Sennuccio Benelli – The woman, and other things still – Success 03.01.1962

By Sennuccio Benelli – Success
03.01.1962

The “tiger of Cremona” and the least conformist of Italian filmmakers discuss here the place of women in society: mother and wife in the home, or “almost man,” and perhaps diva, outside it?

Before this meeting Visconti and Mina knew each other only by reputation. They admired each other, but had never shaken hands. Visconti had heard Mina sing for the first time three years ago in Ischia, when the Cremonese singer, then 18 years old, was still considered an amateur: exceptionally classy, but an amateur, someone who sang more for herself than for others, who didn’t care about “people” and convenience. When Raf Vallone, precisely n that period, invited her one night to dance Mina replied no.
“Why?” asked Vallone in amazement.
“Because I don’t like you, so I don’t see why I should dance with you.”
“But if you want to get ahead,” Vallone tried to insist, “you must have respect for those who have already come far ahead of you.
“I don’t care about making a career; I sing because I like to sing, and I won’t dance with her even if they order me to.”
Today’s dialogue between Visconti and Mina shows how the girl who sang three years ago in Ischia has remained basically the same: one who sings more for herself than for others. Visconti immediately said that the amateur had some stuff. Audiences, once again, had to agree with him, and Visconti helped increase “minism” by playing Mina records in some of his films and in comedies he brought to success.
This meeting, in the beginning, looked like it was going to get ugly. Mina had just returned from a short tour in Paris and Vienna. In those days the Festival was raging in San Remo; a song festival without Mina. The newspapers had published her photograph next to Milva’s: she as she stepped off the plane from Vienna, sullen, cold, neglected in her dress, with her pants tucked into padded boots, a fur coat too comfortable for her, headscarf on her head and black glasses; the other with her overly fleshy mouth gaping at the microphone, eyes shining with joy, a crazy but sure-to-be impressive hairstyle.
In the caption they had written, “The two great rivals. The fact that Milva achieved a resounding personal success at Sanremo makes Mina’s defection even more significant and colors it with a vague flavor of giving up the duel.”
That Mina was in a bad mood had also made him suspect her earlier intention to refuse the meeting with Visconti: “Let me be clear,” she had said, “I have a great desire to finally meet Luchino, but not right now. I am in Rome for very few days; I have to shoot some short advertising films and I don’t have a minute of time.”
Visconti, with that class and courtesy that is characteristic of his temperament, moved him to meet Mina. They met at breakfast time at the studios where the singer worked. Everything unfolded as if they had been friends forever. In fact, Mina was in a very good mood, as happy as a little girl who has played hooky from school: we don’t know whether because of the unexpected meeting with Visconti, or because of the Festival-despite what has been written-she doesn’t care about it at all.
Out of this dialogue, under Visconti’s expert questions, comes an authentic Mina, truly disconcerting and unpredictable, completely different from the prototype of the “little nutcase” presented to us up to this point according to a too-easy advertising formula. The conversation began at a table in a country trattoria near Cinecittà. Mina was dressed for the stage, a ciociaro costume, and had a wig on.

 

VISCONTI (more amused than outraged) – But how did they combine it?

MINA – I am dressed more like Lina Cavalieri: yes, more like that. And I drink beer.

VISCONTI – Do you like, at least, beer?

MINA – No, I hate it. But I don’t have to say that or they will blame me for negative publicity.

VISCONTI – Did you enjoy Paris?

MINA – I hate Paris.

VISCONTI (this time seriously scandalized) – How can one detest Paris?

MINA – I hate her because I find her guitta

VISCONTI – Guitta?

MINA – Don’t you know what guitto means?

VISCONTI – A little bit.

MINA – Well: Paris is guitta because it is too much Paris. I love Spain because it is provincial. Yes, more like provincial, so it is beautiful.

VISCONTI – She always says “more than anything else.” Yesterday, when we spoke on the phone, he said, “I’m more in bed.” How can you be in bed more than anything else? Either you are, or you are not

MINA – It will be. But one can be in bed with one’s body and one’s head who knows where. Not to mention the heart. How one can climb the Matterhorn with one’s feet and nails, but at the same time blissfully lie in bed with one’s mind. He has never
tried? I never know exactly who I am, how I am, what I do, what I see, what other people and things around me are like. I always try many things together. That’s why I say “more than anything else,” and I’m sure I’m not wrong.

