. Shot during the Jazz Festival in Bologna in 1965, Appunti manages to record not only the events of a group of American jazz musicians (plus an Argentinean saxophonist and an English singer) visiting the city, but also captures the political climate in which the avant-garde jazz breathed. The musicians appearing on camera, each presented in a chapter starting with a text, are Don Cerry, Mal Waldron, Ted Curson, Johnny Griffin, Gato Barbieri, Annie Ross, Pony Poindexter, and Booker Ervin.

After watching this film, I came to believe that it must have been Amico who introduced Bertolucci to Gato Barbieri (who eventually composed Last Tango in Paris) but also Pier Paolo Pasolini to Ted Curson's Tears for Eric Dolphy, a song featured in Amico's film, which later was used, According to Johnathan Rosenbaum, without authorization, on the opening credits of Teorema. It worth noting that  Il cinema della realtà contains interviews with both filmmakers in question.

Cecil Taylor and Gianni Amico

Furthermore, according to Marco Bertozzi, Appunti per un film sul jazz was also the first "cinéma direct" film to be made in Italy, documentaries shot with light-weight equipment and direct-on-film sound recording. This further confirms the discourse about modern jazz and new wave cinemas being not only aesthetically but also physically or practically interconnected, a notion that Adriano Aprà explains when he comments that the real feeling of friendship and collaboration in creating something new is shared equally by both jazzphile and cinéphilie.

* * *

Watch a scene from Appunti per un film sul jazz, featuring Don Cherry (cornet), Gato Barbieri (tenor sax), Carlhans Berger (vibraphone),  J. F Jenny Clark (bass), and Aldo Romano (drums).

What makes this piece of film history even more historically significant is the fact that the film will be returned to the screen where it was shot 50 years ago: Bologna!

Support Cineteca di Bologna by purchasing the DVD here. (The two jazz films are in English but the rest of material on this DVD have no English subtitles. The booklet is also in Italian.)


  1. Great little article on two gems. Just wanted to point out another possible Gianni Amico connection: Gato Barbieri also appeared in Pasolini's 'Notes Toward an African Orestes' (shot in 1969), auditioning to score the unrealized project as a jazz opera. The results are fairly disastrous, but the playing is brilliant. Don Cherry also bought Gato along with him as part of the band that scored Jerzy Skolimowski's 'Le Depart,' another very hip soundtrack from the late 60's. That group was led by Krzysztof Komeda, another accomplished composer of film music. Small world back then, I guess.

    1. Thanks, Andrew. I can point out another Barbieri/Pasolini/Amico connection: Barbieri's wife was Pasolini's interpreter when there was a screening (or a retrospective) of PPP in NYC. It is possible that they've met there for the first time. I heard that story from Tom Luddy, the co-director of Telluride Film Festival.

  2. Ah, that was Michelle Barbieri I suppose. "Michelle" was the title of the A-Side on Gato's first leader date for ESP. The title of the B-Side: "Cinematheque." It all really fits together very nicely, at least in my mind. Thanks for sharing the anecdotes Ehsan.