Il Vespaio, 1970

Watch the full movie here.

Original theatrical trailer on Youtube or local copy

The budget was $5 million which, in 1969, seemed (and was) immense.

Lucky me. There were auditions at my school and I got the part. In the publicity stills below, I'm the one in the blue striped shirt (except somehow it's red in one).

I was paid around $1,500 which seemed like a king's ransom. Plus living expenses -- we were housed for the summer in a very nice hotel in Piacenza, including meals, etc. We boys were thrilled.

The theme song (that we kids whistled in several scenes) was composed by the greatest movie score composer ever, Ennio Morricone, for this movie.

I chatted briefly with Rock Hudson a couple of times. Nice guy! He had a stunt double who could have been his twin. The guy even grew an identical mustache.

Three of the boys in the cast were genuine circus acrobats.

It was fun to see the special effects, especially the planted explosives when we blew things up. Our machine guns were real (and heavy!) though loaded only with blanks, of course. In the driving-through-town-shooting-from-a-truck scene, the gun stocks were welded to the floor of the truck so that we could keep them pointed properly despite the bouncing ride.

One scene called for a tank. Cinecitta` rented them to movie productions for (gasp) $20,000/day. So there were few re-takes of that scene.

The town of Reanoto was just a (big!) stage set. Moving camera shots were done from a "Chapman boom", evidently a very expensive device (a big crane on a truck) of which the production crew spoke with reverence.

The makeup people have several kinds of fake blood (depending on whether it must flow or coagulate, etc.) In a stabbing scene, Rock used a spring-loaded knife with a blade that retracted to appear to sink into flesh. The victim had, under his shirt (which had been worn thin in strategic places so it would rip as planned) a board strapped to his chest supporting condoms of fake blood with tiny detonator caps underneath, connected by near-invisible wires that the effects guy, watching closely from off-camera, exploded to make the "blood" emerge as Rock's knife went in.

For crying scenes they blew menthol into our eyes. Tears then gushed painlessly.

The IMDb description

The Kinorium description

Romolo Garroni's review

Cereal at Midnight's review

Wikipedia description

Beware my spoon.

That's Amedeo on the left. We're pals to this day.

An Italian release, with an alternate title ("Wolves Attack in a Pack")

Publicity headshot

Director Phil Karlson showing me how he wants me to do a scene

Let's try distracting the guard with some strawberries.

"Hey Capitano, give us a sigaretta!"

Rock was really driving the truck. We were really shooting blanks.

Dan (Tekko) with Mauro Gravina (Carlo) -- lots of makeup, real machine guns

I visited Rock -- genuinely nice guy! -- in his trailer and got his autograph.

My parents came up from Rome for a day and took these snapshots.

The mighty Chapman boom

The makeup goes on.

Daily Call Sheet

And I got paid. My parents got a trip.

Press release

New York Times review, December 10, 1970
(also here and here)

My Rome high school (Notre Dame International) student newspaper,
November 14, 1969

 

This 11/30/2022 heartfelt essay is
by prize-winning author Bing Lakambini Sitoy
of the Philippines, now resident of Denmark.
She found us on the web.

Dear Mr. Keller,

I discovered your website while I was trying to find out all I could about the boys of Il Vespaio.

I first saw this film in 1980, in a packed movie theatre in a small city in the Philippines. It was the second time Hornet's Nest played in Dumaguete; the first, according to an uncle, was in 1971 or so, and it was so popular back then people lined up just to get in. I had just turned eleven in 1980; we were just back from the States. My older sister and I fell in love with the movie, and we remembered all the scenes and all the lines. Everyone had seen Hornet's Nest, and the boys' theme was whistled in school corridors for months after that. Adolescents in the Philippines were very militarized under Ferdinand Marcos -- there was Citizens' Army Training at age 15, then ROTC at 16 and 17, so guns and war were dear to the hearts of many boys and girls.

My favorite of all the boys was Paolo, of the clear voice and long hair.

