Make Your Own Movie: Umberto Eco

By Umberto Eco

In 1993, with the final, complete adoption of video cameras even in the offices of the national registry, cinema both commercial and underground was in real trouble. The prise de la parole had by now transformed movie making  into a technique within everyone’s reach, and everyone was watching his or her own film, deserting the movie theatres. New methods of reproduction and projection in cassettes insertable into the dashboard of the family  car  had  made  obsolete  the  primitive  equipment  of  the  avant-garde  cinema.  Numerous  handbooks  were  published  on  the  order  of  Be  Your  Own  Amonioni.  The  buyer  bought  a  “plot  pattern, ”  the  skeleton  of  a  story  which he could  then  fill  in  from  a  wide  selection of  variants.  With  a  single  pattern  and  an   accompanying  package  of  variants  an  individual  could make,  for example,  1 5 , 74 1  Antonioni movies.  Below  we  reprint  the  instructions  that  came  with  some  of  these  cassettes.  The letters refer to the interchangeable elements.  For example, the basic  Antonioni pattern  (“An  empty lot.  She  walks  away”)  can  generate  “A  maze  of  McDonald’s  with visibility  limited due to the  sun’s glare.  He toys for  a  long time with an object.”  Etc.

michelangelo antonioni's blow-up

michelangelo antonioni’s blow-up

Antonioni Scenario

 AnX emptyY lotZ. SheK  walks  awayN.

Variants Key

  •  x      Two,  three,  an  infinity  of.  An enclosure of.  A maze of.
  •      Empty.  As far as the eye can see.  With visibility   limited  due  to  the  sun’s  glare.  Foggy.  Blocked    by  wire-mesh  fence.  Radioactive.  Distorted  by  wide-angle lens.
  •      An      island. City.  Superhighway cloverleaf.  McDonald’s.  Subway station.  Oil  field.  Levit­  town. World  Trade  Center.  Stockpile  of pipes.  Scaffolding.  Car cemetery.  Factory area on Sun­  day.  Expo after closing.  Space  center  on  Labor  Day.  UCLA  campus  during  student  protest  in  Washington.  JFK airport.
  • k      He.  Both he and she.
  •      Remains  there.   Toys  for  a  long  time  with  an  object.  Starts  to leave,  then  stops,  puzzled,  comes  back  a   couple   of  paces,   then   goes   off  again. Doesn’t  go  away,  but  the  camera  dollies  back. Looks  at  the  camera without any  expression  as  he  touches her  scarf.

Jean-Luc Godard  Scenario

 He  arrivesa  and  then  bangb a  refineryc  explodes.The  Americansd  make lovee. Cannibalsf armed with  bazookasg  fireh   on  the  railroad.i  She  fallsl  riddled  with  bulletsm from  a  rifle.n  At  mad  speedo   to  Vins  cennesp  Cohn-Benditq  catches the trainr  and speaks.  Two ment  kill her.u  He reads sayings of Mao.v  Montesquieuz  throws  a   bombw  at   Diderotx.  He  kills   himself.k  He peddles Le  Figaro.j The redskins arrive.y 

Variants Key

  • a      Is already there reading the sayings  of Mao. Lies dead on the superhighway with brains spattered. Is  killing  himself.  Harangues   a  crowd.   Runs along  the  street. Jumps out of a window.
  • b      Splash.      Splat.   Wham. Rat-tat-tat. Mumble mumble.
  • c      A kindergarten.  Notre Dame. Communist Party headquarters.  Houses of Parliament. The Parthenon.  The offices of Le Figaro. The Elysee.  Paris.
  •      The Germans. French paratroopers. Vietnamese.  Arabs.  Israelis.  Police.
  •      Do  not  make  love.
  • f      Indians. Hordes of accountants. Dissident Communists. Crazed truck drivers.
  • g      Y agatan.  Copies  of  Le  Figaro.  Pirate’s  sabers. Submachine -guns.  Cans  of  red  paint.  Cans  of blue paint.  Cans of yellow paint. Cans of orange paint.  Cans  of  black  paint. Picasso paintings. Little red books. Picture postcards.
  • h      Throw rocks.  Bombs.  Empty  cans  of red  paint, green paint, blue paint, yellow paint, black paint. Pour some slippery stuff.
  • i  On  the  Elysee. On the  University  of Nanterre. In  Piazza Navona.  All  over the  road.
  • l  Is thrown out of the window by CIA agents.  Is raped  by  paratroopers.  Is  killed  by  Australian aborigines.
  • m      With a gaping  wound in the belly. Spewing forth streams of yellow  (red,  blue,  black) paint.  Making love with Voltaire.
  •      Loquat.
  • 0      Unsteadily.  Very, very slowly.  Remaining still while the background (process  shot) moves.
  • p      Nanterre.  Flins.   Place de la Bastille.  Clignan- court.  Venice.
  • q      Jacques Servan-Schreiber.  Jean-Paul Sartre.  Pier Paolo Pasolini.  D’ Alembert.
  • r      Misses  the  train.  Goes on a bicycle.  On roller skates.
  • s      Bursts  into  tears.  Shouts Viva Guevara.
  • t      A band  of Indians.
  •      Kill everybody.  Kill nobody.
  •      Quotations from Brecht.  The Declaration of the Rights  of  Man.  Saint-] ohn  Perse.  Prince  Korzybski.   Eluard.  Lo Sun.   Charles Peguy.  Rosa Luxemburg.
  •      Diderot.· Sade.  Restif de la Bretonne. Pompidou.
  • w      A tomato.  Red paint (blue,  yellow,  black).
  • x      Daniel  Cohn-Bendit.   Nixon.   Madame de  Sevigne.  Voiture.  Van Vogt.  Einstein.
  • k    Goes  away.  Kills all  the others.  Throws  a bomb at the Arc de Triomphe.  Blows up an electronic brain.  Empties  onto  the ground  various  cans  of yellow (green,  blue,  red,  black) paint.
  • J   The  sayings of Mao.  Writes a ta-tze-bao.  Reads erses of Pierre Emmanuel.  Watches  a  Chaplin  movie.
  • y      The   paratroopers.  The   Germans.  Hordes starving   accountants brandishing sabers.  Armored cars.  Pier Paolo Pasolini with Pompidou. The Bank  Holiday  traffic. Diderot  selling  the Encyclopedie  door  to  door. The Marxist-Leninist Union on  skateboards.

