Sunday, October 10, 2010

54 and Filuzzi

54 by Italian collective author Wu Ming is a novel set in 1954, with a fine plot involving the mafia, secret services, communist ex-partisans in Italy and Yugoslavia, the geopolitics of the post-WW2 period and Cary Grant.

One of the themes of the book is what might be termed 'proletarian dandyism' - working class pride in dressing up and looking sharp as an assertion of human dignity and as a refusal to accept an 'inferior' social status.

Two of the characters - Grant and Tito (leader of Yugoslavia) - are seen to share this perspective, with the Cary Grant character concluding that "he and Tito had a great deal in common. Above all there was his obvious interest in matters of grooming and clothes... And then there was the fact that they had both become famous with a name other than their given name. They had both passed through different identities".

The authors put an explicit defence of dressing-up into the mouth of 'Tito': "the mirror unites the individual with the community, and its admission into proletarian houses has cemented class pride, that sense of decorum thrown back into the bosses' faces, 'We have been naught, we shall be all! We can be, and we are, more stylish than you are!'".

Pierre, another key character, is a communist bar worker who models himself on Cary Grant. He is a local face as a filuzzi dancer in the dancehalls of Bologna, a scene involving competitive displays of dancing prowess to mazurkas and polkas:

'Everyone took to the floor for the mazurka, even the women, who couldn't usually keep up with the giddy rhythms of those dances. Two or three pieces in, the rhythm started to speed up. Nino Bonara's concertina, supported by bass and guitar, sounded as though it was never going to stop. By the sixth item on the programme only the musketeers of the Bar Aurora were left on the floor. Shouts of encouragement rose up from the tables, along with applause for the more complex movements... the four filuzzi followed the music each on his own, the couples parting and reforming each time the tune came round again..."

The couples in filuzzi were usually men dancing with each other. It was specifically a Bologna scene - in fact it still exists there to an extent - and there is very little about it written in English. There is, however, some filuzzi footage on youtube:

Wu Ming are in London this week doing a series of events, I am planning to go along to Cafe Oto in Dalston tomorrow night.

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