My sister and I had a shared fantasy world, and so we spent the next couple of years drawing and writing stories about the Hornet's Nest boys, making them interact with other characters in that universe.

Because we never got all their names (much less the names of the actors who played them), we had to invent. And invent we did. We gave them new names and complete personalities, and in the process collapsed one boy into another and made two or three out of what had been one. Memory and imagination mixed.

Then as we got older, my sister and I fell out, and the old school notebooks and folders of drawings were put away and lay untouched for nearly 40 years.

***

I was at my childhood home in August this year, and finally called up the courage to open, first my box, and then my sister's, with a view to photographing everything before it all crumbled to bits. So, filled with nostalgia, and sadness that many of the best notebooks were missing (my fault!) and that my sister was no longer around to help me remember our stories, I decided to re-immerse myself in that world once again.

I decided to use a combination of social media and movie databases to match names to faces and try to find out who everyone had been and (hopefully) how they had come to be in Il Vespaio. I'd recently done a portrait project where I'd had to compare photos of some people taken today with images of them from decades ago, and I figured I knew how to study a face and how it changes with the years. I had made some notes and color drawings when I rented a VHS tape in 1988. The based-on-the-screenplay book by Michael Avallone, bought on Ebay in 2012, was exciting but served to deepen the mystery. How was it that all of Paolo's lines were assigned to a boy named Tekko? And which of the other boys was this Tekko anyway?

Thanks to Facebook (public posts only), I found out which boys were Valerio (aka Leris) Colombaioni and his cousins. Gaetano Danaro was the demolition swimmer who almost didn't make it. Luigi Criscuolo (the real Paolo) and Vicenzo Danaro (Silvio) I recognized at once from the movie Cinderella, Italian Style, filmed south of Naples.

It was only after I discovered the original title of the movie, Il Vespaio, and used that, along with 1970 as a search term, that I found your website.

***

I haven't seen all of the website yet. It is like a good book that I want to read slowly, the better to savor it. There is plenty to take in, and lots more left to the imagination. I hope you don't mind; while it is the story of your life, it is out there in the public sphere.

Through a couple of clues in your bio, I found Amedeo Castellani, and matched his Linkedin picture to the tall boy with the sweet face. I believe that Daniel Dempsey was the third boy with the English intonation: the boy sent out to pee in front of the sentry. And you, of course, were my favorite: "Paolo" -- Tekko now.

The project isn't finished, though, as I have been unable to definitively match Luigi (Mauro Orsi) and Franco (Giuseppe Cassuto). Giuseppe Cassuto was one of the boys who was billeted with you in Piacenza, according to the call sheet on your website -- was he a native English speaker then? I'm also uncertain about Giuseppe Coppola -- is he the boy who is first to appear in the trailer?

***

But I have so many questions besides. How did you, Daniel, get to be cast in the movie? Was it as fun as it (still) looks onscreen? Did all the boys get along? Did you all speak Italian? Could you share more call sheets? Why is Tekko also known as Tecco and Ticchio and how did he get to be Paolo?

I apologize if this is getting burdensome and for not mentioning anything so far about your professional life and accomplishments.

I'm a writer, by the way, though I haven't published as much as I thought I would over the years. May I write about the experience of looking for (and creating) you --- and the Il Vespaio boys on my blog (it is hosted by a Google company) and/or on Facebook? And could I use some of the photos on the Il Vespaio page of your website, or if not, make drawings from them?

A bit more about myself -- I'm an English teacher and amateur artist who lives in Copenhagen now and has been teaching Ukrainian refugees this Fall. I've been to Italy 6-7 times, most often to Bologna.

I really hope to hear back from you.

Best regards,
Bing (Lakambini Sitoy)

facebook.com/lakambini.sitoy

facebook.com/bing.sitoy

bingsitoy.blogspot.com

 

I was moved and answered her.

Dear Bing,

Apologies for my slow reply.

I am flabbergasted by your astounding message!

