Marco Proserpio is out: interview with a situationist director

“Marco Proserpio is out: interview with a situationist director”

by Tiziano Tancredi

What are the cues and modes of production that sustain a filmmaker’s vision? What reservoir of images and concepts does he draw on to make his films? And how much is the approach to a creative process governed by the laws of chance? Does the situationism become not a sign of disorganization but a way to become intoxicated with the contradictions of life?

With Marco Proserpio, a director born in 1984, we went over some of the highlights of his journey: from his beginnings at MTV Brand New to NOI FUORI by MINISTRI, from his collaboration with rapper Ensi to the recent documentary on Noyz Narcos, Dope Boys Alphabet, from Canemorto to The man who stole Banksy. Always aware that “reality is often even more out of whack than any higher fantasy.”

Hi Marco, as is now customary for our loyal readers, I often like to recall how I met the people I interview to just reveal a little behind-the-scenes material. It was the year domini 2017, and together with Loris Gentile, Alvin Spazio, and Matteo Pansana you had been called by Christian Omodeo of Le Grand Jeu to shoot videos inside the Louvre in which some urban art artists (C215, JEF AEROSOL, Madame, Levalet and Blek Le Rat) delved into the relationship between their own artistic production on the street and the heritage that exists in museums.
Also in the same year, you wrote a small anthology for with a list of 5 low-budget music videos that you had brilliantly created. You also tried your hand, and continue working, at this type of production. For example, I remember your signing (together with Jacopo Farina for Sterven Jonger) in 2011 for the video NOI FUORI by MINISTRI in which there are a ton of objects of all sorts to make any Parisian dealers envious. How did you come up with the idea for such a structured video? And what’s the craziest low-budget video you’ve ever made?

I had just moved to the top floor of a house in north Milan, at 64 Vallazze Street.

At that time I was an accumulator and most of the objects in the video I had with me were big boxes. The house was completely empty except for a mattress and these boxes. Federico Dragogna, guitarist and author of the Ministri, was my neighbor on the landing of the building, on the fifth floor with no elevator.

The proposal to make the video was definitely born out of mutual esteem, more, out of a friendship.  We wanted to make a video clip that would go in the opposite direction from the classic, somewhat licked representation of the rock band in Italian videos at the time, and that empty house seemed like a great location. So we bought dozens of meters of wallpaper and started applying them to the walls in order to create different environments.

Federico came up with the sentences in the overlay and that storyline, and so are many other things in the video, we did everything together, among friends, playing for days with what was in that empty house and lighting the sets with some old lamps taken from other apartments. 

The process of making a video for a major (Universal Music at the time) was always very different from the one applied by us in that situation, meaning everything was much more official. I think that’s why the video got noticed as we altered the process which drastically changed the outcome.

Once it came out, the Corriere della Sera asked us for information about the video and a mini biography. 

Finding our biographies uninteresting, we made up with a biography of this Danish film master, Sterven Jonger, a name taken from a pack of cigarettes I had on my room table at the time, which read precisely: rockers Sterven Jonger (Smoking kills the young). Sterven Jonger was a killer name for a Danish director with a punk and ruthless doctrine. 

The joking lie worked for some time. 

It is hard to define what is low budget as it depends on what you want to accomplish. For some things you need a lot of money, for others, you need only an idea, a room, and a little more. I’ve done a lot of crazy things over the years without money, I remember with a grin when I bought for a few euros a 1970s Ciao Piaggio in Barona, south of Milan, and then covered it with LEDs and, in my head, made it look like some kind of bright star wandering around the city. It was supposed to be a video of Costellazioni by Le Luci della Centrale Elettrica but it never came out.

MINISTRI - NOI FUORI - Directed by Marco Proserpio & Jacopo Farina for Sterven Jonger
MINISTRI - NOI FUORI -> Click here

With the understanding that you continue to make them to this day, in terms of your path and development, is the world of music videos the first one you have ever interfaced with, or have you experimented in other areas less known to most? When and why did you first pick up a camera? In retrospect, is it possible that music videos were a training ground for later narrative maturation on more challenging projects?

I started working in television, at MTV Brand New, a program that was on at night, before YouTube existed, that played the videos that MTV by day didn’t or couldn’t show. I was sort of an all-around runner. 

