This volume will attempt to follow and to document, with specific factual and bibliographical references, the process of cultural growth of Mario Verdone, who is well-known today in his role as Ordinary Professor of The History and Criticism of Film, and scholar in the field of all the performing arts, as well as art critic, essayist, writer, and poet.
From an educational, scientific, and experimental point of view, it is an interesting case study, in that his process of self-education has been self-conducted, and a case of life-long learning in a personal sense, as well as "lifewide" in an objective sense.
M.V. was born in 1917 in Alessandria (Piedmont) and raised in Siena. During his childhood and early youth, he made use of the educational resources and stimuli offered by the extraordinary atmosphere of this city, with her ancient popular traditions, still alive today in her seventeen neighborhoods (contrade), in her world-famous Palio, which to the city is not a one-day spectacle, but rather the life of the whole year, and her churches and museums teeming with the works of the Italian masters Donatello, Michelangelo, Duccio di Buoninsegna, Simone Martini, Jacopo della Quercia, Giovanni di Paolo, Sano di Pietro, Il Vecchietta, Il Sodoma, Francesco di Giorgio, and so forth. For M.V., as a child, all of these wonders were just at his back door.
M. V. considers having grown up in Siena a real and proper "privilege". In fact, from the educational point of view of a professional aesthete, connoisseur of beauty, expert in art and in the arts, and discoverer of beautiful works, his proximity to so many masterpieces was fundamental to his personal development. Such a dense concentration of masterpieces, as were located in the neighbourhood in which he spent practically his whole childhood and adolescence, can rarely be found in the world. In Siena, Mario always lived in Via Valle Piatta, and within a five-hundred meter radìus from his modest home there were, and continue to be, world-renowned works of art.
Mario's first encounter with art took place in the neighbourhood, and more specifically, in the church he normally attended with his family, the Church of San Giovanni. It is spectacular with its marble "lace" and black and white stripes on a Gothic facade, and it is adjacent to a dramatic staircase which rises towards the Piazza del Duomo. In this church, which is part of the world-renowned Duomo di Siena, one can admire, along with many other works of art, the Baptistry, containing bas reliefs by Donatello, Jacopo della Quercia, and Lorenzo Ghiberti. Part of its ceiling was colorfully frescoed by Il Vecchietta.
If he climbed the steps to the Duomo, Mario could enjoy such masterpieces as statues by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, angels by Domenico Beccafumi, the colorful "rose" by Duccio di Buoninsegna, the marble pulpit by Nicola Pisano, bronze statues by Donatello, numerous frescoes by Pinturicchio in the Piccolomini Library, four sculptures by Michelangelo, and the Madonna by Jacopo della Quercia.
Adjacent to the Duomo, there is the Museo dell'Opera Metropolitana, where among many other wonders, one can admire the Maestà by Duccio di Buoninsegna, atondo by Donatello, a bas relief by Jacopo della Quercia, and several statues by Giovanni Pisano.
Whenever Mario wanted to walk a little further (and this occurred often) he could go to the Pinacoteca, which hosts the largest and most famous collection of paintings with gold backgrounds (fondi oro) in the world. In it, he was literally dazzled by hundreds of these works by artists such as Simone Martini, Guido da Siena, Duccio di Buoninsegna, Pietro Lorenzetti, Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Giovanni di Paolo, Francesco di Giorgio, Sano di Pietro, Domenico di Bartolo, Matteo di Giovanni, Il Vecchietta, Il Sodorna, Domenico Beccafumi, and Lorenzo Lotto.
If we were to count the number of artworks per capita, the neighbourhood in which Mario had the good fortune of being raised would probably be number one in the world. In comparison to youths who grew up in other surroundings, Mario's cultural education was truly of an exceptional nature. One should bear in mind that in the 1920s and 30s, what is known today as "cultural consumption" was, for the general population, almost inexistent, or at least not recognized for its full worth.
Whenever Mario's grandmother Savina or great-grandfather Angiolino took him to the market, they would walk across that architectonic and theatrical masterpiece, the Piazza del Campo, which is today known around the world as the site of the Palio. If they needed a legal document, they would enter from this Piazza into the Palazzo Pubblico, home to the famous Guidoriccio da Fogliano by Simone Martini.
He also enjoyed the views of the above-mentioned stairway of Piazza San Giovanni, or the Piazzetta Tolomei l with the Palazzo Tolomei, where one has the impression of being at the center of a splendid theatrical stage.
In addition to these sights, there were choral performances offered twice a year, in a grand dramatic style, at the Palio.
There are a number of reasons for which the lessons of the Palio, and of the rituals that accompany it, can easily be assimilated by a human being in a phase of growth: the participation of the public, the self-organization of the inhabitants of the contrade, and the strong emotion of experiencing the event. For Mario, the aesthetic, colorful, and musical aspects were probably the prevailing ones. There were the flags, the velvet and gold medieval costumes, the drums, and the trumpets, which played the ritual marches. 1t would be difficult to construct a studio so educationally powerful with respect to colors, the movements of the masses, the sounds, the rhythms, and the ancient traditions brought into contemporary life.
