Videocracy takes an intimate look inside the Sylvio Berlusconi-run television empire (otherwise known as the “Television of the President”) that powerfully shapes Italian culture through celebrity-driven programming. The film paints a scary but familiar picture of a psychological environment powered by flesh and provocation rather than ethics and morality. A similar exposé could be done on any country currently obsessed with reality television and game shows, but director Erik Gandini makes Italy a prime and unique suspect of the modern culture wars because the country’s direct and mutually beneficial link between the political branch and entertainment industry.
Gandini’s wide scope covers all aspects of the Italian entertainment world, most notably Lele Mora, a rich talent agent and close friend of the president and Fabrizio Corona, the commander of the skillful and conniving collective of paparazzi, a seedy type who eventually becomes a controversial celebrity himself. But Gandini’s bookended conversations with a mechanic named Ricky makes the most impact, showing the common man as a fanatic of pop influence. A mechanic by day and karate expert/singing crooner by night, Ricky represents the massive everyday citizenry vying for a place on television. As a consumer of television and culture in general, Ricky discusses the moral compromises necessary in climbing the power ladder. “Girls have it a lot easier than guys,” he says, preempting Gandini’s countless montages of scantily clad women vying for the job of “velina,” or show girl, an occupation known to bring fame, stardom, and money. It seems Ricky is just one of the many people attempting to break into the one profession that can fix all of life’s problems. Amazingly, all of these competing entities add up to a horrific mosaic of cultural malfeasance, one that seems completely ingrained in our immoral spectrum of misguided priorities.
While Videocracy’s material is often fascinating and telling, Gandini’s structure fails to match the inherent dynamism of his subjects. His documentary wanders from interview to interview, lazily standing by as his subjects wait to go on stage or perform their tertiary jobs. Occasionally, Gandini will glean an answer from one of these powerful entertainment players that reveals their true nature concerning the business of star making. One notable moment comes in a collection of interviews with Mora, an older man who invites his beautiful young clients to vacation at his villa on the majestic island of Sardinia. Completely dressed in white, Mora tells Gandini of his desire to make new celebrities, then out of nowhere explains his love for Benito Mussolini. He pulls out his cellphone and plays one of the dictator’s hymns, smiling into the camera with glee. For a moment, Gandini connects Italy’s fascist past with its neo-fascist entertainment culture, but it’s almost by accident. The mixture of disturbing political iconography with cutting-edge technological function is startling.
Videocracy ultimately turns into a stage production itself, mostly for a filmmaker looking to take advantage of Italy’s mass delusion with fluffy, inconsequential television. Gandini wants us to gasp at the compromises within this type of cultural phenomenon, but the shadowy dealings of celebrities and powerful businessmen aren’t that diabolical or singular considering almost every Western country deals with their own culture war. It’s the connection between Berlusconi and the television world itself that is the film’s greatest indictment and most interesting topic. But the material never comes close to touching the man himself, only the assumption and connections between his personality and the programs he creates, always one step behind the reality of the situation. The politics of collective submission is the elephant in the room, yet Gandini remains too transfixed by the chorus line of breasts and asses running the television runway to develop the connection beyond speculation.
Lorber Films has successfully rendered all the varying degrees of digital video used in Videocracy. The image quality has a distinct clarity about it, highlighting sharp hues of blue, red, and yellow. When certain subject's faces look extremely orange, it's because of the fake tan, not the transfer. The sound design is consistently potent, as Erik Gandini mixes in layers of pop music, clips, and the occasional striking confessional.
This disc carries no extras, making the filmmaker's sensationalistic slant even more incomplete and suspect.
Videocracy tackles a universal subject of eroding political and moral values amidst a pop-culture windfall, yet fails to adequately mine the necessary roots of this devolution.