In her monthly column, Re-Covered, Lucy Scholes exhumes the out-of-print and forgotten books that shouldn’t be.
In 1956, in a central London café, Lindsay Anderson, Karel Reisz, Tony Richardson, and Lorenza Mazzetti wrote a manifesto for what they termed the “Free Cinema” movement. Among the aims of these four young, avant-garde filmmakers was a belief in “the importance of people and the significance of the everyday.” They eschewed traditional box office appeal in favor of authentic depictions of the quotidian, particularly that of the ordinary working man and woman. Mazzetti, who died this past weekend at the age of ninety-two, was then only twenty-eight years old—she’d recently moved to England from her native Italy, and first gotten work as a potato picker. Later that year, her second film, Together—which follows two deaf-mutes through the bomb-wrecked streets of London’s East End, or as Mazzetti described it, “fields of ruins overrun by children”—would win the Prix de Recherche at Cannes Film Festival. Her first film, K (1954), “suggested by” Kafka’s Metamorphosis and made on the most shoestring of budgets while she was a student at the Slade School of Art, anticipated the Free Cinema movement, and her signature appears first on the manifesto. And yet today she’s the least commemorated of the four, and her name is often little more than a footnote to the group’s history.
She’s even less well known as an author, especially beyond the borders of her native Italy. Although her first novel, Il cielo cade (1961)—translated into English, by Marguerite Waldman, as The Sky Falls (1962)—was awarded Italy’s prestigious Premio Viareggio Prize, and is still considered something of a contemporary classic there, the English translation has been out of print for years. Told from the point of view of her child narrator, Penny, the author’s fictional alter-ego, it details the tragic events of Mazzetti’s own childhood during the Second World War: namely the murder by the Germans of her aunt and her cousins, followed by the suicide of her distraught uncle. The Sky Falls is ripe for rediscovery, not least because recent years have seen significant efforts to restore Mazzetti’s place in the cinematic canon. It’s only fitting her equally audacious literary work be celebrated as well. Mazzetti valued the same intensity of personal experience in her writing that she did in her filmmaking. Despite having been written nearly sixty years ago, Penny’s voice is astonishingly fresh, urgent, and compelling.