‘The filmmaking career of Carmelo Bene (1937 – 2002) lasted from 1968 to 1973, six years out of a lengthy time spent in the theater that made Bene one of the most celebrated figures of the Italian avant-garde in the second half of the 20th century. He first made a name for himself with a controversial production of Camus’ Caligula in Rome in 1959. Subsequent productions retained this sense of notoriety, and Bene (like Pasolini) quickly acquired a police record. Bene, however, would come to bemoan the controversy his work created, because it attracted an audience looking for shocks and titillation, while he himself was more concerned with reinventing the vocabulary of the theater: sets, gestures, texts.
‘Bene’s turn to cinema expanded that quest to reinvent. His films resist synopsis because, although they are often derived from narrative sources, Bene uses these sources against themselves and as a springboard for his critique of the stultifying traps of representation and interpretation. The films are wildly inventive and visually arresting on several levels: the performance styles of his actors, including eccentric movements, gestures and grimaces; the sets, costumes and makeup; the editing; and the use of the camera, with stable shots regularly punctuated by handheld camera work, extreme close ups and the occasional baroque use of zooms, dollies, cranes, elaborate pans and exaggerated camera angles. They resemble something like the work of Jack Smith crossed with the experimental Pasolini of Teorema and Pigsty.
‘At some point Bene worked closely with Gilles Deleuze and was interested in the complete annihilation of the “self”, intended as a conscious entity. He refused to “exist” and became a rather popular figure in Italy because he was controversial and every time he appeared on TV he aroused all kinds of outrage and scandal. In particular he was accused of speaking in riddles, of nothing and being just a clever trickster who kept fooling the audience with his nonsensical, artificially shocking performances, just to draw the attention. Most of everyone was against him, he was deliberately an antagonist, and had a very troubled and animated relationships with his critics, who were continuously trying to frame him, diminish him or celebrate him, depending on their credo.
‘One constant feature of Bene’s work is its satire of heterosexuality. The two sexes keep trying to communicate with each other, but always fail to do so. Bene’s work constantly deflates masculinist pretenses at mastery: his male characters tend to be hapless and often hysterical, while his female characters are alternately predatory and remote, and unknowable in either case. But this satire is merely the most visible form of Bene’s revolt against convention and communication. Over and over again in the films, everyday actions become hopelessly complicated or endlessly interrupted. His characters often end up staring quizzically offscreen or even into mirrors, as if they were no more sure than we are of the meaning of what they see. Indeed, identity and by extension agency seem to get suspended, along with meaning. What is left is glorious spectacle and enigmas for the eyes and ears: endless music; babbling, stuttering text; excessive and exciting images.’ — Harvard Film Archive
Carmelo Bene obituary @ the Guardian
Carmelo Bene @ IMDb
Carmelo Bene @ Anthology Film Archives
Carmelo Bene @ mubi
‘Retro: Carmelo Bene’
Carmelo Bene oriented Blog
‘Cosmic wonderful magic Carmelo Bene’
‘Carmelo Bene, genius’
‘Eccentric and Visionary, the Films of Carmelo Bene’
‘Surgically Imprecise Notes on the Great Carmelo Bene’
‘Carmelo Bene, Lectura Dantis’
Compilation of Bene clips (in Italian)
Carmelo Bene’s home
SCM ‘Carmelo Bene Show’
Carmelo Bene as Pinocchio
from Looping Wor(l)d
If someone has defined the “phonè” as a dialectic of thought, then I deny being part of it. I’m looking for the emptiness, which is the end of every art, of every story, of every world. The language of the Great Theater, incomprehensible by definition, becomes completely comprehensible on a different level of understanding, being all about the signifier, and not the signified, or sense.
Language creates failures, it is only made of black holes and failures: (quoting Montale/ Nietzsche) “Only this we can now say: what we are not, what we do not want.” Who says “I say I exist, I say this” is two times a stupid. First because he believes in his self, secondly because he’s convinced of saying, and even a third time because he’s convinced of saying what he’s thinking. Because he believes that what he thinks is not signifier, but signified, a sense. That happens under his authority. It’s all noise. I think conscious intelligence is misery. I refuse to consider the ontology.
I do not speak, I am being spoken.
“The gods, plural is the noun, played yourself. The gods returned you to the mythical dawn of times. They carved you empty of simulation. Freed you of codes.”
“We are but ghost lights, representation and model. You and I, in the illusion of being. Sincerity in the lie, truth in contradiction. As truth does not exist, given only in the delirium of language.”
“Voice and language, delirium of omnipotence. Delirium because it’s not there. It does not exist.”
