Si, Gra-zi-e!

Yasuaki Shimizu / translated by Pamela Miki

A railway station in a tiny, Italian hot-spring town. Evening was setting in on the platform of this lonesome local station as twenty-some-odd villagers waited for their train. Huddled where the few second-class carriages would eventually arrive were a woman with a basket on her arm and children at her heels, off to the next town for some shopping; laborers heading home from a long day’s work; students; and a middle-aged man with a protruding gut and an early buzz. All chattered incessantly. The unbroken cacophony, not even remotely distinguishable as words, formed a distant mass of sound. Suddenly a PA announcement echoed across the platform, shattering that mass: “Attention! Attention! Sicily–Venice express passing through,” followed one perfectly measured beat later by a chorus of thanks for this great favor, “Sì, gra-zi-e!” The timing was exquisite! Of course, not a single person stopped their conversation to notice the passing train. There was again the mass of sound.

Commenting on cinema and music and other forms of expression becomes progressively more difficult these days. I, for one, make music, and all sorts of people praise, criticize, dodge, analyze (heaven knows what!), etc. me. There’s a bad Shimizu, a nice Shimizu, an interesting-in-his-own-way Shimizu; then there’s the Shimizu they want to fight to exist as himself. I am also often mistaken for the wrong person. “Really?” you ask? Well, yes. There are a lot of Shimizus out there. And with all these Shimizus—including, unfortunately, the mistaken identities—being talked about, they tend to counterbalance one another and strike a harmony—hand in hand, forming a circle, like the denouement of 8 1/2. This is not a phenomenon unique to Shimizu: there are also various Fellinis, and various Rotas.

How now, by the way, should Nino Rota be known?

He is spoken of most often as “the master contemporary film composer, famous for his collaborative work with Fellini, and for his great and continuing influence on the music world as a neoclassicist, pure-music composer,” but I also think that when one speaks of Rota something should be added about how he sowed the seeds for the creation of a unique kind of space outside the fields of music and cinema. This was something that seemed to occur spontaneously, as an extension of his musical activities, a phenomenon that developed unseen. Rota, for example, unconsciously appears and disappears in any number of trends involving music and film. What’s more, he wears different clothes. This phenomenon goes beyond Rota, of course; for me, some of the most significant, “earth-cultivating” acts took place in the heyday of Rota and Fellini. And having secretly germinated unnoticed in the popular world, surviving autonomously, those seeds are now integral to contemporary living. Especially now, when life is based on image to such a degree that everybody can relate to superficial feeling.

Cinema has expressive capabilities of great depth and breadth which appeal to large numbers of people, on various levels. At times, in the sensual realm, it becomes an expressive method that surpasses print. I doubt there is any need to cite here the number of works that transcend the capabilities of words which were created through the involvement of directors and musicians, like Fellini and Rota, working with actors and others making a career of expression.

Orchestra Rehearsal is set as an interview with a TV station orchestra—a metaphor for society, although, as is consistent with most Fellini films, not an explicit one. The interwoven storylines develop the character of each orchestra member, and moreover their character as an orchestra, with a bit of quintessentially Italian humorous irony mixed in. The conductor, long the absolute leader (authority) is negated; next the orchestra, then the members one by one, until finally, as the system rests on the verge of collapse, there comes individual awareness, from which a new order is born. In every way, Rota’s musical approach is identical to Orchestra Rehearsal, i.e. documentary as fiction. Sometimes making waves of its own behind the actors’ dialogue, sometimes flirting with the dialogue, and in the final scene performing the leading role, that multifaceted sameness of approach creates results of differently persuasive power. The comical yet profound meaning in the final passage, when the actors lose themselves playing Rota’s music, is sublime.

To Italians, Rota and Fellini included, jest is the essence of living. They are “sì, gra-zi-e!” people, each and every one; and they hone their gift living day upon day. The magic they create has until now and will always be their driving force.