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Pier Luigi Nervi and Joseph Nicoletti discuss architecture; part 2. Second interview: Caesar Zavattini discusses screenwriting and cinema

BROADCAST: 1962 | DURATION: 00:48:34


End of interview with Pier Luigi Nervi and Joseph Nicoletti where they discuss innovation in architecture and learning from a master; second part is a separate interview with Cesare Zavattini about film inspirations and creating some of his most well known works.


Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.


Studs Terkel The-- you were talking about this project for which you've been engaged by Boston of covering this [background conversation] huge stadium, the possibilities.

Carlo Baldi The, the stadium will be will be both covered and not. You can cover it and not cover it. It will be a collapsible--

Studs Terkel Oh sliding, or collapsible.

Studs Terkel [Unintelligible], yes. And [background voices, cough] he has also study, studied, he has designed an hippodrome, the horse tracks, with with with for, for [Italian? unintelligible]

Studs Terkel Hor-- For horses, for horses, [trials?].

Carlo Baldi Yes, yes harness racing.

Studs Terkel Oh, harness racing!

Pier Luigi Nervi [Italian]

Carlo Baldi For 100,000 people, completely roof. The roof in aluminum. [Italian]

Pier Luigi Nervi [Italian]

Joseph Nicolletti Twenty-four hundred feet span.

Studs Terkel Yes.

Carlo Baldi It covered the [collar?] with an aluminum roof.

Studs Terkel So it seems that with man's ingenuity, certain men such as that of Pier Luigi Nervi, there are untold possibilities if man himself now can live up to these possibilities, humanistically as he can technologically. I suppose this is the key problem, is it not, ner--? Professor Nervi sees that as a problem doesn't he? This is a general question of course.

Carlo Baldi [Italian]

Pier Luigi Nervi [Italian]

Carlo Baldi As if if if man if man will will discharge on on this on this on the construction, in the construction. All this anxiety, all these these ideals. He thinks, he thinks men will be able to utilize, to to use the possibilities that the new materials give them and and reach and implement an ideal of beauty. For what concerns building things, there is the possibility that men will be able to cope with new materials and to use them in the proper way.

Pier Luigi Nervi [Italian]

Joseph Nicolletti [Italian]

Pier Luigi Nervi [Italian]

Carlo Baldi He says if we if we [cough] [unintelligible] the anxiety, the the the technical, the building urge that we have, we use to make beautiful planes, beautiful trains, beautiful cars for civil use. At least it would be all right. But if we for instance concentrate our efforts in building some speeding racing cars to reach unbelievable speeds that will be bad because that will will will be something abstract in a way, useless, and will will will solicit some some some urges that that do not bring to anything good.

Studs Terkel Here again--

Carlo Baldi This building--

Studs Terkel This last is fashion rather than style. The speeding racing car nothing to do with man's need really, would be what he called earlier is fashion rather than style which is part of man's [need?]

Carlo Baldi [Unintelligible] reach an abstract, an abstract--

Studs Terkel Yes, yes.

Carlo Baldi Ideal of speed the end itself is for good for nothing.

Studs Terkel Is that, can we ask Professor Nervi that? That the speeding car, earlier he spoke of fashion being the terrible thing and style the needed thing because one suits a need of a man the other does not.

Carlo Baldi [Italian]

Joseph Nicolletti [Italian]

Pier Luigi Nervi [Italian]

Carlo Baldi [Italian]

Pier Luigi Nervi [Italian]

Carlo Baldi Professor Nervi points out that they need to do something useful to put our energy in following ideals that are useful, that mean something, that are a contribute to our civilization to our culture. Not the things that are useless and--

Studs Terkel Can be quickly obsolete too.

Carlo Baldi Yes

Studs Terkel Perhaps one, Professor Nervi, is [there?] anything that you'd care to discuss -- the last question -- that I haven't asked you? Anything specifically on your mind most important to you right now?

