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Interview to Alessandra and Elisabetta Umiliani - CD release of the OST Quando la coppia scoppia

18/09/2019

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Interview to Alessandra and Elisabetta Umiliani - CD release of the OST Quando la coppia scoppia
Interview to Alessandra and Elisabetta Umiliani - CD release of the OST Quando la coppia scoppia

What relationship did Piero Umiliani have with the Italian comedy? What memories do you have of your father after spy movies and the mondo movies, struggling with a vein no less prolific?

A: The Italian comedy was very much in vogue in the mid-seventies, and dad followed his evolution not only as a specialist, but he often made long bonds of friendship with some of the directors; such is the case, for example, with Giorgio Capitani and Nando Cicero. And, at first, he had even begun to score peplum in a humorous way, such as “Ercole, Sansone, Maciste E Ursus, Gli Invincibili” (1964). The writing of music for Italian comedies was, first of all, a job, and perhaps, also a bit of fun. If dad had decided to lend his notes only to the films he really liked, which reflected his personal taste, such as “I Soliti Ignoti” (1958), he would have made very few soundtracks. Dad loved jazz and was aware that there was no possibility of superimposing a score of that kind on the images of every movie at that time.

“Quando La Coppia Scoppia” includes among the performers Enrico Montesano, often the protagonist of Giorgio Capitani's own comedies. Was he also one of the maestro's favorite actors?

E: Yes, he liked him very much, and sometimes, during the shooting of Giorgio Capitani's films, we went on the set. Dad also valued Jonny Dorelli, then accompanied by his music in “Bollenti Spiriti” (1981), and Aldo Maccione, another actor in “La Pupa Del Gangster” (1975) and “Bruciati Da Cocente Passione” (1976), both directed by Giorgio Capitani. Dad liked light movies.

A: Dad was indeed a man of another generation, but he was really at ease in the context of comedy because, as always, he loved to laugh, joke, not take everything too seriously. He used to make jokes with the insiders, and not surprisingly, the one he reserved for a director who asked him to “save the film with his soundtrack” is famous. Tersely, the maestro replied that he could make good music for him and nothing more. He always had a direct relationship with his colleagues.

E: The Italian comedy created a sequel of several 'cassette' titles, like those of Nando Cicero, and they guaranteed an economic kickback to our father, who, if he had played the hard man, would not have been able to support the family. Dad liked to live in a certain way, between travels and other small comforts, so he also took care of the size of the 'bacon' to bring home.

Nando Cicero was also among the supporters of the Italian comedies that, with the music of Piero Umiliani, signed a series of titles marked by the splendid Edwige Fenech such as “L'Insegnante (1975), “La Dottoressa Del Distretto Militare” (1976), “La Soldatessa Alla Visita Militare” (1977) and “La Soldatessa Alle Grandi Manovre” (1978). Were you allowed to see movies of this type?

E: I attended a religious institute when I was a child. I didn't see those movies. I was little. Certainly, however, I read the scripts that circulated at home and noticed the presence of certain scenes. When the work was completed, my grandmother used to tear up the pages of the scripts and use the back as blank sheets on which the shopping list was pinned. We keep both the intact and the 'recycled' scripts!

A: At the time, moreover, we either went to the first screening with dad or stayed at home. We saw the films directed by Giorgio Capitani at the cinema, but not those of Nando Cicero. The latter was, however, another great friend of dad, as well as a regular visitor to our living room. A 'special' passion tied them beyond cinema: target practice. That's why he presented himself as 'armed' with a pistol.

E: When we were at the house in the country, they had fun like this, setting up pyramids of cans to hit. However, there was not just shooting. Dad had a gun for another reason, far from the game: during the 'years of lead,’ he feared for our safety, and following the kidnapping of a boy who lived near the same house in the country, he decided to obtain a regular firearms license. Of course, dad was always ready to joke, even with the gun. Sometimes he hid it in our mother's purse, and perhaps in the cinema, she opened it suddenly and was frightened by its contents, asking him unsuccessfully not to leave it there again.

Have you also read the scripts for “Eva Nera (1970) and “Follie Di Notte” (1970) by Joe D'Amato?

A: No, those we didn’t! We were still young girls, and perhaps he would not leave scripts of erotic movies within our reach. Instead, we read those related to Luigi Scattini's films, and of course, those of Giorgio Capitani, who was also my godfather.

E: I remember, however, that dad commented on certain scene photographs starring Zeudi Araya, the protagonist of Luigi Scattini's triptych “La Ragazza Dalla Pelle Di Luna” (1972), “La Ragazza Fuoristrada” (1973) and “Il Corpo” (1974), immortalized naked between beaches and other exotic locations.

Piero Umiliani loved to joke. The Italian comedy amused him and constituted a job opportunity, but how did he face the transition from 'engagé' cinema to a lighter one?

A: In terms of taste, I don't think he was particularly happy with such a rotation.