VISCONTI (increasingly caught up in the Mina phenomenon) – Interesting.

MINA (touching him) – What a beautiful fabric this jacket is. What a nice lighter (takes it from his hand). Rich people’s stuff. Can you offer me a cigarette?

VISCONTI (performs) – I also give you the mouthpiece with the filter.

MINA – What luxury! I was told that you are a gentleman. (He smokes greedily as one who is not used to using a mouthpiece. Meanwhile he watches Visconti surreptitiously making his eyes go here and there under his very long eyelashes. Having finished the cigarette, he throws away the butt and makes to keep the mouthpiece).

VISCONTI – What does it do? The used mouthpiece stinks.

MINA – It’s not like you can change mouthpieces for every cigarette.

VISCONTI – Why not? I do.

MINA – one should walk around with pockets full of mouthpieces.

VISCONTI – Indeed: look here (pulls a handful of mouthpieces out of his pocket).

MINA (finally puzzled, counting them quickly) – There must be twenty of them!

VISCONTI – And I have as many in my other pocket.

MINA (speaking for herself) – Formidable! Much more fun than it was described to me.

VISCONTI (point blank) – Why didn’t you return to San Remo this year?

MINA – I have been there once and I was about to become neurasthenic: I will never go back. I detest all demonstrations that are based on speculation in a collective furor. I detest fads. I also detest stardom.

VISCONTI – She is also a product of stardom.

MINA – You, too.

VISCONTI – Not me: I, if anything, produce stardom, I am not a product of stardom. In any case, although I may have fostered the divisiveness of others, I have done so unintentionally because my concerns have always been different.

MINA – I don’t worry about whether or not I am a diva either. I sing for me because I like to sing. The day I don’t like it anymore I will stop.

VISCONTI (changing the subject) – What do you think about Fiumicino?

MINA (impassive) – It is a magnificent airport. Too bad that in summer it makes us
too warm and in winter be more foggy than the Po Valley.

VISCONTI (not caring that Mina is completely out) – I’m not talking about the field. I am referring to the scandal.

MINA – Scandal? What scandal? I landed there yesterday and didn’t notice any scandal. Everything seemed normal, boringly normal.

VISCONTI – Didn’t you read the papers?

MINA – I never read the newspapers. I don’t read anything, not even books.

VISCONTI – Why?

MINA – I don’t have time.

VISCONTI – But do you pay your taxes?

MINA – My father pays for everything.

The first half of the bout ended with a victory for Mina on points: Visconti had exposed himself in an effort to essay his opponent. During the second half, which took place half an hour later in Mina’s dressing room, Visconti brilliantly went on the counterattack, and this time his consummate wiles as an old fox were right. But until the last blow, the fight was conducted with sporting elegance on both sides.

VISCONTI (resuming the game from before for a few more moments) – They told me that she only likes small men.

MINA (who loves to play) – I not only like small men: I like small men.

VISCONTI – To do what with it? To munch them as cookies?

MINA (pointing to the height between her thumb and forefinger a la Buscaglione) – I like little men like this to make skits out of them.

VISCONTI (with sudden decision) – We come to the topic of the meeting.

MINA – What is the topic?

VISCONTI – The woman. But digressions are allowed. See, meanwhile, the woman and the work. You start.

MINA – No: I would be too argumentative.

VISCONTI – Why do you work? After all, he would not need it, because his family is fine.

MINA – I don’t work to work: I work because I enjoy it. Work is something I discovered later, when I was already working by then. For me, work is a hobby. After all, work for women is always a hobby, because women are a bit of a potato.

VISCONTI – Not all of them. Not to mention that potatoes are also good; you just have to know how to eat them. I, for example, really like boiled potatoes seasoned with butter.
As for women’s work being regarded as a hobby, this is no longer true today. By now, work is approached by women as a necessity, to feel on the same level as men.

