les presses du réel

Making a Scene / Fare una scenata

An Introduction to Making a Scene
Jörg Heiser
(p. 11-13)

The phrase Fare una scenata, or, in English, Making a Scene, commonly designates a public display of emotion—anger, sadness, exuberance— often involving exaggerated gestures and facial expressions, screaming, possibly violence against objects or people. In any case, there is no scene made without an audience. The proverbial couple's fight (a subject of many comedies and romantic novels and movies, but also “serious” literature and auteur cinema) is loud, involves glasses being thrown against the wall or clothes out of windows and—whether consciously or not—is usually enacted with the neighbors in mind. Of course “making a scene” is not least a tourist cliché of Naples, carefully nurtured by the makers and consumers of popular culture (think of scenes from a Hollywood movie like It started in Naples of 1960, with Sophia Loren and Clark Gable), but also by Neapolitans themselves.

The idea of Fare una scenata is to take the cliché seriously; to explore its layers of meaning as a means to understand the relationship between artistic process and its aftermath in image, object, space, and audience reaction. Is there an “unwritten contract” between the artist and his or her audience, regarding what they “deliver,” whether it's meant to be entertainment, enlightenment, or estrangement? A good example (and a trigger for the exhibition's concept) of what happens if that “contract” is broken is an infamous stage performance by the American comedian Andy Kaufman in 1979. After having asked his family onto the stage to amateurishly tell jokes or sing, Kaufman suddenly seems on the verge of tears when the audience reacts with boos and hoots. He starts to sob, and suddenly it's as though he has turned the tables and transformed his audience into the actual family reunion, embarrassed by one of its members suddenly disclosing a dark secret and suffering a nervous breakdown. When he eventually starts hitting congas to the rhythm of his sobbing, everyone laughs again, as if relieved that the broken contract has been “healed.” “Making a scene” is about setting up a conflict in order to bring out the “truth”—or deflect from the truth!—about a relationship: whether it's between lovers, between members of different social groups, or between artist and audience. It is a “hysterical” strategy of problem solving, of consolation— or of problem producing, of declaring fundamental disagreement. A good example of that latter aspect is closely connected to the history of Naples and appears in a scene in Vittorio De Sica's film The Gold of Naples (1954), after the eponymous book by Giuseppe Marotta. In the scene, the Neapolitan actor Eduardo De Filippo gives a group of men from the neighborhood advice about how to punish a stone-hearted Duke with the pernacchio, a Neapolitan expression of contempt, of telling someone they were the scum of the earth—a buzzing sound made by placing the tongue between the lips and forcibly expelling air. He advises the members of the neighborhood to “greet” the duke, every time he passes by in his car, by calling out his full name—Duca Alfonso Maria Di Sant' Agata dei Fornai—followed by a collective pernacchio. It becomes a revolutionary trumpet call, or rather, the sound of a monumental, larger-than-life whoopee cushion, as if letting off the air of the Duke's inflated ego.

The works that were shown in the exhibition run the gamut of the different layers of meaning in “making a scene.” While there are no illustrations of the “classic” romantic comedy couple's fight, there are works that—fiercely, or humorously—stage a conf lict that could “breach the contract” with the audience, or enact hysterical “problemsolving,” while others subtly visualize and structure within space the imaginative realm which enmeshes these kinds of interactions.

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