Carlo Baldi [Italian]

Studs Terkel Then I should like to ask one question, Professor Nervi, of your disciple Joseph Nicoletti, if I may in your presence here. Young architect [cough] working with Italy's greatest architect designer. Joseph Nicoletti, your feelings in working with Pier Luigi Nervi? [conversation in background]

Joseph Nicolletti Oh well, the most [unintelligible] here we [were educated?] at the University of Rome. We had Professor Nervi as a teacher at the school. Therefore we feel when following him in his approach to a new design we feel somewhat at [the?] school, and we [are have?] always finding a new way, new extraordinary way to design to architecture as, it's hard to say, but--

Studs Terkel That is there are new adventures all the time?

Joseph Nicolletti Yes there's--

Studs Terkel Yes?

Joseph Nicolletti New adventures all the time. Yes that's that's what I want to say. Particularly when he starts from the very first sketch to the completion of the final drawings you can see how logical is for [from?] the very first drawings till the actual construction. And this to us [cough] an extraordinary experience.

Studs Terkel Thrilling, I suppose.

Joseph Nicolletti Yes.

Studs Terkel So from the very beginning you are with your teacher.

Joseph Nicolletti Yeah.

Studs Terkel You're with Professor Nervi all the way from the very first idea that he has in mind and you see it come into fruition.

Joseph Nicolletti Yeah, that's--

Studs Terkel Thank you Joseph Nicoletti and Carlo Baldi [being?] interprets. Professor Luigi Nervi, architect, designer--

Pier Luigi Nervi Engineer

Studs Terkel Engineer, creative spirit. Thank you very much.

Pier Luigi Nervi Grazie [Italian], thank you.

Studs Terkel [new interview begins] [background conversation in Italian] You know I think we're acquainted in America with the names of a number of directors who are responsible primarily it seems and indeed they are for the resurgence of Italian films, what makes them so exhilarating so good. We're acquainted with the names of Vittorio De Sica, Roberto Rossellini, Federico Fellini, these- Antonioni Michelangelo Antonioni, Luchino Visconti, these are names that many of us know about admire their work but there's one name we should know about. And he certainly is one of the key figures in what makes Italian films today as exciting as they are. Perhaps his name as closely as Vittorio De Sica's associated with a technique known as neorealism, and he's a scriptwriter whose name was Cesare Zavattini. Now when you saw "Bicycle Thief," when you saw "Shoe Shine," at least it registered on my mind and seeing the credits, or when your saw "Umberto D.," when you saw "Miracle of Milan," you saw the name: script, play script by Cesare Zavattini. Mr. Zavattini is a distinguished novelist and writer of children's stories too for many years and has become involved in Italian films. And we're seated in his in his office apartment. There are books I see the works of Moholy-Nagy; we talked about that earlier. And there're paintings and there're works of- there're books about Rodin and Corot, Cezanne, the various artists and novelists so he's a man of the world truly. Signor Zavatinni, I'm very you are a very gracious host I must make this clear to the audience right off the bat. I feel very natural very easy very relaxed with you. Carlo Baldi our mutual friend as of now will tell you my feelings.

Carlo Baldi [Italian]

Cesare Zavattini Grazie. [Italian]

Carlo Baldi He thanks you very much and he says that he's very happy that in such a statement of yours, warmth and simpatia of human warmth is particularly welcome coming from an American because he's afraid that the Americans know him, have an idea of him through the picture that Avedon made of him. That is a picture of a master but somehow on the human level, [cough] distance in all some distance--

Studs Terkel Well I don't know Avedon's picture, but obviously if this is his picture then I'd say he's way way off [laughter].

Carlo Baldi [Italian]

Studs Terkel So I'd like to ask Cesare Zavattini a first question. The miracle of Italian films following the end of the war and the end of Mussolini, if he could explain his role what happened in his own way as a participant and observer. The sudden [whistle] upsurge from Rossellini's "Open City" all the way up to Fellini's films today and [all De Sica?]. What happened, how he can explain this resurgence.

