LE PAROLE (THE WORDS, aka TALEBAIT) (Mario Monicelli, 1973)
‘MY SENTENCE IS STRUCTURALLY UNSOUND!’
Mario Monicelli and Italo Calvino appear on-screen. Calvino stands over a typewriter. Monicelli reads what he types: ‘When you get your tenses wrong, tectonic plates swallow houses somewhere warm. When your sentence srtucture is unsound, skyscrapers topple in another city. Words are everything.’ What follows is a succession of short films, all written by Calvino, and directed by Monicelli.
‘THE WAY THE STORY IS FELLED: THE STORY-HUNTERS OF IMAGINERIA’
Stories, of course, are not invented. They have to be caught. Some move slowly, like trees, and can be cut and stripped easily. Others, by which we mean the better, rarer ones, have a quicksilver movement that means they must be tricked. The Story Hunters of Italo Calvino’s fable are not wilderness wanderers with spears, but lateral-thinking architects. Distant diggers obey subsequent clauses, and despite trundling through the tenses, from future perfect back to shrunken present, and manage to lay solid enough foundations. The machines pivot, laying scaffold to support word brick lines. These sentences can act as mazes, forcing stories down dead end alleys and into convenient corners. This results, hopefully, in capture. The words are abstract traps. For the Story Hunter, they can be everything, the poison that drugs the tale, the wall that prevents convenient getaway, but also (and this is crucial), they can serve to delay the hunter, for it is possible that he too may be rendered woozy and confused by the structures, and drunk on their horny potentials, be rendered babbling into ever diminishing tunnels of chatter, where letters, symbols, and punctuation haunt his direction (parentheses, often a clarifying pair of friends, only adding to the disruption by building roadblocks where doors should be (and building doorways inside smaller doorways, ever onwards) and offering little defence when truly required (when the tale shakes its fur and sidesteps at top speed, once, twice, a pirouette, a hop, all punctuation trips; in panic, over itself, over each other), and so the tale, so ripe for grasping and pinning while still alive into the display case (for sombre repeats, ad infinitum) one moment, is gone from view the next, tracks disappearing in the high winds/ heavy snowfall/ persistent drizzle.
‘THE LION AWAITS’
‘I shall be attaching myself to you like starfish for the rest of the night’. A writer (Vittorio Gassman) attempts to write down every detail of a woman (Gigi Proietti). She moves, and his notes are blurred.
‘THE PLOT MACHINE’
New York, 1899. When The Professor (Donald Sutherland) designs a machine that writes plots for stories, he is inundated with visits from budding novelists high in descriptive talent but lacking the requisite organizational story-telling abilities to wow. At first the existence of the machine suggests the unimaginative rut that Man has run into by offering wondrous and complex storylines that are used by the writers to garnish the theatre and novels of the time. The Professor tours America with the machine, accompanied by his money-seeking agent (Warren Oates) and his daughter (Lily Dragoon), sprinkling inventive narratives on writers everywhere at $10 a pop. But soon there are problems: A protest group, known as the Pro-Imaginatives, follow the tour and as attention for the Professor’s invention grows, so does their opposition. They believe that ‘man should stand or fall by his own ideas, and that using a machine to create thoughts is blasphemous and false’.