Thursday, September 1, 2016

Marc Raboy's "Marconi: The Man Who Networked the World"

Marc Raboy is Professor and Beaverbrook Chair in Ethics, Media and Communications in the Department of Art History and Communication Studies at McGill University. He is the author or editor of numerous books, and he has been a visiting scholar at Stockholm University, the University of Oxford, New York University, and the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Here Raboy shares his dream cast for an adaptation of his new book, Marconi: The Man Who Networked the World, and situates them in the opening scene:
Marconi [Leonardo DiCaprio, the way he played J. Edgar Hoover] was as big as Citizen Kane, so the film opens with a “Rosebud” scene. He is on his deathbed, in Rome, on July 20, 1937:

It had been a sweltering day, one of those days where the city shuts down but for the most urgent, or the most frivolous, affairs. In mid-morning he had seen his young wife [Kristen Stewart] and seven-year-old daughter [Mia Talerico] off to the seaside. The next day was the child’s birthday and he was planning to join them. Then he went to the office, met with Solari [F. Murray Abraham], his associate of the past 35 years. The country was in turmoil and business was not going as well as he would have liked, but that’s the way it was. The political situation was more worrisome. He had an appointment to see Mussolini [Anthony Hopkins] at six o’clock. Around five, he returned home where his secretary, Di Marco [Mark Rylance], was waiting, with the day’s correspondence ready to sign. But as he mounted the stairs he was struck by a sharp pain in his chest, staggered, and nearly fell. Two men had to help him to his room. Di Marco called the Palazzo Venezia; he would not make his six o’clock meeting.

In the evening, the pain subsided, he was even able to kibbitz with the doctors attending him. ‘It’s not that bad, we’ve been here before,’ Frugoni [Robert Duvall] told him. ‘Stop leading me on,’ he said, ‘you know as well as I that this is the end.’ Indeed, as midnight approached he showed signs of shutting down. Around 11.30, his nurse, Sister Agnese [Marion Cotillard], asked if he would like her to send for the priest. ‘No, it’s too soon,’ he said. ‘Are you sure, Excellency?’ she persisted. ‘Sister,’ he snapped, ‘no one is going to come in here without my permission.’

Outside, in the corridor, they huddled to discuss what to do. The doctors gave him a shot of morphine and he seemed to relax. Around 3 am they realized he was unconscious, and Sister Agnese felt she could no longer wait. The priest was called but by the time he arrived, the patient had expired ten minutes before.

At 4 am, they called the Palazzo Venezia. Mussolini could be called at any time, day or night, with news as important as this. Information was the source of his power and power was the air he breathed. Across the river, at the Vatican, a more prudent course was taken. The Pope [Ian McKellen] – who had just met with him discreetly, not two days before – would want to be told, but not at the expense of his sleep, hard for him to come by and preciously guarded. Anyway, he was at his summer retreat at Castel Gandolfo, where they waited until he rose, promptly at six as he did every day.

Rome was a city of spies and gossips and the news spread quickly in every direction. By 7 am, when Mussolini came to see the body – he had to be first, and he had to see it with his own eyes – a crowd had gathered outside the mansion. By 8, the news had traveled around the globe.

It took 24 hours to organize the next steps. A state funeral was arranged, at the basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli – a few steps away from the Grand Hotel, a secular establishment where he had liked to hang out. Kings, presidents and Adolf Hitler [Bruno Ganz] sent wreaths, telegrams, and ambassadors to the funeral. At the designated hour, by order of governments on all sides of the brewing international conflict, radio went silent, and for a brief moment the world was as it had been forty-two years earlier, before Guglielmo Marconi burst into view and changed it, irreversibly, forever.
Learn more about Marconi: The Man Who Networked the World at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue