«Made in Fante» a dvd on Dan

il Centro
Cultura & Società

The son of the writer of «Ask the dust» tells about his family
The film is available only in English
by Paolo Di Vincenzo

John Fante came to see me this morning again, making me feel his presence with its warm breath behind my chair, in front of the computer. When I closed my eyes l saw him seated at his writing desk, in Malibu, behind his old typewriter spitting machine-gun words and swallowing coffee". The first lines of a poem dedicated to the father are a kind of blueprint for "Made in Fante", the dvd that French François Lecauchois with Stéphane Muller made on Dan Fante. The writer, son of the author of "Ask the dust", tells his own relationship, difficult, tormented but wonderful at the same time, as he often emphasizes, with that hard, severe son of an Abruzzese mason from Torricella Peligna and a mother from Potenza: John Fante. The dvd, made with splendid shots taken in Potenza, Torricella, Los Angeles, Malibu, Venice (California), shows Dan fighting the ghosts of his past: alcohol addiction and the comparison with an ever-present father.

"Made in Fante" consists of a prologue, a Wop's Odissey, just like the title it of a well-known story included in Fante Sr.'s collection Dago Red (the Wops were the Italians, or more generally the immigrants without a passport - Wop was either an acronym from WithOutPaper or a mis-spelt transcription of the Italian word "guappo"), of five chapters and an epilogue, all with titles taken from stories written by his father, with the exception of the chapter dedicated to Dan's son and the other chapter dedicated to the volume "Chump Change" translated into Italian as "Angeli a pezzi" (Dan's first book, centered on his father's death).

In a Wop's Odyssey Dan tells of his relationship with the father also under an artist's point of view. "He taught me so much ", he says in the dvd, "though not directly, not with words, he taught me through his writing, through his pages". Then he remembers the opposition of his mother, Joyce Smart (a poet in her own right, she played a positive, supporting role in her husband's works), who, as Dan recollects, " did not want another writer in the family, one was enough". After working as a dishwasher, telephone vendor, a chartered limo driver, a taxi driver, Dan decided that he had to be a writer. His mother advised against it, she thought it was a kind of competition with the deceased father. "But now things with my mother are much better", Dan explains.

Fante jr. synthesizes his own art with a comparison easily understandable for Italians: "If the style of John Updike or John Grisham is a cappuccino my own stile is an espresso". "Home sheet home", is a return to the Y-shaped house in Malibu (described in all details by John Fante in "West of Rome"). Then One of us (a story from Dago Red, with the story of the protagonist's cousin killed by a truck, a true story) where Dan looks at his own relations: sister Vickie, the mother, his brother Jim. The family meet to speak of the book "Chump Change", where Dan recounts in a fictional form the last days of his father John, as well as the tragical death of his brother Nick, run over like a dog during one of his drunkenness bouts. That loss moved Dan to stop once for all his drinking habit and in order to never forget he had his brother's dates of birth and death tattooed on his right arm.

After a short passage devoted to his son, Dan and his son, here is finally Ask the dust (the best known book by John Fante, which is being turned into a film these days, starring Colin as Arthur Bandini and Salma Hayek as Camilla Lopez with the direction of Robert Towne in South Africa). Along the desert's edge, staring towards the road for Los Angeles (another book by John Fante) Dan points to the right spot where in "Ask the dust" Arthur Bandini throws away his novel after the disappointment of his unrequited love for Camilla Lopez. And Dan explains: "The desert is my inspiration source, it is the connection between me and my spiritual part. I hope that who reads my books, through the experiences told, could be able to see his own self. The rest is bullshit". The dvd ends going back to its beginning, "Chump change", a number of shots filmed, again, in the house of the writer, who shows the camera and the audience a red box where he keeps the original of his first book, on the same yellow paper where in 1977 his father wrote "The brotherhood of the grape".