The NFSA has restored four landmark films by Italian-Australian filmmaker Giorgio Mangiamele – Il Contratto (1953), The Spag (1962), Ninety Nine Per Cent (1963) and Clay (1965).
Giorgio Mangiamele (1926–2001) made a unique contribution to the production of Australian art cinema in the 1950s and 60s. The NFSA restorations premiered at the 60th Melbourne Film Festival and are available to purchase on DVD or stream through Ronin Films.
The Italian-born Mangiamele 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.
In choosing which films to restore, NFSA curators select titles that are unique (not held elsewhere), in physical danger of disintegration and which illustrate important elements of the history of cinema in Australia.
The restorations of Il Contratto, the release version of The Spag, Ninety Nine Per Cent and Clay have resulted in their preservation and new viewing copies. The process also saw more time being spent on the Mangiamele soundtracks than any of these films had in their day.
Mangiamele had shot both versions of The Spag, Ninety Nine Per Cent and Clay without sound – he only added soundtracks after filming. These films presented challenges of synchronisation as well as requiring clean-ups to remove the retrospective hiss, clicks and pops that are often part of a film’s ageing process.
The 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. They used Nuendo software on a digital audio workstation 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 experts cleaned up the hiss, clicks and other artefacts referred to above, without changing the tracks to any noticeable extent. After the creation of new sound negatives 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.
NFSA staff had to grade Il Contratto without sound, since both of the film’s two surviving original 16mm release prints had a barely-there, confusing track of aural 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.
NFSA laboratory technicians also had to grade to compensate for camera exposure changes, with some images having been shot underexposed and then edited together with images that were well lit, sometimes within the same scene. 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 these later films were shot on 35mm (rather than 16mm), 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.
Read a guest contribution from artist Rosemary Mangiamele about the launch of the restorations of her husband's films at the Melbourne International Film Festival in 2011.
The Giorgio Mangiamele Collection is available from Ronin Films as a DVD box set or to watch on demand.
Watch a short featurette about the collection:
Read more about the life and career of Giorgio Mangiamele:
This article was first published in 2011. The text was updated in 2023.
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Main image: Giorgio Mangiamele using his Arriflex camera, c1960. NFSA title: 419639