Ursula Andress & Nugoro
To explain the framework, back then in Nugoro there was only one cinema, small and warm, called Il Pidocchietto, the little louse, because of the presence of such guests in the muffled old chairs. I have to say that their presence was discrete and not invasive, so, please, don’t dramatize this secondary aspect of the scene.
When the noise of the audience was so loud to surpass the audio of the film – a strong indication that the story didn’t comply with the high expectations of the payers, usually when it wasn’t an action movie – a serious musician arrived from the backstage to play an upright piano on the left-hand side of the screen. So the show continued in an asynchronous mix of music, dialogue and video: the choice among the three entertainments depended on one’s own mood.
That was, you know, another proof of the greatness of Nugoro, which was the chief town of Barbagia – don’t forget it: in the Pidocchietto you had the power of acting without the constraints of necessity or fate; there, the priests from the Continent were eventually right about our free will.
The main, or rather the only, categories of movies were two: the action movies, usually historical or mythological, and the others, in disparaging terms called ‘film de pomiciones’, films of smoochers. In fact, you always had to act macho in Nugoro and so, by definition, you shouldn’t like sentimental and sloppy shows.
Actually, there was a growing Fifth Column among spectators, used to frequent the afternoon first screenings just to be unnoticed by the evening gossipy crowd of the Corso Garibaldi. They enjoyed films like ‘Blue Hawaii’, not because of Elvis Presley’s presence and songs, but of the large number of women wearing a bikini on those exotic beaches. That vision, strongly dreamt, was worth the terrible risk taken. Gavino Mannale, for example, an emerging soccer player, was nicknamed ‘Violin’ after his declared passion for the movie ‘A Summer Place’. Its soundtrack starts, if you remember, with a great sonata of violins. You understand that to be a violin in a soccer game in Barbagia was a definitive handicap (*).
Going back to the mythological movies, the main characters were Hercules, Samson, Spartacus and Maciste. Gabriele D’Annunzio first used the name ‘Maciste’ as an erudite synonym for Hercules in the script of the film ‘Cabiria’, 1914, but soon Maciste became a character in his own right, different from the other mythological heroes. Including ‘Cabiria’ itself, there have been more than sixty movies featuring Maciste, some of them being silent films starring Bartolomeo Pagano (a real macigno, ‘large stone’) and the others being a series of sound/colour films produced in the early 1960s, especially in Italy.
Maciste was Nugoro’s preferred hero, perhaps because he was more human than Hercules and favourably disposed to vengeance – this feature was decisive in our consideration. Typical plots showed tyrannical leaders who practised magical rituals or worshipped evil gods. Maciste, who possessed terrific strength, had to avenge a poor subdued population and rescue a young lady (who, luckily, was usually busty and almost naked). Maciste was often the adversary of Samson and Hercules (there was no mythological or historic accuracy in those movies) and sometimes Hercules and Samson were contemporary and fought for the ranking of the strongest man in the world.
Maciste was an ‘Italian’ outsider, you know, utilized to liven up the repetitive episodes. When they showed a series of movies in the Pidocchietto – “Maciste against the men from the Moon”, “Maciste against the Vampire” and then “Maciste against Mandrake” (Mandrake was a character of the twentieth-century comic strips, a magician who wore a black tuxedo even in the morning and in the jungle, and had an unusually hypnotic gift) – you would have thought we had reached the peak of madness. You’d be wrong: “Maciste against Zorro” would soon be the new benchmark of folly.
One day, into this world, Ursula Andress appeared.
You’d say that it was James Bond/Sean Connery who made his appearance through his compelling first film ‘Dr. No’, in 1962. But the truth is that when Ursula Andress emerged from the Caribbean Sea in the famed white bikini sporting a large diving knife on her hip, oh, Nugoro, believe me, Nugoro went literally crazy.
If you don’t mind, I would now like Rudineddu to take the floor on behalf of the film lovers from Nugoro. Rudineddu was the movie usher at the Pidocchietto. He used his heavy torch not only to show people to their seats, but also to knock troublemakers on the head. At the beginning he was right and precise. In the last years of his career – in the early 60s he was almost 70, nearly blind and deaf – he hit wherever he could, in the dark. Actually he was the fourth Pidocchietto entertainment, and the most incisive.
Rudineddu says: “From an anthropological point of view, Ursula Andress was the quintessence of the eternal feminine. And it is not surprising that this astonishing bombshell emerged from the water like Venus. At the same time, with the British Army belt with brass buckles and fittings, and a scabbard on the left-hand side to hold the knife on her hip, and her smouldering yet aloof presence, she was indubitably ‘macho’. Maybe for this reason Nugoro people liked her so much. She was not like the stereotype of the American beach girls, sillily smiling, always over-the-top, Gilda-like super energetic, but had something icy and mysteriously superior. Her beauty was complete in itself, perfect and powerful…”
I can add, dear Rudineddu, that Ursula Andress changed several paradigms. Her bikini was sexy but utterly natural, as well as the knife (a woman with a mortal big knife: fantastic!). She was credible and appropriate in her role: an independent woman, a shell diver, making a living by selling seashells in a far island. You could appreciate her muscular body and shoulders, and her attitude. They were fitting with her name, Ursula, which was new and at the same time evocative, linked with the mythology – thus very welcome in Nugoro. Generations of silly actresses were nullified by her walk, by that unforgettable exit from the sea…
Rudineddu intervenes: “Yes, it was a turning point indeed. After Ursula Andress and her visual power without equal, how could you any longer see Maciste movies, with his stupid heroines? She opened another era and changed the Pidocchietto too. Starting from her appearance and her bikini, it was easy to go to the cinema and see modern films without being considered as smoochers. That was her historical and iconic ability!”
I confirm: it seems weird, but it was Ursula Andress who changed Nugoro’s perception of the (art) movies.
(*) The whole audience of the Quadrivio soccer stadium waited for Gavino Mannale, harassing him with persistent fake sounds of violins and inviting him to play a violin instead of a ball. He was forced to quit the team and then – after a certain period of time – he left Sardinia, disappearing to the far city of Brisbane, in Australia.
As I said many times, I like NFN, non-fiction novels, and usually I write short stories or novels that mix fiction and non-fiction. ‘Ursula Andress & Nugoro’ is a practical and humorous example of my approach. Nugoro is Nuoro in Sardinian language, but for me, in my pieces, it is an imaginary place where I can mix big amount of truth (yes, you are right, what I think is true) with variable doses of fiction, imagination and dream. As a writer, I demand the right of preparing my literary recipe.