Antonello Falqui – Interview by Lele Cerri

Interview by Lele Cerri
18.02.2002

Mr. Sense Of Space receives me in a house that confirms him as such, handsome and ready, as he is, for the wide-angle lens, for one of his shots with horizon line resets, endless farsighted central escapes, fields and counter-fields with perfect rhythms, ellipses and details, skilful and engaging, fluid tracking shots: authentic treadmills for the viewer’s curiosity, as only those precursors of the zoom that were his early Studio One tracking shots could be.

Of course, the Mr. Sense of Space in question is Mr. Falqui, Antonello, a son of art thanks to a father who was as precious and authoritative as he was discreetly literary. Antonello Falqui who, after a theatrical interlude in 1960 with George Bernard Shaw’s Idillio villereccio with Franca Valeri and Vittorio Caprioli and Massimo Dursi’s Viaggio a Parigi with Gianrico Tedeschi, Paolo Ferrari, Alberto Bonucci and Maria Grazia Francia (probably strongly suggested to him by someone, read circumstances, as a duty to his own lineage) then resumed delighting television audiences for years by educating them in the elegance of their own entertainment, in the pleasure of all that was suddenly, later, taken away from them. If that was not highly social work, that was…
Mr. Falqui, now in front of me, thus represents the Unrepeatability of something we greatly cherished, we then fortunate bystanders graced by those moments of “TV” that many now claim in the name of their right to have, in their own time, their share of unenjoyed beauty.

L.C. Shall we talk about it, Antonello? All this is very much related to your story with Mina, a “destined” story, an inevitable story between two inevitable accomplices, I would say. Shall we start at the beginning? Your common relationship with image. Could you describe Mina’s arrival through a key characteristic of hers that you identified right away?

A.F. When he came out from behind that jukebox, at the Musichiere, it was immediately clear to me that his musicality was matched, fully matched, by his great force of visual impact. There was no doubt, that girl was coming out, filling the screen taking over the scene; and it happened as a matter of course, “this” was exceptional.

L.C. We know now that that twist that was his exit to the Musichiere, we can consider it a promise fulfilled.

A.F. It was so clear to me right away that he was going to keep it that then, shortly afterwards, I went with Kramer to see it in Milan in a kind of benefit evening. And when after the Musichiere we did, again with Kramer, Buone Vacanze, Mina was called in; for a guest appearance, yes, but she did a kind of duet-sketch with this revolutionary “Nobody” of hers, with Wilma De Angelis singing it “melodically” as she had sung it in Sanremo. The great thing about that skit was that when Mina, a “screamer” by storm, switched roles with De Angelis and did her melodic version of “Nobody,” she was even better than when she had “screamed.” She was immediately the darling of the musicians, Kramer, Canfora… It was immediately clear to me that our work together would be based on the perfect musical harmony that–the facts proved it–was between her and me.
Just think, in each episode of your shows, of the amount of “time breaks” in each song. Because of our understanding, we have always been able to take care of them in every last detail, from the very beginning to the latest collaborations. Even a simple entrance like hers in the middle of Milleluci, the one for her central musical fantasy, for her sung piece, was an outstanding achievement of side-by-side musicality: Mina was accompanied onstage by a musical staccato for an entrance in steps, in seconds, in cross-shots with a crossover between her and the rooms placed in the proscenium fifth. It took his stage sense and our musical understanding to make them up to that point, entrances like that, to be able to construct such choreographed figures simply by emphasizing, with the steps, the musical accents.

L.C. Was there any trickery involved?

A.F. Without false modesty I must say that that understanding of ours I used to communicate it to the cameras as well. There was a famous, outstanding first cameraman, Anthro, who still calls me, now and then, who had become, musically, almost an extension of us. So he had his own special sensitivity–because “carts” have to be made with a certain sensitivity, otherwise it’s over….

L.C. So even “states of grace” in one episode more than another….

A.F. Always, however, tending to maintain the standard that has characterized you, that you have always guaranteed, that belongs to you. Then, you understand, there are nuances, special conditions. But ensuring the constant level is the basic work. Then there is a technical, technological aspect, as with the second Studio One, the one in ’65. In this Theater of Victories, then, because I had unpacked every set design, there was an aspect, precisely, technical, technological, in the scenic vision. Because I had taken everything out, and there were only pylons and structures, so it had become huge. And so Mina’s “walks,” so-called, were long, very long, because there was thirty, forty meters of stage to cross. And she, that huge stage space would fill it a number of times per song. It was a wonder that inexhaustible relationship between her and the space. Now, putting in all those superstructures that I don’t know what they’re for, they’ve managed to shrink it down by a third, the Delle Vittorie, but back then it was a huge studio.

L.C. Excuse me, but was Studio Uno in ’65, the one with the Kesslers coming down the trellis, a bit Lido di Parigi (that was a quote, wasn’t it?), at Delle Vittorie or Studio 1 on Via Teulada?