Mario's father was killed in World War I, when he wasn’t yet two months old. For this reason, he grew up rather poor, and in his childhood he was compelled to be creative in coming up with money for his personal treats, such as tickets to the cinema, which was one of his favourite forms of entertainment, and theatrical performances, into which he was sometimes let in for free.
Mario attended public elementary and secondary schools,and later, the university, but it was not these formal studies which fostered in him that vast culture and knowledge for which today he is recognized. During his adolescence, he was a voracious reader of classical works by authors from every country (Chapter I, "Childhood and Adolescence in Siena").
While in secondary school, M. V. worked for the Siena newspapers, where he succeeded in obtaining the job of theatre critic at this young age. Besides modest earnings, this position also granted him a press pass to the theatre and to other types of performances (Chapter I, paragraph 3, and mainly, Chapter II, "Apprenticeship and Work in Journalism", and paragraphs 2-6 of Chapter V).
Mario's father, while saying goodbye to his wife at the train station upon his departure far World War I, had expressed to her his wish that if he should not return, she should provide for their son's complete education. As a war orphan, Mario was exempt from paying far all of his education, a benefit which contributed to his being able to attend the University of Siena. There, he received his degree in law, with a thesis on the philosophy of law. His thesis advisor was the very young Professor Norberto Bobbio, who appointed him as Volunteer Assistant, and who very willingly wrote the introduction to this book.
M.V.'s interests, activities, and writings span many different areas: cinema, theatre, visual arts, opera, the circus, and poetry. Even before moving to Rome in 1941, he had discovered an unpublished poem by the Roman poet G. G. Belli in the Biblioteca Comunale of Siena, and later he published it in Rome, along with an essay. This event marked the beginning of his scholarly commitment to Roman studies (Chapter 111, "Early Writings about Belli and Rome").
During his university career in Siena, and during his Bohemian period after graduation and moving to Rome, M. V. kept company with several young artists, who were to become famous, and for whom he wrote essays and exhibition catalogs. (Chapter IV, "Friendship with Piero Sadun and Other Artists", and Chapter VIII, "Exhibitions and Catalogs", are dedicated to these topics).
Mario's aspiration to become an author himself - beyond his usual writings as a journalist, scholar, and critic - is described in Chapter V (" Aspiring Writer and Admirer of Federigo Tozzi"). Chapter VI, "From the Centro Sperimentale di Cine- matografia to the University of Rome", deals with the intense period of work, research, and teaching at the Centro, which enjoyed world-wide prestige for the outstanding level of its permanent faculty and visiting lecturers, such as Charlie Chaplin, Luchino Visconti, Vittorio De Sica, Pier Paolo Pasolini, René Clair, Michelangelo Antonioni, Robert Bresson, Marcel Carné, Jean Delannoy, John Dos Passos, Federico Fellini, Ingrid Bergman, Giulietta Masina, Henry Cornelius, Béla Balàzs, and Rudolf Arnheim. During this period the Centro also produced such famous actors, writers and directors as Pietro Germi, Folco Quilici, Gabriel Garcia Marques, Fernando Birri, Tomas Gutierrez Alea, Jorge Grau, Istvan Gaal, Fervan Ozpetek, Nanni Loy, Francesco Maselli, Antonio Pietrangeli, Roberto Faenza, and Carlo Verdone. This institution's role was of particular importance to Italy's political situation at the time of World War II. It was during this period that M. V performed his pioneering work in the cultural elevation and scientific recognition of the new art and language of cinema. In the journal Bianco e Nero, Mario contributed significantly to the evolution of the leading thinker's attitude towards the new art of cinema (see his book, Gli intellettuali e il cinema, 1952). During this period, he also authored other important books on the specific language of cinema, including La cultura del film (first published in 1977).
M.V. is recognized as the founding father of the teaching of film science in Italian universities, having been the first to earn, as early as 1965, the facultas docendiin this area of science. For this reason, upon retirement, he was granted the title of Professor Emeritus.
His pioneering work on historical and documental research aimed at the recognition and promotion of the futurist movement, carried out in years in which the movement was still undervalued, is described in Chapters VII, "Futurism", and Chapter VIII, as well as in paragraph 3 of Chapter XII. M. V has been dubbed "the detective of Futurism". There is hardly a futurist whom M. V. has not known personally, and this book, as well as many of his others, contains innumerable, meaningful anecdotes and information about the movement. As a result of M. V.'s interest in them and in their work, several artists in different fields, who, in their youth, had been futurists, resumed their activity, and thereafter produced some highly valuable pieces. Chapter IX, "Poetic Inclination", deals with M.V.'s experience in the writing of poetry, most of which remained unpublished until recent years, beginning in 1989.