I rarely got to pick up a camera except for a few concerts to film. On the other hand, I saw millions of video clips in the editing room during that period. 

So at some point, abetted by my friendship with some musicians, I started making them, often not using the cameras one used at work, but others I bought at flea markets like Sony Mini DV and Hi8.

Video clips were a training ground but also a format that I really liked and allowed me to work with artists I respected, as well as to have a soundtrack for ideas I had.

Taking a cue from your last sentence, from a creative point of view, how often and at what times have you found that a prior idea that had been rattling around in your brain for so long could marry with the music that you needed to “narrate” through a video? It seems to me that your videos more than didactically “illustrate” music, they capture and multiply its environment.

I often have undefined ideas that then end up in the back of my head or in some notes on paper in a drawer. Then one day they contacted me, proposed to make a video for a song, and send me the track. 

At that point, I listen to it on repeat really obsessively. During these listens I take notes on the images that the song, the sound, and the lyrics make me think of. I then surf the bizarre parts of the internet, and often in this process, I fall back into initial ideas that at that moment seem right for the imagery I am describing. At that point, I take my prior idea and modify it, trying to stitch it to the composition in general. 

The important thing is to do something that enhances the composition and helps it scramble and stand out among the others.

Let’s now get into some of your productions.

In 2019 you worked for rapper Ensi creating two videos for the album Clash. DENG DENG feat Patrick Benifei, made near Via Padova in Milan, was a fast-paced video where street images with a documentary cut shot with a 16mm camera and photos on film by photographer Guido Borso alternate. HEART OF CLASH (VITA INTERA – FRATELLO MIO – COMPLICATO), on the other hand, is a production where different techniques (video, 3d, photos on film also by Guido Borso) explore the different rhythms of Ensi’s three pieces, where the streets of Palermo is the only common denominator.

Identifying a strong coherence between the two videos, what narratively links Via Padova with Palermo? How did the collaboration with Guido Borso that you involved in both videos come about? What were your sources of inspiration for the blending of video and analog photography?

The thing that ties the two videos together is the mode of production. Instead of going to a set or a location and filming the video in one day, with a storyboard and a crew, we went to via Padova and Palermo for about ten days, without a script, finding our protagonists around the street or through friends, and then shooting in 16mm but also with iPhones or whatever we happened to have. The idea was also, at a time when the word street was being abused and often meant guns, clothes, and B.S. Our approach, instead, when making this street video was centered around Guido and I being on the street for days, meeting people, which led us to situations other than what was budgeted.

I’ve always liked to use multiple qualities of the lens, I had practiced like that since I started when I had a Sony TVR900 mini DV (which I still have) and a borrowed digital Sony.

Eventually, I acquired 16mm and from that point, I decided I wanted to shoot everything I could that way.

In this context, it was natural to shoot by putting other cameras alongside it. I have been following Guido’s work for more than 10 years now and we have always supported each other; this was our first real official collaboration. His photos in these videos are crucial, just as important as the video itself, if not more because they capture a detail that always elaborates on something more about that situation, such as the characters, the story, if it could be called that.

As soon as I read street in your reply, automatically (since I practically know the text by heart) my brain thought of it as in the video Toys by Canemorto that you made with them for their eponymous exhibition held at Viafarini in Milan in 2016.

Besides some mythical beats (“An encyclopedia of style, call us Treccani” “Street art in Milan? Panettoni and penguins” “Sfatti a terra terra come il Cristo morto del Mantegna”), when I saw it I was struck by the relentless pace and crescendo of the first minute as well as that glowing effect on the appearance of Txakurra (by the way, how did you physically achieve that?). How did the script and the idea for that video come about in the scorching context of the exhibition Street Art – Banksy & Co. Art in the Urban State in Bologna? And in general what binds to Canemorto, so much so that then a couple of years later you also shot CANEMORTO X STUDIOCROMIE – Golden Age?

It was 2016, and I had long been intrigued by these dog heads that I was seeing on the walls of Milan and especially on those arterial roads that take you out of the city from Milan.

Toys were our first collaboration, at that time I was shooting my first documentary ‘The Man Who Stole Banksy’, which was about works made on the street illegally that were, in different ways, removed and stored or resold. 