Ermanno 0lmi Scenario

A forestera  out of workb  roams at lengthc then comes back to his native villaged and finds his mothere is deadf. He walks in the woods,g talks with a tramph who understandsi the beauty of the treesl and he remains there, m thinking.n

Variants Key

  • a        A young man who has just arrived in the city. A former partisan. A jaded executive. An soldier.  A miner.  A ski instructor.
  •       Overworked. Sad. Without any purpose in life. Sick. Just fired. Overwhelmed by a feeling of emptiness. Who has lost his faith. Who has returned to the -faith. After a vision of Pope John XXIII.
  • c        Briefly. Drives a mini Cooper along the super­ highway. Is driving a truck from Bergamo to Brindisi.
  •       To his brother’s sawmill. To the mountain hut. To Pizzo Gloria. To Chamonix. To Lago di  Carezza. To Piazzale Corvetto and his cousin’s tobacco shop.
  • e        Another close relative. Fiancee. Male friend. Parish priest.
  •        Sick. Has become a prostitute. Has lost her faith. Has returned to the faith. Has had a vision of Pope John XXIII. Has left for France. Is lost in an avalanche. Is ,Still performing the humble little daily tasks as always.
  • g        On the superhighway. Near the Idroscalo. At Rogoredo. Through immaculate snow. At San Giovanni sotto il Monte, Pope John XXIII’s birthplace. In the halls of a totally advertising agency.
  •       With a former Alpine soldier. With the parish priest. With Monsignor Loris Capovilla. With a former partisan. With a mountain guide. With a ski instructor. With the head forester. With the executive of an industrial design studio. With a worker. With an unemployed southerner. Doesn’t understand. Remembers. Rediscovers. Learns thanks to a vision of Pope John XXIII. Of the snow. Of the work site. Of solitude. Of friendship. Of silence.
  • m           Goes away forever.
  • n       Thinking of nothing. With no purpose in life now. With a new purpose in life. Making a novena to Pope John XXIII. Becoming a for­ ester (mountain guide, tramp, miner, water bearer).

Angry Young Directors’ Scenario

A young polio victim x of very rich Y parents sits in a wheelchairz in a villa n with a park full of gravel. k He hates his cousin, s an architect w and a radical, q and has sexual congress e with his own mother b in the missionary position, v then kills himself f after first playing chess a with the farm manager.j

