I am obliged to comment on Passione, the film by John Turturro about Naples and Neapolitan songs.  Too many people have mentioned it to me; it cannot go unheeded on this blog.  So, as a native son, what do I think of it?

First off let me be clear about the fact that I have NOT seen the film.  I have only watched some excerpts on youTube, a total of a couple of songs.  My comments therefore are limited to this thin sample and not to the work as a whole.  I suppose that I will see it sometime soon, and I may write a full review then.  But these are the impressions that I gleaned from my experience so far.

Neapolitan songs, the BEST Neapolitan songs (for the poor ones are legion!), are distinguished by a particular pathos, a peculiar blend of fatalism, vivacity, passion, and strength.  They are vigorous without being violent, they are passionate without being sentimental, they are universal without being abstract.  Successful interpreters, Murolo, Carosone, Rondinella, Arbore… have all been able to project this complex pathos, albeit through their different individual styles.  They have all been able to reach beyond the facile impulse of a superficial emotion to the deeper recesses of the souls of the listener, and all this is what has made the Neapolitan song famous all over the world.

In the thin sliver of Passione that I heard I did not find this fatal cocktail of emotions.  The virtuosity was there, but it was colored by a somewhat studied preciousness, a bit of contrived artificiality and too much sentimentality.  Mostly it stayed on the surface, short on brawn, un po’ moscio, as we Neapolitans say.  Much better samples of these songs I have in my CD collection, and that’s where I am going to repair after finishing this post.

In fairness to the producers of the film, it must be said that impressing me with a contemporary collection of Neapolitan songs would be a very tall order indeed.  I am aware that my judgment cannot possibly be uncorrupted by my personal experiences in the City.  I know that I am probably pining away for a Naples that no longer exists, and not just in its musical manifestations.  For somebody with a different background, someone with no childhood references to deal with, these songs may be perfectly enjoyable.  The Faustian compact, even without the catastrophic denouement, carries its own negative consequences.

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