MINA – For me it’s different: I’m attached, like this, to this singing.

VISCONTI – Let’s not play with words. For her, singing is now a professional thing. In my opinion she represents, indeed, the typical woman’s aspiration
of today: that of working to be independent. She, moreover, is also an exception to the rule: that of the artist working to satisfy an inner need. But that does not mean at all that his work is a hobby, because a hobby is something done with the left hand. We thus enter into a discourse that could become very big. Why does today’s society push women out of the home? Why does the woman feel the need to work?
MINA – Yet, for me, singing, as much as I enjoy it, remains a temporary job. I still don’t know what I will do when I grow up.

VISCONTI – As an adult? Why, does she still feel small?

MINA – Yes: I had a stop when I was 18, when I started working. And now it seems impossible that everything should end like this. What I do doesn’t seem adherent enough to me: I’m saying real me, not what I appear to be.

VISCONTI – It is true: you have to consider that you are very young. Then it will change. She will probably marry, become a wife, a mother of children.

MINA – This is undoubtedly important for a woman, but for me it is not everything. I think, in essence, what I do can only be a beginning.

VISCONTI – Perhaps she thinks she can become an actress.

MINA – No, because, first of all, I can’t act….

VISCONTI – No one can act at first.

MINA – …and then because I’m not shrewd enough. When I say I can’t act, I mean I can’t act in life either. Actors are always pretending: otherwise they could not repeat the same scene of pain or joy every day for months and months, sometimes for years.

VISCONTI – This is wrong prevention.

MINA – I don’t know how to explain myself. I mean: I don’t have dreams, I can’t imagine myself in things. I’m always looking for new and different things, though.

VISCONTI – It means that she is dissatisfied.

MINA – Far from it: I like my work very much.

VISCONTI – It is not easy to understand her.

MINA – I like the work I do, but I have no margin.

VISCONTI – Do you value love, or not? Let’s face it.

MINA – Very much. In my opinion it is the most important thing in life.

VISCONTI – Here: so you think that in your life you can meet a decisive turning point through love. So her problem is not with her personality as an artist, but with her personality as a woman.

MINA – Of course: but in me the woman who loves is different from the woman who works.

VISCONTI – I don’t believe that. One day, perhaps, the woman he loves will destroy the woman he works.

MINA – It will be fair, honest and wonderful. However, two people in me equally exist.

VISCONTI – For the time being, but at some point one of the two women will end up eating the other. In other words: it may be that one day the artist will sacrifice himself to make room for the woman he loves, the wife, or the lover. Let’s just say it, we’re not on television anyway.

MINA – In other words: mine is “a wait to get to.”

VISCONTI – Here we address, thus, the second fundamental theme: women in the family. What you say makes me very happy, because it contradicts what is unfortunately the most current reality of women in modern society today: a type of woman who has forgotten her first duties, her very reason for existing, her natural mission. With her conception, however, Mina, she places women back into what should be their true functions in a more evolved and mature society, thus closer to tradition than the present society, which is still in the process of transition. That is: according to her, a woman can also have a profession, she can be an artist; however, she has to put above everything certain tasks that consist of being a lover, a wife, a mother, probably, and thus recreate in her integrity everything that until a century ago was the solid group of the family. This in my opinion is very important for society to walk. When there is no family, nothing exists.

MINA – I agree with that.

VISCONTI – So, according to your thought, which I find very right and therefore I want to repeat it, a woman can be an artist — I speak of her as I would speak of Callas, a painter, a writer, or any other great artist — but at a certain point she realizes that she is the other one, that is, the real one, and that is, exactly, the conservative woman in the family group. As it was originally. There was a time when women had a most noble and indispensable function in the home, which no one would have dreamed of despising. Later, with progress, woman became the great segregated one: segregated for essentially no reason other than to be excluded from man’s life. At this point the woman’s revolution could not be missed.
But, out of the man, out of the woman, the home as a family unit became nonexistent, resulting in the disruption of the whole society. Those who suffer most from this state of affairs are the young and old because no one thinks of them. With the flight of women from the home, love, affection, conversation in front of the hearth has disappeared, even culture is affected. This is why the terror of growing old is so widespread.

