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Umano Non Umano
The rambling day-in-the-life 35-mm film Umano non Umano (Human not Human), 1969, is a freewheeling, open-ended reverie that documents visits with artists and poets, performances, walks in the street, and more. Directed by Mario Schifano. Shot in Rome, Italy, April 1969. Premiered in 1972.
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From Far Out:
By 1969, Italian and French film crews were a common fixture of psychedelic events in and around London. Providing a backdrop of surrealist chic, hippy gatherings were an important resource for avant-garde film directors looking to give their movies a bit of cultural cache. This was very much the case for Mario Schifano, an Italian painter and collagist noted for exhibiting alongside Andy Warhol and Roy Lichenstein.
In 1969, he released Umano Non Umano, a bizzare and largely plotless experimental documentary which includes appearances by Schifano’s ex-girlfriend Anita Pallenberg, novelist Alberto Moravia, Italian actor Carmelo Bene, and The Rolling Stones.
Screened at the 30th Venice International Film Festival, the various images and scenes featured in Umano Non Umano are tied together by the beating of a human heart. We see snippets of a Godard film, film critic Adriano Aprà discussing the link between cinema and society, a bourgeoisie party in full flow, a group of workers demonstrating in the Piazza Colonna in Rome, and footage of Alberto Moravia pondering the eternal during a coastal walk. Elsewhere, we see a drunk boy try and sober enough to make love to his girlfriend, footage of the Vietnam war, Sandro Penna in one of his final interviews and a man creating a giant piece of communist land art on a hill. It’s quite an adventure.
In one of the film’s more engaging scenes, Keith Richards is filmed conjuring up dreamlike electronic tones on an early modular synthesiser, most likely a Moog. For two-and-a-half minutes, The Rolling Stones guitarist swaps around patch cables, reconfiguring his arrangment countless times in an attempt to give life to the low, resonant hum emerging from the synthesiser. Mick Jagger also makes an appearance for a half-arsed lip-sync performance of ‘Street Fighting Man’, in which he shuffles about in a tight pink suit.
The presence of Mick and Keith in Umano Non Umano isn’t completely random. Not only did Schifano date Anita Pallenberg for a time – the film was also produced by Mount Street Film, a production company founded by Pallenberg, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards to craft and distribute experimental films.
Indeed, Jagger’s muted performance may well have something to do with the conflicts that eventually led to the two Rolling Stones making an early exit. It’s rumoured that the artist also provided the inspiration for The Stones’ 1969 Let It Bleed track ‘Monkey Man,’ featuring the telling line: “I’m a cold Italian pizza / I could use a lemon squeezer / What you do?”
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