Burn Bruno Burn

Brucia Bruno Brucia



A feature film celebrating Giordano Bruno, a philosopher, a rebel, the first beatnik – burned alive as a heretic in Rome, February 17, 1600.


See Pope Clement VIII (the man who instigated the death by fire of the poet/philosopher Giordano Bruno) as he relaxes in the Vatican kitchen with cookies and espresso circa 1600 A.D., a gift from his Moslem friend from Damascus - a scene in the making from the movie BURN BRUNO BURN by  Adolfas Mekas and the Bard Mafia.   

With Beppe Danesin as Papa Clemente VIII and Leri Bertonati as Suor Clementina.  Camera - Sean Mekas 

 Photo credits - David Newhoff.


Bravo, Bruno, Bravo !


Being an Abbreviated Account of the Italian Odyssey of Pola Chapelle, David Newhoff, and Mikhail Horowitz on the Trail of Giordano Bruno and His Celebrants in the Year of Our Lord (or Your Lord) 2014, for the Purpose of Making a Short Documentary to Serve as Antipasto to the Main Course of a Posthumous Film by Adolfas Mekas, "Burn, Bruno, Burn"!

(With gratitude to our hosts in the Infernetto, Luigi Pavan and Daniela Morelli)


Our first stop was Naples, a city that seems to have solved the complexities of traffic rules and regulations by decreeing that every driver, at any time, in any situation, has right of way. Happily, we survived the harrowing cab ride from the train station to the apartment of our translator, the bellissima Barbara Zoleo, and the charismatic actor, poet, and artist Giuseppe Zevola, who was, alas, in New York (our loss). Following a copious platter of pasta and calamari, we hiked through the narrow, winding streets overhung with clotheslines and cobbled with stones from Mount Vesuvius to our destination, the Convent di San Domenico Maggiore, where Giordano Bruno had spent his early years as a monk. David managed to get surreptitious footage inside the sanctuary (a no-no), and we then repaired to the convent proper, to film a pageant about the events leading up to the trial of Bruno by the Inquisition. We were able to interview two splendid actors, in character: Antimo Casertano, who made for a fiercely passionate Bruno, and Antonio Perna as his adversary, Cardinal Roberto Bellarmino, as well the pageant's writer and director, Febo Quercia.
The next day-February 17-was the 414th anniversary of the public burning of Bruno in Rome's Campo de' Fiori. After the fruit and vegetable vendors removed their stalls and the garbage collectors had swept through, the square began to fill with freethinkers, poets, academics, curious tourists, and the City of Rome Municipal Police Band for what has become an annual celebration of Bruno's life and thought. Under the unwavering gaze of the giant, hooded figure of Bruno, the base of his statue was festooned with banners and flowers, and various speakers held forth, some at stupefying length. We interviewed, among others, a pompous professor, two young women from Russia who were admirers of Bruno, and an American college student from Minnesota, who had just discovered the 16th-century astronomer, philosopher, and mystic while working on a study project. David, taking note of a "ripple effect" caused by a discrepancy between the frequency of his camera and that of the electric lights in the piazza, was able to get some very cool footage, including that of the statue glimpsed through the glass-encased flames of a heating unit in one of the bistros adjoining the square.

From there we took a cab whose driver, an English émigré woman with a pronounced Cockney accent, was a charming reminder of the cosmopolitan nature of the Eternal City. She dropped us at the Teatro Sala Umberto, where the main event was to take place: L'Infinito Universo di Giordano Bruno, a concert program organized by Giuliana Conforto, an erstwhile astrophysicist who has championed Bruno and other visionary thinkers in her own unorthodox and pioneering work. The theater was packed to hear Conforto lyrically expound on the Sun, the Earth, and the Infinite Universe to musical accompaniment; Italian TV star Simona Marchini and actor Andrea Giuliano presented a selection from Bruno's poetry, and there were short clips from a film about Bruno by Giuliano Montaldo that included, for some recondite reason, lots of female nudity. Mikhail managed to insinuate himself into the program, playing a spirited (if incomprehensible to this audience) harmonica blues for Giordano Bruno, accompanied by Luigi "Gigi" Pavan on acoustic guitar. Closing the show, an orchestra led by Silverio Cortesi with a chorus directed by Giovanna Marini, the impassioned doyenne of Italian folk music, saluted the country's tradition of utopian political movements with rousing songs and kick-ass anthems.

The following day (Tuesday), we conducted our last interview: an extensive session with Signora Conforto at Notti Romane, the bed-and-breakfast establishment of our hosts, Gigi and Daniela. Trained as a scientist who taught classical and quantum mechanics, but also a serious student of astrology and other "nonscientific" disciplines, Conforto discoursed on the application of Bruno's ancient "art of memory" as a way to remember our human origins and activate the latent potentialities of our brains, which may, in turn, allow us to evolve beyond the sorry state in which we currently find ourselves. To be honest, much of what she said sailed gloriously over our heads, but her brilliance and vast erudition made for a stimulating encounter, and her warm, good-humored nature won our hearts.

On our final day before an early morning flight, we treated our hosts to dinner at Il Pompiere, a venerable Roman establishment in the old Jewish ghetto. Naturally, we had to try the carciofi alla giudea, fried artichokes whose golden, crunchy leaves reminded me of crispy-brittle Hebraic scrolls. Walking back to the car we followed the banks of the Tiber, whose dark flow carried the ashes, once, of the great Giordano Bruno.


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