Slap the Monster on Page One (1972)

Viewed January 30th

In the chaos of post-1968 Italian society, a right wing newspaper editor sets up a left wing agitator for the rape-murder of a young, well-connected woman.

Following documentary footage of violent left wing protests from the period, we watch a masked radical throw some sort of flaming object through a storefront window, setting a newspaper rack on fire. This building, it turns out, is a right wing newspaper office and, instead of rushing to put out the fire, the paper's editor instructs a man holding a fire extinguisher to wait while a staff photographer takes print-worthy photos of the flaming newspapers. The editor even repositions the stand for a better photo op. By setting things up in this way, director Marco Bellocchio forcefully announces his film's subject: the manipulation, sometimes even direct intervention, of the journalistic media into "the truth." In what follows we're presented a raw, aggressively cynical web of lies coming from all of the hyper-polarized sides of the political spectrum. This, of course, feels bizarrely in-tune with the present political moment in which fake news is flying around faster than anyone can keep up, the value of truth is negligible, and the news media itself begins to create the news, in effect, to cover itself as if it was reality (or, perhaps, because it's reality, because it says it's so). 

A film like this, in which the web of a society is mapped out into a structure, requires performers, stars, whose eyes communicate a certain type of depth and meaning that audiences can absorb themselves within. Without that absorption, the film fails to rise to the level of the mythic and instead remains symbolic. The character where that's supposed to happen is the aforementioned editor of the ring wing newspaper. He's complicated in the sense that he begins to doubt the value of what he's doing, but it never gets beyond that; everything remains on a symbolic/representational level: this character represents this or that idea about society, rather than being it or making the fact of that obvious through his eyes. For a movie that purports to be so raw and immediate, it never actually digs into anything beyond mapping out its structural view of how the news media and the state interact, which is remarkably astute and skillfully communicated, but not real in a deeper sense, in which the trauma of this structure on society can be felt on the mythic level. However, there is a point in the film that comes close to accomplishing this objective and it doesn't involve a performer. Instead, it's in the final shots, some of the film's most cinematically powerful. We watch a river of garbage spread over the grass of what had been an empty, dried-out canal. It's a strange image--it makes sense but also makes no sense. As the river continues spreading, it takes on an abject power that cuts deeper into the real than symbolism.