(talking of amplification through a microphone, in theater) The actorial machine is the consequence of the Great Actor, stripped of expressive corporeal human capabilities (vocal, facial expression, gestures, etc..) to wear an amplified attire, both visual and voiced. The voice of the actorial machine is not just a simple amplification, but an extension of the tonal range, becoming a whole. The autorial machine is a fusion between actor and machine; amplification is not a prosthesis, but a further organic extension where the voice is defined by the process. In the same way one doesn’t “have a body” but one “IS a body”, so one is or becomes amplification, equalization, etc…
This amplification is not a mere enlargement of the sound. As an example, it’s as if I’m reading this page at this distance. So I see and understand. But if I bring this page very close, the outlines begin to blur. Closer and closer till they vanish, and I see nothing. At this point, “everyone has his own visions”. What is infinitely large, as discovered in physics, corresponds to what is infinitely small. A step beyond the threshold. That’s why I make myself smaller, “so that he can augment, I have to wane”. It’s the conscious “self” that needs to get smaller. The emptying of the “I”, the abrogation of subject, and so of history. I refuse to be in history. I stepped out of thought.
Art has always been bourgeois, consolatory, idiotic, stupid, it has been especially blathering, whorish and pandering. Art has to be incommunicable. Art has only to overcome itself. That’s why it’s up to us, once we get outside ourselves, to become masterworks. Exit modality to reach the place where modality ceases to be. I can only try to explain my discomfort. I can’t engage with what’s real, what’s obvious, what’s rational. The darkness. Turning off the lights. I even hate symbolism as an artistic language. Poetry is shit. We’re still within words, trying to find a way and unable to come out. I have found in myself a desert, and I speak to the desert who’s the other, and not to someone else’s desert. I possess absence. That’s all. I am being honest b
ecause I am not myself.
Universe is one, one only. The pluriverse… is. One can’t say the pluriverse is “what’s left”. The universe is just a tiny, tiny sliver of pluriverse.
6 of Carmelo Bene’s 8 films
Nostra signora dei turchi (Our Lady of the Turks) (1968)
‘Our Lady of the Turks is a film that is hard to categorize. Then again Carmelo Bene’s films are hard to define. Often beautiful, The film starts off as a sort of mocumentary about Ontranto, Italy. This is where the Turks tried to invade 100 years before; killing the Saracens. Then we are treated to Bene in front of the camera in a series of bizarre, surreal images and comical mishaps. Bene’s character is taunted by the Madonna. Wherever he goes this beautiful virgin Mary is sure to follow, making his life a real headache. She is symbolic of man’s desire and dreams. This is a film where visuals overpower story. It is quite a journey with it’s bizarre experimental style, but altogether it’s breathtaking.’ — IMDb
‘Hermitage is a 1968 short film directed and performed by Carmelo Bene . The film is based on Credito Italiano, shot in the 804 suite of the Hermitage Hotel in Rome. Well he made it clear that it was a test for the lights and as a preparation for the next film Nostra Signora dei Turchi , but it still goes, in one way or another, considered a work in its own right. The film has as main and unique performer Carmelo Bene , except for the sporadic and fleeting appearance of Lydia Mancinelli , and has as its guiding line, sometimes broken, the sound of the voice (often off screen) and of music.’ — collaged
‘Bene’s second film, is, like its predecessor NOSTRA SIGNORELLA DEI TURCHI, a hallucinatory, non-linear, and ultimately apocalyptic look at life in “modern” Italy. CAPRICCI has no “story” to speak of, just a series of surreal vignettes. It begins with a dissatisfied Communist (played by Bene himself) getting into a dual with a superior; they fight with, appropriately enough, a hammer and a sickle. An old man lies in bed beside an alluring naked women; making noisy rasping sounds, he tries to have sex with her (and has about as much success as Bene did in NOSTRA SIGNORELLA DIE TURCHI, where he tried to screw wearing a suit of armor!). Bene and a lady companion make out furiously in the back of a smashed-up car. Bene’s pictorial sense is so striking he gets away with an approach that most Hollywood directors would love to fall back on (but can’t). Add to that a preference (evident in all his films) for sentimental arias and you’ve got one bizarrely impressionistic film, one that must simply be experienced rather than “understood.”’ — fright.com
Don Giovanni (1970)
‘The third Bene film, Don Giovanni (1971), is taken from a story by 19th century author and dandy Jules Barbey D’Aurevilly, Le plus bel amour de Don Juan. Bene’s films are critical explorations of the texts they are based on. He operates by returning these stories to a sort of primordial dramatic and intellectual state of chaos where ideas, narratives and characters struggle to come into being. As Deleuze pointed out, Bene is concerned not with beginnings or endings, but with the middle, an engagement with a perpetual becoming, a world of constantly shifting potentiality. He achieves this by questioning and throwing off balance every aspect of his films. The frequently hysterical performances of his actors – or ‘actorial machines’ – are caricatures amplified to the level of the grotesque. Rather than playing characters, the actors become stylised embodiments of some of their defining characteristics, shrieking, slobbering, whispering and drooling their way through a series of events that resemble variations on certain themes or gestures rather than a developing narrative.’ — Senses of Cinema
