I’ve had a bit of a break from the blog over Christmas and, unsurprisingly, have som sad news to report. Aldo Berti, the lanky, feline actor who featured in numerous spaghetti westerns has died. Here’s a (rather rough) translation of an Italian article that I’ve seen in a couple of places:
In 2007, there was a section of the Venice Film Festival dedicated to the Spaghetti Western. I wonder if Quentin Tarantino, patron of the festival, knew Aldo Berti. Maybe not in person, but certainly he must have been familiar, since the show opened with a film starring this unusual actor: El Desperado. In 1968, the blockbuster western Once Upon a Time in the West, directed by Sergio Leone, came out in theaters around the world. The cast of the film included Claudia Cardinale, Charles Bronson, Henry Fonda, and… Aldo Berti.
The name Aldo Berti might not mean much to many, especially the younger generation, but the man, who for years lived in Morocco, certainly has a lot to say. A man of many faces, of high hopes and endless dreams; he has lived his life to the full. “I always felt like there was another story, that the grass was greener. Therefore, I’ve lived a life without appointments. I have known in all the figures of that decade that still abound on television, but it was different: to take a cappuccino with Fellini was boring for me. He always had a question in his mouth and I hated his questions, and so I avoided him. One day he called me, talking about this idea he’d had. But I never knew what it was because I went into his office, he began to talk on the phone with Rizzoli and I, to the sound of the Federico’s voice, fell asleep. I awoke at one o’clock and we went out, giggling with his collaborators as we went out. He never summoned me again and I never cared to ask what he had in mind”
A Rignanese by origin, Aldo departed for Rome in 1960. He and three friends (Claudio Popovich Claudio, Bruno Gambone, and Jane, a cartoonist for Walt Disney) had little money and nowhere to live, but a constant dose of enthusiasm and desire to escape that brought them, in short, to live in a house with Enzo Battaglia, Sasca, Romano Scavolini (all directors), actor Pippo Franco and the painter Emily Tolve. Then 1964 was the year of miracles: the Beatles arrived and changed the choreography of the world. “I lived for two years in love and happy with Barbara Steele, and newspapers said that we were the craziest pair in Cinecitta, it was a love that lasted until ’68.” Fellini hired Barbara for La citta delle donne, then she made For Love and Gold and many others. “In ’68 we did a film together [Un angelo per satana (?)] which marked the end of our story and the end of her career. She left without explanation, did not survive the shoot and I seriously attempted suicide.” Steele packed her bags and moved to America, going to marry Jim Poe, a friend of Aldo and major shareholder of Universal. It was a scandal in the film world, but “… it disturbed me, but not that much; ’68 was like a tree full of exotic fruits, unknown and I was forever hungry.” One night “I met a girl with red hair, very nice, we danced and drank until late and then went out into the street and paparazzi stormed us and as we ran in search of a taxi, I asked: but who are you? Sarah Churchill said. We began a turbulent history. I was not in love with her.” Aldo was living in a dream, with open doors to the four cardinal points: London, Paris, Berlin, New York. Until ’69 everything seemed like a great theatrical scene, and while “…I was Sartana nella valle degli avvoltoi with my friend William Berger, I lived with the Florentine sculptor Mario Ceroli and actress Daria Nicolodi (Asia Argento’s mother) in a villa at the gates of Rome.” Gabriella Ferri was also one of Aldo’s loves, perhaps the most profound of all. In ’73, the last film in the Spirito Santo series also marked Aldo’s last film. He left Rome. “In ten years I had participated in more than 40 films, shot a television series, staged a few shows and I felt like I had not done anything.” From here started Aldo’s great and endless wandering, from large cities around the world to the most inaccessible places. Leaving the cinema and theater, dedicated to the discovery of new places, leaving behind films such as Ramon il Messicano, Sartana nella valle degli avvoltoi, Uno straniero a Sacramento (‘it was a western that made headlines, my character was called Green Bean’)
It wasn’t only westerns, Aldo, who worked on Il mantenuto with Ugo Tognazzi, Tempo di villegiatura with Vittorio de Sica and Venere imperiale, with Gina Lollobrigida. Maria Luisa Sapaziani, a friend, remembers him as a preface of his books: “There was a dimension of Dostoevsky in his constant smile, the kind of wisdom of one who has seen it all and deleted two-thirds.” In his book of poems, entitled Canto Finale, Aldo, described it as so: ‘I did not have any other address than myself, beyond the window outside Rome. It was winter. It was January. It was cool.” He was now 37, knew his potential as an artist and “could not stand the smell of horses. Where could I go? Where the film world was based, so either Paris or London or Los Angeles. I went to all three capitals, meeting friends, colleagues, projects, lots of festivals, especially in London, and developing a disappointment that grew visibly. When I landed in America, I instinctively removed the reason that I had gone over there, dedicating myself to my old passion: travel.” Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Jamaica, Bahamas were some of his American destinations. A short break in Italy before India in ’79, “where I conducted an investigation for Paese Sera, which took me through makeshift places … and the newspaper published editorials for three days in a row on the front page under the alarmist title 20,000 Italians lost to India.” From Aldo’s travel bug intensified to forests, tribes, peoples and civilizations at the limits of survival, until the night of February 14, 1984 when, going up the Nile to reach Juba with one of the first groups of Doctors Without Borders, the barges on which they traveled (6 two-story boats loaded with displaced men, women and children) were attacked with machine guns and hand grenades and set ablaze. The hell lasted twenty, and by the end the waters of the Nile were full of small floating bodies. “The bodies of children return to the surface before adults, I found out then.” After a brief imprisonment, Aldo was freed along with five others who survived thanks, in particular, to the interests of the French government for photographer Paul le Carre. “On the night of February 14, 1984 I died along with hundreds of other people. My whole life before that date was as if it belonged to another. I remember everything, but things are not mine. I was born that night, and I was born with the shame of having survived.” This was the episode that changed Aldo’s life, a man who had lived as one of the most diverse film actors, a writer and poet, a friend of leading artists, actors and directors of the time, a man who played, in ’66 , Gli Angeli del Fango, filmed in Florence. “You see… life is like a movie, it should be conducted by a single director, I tried to do this from a young age. To be born is the privilege of all, having lived is a privilege only few enjoy .”