A.F. Let’s say that of Mina’s “It’s the man for me” with guests such as Totò, Mastroianni, Gassmann and all the elite of Italian and international show business. A “siparietto” made with calibers of that kind.
Mina was incredible. It catalyzed, pivoted without encroaching. By making herself available she remained the great hostess, instinctively putting the receiving guest at ease and feeling perfectly comfortable herself. Perhaps with a laugh, with a wink, he could instill sympathy for the guest and for himself. That Studio One ’65 was done “and” at Studio 1 “and” at Delle Vittorie. Yes the Kessler entrance was a quote, of course, they had come from there, from the Lido, so…. Then from Studio 1, after a while we went to Delle Vittorie, but the very first numbers we had done there, at Studio 1. And as for the titles, Studio 1, Theater 10–those numbers were nothing but the numbers of television theaters. On the TV scale, on the TV map, Delle Vittorie was Theater 10: we got the name of the show from there, as from Studio 1 on Via Teulada.

L.C. Let’s go back to Studio One 1961, your first big show together, starring Mina. A live broadcast that couldn’t have been more direct… Mina had “well” two years of experience behind her and… “and here’s to you… Mina!”, and Mina arrived and sang at that moment there, just the one in which we saw her, amidst bursts of time-lapse, tracking shots like endless sequence plans, machine-gunning of fields and counter-fields. In short, starring on the legendary Saturday night, under the eyes of all of Italy, with costume changes almost between songs sung live… A bit of a heart-stopper, no?

A.F. Yes, but from the beginning it was not that much more difficult for her, I think. Again for that fact that, as you say, Mina’s evolution time is incredible, so from Cremona girl to TV star, the step, in order of time, was short. In Studio One in ’61 she would come on the fly in the middle of the orchestra to sing: they would announce her and she would come out of the fifth that had just changed clothes. Because at Studio 1, the Studio exit door, the side door, had a dressing room in front of it, built especially because we were going live. And there the seamstress Rina waited for her for quick changes between numbers. Instead, where there was no stage dressing room, such as at Delle Vittorie, they would build a purpose-built, “posh” dressing room backstage, otherwise…

L.C. The beauty of live broadcasting; you may well say you know it well.

A.F. And Mina, always because of the quickness that distinguishes her, with the direct has never had a problem, right from the beginning. Yes, we always went live. Except for Canzonissima ’68. The one with those amazing dances, with her in it singing. Yes, even for other shows with “inserts,” special edited numbers, we had some recorded, it was inevitable. Canzonissima ’68, then, with all those ballets that were real musical comedies within the show–mini-colossals. To change clothes each musical accent, you would do the song four or five times with all the clothes and then do the musical montage. With evidence for each detachment, for each recording. Those weren’t ballets, they were videotapes, it took three days to make one: every thirty seconds they changed scenes and costumes; and we certainly didn’t work with the technical means of now. He thinks that when I went into television, there wasn’t even a zoom lens; the approaches were done with the trolley, I don’t know if you realize.

L.C. How many goals did you have at the first Studio 1?

A.F. Four. There was the wide-angle lens that gave those huge studies, and then there was a prime lens, which was a telephoto lens, basically; and, in between, two others. There was no possibility of making the approach any other way than by trolley, though. Then there was everything.

L.C. You had already found solutions, though, with a lowering of one chamber, with a “lying down” chamber, you might say.

A.F. I had put a room on a go-kart, a kind of walking lizard, almost on the ground. And then another camera, which did a total completely back-to-back, with the lookout with his back to her and the whole audience in her face, which was something that was unthinkable for that time. Of course, this room was not aired more than three four times per broadcast. So much so that according to the technical leadership it was a useless room. They would tell me, “mah, for three shots….” Well, and yet, with Mina, by these means we used to make very long musical fantasies, all in sequence plans made on the trolley. All a concerted move from one point to another point, with the connection with the musical accent still at another point. Even for what you called “his musical moments,” his medleys, sometimes it was as late as 1:00 a.m., 2:00 a.m. to edit one, because they were full of time breaks.

L.C. Tiring, huh? What was one of your work weeks? But isn’t she famous for laziness, Mina? What about its stage performance?

A.F. A crazy thing. There was no downtime. Yes, Mina could be lazy in deciding to do something. But when she had decided to do it, when she came to the studio, she was a frightening workaholic, like me. We worked like crazy, with no hours. In order not to rob rehearsals of any day of the week, I had even moved the crew’s studio meetings, those in which ideas and the working plan for the next episode were decided, to Sundays. We had work days that started in the morning and ended late at night. Then it could be done. And we, she for one, were certainly not backing down. She was a hard worker, a great workmate. She never objected to anything, to any of my choices, to anything that was imparted to her. He never once said “I wish…” He would let me do it. I would leave her totally free, though, in her movements; I would let her move as she wanted. Yes, Mina’s famous movements. Sometimes, to want certain shots I would force her into unnatural positions for someone who is singing. But she would get there on time… Plus she would “feel the camera”: she would turn at the right spot, she knew there was that break…

L.C. He was flirting with the camera.