In the research conducted with the help of Christian Omodeo, one day I entered the studio of a well-known restorer in Bologna and found this work by Canemorto. A mural had been removed from a very thin section containing one of their drawings by the technique of tearing. Camillo Tarozzi, the restorer, was highlighting the praises of the found work. 

This footage I had shot gave us a chance to interfere partially in that debate, albeit with their usual cynicism, but based on the real preceding events. Here was the short circuit that we liked and we were all rap fans so the people wanted to record during those late-night sessions, giving us lines/beats that have gone down in history, as you rightly mention.

The initial crescendo that you refer to was a tense atmosphere typical video writing that I felt worked in contrast to their personalities and what happens shortly after, where instead of action you see a kind of rap video clip shot candidly during movement.

In that case, Txakurra was the 3d experiment made with the young and talented Matteo Toffalori.

With Canemorto the collaboration has continued and continues, I think we are united by the attitude as well as the love for outdoor painting.

Since you prompted it, let’s come to the 2018 documentary The Man Who Stole Banksy directed by you and co-written by Christian Omodeo and Filippo Perfido, which had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. Through the collection of footage from 2007 and footage shot in Palestine in 2012, 2015, and 2017, passing through London, Copenhagen, and Vienna until arriving in Bologna, the film takes as a pretext the detachment of Banksy’s very famous graffiti “The donkey with the soldier” to get to points of vital cultural importance for Western society and beyond. Indeed, the film in a prismatic sense stages multiple points of view from the art world insiders or otherwise, related to the sense of Memory and the preservation of heritage, or even what can be Art or Vandalism.

What memories do you hold of an adventure with such a long timeline? In terms of writing the script, at what point did you realize what direction the documentary would definitely take and in what terms did the two co-writers help you? Strategically, you once confided in me that documentaries’ beauty is that they can compete with giant Hollywood productions in the context of film festivals with a lower budget. Did you ever feel like making a film with actors that wasn’t a documentary?

The memories are many as the film’s production time lasted 6 years. 

Let’s say I fell into the story by accident, I met Walid, a Palestinian cab driver, on the street, not far from the turnstiles of the separation wall. He immediately asked me if I was interested in art and if I knew Banksy. He then told me that he had removed a wall of several tons, where there was a one-color stencil of a soldier checking the papers of a donkey. He showed it to me; what he had told me was true. Walid knew nothing about Banksy, he only knew that the piece was worth money “in our world.” And he was trying to sell it on eBay at $100,000.

From that moment and for 6 years I followed this huge chunk of concrete, trying to distinguish what seemed to me to be an interesting intersection involving vandalism, politics, auction houses, the Palestinian situation, and symbols that in different countries have different interpretations.

The 6 years that followed, was filled with backpacks, trains, delayed flights, rejections, bar talk, tear gas, and a very tight crew, usually 2 people. The two co-authors were critically important in different ways. Christian Omodeo was one of the first to take an interest in this story. In fact, he was literally the first one who wrote to me when I published the fake trailer for the documentary, which didn’t really exist yet. We immediately hit it off very well personally and professionally, and I really needed someone like him, who would baptize or conversely dismantle, with credibility and knowledge of the art world, parts of the storytelling and theses, the questions I was asking as I was filming this story.

Filippo Perfido, on the other hand, intervened at the end of the film and helped me decisively in the writing of the voice-over and its translation, as well as in the post-production and release of the film.

Of course, the documentary has rules with a wider mesh than filmmaking and evidently has much lower costs, but that’s not why I engage with it. Often stories like this would be impossible to script because they are full of details and contradictions, elements of reality that the working of a script could not consider in its entirety. Or, if you want to put it that way, the reality is often even more unbelievable than any higher fiction.

Rome, 2007. Just outside the playground of my high school, Mamiani, during physical education class my friend Vincenzo was listening with his headphones to music from a portable cd-player, incredibly fast. He hands it to me and I discover a group that was pivotal to much of my generation: TruceKlan and with them Noyz Narcos.

Pieces such as In the Panchine – Deadly Combination feat Noyz Narcos or Non Dormire by Noyz Narcos feat Cicoria warmed hearts and atmospheres at parties, brought people together, and defined an aesthetic and stylistic genre around a piece of music that is a real cult not only for rap fans.

