Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Wed Nov 16, 2016 5:09 pm 
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A documentary history of Italian rap

This documentary spans three decades of development of the art of rap in Italy. It's surprising: who even knew the Italians had rap? And it's particularly important and encouraging, because, unlike the US or UK, Italy had a pop music that was rather anemic. Their rap is strong and alive. Here we see a vibrant popular art developing, with obvious intense public participation. Furthermore it's a distinctive variation on the genre - if not universally. There are some Italian rappers who look like copies of US gangsta types, with the tattoos, the swearing, the gold chains, the flouting of macho gestures. Anyway, it is, whether we like it or not. IT's part of a world of politics and social life in Italy thats a long way from Antonioni, Cinnecittà, or boys riding around Rome in top-down Alfa Romeos.

Important that the film runs one by one through a series of Italian rappers, Clementino, Gué Pequeno, Damage, Torment, and Elio Germano, actor and rapper in the Bestierare group - because in this way we see that the genre offers individuals a chance to become themselves. Even if the technique of rapping is superficially the same, it allows each person maximum freedom to express (him)(her?) self in a personal way.

From the earliest one, Clementino, we see that rap for Italians was a way to be more engagé and political than other musical forms allowed; it offers the possibility of responding to events of the moment, immediately. Clemintino speaks of rapping "off your head" (using the English words), evidently meaning "off the top of your head," totally improvised in the moment. This he said is the form that he is happiest with.

When all this is said, Italian rap still does seem somewhat derivative. And I don't hear in these artists the verbal brilliance of an Eminem (whose "Campaign Speech" gives James Joyce a run for his money), or the passion, soul, sexiness, or complexity of a Kanye West (as in "Fade (explicit)") of some of the other best US black rappers. But that's not the point. This documentary puts us in touch with contemporary Italian popular culture we didn't know about before.

Street Opera, 72 mins., debuted 16 Oct. 2015 at the Rome Film Festival. Screened for this review as a part of the 16-20 Nov. 2016 San Francisco New Italian Cinema series where it showed at the Vogue Theater 18 Nov.

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