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.
AnX emptyY lotZ. SheK walks awayN.
- x Two, three, an infinity of. An enclosure of. A maze of.
- y 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.
- z 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.
- n 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
- 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.
- d The Germans. French paratroopers. Vietnamese. Arabs. Israelis. Police.
- e 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.
- n 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.
- u Kill everybody. Kill nobody.
- v Quotations from Brecht. The Declaration of the Rights of Man. Saint-] ohn Perse. Prince Korzybski. Eluard. Lo Sun. Charles Peguy. Rosa Luxemburg.
- z 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
- a A young man who has just arrived in the city. A former partisan. A jaded executive. An soldier. A miner. A ski instructor.
- b 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.
- d 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.
- f 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.
- h 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
- 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.
- y 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.
- n Yacht. Garden city. Sanatorium. Father’s private clinic.
- k Another kind of paving, provided it makes a constant sound when a heavy vehicle arrives.
- s 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).
- w City planner. Writer. President of Save Venice. Stockbroker (successful). Left-wing political writer.
- q 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.”
- a 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
- a Duchess. Daughter of the Pharaoh. Marquise. Dupont stockholder. Middle European (male) composer.
- b From Munich. Sicilian. Papal aristocracy. From Pittsburgh.
- c 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.