The Director’s Effort To Defeat The Distortions Of Historical Narratives By Communicating To The Viewers The Hidden Truth And Its Explanation

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Bertolucci’s “The Spider’s Stratagem” is constructed with semantically interconnected visual metaphors trying to explain to the viewers of the film – how historical narratives written according to the logic of the spider’s stratagem are cognitively organized for the purpose of fooling and cheating people (through offering them ideologically concocted versions of historical past, which support the decision-making elite’s interests).

In Bertolucci’s film depicting through flash-backs the time when the main character Athos Magnani Sr. lived and tried to fight fascism, three other individuals created a propagandistically solemn narrative about Athos as a great/brave antifascist hero (so, what is the problem then? – will be the feeling of some viewers). These three figures are – Costa (Tino Scotti), the owner of an open air movie theater, Rasori (Franco Giovanelli), the teacher, and Garibazzi/Gaibazzi (Pippo Campanini), the maker and local seller of salamis, versatile and respectable cook and opera lover. They, according to the surface structure of the film, are the “good guys” – antifascists belonging to the same underground antifascist cell, like Athos himself. It’s them, who made Athos Magnani the legendary hero of Tara (a small country town where the protagonists of the film live), a person people talk about with admiration and gratitude and pride, because they unconditionally believed in the popular legend about Athos. The four members of antifascist organization were all together, until… Athos told his friends that he gave secret information about their organization to the local fascist leadership. This was the reason they transformed him into a legend of the local land, a person who was beastly tortured and killed by Mussolini’s gang. In reality Athos was killed by his comrades in arms – Costa, Rasori and Gaibazzi in agreement with his own plan!

The shot above registers a much later time, when the war has long been over, Athos Magnani-the hero became his own bust, and Athos Magnani-the son, who was born far away from Tara and whose existence almost nobody there knew about, suddenly arrived to the town to pay respect to the memory of his father and find details about his life and personality. But the more the young Athos Magnani tried to search about new facts the more our tree previous antifascists became worried and suspicious. And history suddenly took a turn in the direction of repeating itself.

In the still above we see that our three senior hero-antifascists are doing something very strange. Gaibazzi (to the right) is producing absurd intimidating vocalizations, while Rasori (to the left) and Costa (in the center) are striking the giant dumpster with clubs creating menacing sounds. Whom do our brave fighters with fascists intend to frighten with such bizarre and rather comic behavior? The point here is that Gaibazzi, Rasori and Costa actually can think that beating the dumpster is intimidating for those who can hear it. Did they wanted to intimidate Athos Magnani Jr. to stop him from trying to find the truth about his father’s murder? The young Athos is smart enough not even to react on such awkward way of threatening him to throw his corpse to the dumpster. But three previous antifascists were always prone to create this type of pseudo-fighting behavior – for example, long time ago they were occupied with the idea to kill Mussolini during the opera performance. Besides, exactly in this way, through beating dumpster they were trying to intimidate Athos Magnani Sr., who, as they believed, really betrayed their common cause of antifascist resistance. It seems that this trio of antifascists are in reality dumpster-beaters, not fighters at all. They are just clowns-antifascists. Their behavior throws light on the real reason of Athos-the father’s despair, who understood that with people like his friends it’s impossible to efficiently fight fascism.

Athos Magnani Sr. is not only a martyr-fighter, but the martyr-truth seeker. More, he is also a martyr-truth hider. He needs to become a heroic victim of fascism in the eyes of his own and the next generations, because he understood, that there is no another way to make people hate fascism – only through cathecting the revolutionary, anti-fascist tradition of mythological heroism. He knows that regular people, like Costa, Rasori and Gaibazzi will not fight fascism – will not risk their more or less comfortable and quiet everyday existence. He sees, that people will passively collaborate with fascist power. The tragic clairvoyance of the elder Magnani is especially impressive today when in the 21st century we see totalitarization of democracies, growing austerity for population, intensification of inequality and widening support for authoritarian leaders.

Posted on Jan 4 2015 – “Spider’s Stratagem” (1970) By Bernardo Bertolucci (based on a short story “Theme of the Traitor and the Hero” by Luis Borges) by Acting-Out Politics

Posted on Nov 24 2014 – Bernardo Bertolucci’s “Spider’s Stratagem” (1970) – We In the 21st Century, Three Athos Magnanis And The Historical Process’ Spider’s Strategem (The Analysis of BB’s “SS”) by Acting-Out Politics