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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Notebooks
of Serafino Gubbio

(Shoot !)

Luigi Pirandello

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Notebooks of Serafino Gubbio

Title: The Notebooks of Serafino Gubbio
Author: Luigi Pirandello
Genre: Novel
Written: 1915 (Eng. 1926)
Length: 334 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: The Notebooks of Serafino Gubbio - US
The Notebooks of Serafino Gubbio - UK
The Notebooks of Serafino Gubbio - Canada
La dernière séquence - France
Die Aufzeichnungen des Kameramanns Serafino Gubbio - Deutschland
Quaderni di Serafino Gubbio operatore - Italia
Cuadernos de Serafino Gubbio operador - España
directly from: Dedalus
  • Italian title: Quaderni di Serafino Gubbio operatore
  • This translation originally and also published as Shoot !
  • Translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff
  • The University of Chicago Press edition also includes an Introduction by Tom Gunning and postscript by P. Adams Sitney

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Our Assessment:

B+ : dark and well-turned tale of the dehumanizing effects of technological-industrial advances

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 23/1/1927 .
Sunday Times . 20/3/1927 .
TLS . 7/5/2021 A.H.Caesar
VQR . Fall/1927 F. Stringfellow Barr

  From the Reviews:
  • "There is unquestionable power in Signor Luigi Pirandello's Shoot, a power which atones for some defects in the telling of the story, which, in the work of a less practised writer, one might almost be tempted to stignatise as amateurish. (...) Occasionally the metaphysics get in the way of the melodrama, but this effect of the whole is one of sterling power." - Sunday Times

  • "It is a compelling novel in its own right. (...) Dedalus Books has reissued the novel. But -- this being in Scott Moncrieff's translation -- it feels like a missed opportunity. Pirandello is poorly served by the ponderous, laboured language. There are also some awkward errors" - Ann Hallamore Caesar, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Pirandello paints, but without the Romanticists' sentimental excitement, the cold fury of the cinema actors against the mechanics of their art which steals away their living audience (.....) The novel is not only powerful; it is clever in construction to the point of genius. Pirandello forces on us the most bizarre situations without sacrificing the sense of reality one gets from a contemporary milieu." - F. Stringfellow Barr, Virginia Quarterly Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Notebooks of Serafino Gubbio is set in the early but already thriving days of the film industry, its protagonist: "an operator to the great cinematograph company, the Kosmograph" -- an early-days Cinecittà, one might imagine. He is a cameraman -- which at the time means that he finds himself: "to be nothing more than a hand that turns a handle", an extension of the machine: this is still the time before cameras had motors, and the film has to be cranked by hand; his nickname is, appropriately enough, Shoot !. He has a sure touch -- there's some judgment required, for example as to whether as scene must be filmed faster or more slowly -- and as such is a valued member of the crew: "Oh, they all respect me, here, as a first rate operator: alert, accurate, and perfectly impassive". If he takes some pride in his professionalism, he nevertheless finds the job -- indeed, the entire industry -- suspect, an industrial-age advance that moves everything farther away from the human.
       Gubbio has been on the job for eight months, lucking into it -- and proving quite adept at it -- but leery of this new art- and technology-form; The Notebooks of Serafino Gubbio is far from a celebration of cinema and its possibilities; indeed, in no small part it is an indictment of the mechanical age that is increasingly coming to dominate all walks of life. The position suits him, however, to some extent: he expresses a determination: "to remain an impassive spectator", and standing behind the camera, seeing through the machine, he can readily distance himself from what plays out in front of him -- at least a few minutes at a time, for each shot. Life itself is a bit more complicated.
       These notebooks are a form of escape or refuge -- "I satisfy, by writing, a need to let off steam which is overpowering. I get rid of my professional impassivity". It is revealing that he turns to writing, rather than forcing himself to the fore in some other way; he is almost literally entirely a background figure throughout, even off-set -- there, but only incidental to the action, or the interaction among others. While he makes some efforts to actively participate -- in social interaction and the like --, he does not get very far; withdrawing into writing is practically all that is left to him. So also, eventually, in the story's conclusion, writing actually becomes the only way he can communicate, as he literally loses his voice, struck completely dumb.
       The plot is fairly straightforward (albeit a bit intricate in some of how it is presented): among the film-projects at Kosmograph is The Lady and the Tiger. They have a real-life tiger, an animal that was too wild for the Zoological Garden, where they were going to kill it; getting wind of that, the production company bought the animal, with the intention of shooting it on camera -- a dramatic scene that of course would be an easy sell to audiences. The leading lady in the film is a Varia Nestoroff, and the original plan was for her lover, Carlo Ferro, to play the hunter who slays the beast. He's a bit ambivalent about taking on the dangerous part and makes a variety of insurance and indemnity demands -- and then the production company brings in another actor, Aldo Nuti, to take on the role.
       Gubbio knows Nuti from way back when -- including also his history with Nestoroff. Years earlier, Gubbio had been a tutor to one Giorgio Mirelli; Nuti had visited the family, and taken an interest in Giorgio's sister, called Duccella; they had even gotten engaged. Giorgio then fell for Nestoroff -- with Nuti coming to play a role between them that led to Giorgio committing suicide.
       This dark history hangs over Nuti when he arrives, with Nestoroff continuing to play her games. Meanwhile, a young Luisetta Cavalena accompanies her father to Kosmograph one day; he is a man whose wife is so jealous and overbearing that he's had to give up his jobs, and now he keeps submitting screenplays to the production company in the hopes of at least having some success with those; unfortunately, they all involve suicide, enough for the film company to turn them down. Luisetta is more or less 'discovered' while at the studio, convinced to appear in a little scene while her father makes his case elsewhere.
       The Cavalenas also let rooms, to make ends meet, and the producers think it's a good idea for Nuti to stay with them. In light of Nuti's fragile state, however, they also want him to have another minder, and Gubbio is told to leave his own lodgings and take the other room at the Cavalenas'. We then find the trio of Nuti, Gubbio, and Luisetta regularly making the rounds to the studio -- along with father Cavalena, who doesn't give up trying to sell his scenarios. Luisetta develops a crush on Nuti, and Gubbio finds himself drawn to Luisetta, while Nuti's mind still drifts elsewhere -- and Nestoroff continues her scheming.
       Luisetta and her father are, in no small way, driven to the fantasy-world of Kosmograph by the blindly jealous delusions of the wife and mother, Signora Nene:

This fiction which ought to be reality, as everyone sees, for everyone admits that Signora Nene has absolutely no reason to torment her husband, this thing which ought to be reality, I say, is a dream. The reality, on the other hand, must be something different, utterly remote from this dream. The reality is Signora Nene's madness. And in the reality of their madness -- which is of necessity an agonised, exasperated disorder -- here they are flung out of doors, straying, helpless, this poor man and this poor girl. They wish to consolidate their position, both of them, in this reality of madness, and so they have been wandering about here for the last two days, side by side, sad and speechless, through the studios and grounds.
       In desperation about the situation he sees unfolding around him, Gubbio even makes: "an extreme, almost a desperate attempt", seeking out Duccella, in the hope of perhaps rekindling the relationship between her and Nuti, to save him from himself. Traveling away from Kosmograph to Sorrento, where she lives, the slap in the face of reality that Gubbio gets is among the novel's most devastating scenes -- as too are the conclusions he draws from this experience, as he recognizes, among other things, the delusions of the roles he's assumed:
And idiotic above all my own part, the part which I had allotted to myself of a comforter on the one hand, on the other of the guardian, and, in my heart of hearts, the saviour of a poor little girl, whom the sad, absurd confusion of her family life had led also to assume a part almost identical with my own; namely that of the phantom saviour of a young man who did not wish to be saved !
       The story moves to its inevitable conclusion, the filming of the climactic scene of The Lady and the Tiger, with Gubbio and his equipment in the cage together with Nuti to catch it all up close. Pirandello brilliantly holds off here until the very end; the scene has been built up and coming over practically the entire novel, but not insistently; readers know it must be coming, but there's a lot busy-ness before then, too. The scene, and its aftermath, are then quickly and brutally dealt with, making it all the more effective; if Pirandello doesn't exactly surprise with how he has it play out, he still delivers quite a blow -- not least in how effectively he focuses here on Gubbio's perspective. It's a neat little stunner of an ending.
       Gubbio is, ultimately, the camera-man -- the extension of the machine. He is resigned to and accepting of his role, of: "being the operator". He understands from early on the antipathy people feel:
     It is not so much for me, Gubbio, this antipathy, as for my machine. It recoils upon me, because I am the man who turns the handle.
       The machine -- and the commercial and corporate machinery behind it -- are too powerful to fight. Pirandello -- famed as a playwright -- writes beautifully angrily about the actors, coöpted by the new technology, understanding that:
     The machine, with the enormous profits that it produces, if it engages them, can reward them far better than any manager or proprietor of a dramatic company.
       But the work itself, like all mechanical-industrial work in Pirandello's eyes, is dehumanizing:
     Here they feel as though they were in exile. In exile, not only from the stage, but also in a sense from themselves. Because their action, the live action of their live bodies, there, on the screen of the cinematograph, no longer exists: it is their image alone, caught in a moment, in a gesture, in an expression, that flickers and disappears.
       Gubbio loathes everything about the project and scene they are working towards -- only one example of the falsity of the 'art', but certainly a comprehensive one --, as in The Lady and the Tiger:
     India will be a sham, the jungle will be a sham, the travels will be a sham, with a sham Miss and sham admirers: only the death of this poor beast will not be a sham. Do you follow me ? And does it not make you writhe in anger ?
       Gubbio recognizes the incredible possibilities of film, and like many of those he works with he is good at what he does, a consummate professional even -- and yet he agonizes:
But how are we to take seriously a work that has no other object than to deceive, not ourselves but other people ? And to deceive them by putting together the most idiotic fictions, to which the machine is responsible for giving a wonderful reality ?
       Pirandello's presentation of the rise of an age of technology and how it changes the nature of what 'work' is is sharp. For example, a printing-press foreman is shown a new machine to work with: "a pachyderm, flat, black, squat: a monstrous beast which eats lead and voids books"; the former foreman's job reduced to:
You have nothing to do but feed it now and then with cakes of lead, and keep an eye on it.
       And in the film-developing lab, Gubbio sees only: "Hands, I see nothing but hands" -- and:
I reflect that these hands belong to men who are men no longer; who are condemned here to be hands only: those hands, instruments. Have they a heart ? Of what use is it ? It is of no use here. Only as an instrument, it too, of a machine, to serve, to move these hands.
       Pirandello's critique of industrial-technological advance and the human toll such work takes was not entirely novel, even in his time, but is still powerful and well-presented. As far as his analysis of the film-industry goes, it's remarkable for its times -- and not without relevance even today.
       The Notebooks of Serafino Gubbio is a slightly strangely-woven story, meandering in its reflection and action at times, but all the more striking in those blows it does deliver -- against dehumanizing industrial advances, and the loss of the human element. It has one hell of a conclusion, too. All in all, it's still well worth reading.

- M.A.Orthofer, 28 February 2021

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The Notebooks of Serafino Gubbio: Reviews: Luigi Pirandello: Other books by Luigi Pirandello under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Italian author Luigi Pirandello, best known for his plays, lived 1867 to 1936. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1934.

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© 2021-2022 the complete review

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