Variants Key

  • x       Paraplegic. Compulsive hysteric. Simple neu­ rotic. Revolted by the neocapitalistic society. Unable to forget an act of sexual abuse at the age of three by his grandfather. With a facial tic. Handsome but impotent. Blond and lame (and unhappy about it). Pretending to be crazy. Pre­ tending to be sane. With a religious mania. En­ rolled in the Marxist-Leninist Union but for neurotic reasons.
  •       Fairly well off. In decline. Diseased. Destroyed. Separated.
  • z        On cul-de-jatte. On crutches. With a wooden leg. With false teeth. With long fangs on which  he leans. Supports himself by leaning against trees.
  •       Yacht. Garden city. Sanatorium. Father’s private clinic.
  • k       Another kind of paving, provided it makes a constant sound when a heavy vehicle arrives.
  •     Other close relation, as desired, half brothers and in-laws admissible. Mother’s lover (or fa­ ther’s, aunt’s, grandmother’s, farmer’s, fiancee’s).
  •       City planner. Writer. President of Save Venice. Stockbroker (successful). Left-wing political writer.
  •       Subscriber to the New York Review. Moderate Communist. Liberal professor. Former partisan leader. Member of WWF board. Friend of Theo­ dorakis, Garry Wills, Jessica Mitford. Cousin of Berlinguer. Former leader of Student Move­ ment.
  • e        Tries to have sexual congress. Reveals impotence. Thinks of having sexual congress (dream sequence). Deflowers with bicycle pump.
  • b       Grandmother, aunt, father, sister, female second cousin, female first cousin, sister-in-law, brother. v  From behind. Inserting a stick of dynamite into the vagina. With an ear of corn (must be pre­ ceded by casual Faulkner quotation from radical architect, see s-w). Cunnilingus. Beating her savagely. Wearing female dress. Dressing up to look like father (grandmother, aunt, mother, brother, cousin). Dressed as Fascist official. In U.S. Marine uniform. With plastic mask of Dracula. In SS uniform. In radical dress. In Scorpio Rising costume. In a Paco Rabanne tailleur. In prelate’s robes.
  • f        Sprinkles himself with gasoline. Swallows sleep­ ing pills. Doesn’t kill himself but thinks of kill­ ing himself (dream sequence). Kills her (him). Masturbates while singing “Love divine, all loves excelling. ” Calls the suicide hot line. Blows up the post office. Urinates on the family tomb. Sets fire to photo of himself as a baby, with savage laughter. Sings “Mira Norma.”
  •        Chinese checkers. Toy soldiers. Hide-and-seek. Tag. Gin rummy. Slapjack. Racing demons. Fan­ tan. Snap. Spin the bottle.
  • J        His aunt. Grandmother. Innocent little sister. Himself in the mirror. Dead mother (dream sequence). The postman on his rounds. The old housekeeper. Carmen Moravia. A Bellocchio brother (according to preference).

Luchino Visconti Scenario

The Baroness, a a Hanseatic b lesbian, betrays her male lover, c a worker at Fiat, d reporting him e to the police. f He dies g and she repents h and gives a big party, i orgiastic, l in the cellars of La Scala m with transvestites, n and there poisons herself. 0

Variants Key

  •        Duchess. Daughter of the Pharaoh. Marquise. Dupont stockholder. Middle European (male) composer.
  • b       From Munich. Sicilian. Papal aristocracy. From Pittsburgh.
  •        Her female lover-. Husband. Son with whom she has an incestuous relationship. Sister with whom she has an incestuous relationship. Lover of her daughter with whom she has an incestuous re­ lationship, though she betrays her daughter with her daughter’s male lover. The Oberkomman- danturweltanschaunggotterdammerungfiihrer of the SA of Upper Silesia. The catamite of her impotent and racist husband.
  •  d      A fisherman from the Tremiti Islands. Steel­worker. Riverboat gambler. Mad doctor in a Nazi concentration camp. Commander of the Pharaoh’s light cavalry. Aide-de-camp of Mar­ shal Radetzsky. Garibaldi’s lieutenant. Gondo­ lier.
  • e        Giving him wrong directions about the route. Entrusting to him a bogus secret message. Sum­ moning him to a cemetery on the night of Good Friday. Disguising him as Rigoletto’s daughter and putting him in a sack. Opening a trapdoor in the great hall of the ancestral castle while he is singing Manon dressed up as Marlene Dietrich.
  • f        To Marshal Radetzsky. To the Pharaoh. To Tigellinus. To the Duke of Parma. To the Prince of Salina. To the Oberdeutscheskriminalinter­ polphallusfiihrer of the SS of Pomerania.
  • g        Sings an aria from Aida. Sets off in a fishing smack to reach Malta and is never heard from again. Is beaten with iron bars during a wildcat strike. Is sodomized by a squadron of uhlans under the command of the Prince of Homburg.  Becomes infected during sexual contact with. Vanina V anini. Is sold as a slave to the Sultan and found again by the Borgia at the flea market of Portobello Road. Is used as a throw rug by the Pharaoh’s’ daughter.
  •  h      Is not the least repentant. Is wild with joy. Gone mad. Bathing at the Lido to the sound of balalaikas.  A big funeral. A satanic rite. A Te Deum  thanksgiving.  Mystical. Dramatic. Baroque. Algolagnical. Scatological. Sadomasochistic.
  •  m     Pere-Lachaise. Hitler’s Bunker. In a castle in the Black Forest. In section 215 of the Fiat Mirafiori  factory. At the Hotel des Bains on the Lido at Venice.
  •  n      With corrupt little boys. With German homo­ sexuals. With the Trovatore chorus. With lesbi­ ans dressed as Napoleonic soldiers. With Cardinal Tisserant and Garibaldi. With Claudio Abbado. With Gustav Mahler.
  •  o      Attends the entire Ring cycle. Plays ancient songs of Burgundy on a Jew’s harp. Undresses at the climax of the party, revealing that she is really a man, then castrates herself. Dies of consump­ tion, wrapped in Gobelin tapestries. Swallows liquid wax and is buried in the Musee Grevin. Has her throat cut by a lathe operator as she utters obscure prophecies. Waits for the acqua alta in St. Mark’s square and drowns herself.

 Excerpts from Umberto Eco 1993-1972,  Misreadings, Translated from the Italian by William Weaver.

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One thought on “Make Your Own Movie: Umberto Eco

  1. Nice post and blog.

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