E: Our father lived through that period of 'transition,’ to be placed between the beginning of the sixties and the mid-seventies, not only in terms of cinema, but also perhaps of personal taste. He had progressively witnessed a decrease in the demand for musical commentaries commissioned to him. This situation was determined by the launch of Liuto Edizioni Musicali which, after many years, keeps in the catalog a good part of dad’s repertoire, including cinematographic soundtracks, music for documentaries, television themes, jazz albums and synchronizations. Dad, among other things, was warned that the presence of his own music editions could have been an impediment for some producers to work with him. On the one hand, it meant devoting more attention to 'his' soundtracks, being more creative, and above all, independent through the various labels he had started up, namely Omicron, Liuto Records and Sound Work Shop. On the other hand, composing for the cinema was equivalent to accepting the most disparate works, sometimes far from his own interests. They were 'cassette' titles from friends and directors, so everything was easier. Critics expressed, frequently, negative comments about those products, and paradoxically, positively in favor of dad's scores, which were considered 'wasted' for that movie sector. He always justified himself by reiterating that music was always the same, regardless of the beauty of the film on duty.

A: Dad was a professional. The presence of the Liuto Edizioni Musicali coincided with a different gain compared to that deriving from the contracts, for example, with C.A.M or RCA.

The maestro's 'cinematographic' career can, in fact, be divided into two periods: the first was the most intense, between the end of the fifties and the beginning of the seventies, with numerous works for the entire genre cinema, and the second focused, not surprisingly, on the Italian comedy.

E: There is an anecdote about it. Dad was sorry that despite the success of “I Soliti Ignoti” and the jazz soundtrack acclaimed by everyone, Mario Monicelli hadn't called him for a new collaboration. The director met him several years later and had to confess that, thinking back, he had made a mistake in not making use of his music anymore. Dad was aware that certain movies for which he composed music were not of high quality, but he never gave up working.

It is worth noting, however, that the availability of his own musical editions, and in concert, the management of one's own labels has also allowed your father to truly live music, without interference.

A: Yes, dad could express his creativity at his best and be the unique owner of it. A choice, perhaps, even risky, especially if considered the following period of 'sipped' works. Many suggested that he avoid setting up on his own, but he had made his choice.

The discography of Piero Umiliani for the seventh art consists of about one hundred and sixty scores for the most disparate movies. The activity of the composer was unfortunately interrupted by the sudden illness in 1984.

E: The stroke was a moment of caesura. He could have set to music, for example, Giorgio Capitani's subsequent movies, always superstitious and willing to work with the same team, his television products, I think of “Il Maresciallo Rocca” (1996-2008), as well as documentaries and other audiovisual projects. Dad was only fifty-seven years old when he fell ill; his career could have been longer. It was not easy to face the depression that derived from his status, but from the point of view of health, his recovery was gradual, and despite the interruption of his prolific activity, he was able to witness with pleasure the rediscovery of his most famous albums from Rocco Pandiani through Right Tempo and their inclusion in the Easy Tempo compilations.

A: Dad had his high and low character, like any artist, and traveling a lot, often for work, helped him to stand out; it was therapeutic. If during a certain period he had nothing to do, it became 'dangerous' to have him at home! The depression resulting from the stroke was, however, distinctly different.

Before the stroke, the maestro was determined to organize a tour of concerts, which, years after some experiences in his youth such as the six months spent in Norway, re-established his relationship not only with jazz but to propose live songs also taken from his soundtracks.

E: Here's one of dad's 'dangerous' ideas!

A: The goal was not just to take a tour of Italy but throughout the world, aboard a bus that he was willing to buy with his own money. The dream was to travel and perform with a band.

E: And it is obvious that the undersigned, as an elder daughter, expresses it this way. This initiative appeared a bit over-the-top to us family members. There is still the accountant who sometimes reminds us of his organizational rush that failed. Even then we reminded him that he was over fifty: he seemed 'old,’ we teased. Only the groupies were missing afterwards! Today it is different; one is still 'young' at that age. Dad, instead, wanted desperately to rediscover his origins, he often dreamed of playing alongside a large orchestra in Europe, moving from city to city and so on. This made him a bit like that child who wants the moon but does not know how to reach it, and above all, this highlighted his authentic vein as an artist, who did not consider at all a series of details, much less practical ones.

The soundtrack of “Quando La Coppia Scoppia” was written at the end of the 'bubble' of disco music, which arrived in Italy in the wake of a movie like “Saturday Night Fever” (1977), a style that has also fascinated the maestro to the point of 'dedicating' to it a library record of the same name.

E: Every once in a while we had 'afternoons' with dad. His desire to go out with us was often a simple pretext to go to the Consorti of viale Giulio Cesare, where the LaFeltrinelli bookstore is today. Everything ended with us, shortly afterwards, sitting on its stairs and dad listening to records. For hours. He didn't have a big collection, but of course he was always a jazz fan, so his 'getting close' to disco music was a reflection of those times, since he was influenced indirectly. For example, he listened to “Oxygène” (1976) by Jean-Michel Jarre. He also loved Stevie Wonder, and he liked very much the same “Saturday Night Fever,” so we went together to see it at the cinema. Dad also loved the great musicals like “Hair” (1967) and “Jesus Christ Superstar” (1970), and when we were in New York we attended Broadway theaters, spending a fortune. Any scheduled musicals could interest him, and dad, then, was like a 'sponge.’ He didn't take notes, but literally absorbed all the sounds that struck him.

