Rediscovering the Italian-Australian filmmaker
BY GRAHAM SHIRLEY
The NFSA has recently restored four films made by Italian-Australian filmmaker Giorgio Mangiamele (1926-2001) – Il Contratto (1953), The Spag (1962), Ninety Nine Per Cent (1963) and Clay (1965). They have been released as a DVD box set, and three of the films are screening at the 2011 Melbourne International Film Festival.
The NFSA is challenged with the ongoing preservation of a massive collection of 200,000 Australian films. The curatorial task is to prioritise works for comprehensive preservation treatment. Curators focus on films which are unique (not held elsewhere), which are in physical danger of disintegration and which illustrate important elements of the history of cinema in Australia.
Giorgio Mangiamele’s films clearly meet the criteria. His unique contribution to the production of Australian art cinema in the 1950s and 60s is unquestioned, and growing public demand confirms the need for these films to be brought back to life.
The NFSA’s challenge is to effectively preserve Mangiamele’s key films, stabilising and copying the original components onto modern film stock for public access and education. This process ensures the NFSA’s ability to continue to provide the original cinema experience which remains one of the fundamentals of the NFSA’s mission. It is then possible to deliver these works to new audiences, while curatorial research, publications and notes help explain their place in Australian audiovisual history.
A provocative Italian filmmaker in postwar Australia
The Italian-born filmmaker Giorgio Mangiamele (1926-2001) arrived in Australia as a migrant in 1952 and the following year began making his first feature, Il Contratto (The Contract, 1953). This and his next five films – Unwanted (1958), The Brothers (1958), two versions of The Spag (c.1960 and 1962), and Ninety Nine Per Cent (1963) – all portrayed the isolation, alienation and encounters with racism that could be part of the experience of migration to Australia in the 1950s and ’60s. From the second version of The Spag onwards, Mangiamele developed a poetic visual style that combined his already apparent humanism with an ability to capture the inner lives of his characters. This style, greatly developed in his only comedy, Ninety Nine Per Cent, reached its most perfect form in Clay (1965), which represented Australia at the Cannes Film Festival in 1965.
After Clay, Mangiamele found it difficult to raise funds for the kinds of films he wanted to make. His sci-fi feature Beyond Reason (1970) failed to find commercial acceptance despite distribution by Columbia Pictures, and his final films were promotional and educational documentaries for the Papua New Guinea Office of Information. But up until his death, Mangiamele never stopped writing and planning to make further features.
Giorgio Mangiamele leaves a lasting legacy not only as a courageous and determined poet of the cinema but also as someone who kept making fiction films at a time when many in the Australian film industry considered it impossible to do. The National Film and Sound Archive has paid tribute to Mangiamele by restoring five of his films and initiating as well as collaborating on the DVD box set.
Restoring the Mangiamele films
The restoration of four out of the five Giorgio Mangiamele films in this box set – Il Contratto, the release version of The Spag, Ninety Nine Per Cent and Clay –- has resulted in their preservation and new viewing copies. It has also resulted in more time being spent on the Mangiamele soundtracks than any of these films had in their day. Because Mangiamele had shot both versions of The Spag, Ninety Nine Per Cent and Clay without sound but had added soundtracks after filming, these films presented challenges of synchronisation as well as cleanups to remove the retrospective hiss, clicks and pops that are often part of a film’s ageing process.
NFSA’s specialist staff used Chace COSP Xi technology to transfer directly from Clay’s optical sound negative to digital, a process that optimised best playback from an optical sound source. Nuendo software on a digital audio workstation was used to make minimal adjustments to the synchronisation of Ninety Nine Per Cent, with sync on all the Mangiamele sound films up until 1965 being approximate because of the technically under-resourced way in which Mangiamele had postsynchronised his films. Using work station CUBEtec plug-ins, NFSA technicians cleaned up the hiss, clicks and other artefacts referred to above, although not changing the tracks to any noticeable extent. After the creation of new sound negs for The Spag (release version), Ninety Nine Per Cent and Clay, they were processed and further synchronised on a film editing machine with newly created picture duplicate negatives. The choice of sync points focused on obvious sound effects like a door slam or a character thumping a table.
One of the main challenges for NFSA technicians came from having to grade Il Contratto mute since both of the film’s two surviving original 16mm release prints has a barely-there, seriously confusing track of bits and pieces (including Giorgio Mangiamele singing) that Mangiamele, years after abandoning the film, appears to have toyed with but never intended to screen publicly.
The main challenge for NFSA laboratory technicians came from having to grade to compensate for camera exposure changes, with some images having been shot underexposed and then edited together with well-lit others, often within the same scene. Viewers will note that this applies especially to Il Contratto, where underexposure of some shots is extreme enough to result in unintended graininess.
By the time Ninety Nine Per Cent and Clay were made a decade after Il Contratto, the problem was less visible. This was partly because of Mangiamele’s greater experience as a cinematographer but also because where the earlier Mangiamele films had been shot on 16mm stock, these later films employed 35mm, a stock capable of a doubly sharp image as well as a broader exposure range. The outcome of this restoration and preservation work has been the creation of viewing copies of the key works of an important but over the decades neglected Australian filmmaker. These copies will allow today’s viewers to re-assess the significance of Giorgio Mangiamele as a film artist who had recognition in his day but was all too quickly forgotten.
Curatorial notes and clips
Readers can find further information about Mangiamele, his life and career at the following web links:
- ‘A Profile of Giorgio Mangiamele’, Senses of Cinema, Alex Castro, Issue No. 4, March 2000
- ‘Giorgio Mangiamele – Passionate filmmaker’, Scott Murray, Senses of Cinema, Issue No.14, June 2001
- ‘Giorgio Mangiamele. Cinematographer of the Italian Migrant Experience’, Federico Passi, Senses of Cinema, Issue No. 66, March 2013
- ‘Giorgio’, Senses of Cinema, Quentin Turnour, Issue No. 14, June 2001