Saturday, May 5, 2018

Slap the Monster on Page One (Marco Bellocchio, 1972)

Marco Bellocchio’s Slap the Monster on Page One certainly reflects a particular time and place, seeped in the self-satisfied calculations of the monied Italian establishment, but it resonates bleakly in our time of heightened political cynicism and authoritarianism and of systematic disregard for truth. Gian Maria Volonte’s Bizanti is the editor-in-chief of a prominent newspaper, leading its self-portrayal as a societal bulwark against violent leftist forces. When a young well-connected woman is brutally murdered, the paper seizes on the story in the way media always does, as a flagrant circulation booster and, when a likely suspect emerges, as particularly potent evidence of the degradation of the left. But the reporter on the story becomes aware that the trail is all too well-lit and the conclusion is too convenient a contribution to the narrative of a looming election; his reward for his awakening is to get fired. The film’s subtlety lies in how Bizanti isn’t at all oblivious to his personal corruption and culpability: on the contrary, he exults in it, seeing himself as the operator of an elaborate machine contributing to keep the worker suitably and obediently incentivized, and at the same time implicitly assuming that the worker understands and accepts his subjection to this calculated narcotic. Anyone who can’t perceive (and it seems even appreciate, as one does a work of art) the workings of this system is merely a contemptible moron – including his wife, as he expresses in a memorably cruel outburst. In the end the truth is placed safely in storage, although with an understanding that it may be allowed to emerge in the future depending on the outcome of the election; the film ends on images of the Catholic church (by then degraded by an earlier deranged juxtaposition of the dead girl with the Virgin Mary) and then – amusingly if not subtly – on a river of garbage. Concise, dark and potent, the film might still be capable of inciting outrage, at least for a viewer still in possession of any sense of societal optimism.

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