How they live and die in Naples. It was quite a collaboration. A great Italian film director interviewed his fellow citizens, while a leading German photographer recorded them. The result was a poignant document of humanity and heartbreak that very much recalls what Studs Terkel was to do in his Working book.
As a boy Vittorio de Sica learned to relish the teeming sights and sounds of Naples from his aunt’s windows in the Via Martiri d’Otranto, opposite a jail and a bordello. Much later, renowned as actor-director-producer-writer and the maker of such films as Shoeshine, Bicycle Thief, Miracle in Milan, The Gold of Naples, and Two Women, he returned to his haunts not to photograph but simply to look and hear once again- stopping old neighbors, neighbors’ sons, and passers-by high and low, to have them tell their stories and let him write them down.
Below: My name? Gennaro Barattolo. I’m 12. Thank God I’m through with primary school; now I’m learning to be a glass cutter. My dad wanted me to be a fisherman like himself; but that’s a poor business, especially in winter. I’ve got other ideas. The police have picked me up four times already for going swimming practically naked: I wonder what they’ve got against me.
With de Sica went Hamburg born Herbert List, already famed for psychological camera studies on several continents, and also out to catch telling, individual images here. The two made a unique team: as photographer List wrote, ” day and night we walked the streets, always finding something new. For the Neapolitans De Sica is an idol. As soon as the spotted him, people came shouting ‘Vittorio, Vittorio!’. But when he approached them directly, they answered with great respect, addressing him by his title, Commendatore, while he asked them as to their name, occupation, history, and took all this down.”
Below: I learned my trade on the first Singer sewing machines that came here. That was when I was 10. For fifty years I have been sewing at just this spot- low priced women’s things for people of the quarter. Everybody knows me here. Nothing really changes in these streets. You just have to imagine carriages in place of cars to think back to what things looked like here half a century ago.
The De Sica-List documentary, ranged from a coachman driving a hearse along the waterfront to tearful farewell to relatives aboard a ship bound for South America. In each instance the words were set down by De Sica. The entire collection, with its glints of happier moments along the way, eventually found its way into book form in the United States in the early 1960′s.
Below: I’m called Mimmo Leonbruno, and I can sing the whole lyric and dramatic repertory. My specialty is old Neapolitan songs: older people like to hear me do them at weddings and such, though the younger ones prefer music they can dance to. I’m employed in the city building office: it’s my luck that I can make extra money by singing. On a good night I may get 5,000lire for four or five numbers. Of course, there’s always trouble with the waiters, who want to get things over with as soon as possible and make a racket while I’m making music….
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