Videocracy is what I’d call a “dystopian realist” documentary. The director, Erik Gandini, also directed Sacrificio: Who Betrayed Che Guevara?, Surplus: Terrorised into Being Consumers and Gitmo: The New Rules of War.
Given his CV it is surprising that he was allowed near the media monsters of Italy at all. While we don’t know how he got so close to these juggernauts, we do know that this is the most high-profile, deep-probing exposé of the subject.
Modern Italian television began with the public disrobing of housewives on a 1960s quiz show experiment. Every time a contestant gave the correct answer the woman of the night would undress a little. We are shown tattered stock footage of these shows in the opening scenes of Videocracy.
We also hear how factory owners would complain to the show that it left the workers too tired to work properly the next day. Then, bringing us from the “swinging sixties” to the “naughty noughties”, the film flashes us through thousands of crass images of arses, breasts, luminous teeth and titanic hair. We are told, glibly, that the president of the television has now become the president of the country.
I kept thinking of two directors: Adam Curtis and Werner Herzog. Gandini has Curtis’s knack for deftly contrasting both stock and original footage. Without the viewer ever feeling preached to, he displaces the context of mainstream media and darkly lays bare its implicit ideology.
Gandini humanly or humorously presents individuals’ relationship to society – being both products of it and illustrations of the absurdities in it.
Firstly we see Ricky, a working class mechanic obsessed with kung fu and Ricky Martin, lamenting that it’s so much harder for men to get on television because they’re not willing to sleep with the producers.
We then see Lele Mora, a millionaire talent scout, who admiringly says that his friend Berlusconi resembles his idol Mussolini. Mora then stares vacantly into the camera as he plays “cute” fascist marching song ringtones.
Videocracy avoids a cool, superior distance and gives us a sense of eerie closeness. I can’t help but wonder if Berlusconi could be a Frankenstein-created amalgamation of Boris Johnson, Rupert Murdoch and the rotting limbs of Mussolini.
Even though this film has been banned from Italian television, one could argue that its moral message is too ambiguous and it does not condemn its subject matter suitably. But this would be dogmatic.
Videocracy has something to say to everyone, not by being vague, but by giving a raw, undigested insight into the media empires such as that of Berlusconi. This is a funny, serious and terrifying film that should be required watching for everyone living in a videocracy.