I had never considered this movie to be more than good-not-great and the idea that it could have such a following as you describe amazes me.

You write beautifully!

Since you ask, here are some memories.

The actual shooting had all the cinematic trickery of any major production. For example, the explosion of the dam was of course not a real dam but a scale model, perhaps 5 or 10 meters long. The Italian craftsmen built it so well that by the time the tiny explosives made it burst the camera had run out of film and they had to do it over.

Another "correction" was an outdoor scene that had to be re-shot after a month or two. All the red poppies in the field had, by the second shoot, wilted. So thousands of paper poppies were placed by hand to be consistent with the first shoot.

Yet another "trompe l'oeil" was the cave in which took place the near-rape scene (of Sylva Koscina). Movie characters walked in and out. The exterior (mouth) of the cave was in the woods by Piacenza (where most of the shooting was done) but the interior was in Cinecitta` (in Rome) hundreds of miles away and made of papier mache`. Film editing made the illusion.

You ask about Ticchio... or was it Tekko? Both were me; as a bit part actor (I had perhaps a half dozen lines) my details (such as spelling) were not important.

I have lost touch with most of the cast. Mark Colleano had huge ambitions for his acting career; I wonder whether any panned out. I was 14 at the time of this filming. Colleano was perhaps 19 -- he seemed so much older and sophisticated, in his room in the hotel where the production put us up. He taught me to snap my fingers to Frank Sinatra who was the ultimate in cool.

A few others -- Joe Cassuto, for example -- I see occasionally on Facebook. To be honest, I don't remember "Paolo of the clear voice and long hair." One -- Amedeo Castellani -- became a close friend and we are in frequent contact to this day. He lives in UK and has prospered as a photographer, mainly black and white. Gorgeous photographs.

You write of militarized Philippines. I have been there only once, in 1997, and saw a country that was indeed heavily armed (though charming even so; I look forward to another visit). But relating that to this movie is an unexpected stretch.

May I have your permission to add your letter to the web page at www.dan-keller.com/photos/1969-Vespaio/? Please take a look and let me know if it's ok.

And, per your request, you have unfettered permission to show these photos (and anything related) on your blog, or Facebook or whatever. I gave them away when I put them on the web. (Scott McNealy on privacy: You still don't have any.)

Your own life and numerous literary achievements are remarkable. Your work with Ukrainian refugees must be intense. Such an ugly war (is there any other kind?)

Dan Keller, December 2022

On 11/30/2022 4:07 PM, Bing Sitoy wrote:

> But I have so many questions besides. How did you, Daniel, get to be cast in the movie?

I was living in Rome, the capital (at the time) of movie-making. This production sought native American speakers of English. I was attending the American Overseas School in Rome. Students there were invited to audition and I got the job. Unrelatedly, I also worked doing voiceovers (dubbing) of Italian movies into English -- my voice is in hundreds of movies, mostly spaghetti westerns (shot in Sardinia to look like Texas) -- until (with puberty) my voice changed.

> Was it as fun as it (still) looks onscreen?

It was! It was a wonderful summer, and stretched into the school year (school started in September; I had to miss the first month) when the production ran late.

> Did all the boys get along?

Mostly. The usual friendships and rivalries.

> Did you all speak Italian?

Yes. I am bilingual.

> Could you share more call sheets?

Alas, I don't think I kept any. Years later I contacted the production photographer Claudio Patriarca but he had discarded his negatives.

> Why is Tekko also known as Tecco and Ticchio and how did he get to be Paolo?

My name was never actually uttered in any dialog so what I was named didn't matter. I don't recall the Paolo name.

Thanks for all your great questions... I haven't thought about these things in decades!

Dan

 

Amazingly, the exchange didn't end there.