Carlo Baldi [Italian]

Cesare Zavattini [Italian]

Carlo Baldi You have expressed by the gesture you made already this explosion what Mr. Zavattini defines an explosion breaking out of all our energies. Italians, the Italians have been compressed, have been confined for too many years and there were these great charges that that had to explode out and this has been so. After the war the Italians were free to express themselves and to express problems they were concerned with and therefore this exploded you know and it was a big outbreak.

Studs Terkel The energies were there, and you wanted to say more. Zavattini, Cesare Zavattini, scriptwriter, how you came to film writing. You are a writer of novels of children's books. What led you to film? Was it at this time that you became involved with Vittorio De Sica?

Carlo Baldi [Italian]

Cesare Zavattini [Italian]

Carlo Baldi He says that he can answer this question because it has been asked him before and he can locate it chronologically. He was interested in writing for cinema since he was very young and he looked at cinema, he says cinema was not a little [life? light?] far away light as we say in Italian but a big sun. And this was Charlie Chaplin. He always wanted to to write fables for the cinema in simplicity and clarity as Charlie Chaplin did. And he was he has an admiration for Charlie Chaplin that, he has such an admiration he doesn't know if he's really exists or not. If it is a myth or something real. Only afterwards he was interested also in social research in the film that would also be an inquiring in social situations in- the grasp of reality in a different in a different way. But still Charlie Chaplin remains for him a great man, a great--

Studs Terkel Inspiration

Carlo Baldi [Man?], an inspiration, and a man he has a great admiration for.

Studs Terkel Well see in doing this he did, he spoke of my gestures giving him ideas; his gestures gave me ideas. He said "clarite" and he spoke of simplicity you see. Well I'm sure I don't know if Charlie Chaplin has seen "The Bicycle Thief," I have a hunch he did. And I have a hunch that he admires that very much. You and De Sica did it. You spoke of simplicity. You spoke of truth. He spoke of clarity and perhaps one of the greatest films in the history of cinema, [the one that you?] did the script for: "Bicycle Thief."

Carlo Baldi [Italian]

Cesare Zavattini [Italian]

Carlo Baldi He says that Charlie Chaplin saw "Umberto D." And he say that of all their career, De Sica's, Zavattini's career, the best medal the best honor they ever had the best the greatest satisfaction they had was to see Charlie Chaplin moved in seeing "Umberto D." Yes.

Studs Terkel That's, well of course of course my only my only answer to that is of course [laughter].

Carlo Baldi [Italian]

Studs Terkel Now let's talk about which, we'll come to "Umberto D" in a moment. Let's talk about this film "The Bicycle Thief" for a moment since I think it is a landmark. It is a classic. This film how you came to work on it with De Sica. You wrote a script and perhaps you could tell us how in the making of the film how you worked the technique, improvisatory as, and plan.

Carlo Baldi [Italian]

Cesare Zavattini [Italian]

Carlo Baldi [Italian] [in conversation with a fourth person?]

Cesare Zavattini [Italian]

Carlo Baldi [Italian]

Cesare Zavattini [Italian]

Carlo Baldi [Italian]

Studs Terkel Tell me what he said about "Umberto D."

Carlo Baldi [Italian, Zavattini interrupts]

Cesare Zavattini [Italian]

Carlo Baldi He says that he had the idea for "Ladri di biciclette," "Bicycle Thieves," and from the structure, the basic idea, until the actual writing or the script he was, it was his idea and he developed it. And instead for "Umberto D.," he not only had the idea but he also wrote the script and the treatment and he, once the text the text was complete, it was finished. De Sica realized it in cinematographic ways as a director. But I think you want to know something more about the work on "Bicycle Thieves"?

Studs Terkel Yes, I do.

