Italian folk song film

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Well, it's time to start working on my next film! This one is based on an Italian folk song called 'Tutti Mi Chiaman Mario' that I used to sing with friends in elementary school in Florence.

It's kind of a creepy song about a soldier who fought in World War I or II (which one is debatable), his girlfriend leaves him, he sees her three times with different officers, he shoots her, and then he apologizes to his mother at the courthouse.

The song was sung in conjunction with a hand slapping game played by two kids together. Ya, a little weird. Kind of like how Ring Around the Rosey is really about the plague?

So I got a grant to make this film, and started researching it in earnest in January while at the Vermont Studio Center. Turns out, it's not as common as I assumed. There are plenty of traditional folk or resistance songs relating to World War I or II, and by far the most famous is Bella Ciao. I found plenty of information about that song, and others, mostly in ethnographic anthologies, but Mario was harder to find.

There is a version on Youtube you can listen to here. Problem is, the tune of this version is substantially different from the tune I remember. So I really wanted to find a second recording, to see how my version compared. The hunt was on.

I did a lot of Google Book searches, and even hooked up with a UW librarian who put a call out on the international librarian listserv (apparently there is such a thing!). An Italian librarian gave me a few leads, and I eventually got a hold of these two catalogs through interlibrary loan from a library in Ohio or Michigan, I forget.


These are catalogs that list recordings made in the 1960s of local people singing traditional songs. It tells you in which catalog the recordings reside and which number they are. I found one listing in each book for Tutti Mi Chiaman Mario. One of them was a dead end, I couldn't track down where the catalog was in Italy.

The other I tracked down to an archive now housed in the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, a kind of musical museum/performance center/archive. You can see the listing of the recording here. Problem is, when you click on the 'Ascolta il Brano' link, which means 'Listen to the Song', nothing happens! I emailed the archive back in March and they said the file has not been uploaded yet.

So, I'm afraid I won't be able to find out whether the version of the song sung in my elementary school exists anywhere else. It will remain a mystery. For all I know it was a version specific only to my playground, modified from the more traditional tune to incorporate the hand slapping game.

But I decided to go with it anyway, and in March I found two kids with Italian mothers here in Seattle who were up for learning the song and the game. I recorded them at their house with the help of an audio engineer, and I will be hopefully compiling the audio from these recordings over the next couple days.

More soon!

About the author


Tess Martin is an independent animator who works with back-lit paper cut-outs, ink, paint, sand or objects. She is the recipient of three 4Culture grants, two City of Seattle grants, and numerous others in support of her films, including The Whale Story, animated on a 16 foot high wall in…

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