The beginning of the eighties also coincides with a prolific period for the maestro, who finalizes his last and most disparate sonorizations, namely “Il Pianino Del Cinema Muto” (1980), “Paesaggi” (1980), “Fascismo E Dintorni” (1981), “Aria Di Paese” (1981), “Double Face” (1981), “Suspence Elettronica” (1982), “Luna Park” (1982) and “Medioevo E Rinascimento” (1982).

E: Dad used to diversify greatly the range of records produced, which, after having printed them in very low quantities, would have brought them to the attention of the television professionals.

A: Sometimes, it was our job to pack them, and on other occasions, we colored the covers.

E: That of “Paesaggi,” for example, was my coloring book. Another passion of his was designing photo books, which he loved to browse and buy in bookstores, books he took inspiration from.

A: The cover of “The Folk Group” (1974) borrowed an image of the Rolling Stones, and for obvious reasons due to copyrights, was replaced by another on the occasion of reprinting via Schema (2016).

E: “The Folk Group" was one of his favorite works.

A: He was also proud of his collaboration with Chet Baker, as in the case of the “Smog” (1962) score and of his jazz and funk records such as “To-Day's Sound” (1973) and “L'Uomo E La Città” (1976).

Records that, in most cases, were entirely recorded at the Sound Work Shop.

E: Dad was so prolific, because by day he recorded music for the cinema with the orchestra, and at night he enjoyed himself with his synthesizers. In the studio, besides a sofa to rest on, there was an intercom; it was the way to contact him, and for example, remind him that it was time to have lunch. Sometimes, instead, you had to wait a little for him when you left school. He wasn't very reliable when—in the grip of the creativity of the moment—nothing else existed for him; he was totally focused on his music.

The Sound Work Shop was a kind of appendix to your father.

A: Yes, he lived in there, and sometimes he even forgot to eat. Once he shut himself in the Sound Work Shop for about four days while we were at the sea. As usual, our mother was worried because she couldn't contact him in any way, and he didn't even answer the phone, so she asked a favor of the doorman to go to the studio and check if dad was in.

E: Inside the Sound Work Shop were not only 'avant-garde' instruments but also the marimba purchased in Mexico and the drums recovered in Brazil, which, as a precaution, were not loaded in the hold of the plane but positioned in the cabin after having given the pilot a supply of coffee. There was a nice smell on board.

What was his life like before setting up the Sound Work Shop?

E: Dad worked from home and was always a fan of 'technological innovations'. I was little when he bought, perhaps, his first synthesizer, the VCS3, which he placed in the living room with all his plugs. One day he called us to listen to the sound of the wind he had managed to replicate with the device. We looked at each other somewhat perplexed. After that, it was the turn of the ringing of bells and others, and we, in chorus and with subtle irony, exclaim 'that's beautiful' without understanding how much time he had devoted to programming such a complex instrument.

A: In fact, he had fun with little experiments but then raised the level of his electronic compositions. We also keep the instructions of the synthesizers he purchased and on which he took notes by hand.

Why did he choose bizarre pseudonyms like Catamo, M. Zalla, Moggi, Rovi, Tusco and others?

E: Not to flood the market with sonorizations with his name and surname, which he preferred to be associated with the cinema, to have more freedom, and indeed, to be anonymous.

A: To be honest, M. Zalla was the name and surname of the director of the Florence mental hospital. Catamo was the surname of a friend of dad’s who was actually offended for having adopted him as his pseudonym. Moggi, on the other hand, is the surname of the shopkeeper in via Trionfale from which we bought our toys.

E: On another occasion, the inspiration caught him flipping through the telephone list, from which he extracted a nickname. As a good Tuscan, he had also assigned nicknames to those around him.

A: Dad was such a friend of Mr. Moggi because, terrified of not being able to work in certain periods of his career, he forced our grandmother to open a toy store in via Baldo degli Ubaldi. He used to say that if the work was scarce, the family could rely on the store, which despite his enthusiasm, lasted about three years because sales were not going well and mom didn't particularly love it. Dad also had the not-so-brilliant idea of entrusting the cash to his mother, who among other things was wrong in giving the correct change, and to remedy the calculation errors used money extracted from her wallet. In short, with Mr. Moggi there was a certain feeling, deriving also from past affairs around Italy, to which our mother was always destined.

The maestro would have turned ninety-three on 17 July. Future projects in sight?

E: Regardless of particular occasions, the idea is to restructure the studio, and there's more to rediscover.

Marco Ferretti

English edit by Josh Mitchell

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