Poetry & Film
Entries in Naples: Life, Death & Miracles dealing with literature, drama, poetry, theater and film, including general entries about language.
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De Crescenzo, Luciano
De Filippo, Eduardo (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)
De Filippo, Eduardo (popularity abroad)
De Filippo, Luca
De Filippo, Peppino
De Sanctis, Francesco
Goethe, J.W.v. (1) (2)
Metastasio (1) (2)
Norway, Arthur H (1) (2)
Ortese, Anna Maria & Naples
Rosi, F. (film: i Magliari)
Virgil (1) (2) (3) (4)
Wertmuller, Lina (1) (2) (3) (4)
all entries in "Through the eyes of..."
47, Morto che parla (film)
A Special Day (film)
Books About Naples (1) (2) (3)
Cronaca di Partenope
D'Annunzio (in Naples) (below)
Dialect literature in Neapolitan
Early Film Makers from Naples
Films of Neo-Realism
Films about Naples
Ferdinado e Carolina (film)
Fruit of Christmas, the
Gallery, The (John Horne Burns)
Gate of Heaven, the (V. de Sica)
gestures, hand- (books) & Andrea de
ghost singers in film dubbing
Homer & Vico
Greek language (in Italy)
Io speriamo che me la cavo
old journals and papers
K666. Fra Mozart e Napoli (novelle)
language/s (1) (2)
La Pegna mobile library
libraries (1) (2) (3)
Storia Patria Nostra library
Muhammad (The Night Ride)
Munnezza e bellezza
Napoletani a Milano (film)
Napoli Milionaria (film)
Natale in Casa Cupiello
Nea Polis (on-line film noir)
Neapolitan language (1) (2)
Neo-Realism (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8)
L'oro di Napoli (1) (2)
Pannone, Gianfranco (Sul Vulcano)
A Place in the Sun (TV drama)
Petrarch in/and Naples
Remembrance of things past
Shakespeare--was he Italian?
symbols of Naples
theaters. first in Naples
The Last Man (Mary Shelley)
The Tempest (Neap. trad. by Eduardo De Filippo)
Viaggio in Italia (film, 1954)
Wizard's Secret, the
Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow (film)
*(That really happened. The image on the right is a postage stamp issued by the Italian regency of Fiume in 1919. That is Gabriele D'Annunzio, the proto-Duce, on the front.)References
ROBERTO BRACCO (1861-1943)
Roberto Bracco died in Sorrento on April 20, 1943. He had been a celebrity but by then had become unknown. Most of the press didn't mention his death, and only a few friends were at his funeral in Naples. By their very presence they showed their disdain for the Fascist regime and their solidarity with Bracco. In the early 1920s Bracco was nominated six times for the Nobel Prize for Literature. He never won because of Mussolini’s personal opposition. His many plays, both comedies and tragedies, were acclaimed in most European countries and in the Americas, rivaling in popularity those of D’Annunzio and Pirandello.
Bracco was a playwright, poet, novelist, essayist, lyricist and screenwriter. His love of freedom and democracy, however, made him an enemy of the regime. Fascist goons harassed him, physically assaulted him, and turned him into a non-person. Theater companies wouldn't put on his plays and almost no publisher dared print what he wrote. For his last fourteen years, he lived a semi-solitary life in poverty, made more difficult by ill health. His honor, integrity and the strength of his convictions, however, kept him from asking for help. Indeed, he turned down and sent back money from Mussolini. He died as he lived: a man with principles who would not compromise with dictators.
Bracco was born in Naples in 1861 and was the grandson of the founder and director of the Royal Botanical Garden of Naples. His immediate family lived in Naples on Via San Gregorio Armeno, still the well-known street of craftsmen who make nativity scenes, the presepi.
He was not a good student and quit school to work as a porter for a transport and moving company. He took ill and his parents sent him off to recuperate in the countryside near Castellammare di Stabia, where he lodged in a small hotel run by the Ossani family, frequented by journalists and intellectuals. Here he fell in love with a young girl of Greek origin. When he returned to Naples, he learned that the girl had innocently shown his love letters to the Ossani family. They, in turn, liked the way he wrote and showed the letters to Martino Cafiero, the editor of the Corriere del Mattino of Naples. On the basis of those letters, Cafiero offered Bracco a job and set him to work writing fiction that was then serialized in the paper. His first work was Una Parentisi (An Interval); his style was simple --adventures and realism, a combination of Manzoni and Dumas. The common reader liked that style and it sold newspapers.