Subject: Re: The boys of Il Vespaio
Date: Thu, 8 Dec 2022 23:56:18 +0000 (UTC)
From: Bing Sitoy
To: Dan Keller

Dear Dan,

Thank you so much for your emails! Your stories of the production blew me away. We always knew that the "Della Norte dam" that came apart was a scale model (and that it had been filmed with a mask over the camera, because in the trailer everything was in broad daylight), but in those days moviegoers entered into a sort of a mental contract with the filmmakers to suspend their disbelief... and we didn't mind at all. But oh, the fact that the Italian craftsmen had done their work all too well... That was hilarious.

The red poppies being hand-placed... wow!! My guess is that this is the scene where the 15 boys (and the two small children) are watching in suspense as their families are rounded up by the SS. The kids are seen from the front, and then briefly from the back. And as I was trying to figure out who was who, from the colors of your shirts and the texture of your hair... it seemed to me that some of the kids to the left had exchanged positions. And now that I look at my screenshots, it seems that the grainfield, as it slopes down to the village, is a bit dryer and more golden than in the close ups where the kids are crying as their families are shot -- where green heads of grain and some very natural-looking flowers are clearly visible. But am I right? I have guessed wrong so, so many times about this movie and the boys in it.

It's interesting you mention the poppies. I love them and always take note if and when they are blooming in a new place, so the red flowers were among the first things I noticed in the opening sequence. They are everywhere, in the background, in the close-ups as the truck wheels churn... One of the first search phrases I typed was "When do poppies bloom in Emilia-Romagna?" I wanted to know what season of the year the movie was made. (Ultimately discovering a bio of Rock Hudson, I read that filming stretched from May to August and he had a hard time keeping up with all the kids and had to take uppers. Well, thanks to you I now know it went on into September. That must have taken quite a toll on Mr. Hudson).

***

Paolo is you. You see, right before the scene where you and Carlo (Mauro Gravina) distract the sentries by begging for a cigarette, and then with a hanky-full of strawberries, Captain Turner turns to the knot of boys and hisses: "Paolo, Carlo, do your stuff." Then we see the two of you saunter up the road towards the men. My sister and I, and those friends in school we talked with (imitating the "Hey, capitano, give us a sigaretta" line) always referred to you as Paolo. None of us ever connected that boy, in the striped blue-and-white shirt, of the long straight brown hair and the accent that was half-American and half-Italian, with the name Tekko.

So you were my favorite boy. I guess I was too shy to say in my first email: "I had a crush on you when I was eleven." And the crush went on, surviving the sixth grade. By the time I was 12, "Paolo", i.e. you, had triumphed over Carlo and was boyfriends with "Bing" (i.e. the prettier, smarter version of me in our fantasy universe) but it was so ridiculously innocent, given what I know now as an adult. In that universe "Paolo" was 12; I simply didn't perceive you as 14, which was my sister's age (she was into Aldo of course, the Mark Colleano character). Back in the day I wasn't in the habit of over-thinking, so I just referred to "Paolo" as "cute". Now I would say it was that mischievous quality, that vitality, that got me. And the smile. In the close-ups, the boys look sad, or hard-eyed and dead serious, or they are laughing and jeering at the enemy. You are the only boy who gets to smile.

(Please don't laugh at all this. And I hope you won't be weirded out.)

I've played Captain Turner's line several times on my DVD, thinking it was maybe redubbed in an effort to replace the odd-sounding "Tekko" with the more mellifluous, and better known, "Paolo." But lip-reading, there's no doubt about it. Rock Hudson's lips say: "Paolo". His lips part to make the plosive "P" and his mouth doesn't stretch sideways as what would happen with the "Te--" sound (That's the English teacher Bing talking) It's likewise "Paolo" in the Spanish dub. Captain Turner's line made Tekko disappear. I've wondered about that -- did Rock Hudson, in the heat and humidity, forget the character's name, and everyone just went along with it? Or did he, or Phil Karlson say something like, "Heck... let's just call him Paolo... does he look like a Tekko to you?"

***

The cave was very real to us, and figured quite a bit in our fantasy universe. I'm not surprised, though, that it was on a movie lot. Looking at it now, it does have that papier mache, museum-reconstruction quality to it. We didn't notice at all: our eyes were on the action.