Carlo Baldi I'll ask, I'll ask Mr. Zavattini. [Italian] that's a person that if

Cesare Zavattini [Italian]

Carlo Baldi He says as as for the other films it is now working for De Sica in a way he has these ideas that he develops and he works out and he transform into a script. Then he discusses with De Sica, if De Sica likes them he, De Sica's, De Sica directs a film and it seems that this team is working out very well. And as they began many years ago they keep working together because Zavattini's ideas are congenial to Da Sica's nature and Da Sica's Da Sica usually likes Zavattini's idea so much that they can work together in [team? theme?] and realize these films. He's now working on a film that will be whose title will be "The Boom" that is about the man who sells and eye. And then they

Studs Terkel A man who sells a what?

Carlo Baldi An eye. One eye. And this is about the actual economic boom in Italy and so forth. This is going to be interesting. And Da Sica likes it [and he?] starts in March starts shooting the film in March. Then when they are through with this the work that they already have planned to work on another film, "The Diary of a Woman" and so forth. He says that these these films that was made with De Sica were his own his ideas but they found De Sica very congenial. You know they saw that they they they always sort of completed each other.

Studs Terkel Perfect director writer team then at work. One using the written word but with the eye in mind with a visual result in mind that [the other?] the director himself. So it's this combination of give and take back, back and forth.

Carlo Baldi [Italian]

Cesare Zavattini [Italian]

Carlo Baldi He says that the first time that in his long career with De Sica the first time that De Sica has not followed completely his ideas is in the last film, "I sequestrati di Altona."

Studs Terkel [other voice in background] Has he by the way and the, this the Sartre play adapted. Has Cesare Zavattini written the screenplay of this?

Carlo Baldi He gave De Sica his adaptation for the for cinema that De Sica liked very much but afterwards these this work was manipulated was was changed by intervention of another very illustrious very famous writer and therefore this last De Sica's film is the first film that comes out of their collaboration in which De Sica does not follow Zavattini's completely Zavattini's ideas and [unintelligible].

Studs Terkel Would Mr. Zavattini be interested in discussing this film, the "Sequestration d'Altona" [sic]? This is the Sartre play it was adapted to a film. I know this play has caused a great deal of discussion in Paris and elsewhere. I have heard, I'd like to hear Mr. Zavattini's point about this. I have heard, I haven't seen Sartre yet but I have heard that Sartre in writing this play about German guilt also had French guilt in mind. These are the Algeria.

Carlo Baldi [Italian]

Cesare Zavattini [Italian]

Male Speaker 1 [Italian]

Carlo Baldi The problem has two faces. I mean we have we can examine this illustration of "Altona" by two points of view, one as a Sartre theatrical work. And second as a film. Mr. Zavattini says about "I sequestrati di Altona" as a theatrical work that in it we find all the elements of of Sartre original philosophy. The sense of responsibility, this concept of responsibility and and all the symbols and all the significances that he always puts in all in all these plays that always lead back to his original philosophy to this concept of responsibility. The it is even to understand that it is men condemned to his responsibilities in a certain way. Sometimes they are fully expressed,

Studs Terkel [Sartre?] Sartre used the phrase "condemned to freedom."

Carlo Baldi Yeah.

Studs Terkel He used this phrase.

Carlo Baldi Yes [Italian, in conversation with others]

Studs Terkel [I see that? He's gesturing?]

Carlo Baldi Of course in [the?] "I sequestrati di Altona" sometimes Sartre reaches some [sanic? shanic?] results of great great value of great importance but it involves, it it involves a very well-prepared public; a public, a mature public. Only a public which has a dialectic capacity can fully understand all these elements of Sartre philosophy or Sartre theatre in "The [Sequestration?] of Altona." Now, by a point of view of cinema [yes, some people say?].

Studs Terkel Aha, because of a mass audience involved here, yes I see.