MINA – I think he’s right. That’s why when I see an old man I feel so sorry for him: just like a child abandoned on the street.

VISCONTI – In some states, people have been running for cover. In the socialist countries, for example, while on the one hand there is a tendency to rebuild the family on the most traditional basis, on the other hand there is provision for the consequences of modern life with forms of care for children, the old, and the sick. That is, the state intervenes where the family is lacking.
Not so everywhere. The most disastrous example of social disorder in the family is that of America. In America, the man goes one way, the woman the other, divorce is too easily obtained, couples reform all the time, abandoned children are no longer anyone’s children. In Italy, too, we are taking great strides toward this chaos because we look more to the fashions of others than to our own old customs.

MINA – I feel mostly Lombard, exaggeratedly Lombard, so much so that I sometimes become parochial. I have had this consciousness especially since I have known the South.

VISCONTI – I, too, feel deeply Lombard, but I hope to feel less and less Lombard: not in the sense that I may no longer love my land, my Milan, but in the sense that the differences that separate certain parts of Italy will gradually disappear.
MINA – These are not things that are up to us.

VISCONTI – They depend a little bit on everyone. It is a situation written in the history of our country. I love the South very much and try to understand all the terrible problems of the South. I have dealt with it in several films, and once again, with “The Leopard,” which I am about to make, I will deal with a fundamental problem of the South, which is that of the unification of Italy. Those parts of Italy that are in a privileged condition need to learn about and understand the Mezzogiorno. If their problems, which are somewhat on the conscience of us all, were more affectionately understood, it would also be easier to solve them.

MINA – That’s right: before I started working, before I came out of my small circle in Lombardy, I was even ignorant of the existence of the South. That is why what you said is right: they need to be more affectionately understood.

VISCONTI – Our “Lombardism” should not make us forget the conditions in which the southern regions have been kept these past hundred years. Certain typically local customs, which differ from one region to another, certain ways of thinking, of loving, of eating, will always remain, but that is part of the charm of a country.
But for other things we are in perfect agreement, as much in the South as in the North. She, Mina, for example, is certainly applauded with the same warmth in Milan as in Palermo.

MINE – Oh! In Palermo much more so.

VISCONTI – Do you see that?

MINA (pursuing his thought) – Do you want to know what I think of you?

VISCONTI – Come on! Empty the bag. Then I will do the same with her.

MINA – I had already heard so much about you, very well, I must say.

VISCONTI – And very badly, too.

MINA – No: exaggeratedly good. I imagined him as a kind of wonderfully colorful sorcerer, almost a fairy tale character.

VISCONTI – The ogre!

MINA – No, not at all. The ogre is bad, the sorcerer is the one who sooner or later ends up influencing the opinion of others. And she is exactly as I imagined, she did with me what I feared: she ended up bending me to many beliefs that were already in me without my realizing it. When one meets for the first time a person about whom one has heard so much, one is almost afraid to meet him or her because one is afraid of going to meet…

VISCONTI – …to a great disappointment.

MINA – Here.

VISCONTI – And this disappointment was not entirely there.

MINA – There was not at all. I found a very, very, exaggeratedly nice Visconti, very expensive. A kind of… I don’t want to say demigod, but in short very close.

VISCONTI – A grandfather of sorts.

MINA – What does grandfather have to do with it? A character like her is ageless.

VISCONTI – Now I will tell you what I think of you. I see her as I first saw her three years ago in Ischia, an extraordinary, fascinating character, a kind of monster.

MINA – Now he gets revenge for the sorcerer: but I meant it in a good way.

VISCONTI – Me too. I mean: a rhythm monster. I spent entire evenings listening to her when she was not known. When I first heard Callas sing “Norma,” I said, “This will become the greatest in the world.” So when I first heard Mina I thought, “When they notice her, let alone mount her head.” Instead, I have to acknowledge that Mina has not gone overboard at all, that she is still the nice girl she used to be, despite having achieved stardom. By now, “minism” has become fashionable: credit to me for discovering it among the first.

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They say about her

11 November 2023

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