Collaborations are always something of a leap into the unknown so I was thrilled to read the text that formed the foundations of this video response. Reading memories of drunkenly watching foreign television in the 1990s spoke to my younger self’s soul. It really resonated with me, so I set about the serious business of research, which for a topic like this was a shiny and sparkling voyage through popular Italian television and movies. I started watching the sex comedies of the 70s and 80s. This endeavour was distracting and entertaining in equal measure, and then I listened to the song that was mentioned in the text. I was astonished to find that I hadn’t heard this song in the 90s, but here I was, in 2022 with it playing constantly inside of my head. I had found my soundtrack at least, and visuals permitting, I felt like I’d also found a potential runtime for the video. I stayed close to the text and I suspect I might possibly have ruined my Google algorithm searching for Italian films that featured a dead man’s erection. I found a lot of resources about Italian television and watched some contemporary Italian Saturday night shiny floor shows, but this wasn’t the material that I needed. I realised that the search for the dead man’s erection and the trans actors in bikinis was too literal and that the magic, if there was any videographic magic for me to find, would likely be in a more poetic, rhythmic approach.
The dancer Heather Parisi was everywhere I looked, a part of every Saturday night on Italian television for 30 years and the focus of a substantial archive of YouTube videos of variable quality but all shiny, rhythmic and fantastic. I had found my images and then it was just a matter of getting into the flow of selecting clips and playing around with the speed and then editing the sequences into a meaningful whole. Heather Parisi’s raw sexuality and enthusiasm complemented Gillette and her stomping 90s rap “Short Dick Man” so perfectly that I half expected to find a version of her dancing to it somewhere in the YouTube fan archive.
As we neared submission date, this video (essay?) took on another level of collaboration as Ariel and Evelyn patiently gave me extensive feedback, thoughtful guidance and advice, but it was when they sent me the author’s recording of their text that things really started falling into place and I had the feeling that a video might emerge. I was intimidated and excited when I heard Alan O’Leary’s voice speaking the text that I had read aloud to myself while feeling around for what I could contribute to this second volume of “Once Upon a Screen.” Alan’s voiceover brought the video to life and gave it all a soul, a place and time and a depth that no matter what I did, I just couldn’t find. I added the introduction of Maria Callas singing “Norma” by Bellini as a prelude to Alan starting to speak, which I thought added a sense of drama and anticipation and complemented the slowed-down footage of Heather Parisi dancing.
I’m pretty pleased with how the video turned out; I would have liked to have gotten slightly better-quality footage without the RAI logo in the corner, but the low-res VHS-to-digital transfer quality gives it the same distant, blurry quality that so many of my own memories of the 1990s have today. It was a joy and an honour to be in such illustrious company, and finally to my audience, apologies for the earworm, it may or may not go away.
Clair Richards is a copywriter, independent scholar and occasional producer of videographic criticism that explores themes of class and the body in motion. She holds an MA in Film and Photographic Studies from Leiden University. Her work was mentioned in Sight and Sound’s best video essays poll of 2021.