Cesare Zavattini [Italian]

Carlo Baldi Mr. Zavattini would like to point out before discussing other points about "The Sequestration of Altona," the dramatic the dramatic position he has found himself in in the work of adaptation of other people's text. When he writes "Umberto D.," when he writes "Bicycle Thieves," when he writes "The Boom" he spoke about or "The Diary of a Woman" that he is going to write, he is completely free to express himself; it's his own stuff. It's his style; it's his problems. He felt, he feels in a certain way and he is completely free to express himself. But when he has to reduce other people's texts as example with "Ciociara" by Moravia and here with "Sequestation of Altona" he deals with people--

Studs Terkel "Ciociara" was what?

Carlo Baldi The Sophia Loren film.

Studs Terkel Oh, "Two Women."

Carlo Baldi "Two Women." Exactly.

Studs Terkel Si, "Two Women," yes. Oh you adapted "Two-

Carlo Baldi Yes, yes, yes.

Studs Terkel We should point that out that Mr. Zavattini adapted.

Carlo Baldi And he is faced with a dramatic problem. He is dealing with text of people he admires. He had great admiration far Sartre as the most one of the most [determining?] and most significant men of contemporary culture. He has a great admiration for Moravia as one of our best and most interesting authors. And yet he wants to respect the text. He wants to respect their philosophy their [interpretation?], and yet is forced in his work [unintelligible] to contaminate this text. And this is a dramatic position he finds himself in because he wants, he must express himself and yet he has to express the authors the author's text.

Studs Terkel Yes.

Carlo Baldi You see? Before going into "The Sequestration of Altona" in more detail, he wanted me to translate this--

Studs Terkel Yes.

Carlo Baldi For you and to point out this particular difficult dramatic position. So much so that he said that he has made a point, he has sworn that he will never again adapt somebody else's text for cinema because is not, he says, I don't feel this is my work as a matter of fact. I don't feel I should be professional about this and I think it is a work I should not do and I will not do it in future.

Studs Terkel Well this raises of course a major and very vital point, I think in the whole field of creativity: that of the adapter. You see since Cesare Zavattini himself is a creative man. [Others see?] This is, and since the theme of Sartre in this play that America will soon be seeing as a movie with Fredric March and I believe Maximillian Schell, in this play that De Sica directed he's dealing with an original mind. And yet Cesare Zavattini has a mind of his own. And I see his point. He wants to be true to what Sartre says this is the key to any adapter. At the same time there are thoughts of his own he feels connected with this that he must do that Sartre might not agree with. Perhaps, and yet [to?] Sartre's point. So he is not an adapter really, but an original. This of course is a--

Carlo Baldi [Italian]

Cesare Zavattini [Italian]

Carlo Baldi I try to make to translate this very complex part of the conversation. Mr. Zavattini is explaining how the difficulties of his work in this particular case, the adaptation of "Sequestration of Altona" because his adaptation is come out of a long long work. He says that if he had more time he would explain to us all the different phases but [clears throat] he wants to point out that he thought that in his work of adaptation he had to give more reality to this to the [personage?]. He had to, he had to make them more make them belong more to the actual reality of of of our life and that he thought it would not betray the text and in its finality in its purpose by changing some of the other situations within the play but still aiming at the same goal which is a battle for peace, which is a play against the [dictature?], against violence against against some form of chauvinism that are still alive in Germany and so forth. So much so that he made that the actress a natural playing actress instead of the [personize?], the feminine [personized]. He says--

Studs Terkel This is the role that was played by Sophia Loren?

Carlo Baldi Yes, and a natural playing actress and he went to the [farest end?] that in his first adaptation, the film ends with the funeral of the father where the son followed by [thousands? crowds?] of people that symbolize Germany during the funeral becomes his father. He inherits and he's, how to say, how would you say it in English? He takes the place of his father.

Studs Terkel He replaces his father.

Carlo Baldi He replaces the father and the mother is so shocked by this the realization of this that leaves the funeral. And this way he wanted to give Sophia Loren the [value?] of the antagonist, you know? While in Sartre the [old?] person [has it? is?] all together in the same atmosphere. In this case he gave the feminine personage to the mother--

Studs Terkel [Unintelligible] a very key, I feel.