‘The opening scenes of Bene’s claustrophobic and dreamlike 1972 Italian adaptation warn the viewer that this is going to be a strange ride. Immediately after the film starts a number of strange images appear including an animated camel passing through a needle and a bejewelled and glittering woman swimming in pitch black water. The whole film is a contrast of colours with the majority of the actors – those who are wearing clothes anyway – entirely clad in spiky neon robes and jewels and all of what constitutes the action (except the final scene) taking place on what appears to be an island floating in some kind of black lake illuminated by a mysterious light source that refuses to stay in one place. These violent colours assault the eyes as super-fast cuts jump the camera from one person to another and the disorientation is increased by the rapid overlapping conversations in stage whispers that accompany this movement.’ — Suite 101
Un Amleto di meno (One Hamlet Less) (1973)
‘Bene described his films as “music for the eyes” put together with a “surgical indiscipline of montage”. He constantly strives for a glorious visual excessiveness, with unusual camera angles, shifts between black and white and colour, interesting superimpositions and either overtly theatrical – as in One Hamlet Less – or otherwise expressionistically employed settings. This anti-naturalistic approach is further heightened by the asynchronous use of sound, which incorporates heavily amplified sounds such as breathing and coughing, shouted or stammered dialogue and sudden bursts of mainly classical music, most commonly opera. If Bene’s cinema is one of constant becoming, of repetition and incompletion, perhaps the most common recurring theme in his scenes is frustration. Yet the films that comprise his self described “cinematic parenthesis” are seldom screened or written about, especially in the English-speaking world. For a director whose work matches the visual power and representational complexity of Kenneth Anger or Derek Jarman’s best work, this a particularly unfortunate oversight.’ — Senses of Cinema
p.s. Hey. If anyone’s interested, Jeff Jackson has written a terrific thing about Permanent Green Light and a bit about Zac’s and my next film as well as my new novel that’s just up on Lit Hub. Here. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. I’ve often thought that ‘Between the Buttons’ might be my favorite Rolling Stones album. There were definitely interesting porn films made in the theatrical days, and auteur directors experimenting a lot with the form, which you don’t really see anymore or only in a limited, slight shifting of the norms kind of way. Re: the publisher, I’ve got everything that’s remotely crossable crossed for you from this point until they hopefully send you the contract. Everyone, There’s a new FaBlog thing for you to peruse. ** Bill, Hi, Bill. London was fun. The event was curious, but it seemed to go well, and it was packed, which is good, I guess. Otherwise I just saw a few friends and a little bit of art: Mark Leckey, Steve McQueen, Bridget Riley, and an interesting survey show of Fluxus sound art. The TV meeting was not fun to say the least, but I’ll leave it at that. Otherwise I’ll rant. I saw Morton Subotnik here in Paris a while back, and it was amazing, as I think I’ve already mentioned. Oh, wow, that gig you’re readying for seems fantastic. I assume you’ll be rehearsing with the others, or … ? Is it all going to be left up to chance? ** Sypha, Well, you’re hardly the only person wishing for more fire in the recent Nick Cave stuff, if that’s consolation. ** Nik, Hey! Well, I’ve always really enjoyed the editing part of writing a novel, and going back into the new one involved mostly editing and refining and reorganising what I had written a few years before, so it was the part I love without the part I love a lot less, i.e. the writing of the first draft. Excellent that the Conjunctions gig has led to help with your own work. Huge luck re: wherever you sent your story to. Yeah, let me know what happens. You have a good one too, man. ** Afad, Hi, welcome. You never know how real the escorts’ stories and comments are. All I can say is that, having spent a long time looking at/studying those ads, there seemed to be unusual level of authenticity in his own writings at least, and his sort of tacit-seeming acknowledgement of the history the commenters laid out was interesting and might mean something. But, really, it’s impossible to know for sure. ** Misanthrope, Hi, G. London seemed to go well, and it was a fun quickie in general. Gosh, I hope Rigby is doing well. Surgery: shit. Ouchie on your bicep. Shit, man. It’s hopefully more peaceful now? Best of the best with the novel forward motion and everything else. ** Thomas, Hi. Welcome, and thank you a lot! How are you doing? What’s up? ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. Yep. ** Steve Erickson, Hi. Hm, the Ka5sh doesn’t sound all that promising. Everyone, Mr. Erickson has interviewed director Annabelle Attanasio here, and reviewed Mati Diop’s ATLANTICS here. Lou Christie’s albums are all uneven, but, of the original releases, you would definitely want to get ‘Lightnin’ Strikes’, then, depending on how into him you are, probably a ‘greatest hits’ comp as a follow up. That early period of Glen Campbell is surprisingly very fine. He’s pretty overlooked. ** Grant Maierhofer, Hi, Grant! Man, thank you so much for that piece you wrote referencing my Cycle. I was blown away and am super appreciative. Yeah, my new novel is finished. I don’t yet know who will publish it or when. I’m in the unpleasant anxiously hoping and waiting-to-find-out phase. ** Right. Do any of you know the films of Carmelo Bene. Pretty unique and interesting work. I hope you’ve delve into what I loaded up there. See you tomorrow.