Noyz Narcos – Dope Boys Alphabet, your latest docufilm (2021), traces the parabola of Emanuele Frasca aka Noyz Narcos from his beginnings with TruceBoys, through TruceKlan to his latest album Virus. How lucky did you feel getting inside Noyz’s unreleased videos? When and how did you discover Truce’s music? And how do you think the Roman scene of the early 2000s differed from the Milanese scene?

I was very lucky to be able to do this research with the person directly involved, Emanuele Frasca aka Noyz Narcos. As far as I am concerned the best Italian rapper and a unique and incredible artist who has never shifted his trajectory for market reasons. He contacted me and at the appointment showed me an old Nike box with about 20 mini DV tapes, filmed mainly by himself, over a period of years. From before the beginning until 2012 let’s say. The material was resounding and from there I began to write emails contacting every possible owner of videos about him and the Truceklan that I thought were relevant, as well as videos that by then existed only on YouTube in dismal quality from re-uploading them.

I discovered Truceklan’s music as soon as it came out, thanks to friends who made me listen to it. At the time we were young punks and that’s what we listened to mainly. Of rap, we listened to very little, the Beastie Boys or those things that had overseas some punk/hardcore component that we recognized ourselves in. Then Truceklan came along and everything changed for us. It was without a shadow of a doubt the first rap group in Italy that I listened to on repeat. Their language became ours and their aesthetic was ours and that of groups we were already following. The falling in love was lethal, I still follow the path of Noyz Narcos, its most talented exponent and the one who took this to another level. Around 2008/2009 I happened to work, through the director and friend Fabrizio Conte at the time better known in the streets of Milan as Cologno Scorsese, to work with Club Dogo. It was the time of Dogocrazia and their even more club turn. I was a sort of all-around helper runner and at first, the impact was strong. It was very different imagery from mine, from ours, they were much more zarchier. But I fell in love with it quickly anyway, and I have fond memories of those half-delusional productions that were always surrounded by sensational characters and street legends that I had only known through stories. This Rome-Milan axis, this pairing, is the one that still for me has influenced Italian rap more than any other reality.

Poster of Noyz Narcos - Dope Boys Alphabet, a film by Marco Proserpio. 2021 Artwork by Paolo Proserpio

You’re a very private guy but I will  try anyway,  any spoilers for future projects? What’s simmering in the pot?

Yes, usually I don’t really like to talk about something publicly until it is finished. I can anticipate that I am working on several projects, including a new chapter in my collaboration with Canemorto

The author

Tiziano Tancredi

Tiziano Tancredi (Rome, 1989) is a contemporary art curator interested in the anthropological, sociological, and architectural relationships that visual arts establish with public space. He holds a bachelor's and master's degree in Art History from La Sapienza University of Rome. In 2014, he collaborated with Nuda Proprietà at the Rialto Sant'Ambrogio in Rome. He has curated numerous solo exhibitions (including Truth's Trasforma at the Horti Lamiani Gallery, Revolutionary Profiles with Giovanni Argan of the artist Leonardo Crudi, and ADR's Double U at the Parione9 gallery), written critical texts for catalogs, articles and reviews for contemporary art magazines, led seminars and lectures, conducted guided tours, and managed communication (press office and social media) in the museum, gallery, and festival settings. He is a co-founder of the Dialoghi Artistici collective, with whom he carried out the E-CRIT project, an informal online dialogue on contemporary art that involved 15 artists of different generations in three different seasons between 2021 and 2022. In 2021, he curated the Lupus in Muta project, a double mural by artist Lucamaleonte on the facade of the IC Borgoncini Duca "Via G. Manetti" and the "I Cuccioli di via Silveri" nursery school, both in Rome. Between 2021 and 2022, he worked as an assistant at the Galerie Valeria Cetraro in Paris. His first curated group exhibition, titled "The Personal is Political | The Political is Personal," featuring works by Collettivo FX, Federica Di Pietrantonio, Guerrilla Spam, and Verdiana Bove, took place at Fiera di Verona from February 21 to 24, 2023, on the occasion of the XXI National Congress of Spi-Cgil. Since 2021, he has been collaborating with the Street Levels Gallery in Florence, conducting a series of interviews with some of the most interesting personalities in the Italian and European urban art scene. He lives and works in Paris.

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