A.F. Yes, he was flirting with the camera. Of course, we had rehearsed a lot before; which is not done now.. Timed cuts to Bartoloni’s musical arrangements and ad hoc lighting cuts. And the results are what you can still see today. And in addition, with his musical sensitivity, with that crazy musical memory of his…: he would just hear a song once and sing it again, and that’s what he did with the positions for the room when we were rehearsing and shooting.

L.C. But any stinging?

A.F. Mai. Of course, if he sometimes had lines in some skit, out of five lines he would cut three lines. Certainly not from laziness but from intuition. And in the end it was clear that she was right. In this, too, he had incredible, crazy instincts, a natural talent for what he did, the talent of the superstar. She knew very well what she could say and not say, which phrase was good on her to say and which not to say. And I understood them too, of course, these choices he made. So as she followed mine I followed hers.
At certain times, due to “corporate” technical choices there was a propensity to have people sing in play-back. To protect the quality of sound reproduction, they said. Mina did not like it; in fact, she disliked it very much. Moreover, even now, if out of the corner of your eye you happen to see one of those clips you don’t find them “authentic.”
Of course, she is a singer, and she wanted to sing, live, it’s natural. But in terms of shooting, in terms of image, in terms of impact, his performance, between live and play-back did not change, did not drop. If he had more “real” grit when singing live, in play-back, he was able to construct visual magic that still worked out for me. And always with the usual result of “good the first,” always visual magic, whether in play back or live. Yes, we shot a lot of that magic. Think of the naturalness of Milleluci’s final theme song, “Non gioco più,” with Mina who, singing live, also interpreted the lyrics with her own gestures, with cross or direct, distant glances, with a simple twirling of her fingertips, pulling puffs of smoke to lightly “underscore”; and accompanied by Toots Thielemans! It was a cover shot, that pairing. And think of the other Mina-Astor Piazzolla pairing, so facilitated by Mina herself that in order to have him she herself made him a kind of contract supplement. She was the first to discover it in Italy, well in advance of others.

L.C. “Private” memories you have of Mina.

A.F. They are always “public” memories in the end. Her fear of crowds, for example, her discomfort at being touched, groped by passing, as has been the case for years, during club nights. I remember her embarrassment at being “invoked” as she entered the Compass between two wings of the crowd, like ultras: they were genuine inconveniences. Even on Television she used to experience real discomfort of that kind. At Studio Uno, I don’t know if you remember, at Delle Vittorie, there was that ramp that started from the studio and went up to the gallery, and there was a sea of people on either side, it must have been 800, 900 people, and she, even though you couldn’t see her at all, had discomfort walking down it, because there was always someone who would suddenly lean out of the chair to get a little closer, to brush against her while she was busy going up and down singing.

L.C. One regret in all those years of collaboration?

A.F. Even now, for that matter: that of not having done “The Merry Widow” with her. I tried to convince her in all ways, but there was no way… Always because of that reluctance of hers to play something… “I can’t play a character, the merry widow is a character,” she always replied, “I can only play myself.” He had this crazy, wild sense of self-criticism. She has always been the most unapologetic critic of herself. And I have returned to the attack many times, then considering that “The Merry Widow” is ninety percent “sung”! Mah, too bad. It’s because of that eternal old belief that she would cut her assigned lines, I told you…. Maybe she was right about “The Merry Widow” too…but I am not persuaded; and not being able to convince her is still a big regret.

L.C. You can console yourself with the fact that you did Milleluci with her, though.

A.F. Milleluci was a big broadcast, yes, a big broadcast. Here, the only time we had a little discussion was just for Milleluci. Because I wanted him to make a speck of a stuttering soldier.

L.C. Who then did, in the episode devoted to cabaret.

A.F. Which he then did, yes. It was an early twentieth-century macchietta, and the point was that she had suddenly come back to that fact that she was not an actress, but a singer, and that therefore she would not know how to play a macchietta, but at most sing a certain way or another, but not mime or act a thing. Then he did it, singing, after some arm wrestling, well. It was the one, the only time we had a little bit of a point to discuss. There has always been a crazy affinity between Mina and me. And that shows, I think, also.

L.C. Mina and the eternal “could have done, could have been…”

A.F. Mina “is” a great singer. More than great, I would say an “outlier”; and also one of the greatest stars in the history of entertainment. She was afraid of the plane, she was lazy, she didn’t want to leave Italy–it was all said. But that what he did he did only in Italy does not mean that he is not a great international figure. His class and level have always made it clear, that he is. And what he did, the extraordinary nature of what we did together, is unrepeatable. Or repeatable only by her, with her.

© Lele Cerri

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11 November 2023

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