When Cafiero died, Bracco wrote for Matilde Serao and Edoardo Scarfoglio at their Corriere di Napoli as a music and theater critic. He then followed them to their new venture, Il Mattino, which became a popular opinion-shaping paper, with works by D’Annunzio, Ferdinando Russo, and many others. That paper (still in existence) included serialized novels by such authors as Dostoevsky and de Maupassant. As theater critic, Bracco mingled with actors and directors in the Italian cultural world, and in 1886 actor Ermete Novelli (1851-1919) asked him to write a comedy for his troupe. The comedy, Non Fare ad Altri (Don’t do unto Others), played in December of 1886 and was a notable success. His comedies and dramas kept coming, and some of the best Italian actors of the day performed his thirty-six plays; among them Maschere (1893), Sperduti nel Buio (1901), I Fantasmi (1906), and I Pazzi (1922). His lyrics for Neapolitan songs include: Salamelic (1882), Comme te voglio amà (1887), Africanella (1894), Sentinella (1917), and ‘O Munaciello (1924). He even composed the music for the song ‘A Francetta to lyrics by Salvatore Di Giacomo.
Between 1881 and 1926 his astonishing output included ten novels, a collection of poems, four opera libretti, and several shorter pieces. He saw in the new medium of film the potential for a new art form and 17 of his own plays became movies. Film historians see one of them, Sperduti nel Buio (Lost in the Dark) as an early precursor of Neo-Realism. Here the trail goes cold. There is confusion as to what happened, physically, to the film Sperduti nel Buio -- to the reel(s) themselves. Does the film still exist? Can we watch it? The most common opinion is that it is "lost", either taken away by the Germans as they retreated from Rome in 1944 and then, who knows where? Thus this great silent film of early realism by Roberto Bracco simply wound upon the staggering waste heap of everything else crunched, burned and bombed into nothingness in WWII. That is certainly a possibility; yet there is another one.
Italian state radio and television, RAI, addressed this in 2018. They say, plausibly, that after the Germans set up their puppet state, the Repubblica Sociale Italiana (RSI) in 1943, Mussolini had most of the movie archives of the Italian School of Cinematography in Rome moved north. The movie reels, including Sperduti nel Buio, went by train to Venice. Film sleuths have found a list of those movies, including Sperduti nel Buio (no. 18 on the list). It looks as if that film and many others probably ended up in Germany. Historians have tried to trace the train after it got to Venice, where the RSI was to re-found the Italian film industry. The Germans were obsessed with getting as many Italian films as possible to Germany and storing then in secret sites. What really happened to the train and the movie reels? Here comes the very "iffy" part. Maybe they're in Moscow, moved there by the Red Army after the fall of the Nazi regime. I have no idea why the Russkies don't tell us.
Since 1962 "Teatro Bracco" has been housed on the premises
of the Palazzo Spinello di Tarsia, the large, yellow structure
in the center of this image. Now Bracco has his own theater.
These things take time, you know.
Bracco was versatile and eclectic. He moved from one genre to another easily (which made some critics say he lacked depth and was more an imitator that an original). Bracco avoided the romanticism and naturalism of the fin de siècle. If he had an “-ism” it was intimism, exploring the mysteries of the soul, sometimes aiming at wider social problems. He wrote in standard Italian. (Only one of his plays is in Neapolitan.) His appeal was humanistic, universal and modern. Thus, his plays, like those of D’Annunzio, for different reasons, often played abroad in that period. I have no idea what Bracco would say to the irony of the Teatro Bracco, named for him (who wrote almost exclusively in standard Italian) being a venue for plays in Neapolitan dialect. He might have liked the irony -- or he might have bitten someone in the head! (two paragraphs below)
This theater is not the only memorial to Bracco. In and near Naples there are a number of memorial marble plaques, some put up soon after the war ended (May 8, 1945). The oldest one in Naples is at the entrance to Via Tasso 65, where he lived for many years (image, right). In translation, it reads: “To the memory of Roberto Bracco, who in the dark years of the dictatorship lived in this house among the ghosts of his art and the tenacious nobility of his ideals of liberty. The city, fulfilling the promise of the people of Naples, set this plaque on April 20, 1946.” There are others: a plaque on the building where he was born; a street named for him; and a plaque in Sorrento on the villa where he lived in WWII. In Agerola (near Positano) where he vacationed during the summer, there is a plaque in front of the town hall to honor him and one of his plays, reading, “From this alpine refuge in 1909 the avant-garde art of Roberto Bracco gave to the Italian theater with Il Piccolo Santo, the example of tragedy in which men stay silent when mystery speaks. The Municipality, 1947.”
Bracco was outgoing, generous and faithful in his friendship, but also highly emotive and rash. As a young man, he fought at least six duels with swords. He was once a defendant in a criminal case, charged with assaulting future Italian Prime Minister Francesco Saverio Nitti (1868-1953) by biting him on the head (!) after Nitti criticized his first play. At the trial, the judge said that the two should make peace. Bracco apologized and the judge dismissed the case. After they left the courtroom, Bracco walked over to Nitti and said: “Vuje site nu’ fetente!” (You're a piece of crap!).
At age 60, Bracco met Aurelia Del Vecchio (1900-61), whom he called Laura, a beautiful girl in her early twenties, almost 40 years younger than he was. They fell in love and she moved in. They were together for 20 years. It's almost as simple as that. Bracco did not talk much about his earlier affairs of the heart, yet the letters between the two show their solid, loving bond. He trusted her and depended on her for companionship and for advice. He spoke of her to a friend and said, "This is the kind of love that lasts forever." They were finally married in 1939.
