Alessandro Melazzini approaches the subject of 80s pop dance music from a particular perspective.
Born in Sondrio, Lombardy, the Italian documentarian, who has filmed both nuns and porn stars, is based in Germany and was trained as an economist and philosopher, and also worked as a cultural journalist and translator.
“My previous documentary was about Cistercians,” says the director of “Italo Disco,” which just screened in its world premiere at the Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival. “My second-last one was on porno star-turned-politician Ilona Staller, a.k.a. Cicciolina. ‘Italo Disco’ was a perfect fit in between, don’t you think?”
The founder of Alpenway Media, Melazzini has produced films from “The Italian Character” to “Our Stone” while also often working as a director.
Music unites but it can also highlight differences, Melazzini says. His film, meanwhile, has been called “an excursion to another time and place, maybe to another planet,” and to an epoch when millions of Europeans indulged in “synthesized sounds, catchy melodies and generally bizarre English lyrics, all often combined with insistently futuristic videos.”
But more than simply a tour of big-hair, big-show glam, “Italo Disco” offers up for consideration the circumstances of the music industry of the era and its role in pushing a soundtrack some would prefer to forget.
The Italo Disco genre “was born in Italy, then given new energy in Germany and the whole planet danced,” says Melazzini.
And, as his analytical doc makes clear, it’s easy to underestimate the importance of independent, non-ideological escape music.
The 80s have been seen as a superficial decade,” Melazzini says. “With time you have another approach to that period, which was more than just silly. It was also a time of optimism, experimentations, promises, illusion. And genius creativity.”
His greatest expenditure of time, the director says, was not searching through old archives of VHS tapes, as you might imagine. Instead, it was recreating the audio landscape of the era.
“Most musical effort was in creating the right soundtrack with original music. I think composer Luca Vasco made a great job.”
But there was more to the phenomenon than catchy tunes, says the director.
“I tried to understand that Italo Disco was not just a music genre, but a whole époque, and especially an economic industry and a social lifestyle. My studies may have helped in that and that’s why I spent time also focusing on the producers of Italo Disco.”
Melazzini confesses it has sometimes been an uphill climb getting critics and historians on board for his film.
“I didn’t make only a fun movie for fans,” he says. I tried to make also a movie for people who don’t know what Italo Disco is and maybe they think it is not worth getting into it.”
But his research confirmed he was on the right track, says Melazzini.
“Before starting the project I wasn’t aware of some of the musical gems that unfortunately never went mainstream,” he says. But leading to the discoveries that “sound to me like Daft Punk 20 years before Daft Punk.”
Archival footage had other payoffs too, the director says.
“I like to work with footage as I did with my previous movie about Cicciolina. This time I was helped by Guglielmo Parisani, a professional researcher in Rome who found great material.”
It was also clear to Melazzini from the beginning that he needed to partner with Italian TV broadcaster RAI to get the best footage of the period.
One surprise that emerged from the footage, the director says, was his own sense of nostalgia “for the ‘dolce vita’ of the Italian Riviera, which passed away so quickly so that now seems like another century…which, in fact, it is.”
The archival material also confirmed Melazzini’s suspicions that Italian TV shows of the 70s and 80s were “a hothouse of incredible material.”
At the same time, the director says, actually using what he found created rights dilemmas he describes as “the horror I had to get through as not only director but also producer. It was a huge obstacle in my creativity, but also a challenge that I accepted.”
Balancing out the fight for rights was a more encouraging attitude from commissioning editors, says Melazzini, who he says did not have to be convinced that his subject was worthy of serious study.
Those he pitched “Italo Disco” to were “very aware of the cultural and social meaning of pop culture,” he says. “But it took time to find them all – it took me years to finance the project. I am grateful to them for their far-sightedness.”