M. V. has always considered himself a citizen of the world, and in his struggle to develop himself and his cultural role has seized any possible opportunity (scientificConventions and international festivals) to travel and learn about the cultures of every continent. This activity is described in Chapter X, "Travels". Many valuable occasions to become acquainted with various cultures have occurred through his active participation in the work of international organizations, the most important of which is UNESCO. He is a member of its Italian National Commission, and is now President of its Communication Committee. M. V. has also had a leading role in many other organizations, primarily in the CIDALC (Centre International Diffusion Arts et Lettres à travers le Cinéma) and in the CICT (Conseil International Cinéma et Télévision), and he is now the Honorary President of both. All this experience, as well as his activity as author and director of several documentaries, and theorist of the documentary genre, is described in Chapter XI, "International Organizations and the Production of Documentaries", M.V. is very proud of the fact that his initiatives and research in many areas have often preceded, sometimes by decades, a general scholarly interest in the same subjects, as evidenced by dates of publication, and the fact that several organizations have named him their Honorary President.
In the 1950's, M. V. became very active in the promotion and diffusion of knowledge of Armenian culture in the European world. Among others, two figures are particularly important in illustrating his early work in favour of Armenian culture: it was to the then-unknown film director Paradjanov that he arranged for the first prize at Argentina's Mar del Plata Film Festival to be given (a museum in Erevan has recently been dedicated to this master). Additionally, M.V.'s search for futurists in the world led him to the writings of the poet Ciarenz, and to their publication for the first time in Europe in 1968. Ciarenz is now considered the "poet laureate" of Armenia, and for the national celebration of the hundredth anniversary of his birth, M. V. delivered one of the official speeches in the Opera Theatre of Erevan. This subject is dealt with in Chapter XII, "Armenian Encounters".
M. V.'s authoring of several theatrical texts is described in Chapter XIII, "The Theatre".
M. V:'s early interest in the Palio gave rise to his research in the fìeld of folk performance, for which he advocated cultural recognition long before this field would be honoured with the Nobel Prize awarded to Dario Fo. Many of M.V:'s works and essays are on the history and performances of the circus, which he has theorized as being the "mother" of all forms of performance, including those of theatre and film. These subjects are dealt with in Chapter XIV, "Circus and Popular Performances". Chapter XV "Marionettes", is dedicated to this special type of popular theatre.
M. V. was an early user of the radio as an educational resource, and later, wrote radio plays himself. Chapter XVI, "The Radio", describes these activities.
Chapter XVII, "Farewell to the Reader", concludes the series of interviews found within the book.
As a complement to the chronology found at the beginning of the volume, an ample selection from M. V.'s Bibliography has been placed at the end of it. It is not intended to be complete, but rather a source of information for scholars who may wish to read more about specific subjects. The works marked with an asterisk (*) are of particular importance. The Bibliography is divided" into subjects (which do not correspond to the subjects of the chapters) and within each subject, the works are listed in chronological order. It is divided as follows:
Sienese and Youthful Writings
Writings on Rome and on G.G. Belli
Prose Theatre and Opera Librettos
The Different Aspects of Futurism
Art and Artists
Essays on Cinema, Theatre, Literature, and Photography
Circus and Popular Theatre
Video and Audiocassettes
In the Bibliography, we have placed, not for purposes of mere illustration, but as an integral part, the covers of some books by M.V:, on which he has utilized works of art from his private collection, which includes drawings or paintings by Piero Sadun, Tori Scialoja, Raffaello A. Salimbeni, Amaldo Ginna, Mino Maccari, William Gear, Primo Conti, Hans Richter, Henrig Bedrossian, Elvi Ratti, Ivo Pannaggi, Carlo Belli, Ugo Sterpini and Eugenio Dragutescu.
For interested scholars, many of M. V.'s works can be found in the Biblioteca Comunale (in Siena, Via della Sapienza), in the Biblioteca del Burcardo (in Rome, Via del Sudario), in the Biblioteca di Storia dell'Arte (in Rome, Palazzo Venezia), in the Biblioteca Comunale (in Como, near Milan), in the Biblioteca ”Gino Pallotta” (in Fregene, near Rome), in the Biblioteca Comunale in Santa Marinella and in Cantalupo in Sabina, in the library of the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia (in Rome, near Cinecittà, Via Tuscolana, 1524), in the Biblioteca Nazionale (in Rome, in Viale Castro Pretorio).
As a conclusion, some critical writings on the works of M. V. have been listed, which we have selected for specific reasons such as the date, the prestige of the author or the magazine, or their origin from countries or cultures which at the time were considered remote.
All of this has been done as a service to a reader who may wish to deepen his or her knowledge in some specific area.
Rome, 20 November 2002
Sit finis operis, non finis quaerendi. We conclude our work on this book, but we continue to study. The authors wish to thank in advance any reader who may be so kind as to send comments or observations, which will be treasured in our further studies. They may be sent to the following address: Sofia Corradi and Isabella Madia, Via Bocca di Leone 63, 00187 Roma, Italy. Telephone number +39 06 5743591. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sofia Corradi is Professor of Education at the University "Roma Tre", Director of its Laboratory of Continuing Education, and of its Postgraduate Course in Lifelong Learning. She is world-renowned as the founder of the Erasmus Programme for the interchange of students between European universities. She studied and worked at Columbia University in New York City as a Fulbright Scholar, at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and at the London School of Economics.