Bracco got into political hot water as early as 1915, when his one-act comedy L’Internazionale (The Internationale) played in Naples. Italy had joined World War I in May of 1915, and this sweet-sad comedy about anti-war sentiment and feminism was not popular. In 1919, Bracco was one of only two Italian intellectuals (the other was Benedetto Croce) to sign the Declaration for the Independence of the Mind drafted by Romain Rolland (1866–1944), calling for the intellect and the arts to lift the human spirit and bring humanity together, regardless of ethnic background, social class, or national origin. That kind of pacifist internationalism was something else Fascists would later hold against Bracco. In 1922 he published a new play, I Pazzi (The Insane), with its idea that the line between sanity and mental illness is uncertain. It caused a furor among critics.
In April 1924, Bracco ran for the Italian Parliament and was elected as a member of the anti-Fascist coalition led by philosopher Giovanni Amendola. In 1926 there was an attempt on Mussolini's life. The Fascist majority in parliament then dissolved all opposition parties, expelling the members. The same night as the assassination attempt, anti-Fascists were violently attacked all over Italy. In Naples, Fascist hoodlums broke into Bracco’s home and destroyed his books.
As noted, Bracco was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature numerous times in the 1920s. He never got it. His own Italian government opposed him! Authorities denied permits to stage his plays, or stage companies would simply not put them on. Newspapers, for their part, were afraid to print his pieces. In 1929, actress Emma Gramatica (1874-1965) personally asked Mussolini to let Bracco's 1922 play I Pazzi run in Naples and the Duce said 'yes'. The first performance at the Teatro dei Fiorentini in Naples in June of 1929 was a critical and popular success, but a month later Gramatica took the play to the Teatro Eliseo in Rome, where Fascist thugs stopped the show when they broke in to the theater and roughed up spectators. The play was not staged again in Italy until after WWII.
In 1936, when Bracco was ill and strapped for money, Gramatica wrote to ask the government for financial help for Bracco. Mussolini sent him 10,000 lire in care of the actress. When she delivered the check, Bracco refused it. His obscurity continued after his death. Maybe there were reasons for that. Was his work too facile, dated, without depth? Well, that's an opinion, and you're entitled to it. Another reason, however, might have been his stubborn refusal to bend with the prevailing winds. His decency was a sad reminder, a reproach to the majority of intellectuals who had closed their eyes and their minds under Fascism. His moral stance was also profoundly un-Italian. That is, he was either a fesso (fool) or, even worse, a saint ignoring the centuries-old Italian trait of adapting to all circumstances, to be a chameleon, to survive at all costs.
1. Bonsaver, Giorgio. Mussolini Censore: Storie di Letteratura, Dissenso e Ipocrisia. Bari: La Terza, 2013.
2. Costagliola, Aniello. Roberto Bracco. Nuova Antologia di Lettere, Scienze ed Arti. Roma: Nuova Antologia, 1908, pp. 571-98.
3. Galassi, Chiara. Roberto Bracco: Il Teatro in una Società che Cambia. L’Italianistica oggi: ricerca e didattica, Atti del XIX Congresso dell’ADI - Associazione degli Italianisti (Rome, 9-12 September 2015).
4. Iaccio P. L’ Intellettuale Intransigente. Il Fascismo e Roberto Bracco. Napoli: Guida, 1992.
5. Iaccio, Pasquale. Lettere a Laura, Napoli: Di Mauro Ed., 1994.
6. MacClintock, Lander. Roberto Bracco. The North American Review, 1919. Reprinted in Early Journal Content on JSTOR.
7. Parisi, Pasquale. Roberto Bracco. La Sua Vita, La Sua Arte, I Suoi Critici. Palermo: Remo Sandron, 1923.
8. Pullini, Giorgio. Bracco, Roberto. Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, Volume 13 (1971).
If the Nobel Prize for Literature is as politically motivated as many people think, then maybe it's not that big a deal if Bracco never got one. The bigger deal is the reason: he was an anti-Fascist, his government was a Fascist dictatorship and Mussolini pressured the Swedish Academy. I don't know how -- by threatening to invade Sweden?
Maybe literary prizes are silly anyway. British poet, critic and editor, Geoffrey Grigson, wrote: "It is extraordinary, an act of illiterates, to give prizes for literature...Ridiculous poets do not cease to be ridiculous when eight other poets and eighteen critics and three selectors of the Poetry Book Society say they are sublime."
Looking back over the century or so of Nobel Prizes, you (and I) have never heard of some of the winners, approve of some, and disapprove of others. But if they insist on giving these things out, Bracco is in good company. Here is a very short list of great writers who were rejected for that prize (a few of them were not even nominated):
Leo Tolstoy, Henrik Ibsen, Henry
James, Émile Zola, James Joyce, Mark Twain, Ezra Pound
But writers generally need money and will take it if you insist. W.B. Yeats supposedly said on hearing by telephone that he had won the 1923 Nobel Prize for literature: "Stop babbling, man! How much?"