By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 7, 2009 3:40PM
This is part of Chicagoist's continuing coverage of the 45th Chicago International Film Festival.
"I'm really interested in how you can destroy a democracy by tits and ass," says documentary filmmaker Erik Gandini, and in his view that's exactly what Italy's prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is doing. Berlusconi owns 90% of the television stations in the country, and (according to a statistic in the film) 80% of Italians use television as their primary source of news. Videocracy is a hypnotic, hilarious, sickening portrait of a society where outlandish reality shows and half-naked women on TV conveniently distract the population from what its government is up to, a culture where celebrityhood is everyone's overriding obsession.
The people that Gandini has included in his film are the kinds of characters you just couldn't make up. There's the all-powerful TV agent, who cavorts by the pool with the "nobodies" he's turned into stars and who happily expresses his admiration for Mussolini. There's the handsome young man who's aiming for stardom by building an act that's Bruce Lee and Ricky Martin rolled into one. And finally there's the ultra-cyncial paparazzi ringleader, straight out of a Nick Broomfield movie, who attempts to use his own scandals to catapult to fame. La Dolce Vita seems positively quaint in comparison.
What's on display is so outrageous that Gandini wisely lets his interview subjects do most of the talking, occasionally throwing in a Godfrey Reggio-like montage. The Italy depicted in Videocracy is a Glamoramaesque kaleidoscope of power-hungry narcissism that's absolutely riveting. You'd almost think it was a cautionary tale about a dystopian future. Except that the future is already here.
Videocracy screens October 16 and 17.