I found Joe Cassuto on Facebook today, under the name Joseph Cassuto. He lives in Israel now. I read somewhere that Cassuto is a Sephardic name, or is associated with the Jewish community in Italy, so I wasn't surprised. I recently started following Amedeo on Instagram. He takes such wonderful portraits. There is one of you. I found examples of his work in black-and-white as well, pictures of Rome in the 1970s, including one taken on the Cinecitta premises. And Mark Colleano... in the Rock Hudson bio, he mentions being depressed when "the whole Hollywood thing didn't happen". It is such a pity. Interestingly, he was born in 1955, according to internet sources. That would have made him only 14 at the time of filming, which is incredible. I too, thought, he was at least 17.

***

Thank you for the permission to use the pictures on your website. I do plan to write about the Il Vespaio boys... I haven't been inspired to do any writing for a while, but a door into my childhood has opened and my young self is awake and urging me on. I will not make it into one of those awful "Where are they now?" features that both feed and feed off ageism. That's a promise I've made to myself and to all of you.

About adding my email to your website, yes, oh yes, you do have my permission. Of course.

This email is long enough... and I didn't even get to the Ukrainian refugees. Another time.

Thank you again for writing back... I am so happy. Yes, really.

Best regards,
Bing

 

The exchange continues.

Dan wrote:

Yes, in his trailer, Rock had taped to the wall a dictum, "Never film with kids," or something like that. I didn't understand it at the time but now grasp that kids always steal the show. In other words, he had accepted a less-than-optimal movie role, perhaps indicating a career that was in decline.

In those days, cinematographic methods were less subtle and night scenes were often shot "day for night" -- in full daylight but with a smoked filter over the lens. Now that I know what to look for, in older movies I can often spot this trick.

Was Mark Colleano born in 1955? Not a chance. He has fooled the Internet sources. At the time of this shoot he was at least 19, maybe more. Women are not the only ones who lie about their age.

Director Phil Karlson was a kind and gentle man, and a fine director. He never yelled at us. He showed us what we needed to do to make the scene work and we did it and he thanked us. And back at the hotel, his son (my age) was a good buddy. He complained of missing his pals in Hollywood; they were having a great summer without him... poor kid, his parents were divorcing and he was stuck on a production with his father in Italy.

Regarding Paolo-versus-Tekko, yes, you're right, Rock said Paolo. I hadn't thought about that. He was probably reciting lines from a script that was on paper and not up to date. In those days, the word processor was a typewriter. And yes, the scene you describe was my best in the movie. I am honored.

I am amazed to be a movie idol. Who knew? Certainly not I. Indeed, you describe a fantasy and that's all it is. But you have made my life richer and for that I am grateful. Thank you so much!

 

But wait, there's more!

Dear Dan,

Thanks for your reply and for sharing more memories of the production. My head is whirling nowÖ there is so much to take in, so many possible paths to follow, and I keep telling myself to calm down. Iíve read your emails and the new text on your website many times over; I feel like a fish swimming round and round in a bowl.

I am, first and foremost, really glad that Iíve made your life richer, through this exchange. And yes, you were an idol, and to a great extent still are.

Thank you for the kind words about my life trajectory and writing Ė it is easy enough to lose your way when charting your own course, so encouragement like this helps.

I was relieved that you have such positive memories of Phil Karlson and Rock Hudson. We hear too many bad stories about directors and stars. Some behind-the-scenes photos from the production (which I found on https://www.rock-hudson-estate-collection.com/ a website that sells (!) items from the estate of Mr Hudson) show Mr Karlson explaining a scene to the actors; the images give an idea of the professional dynamic between him and the people he worked with.

About your work as a dubberÖ I wonder if Iíd heard your boyhood voice before, back when I was a little kid. Spaghetti westerns were very big in the Philippines in the early 70s, and movies would frequently play again in the cinemas years after their original run. I suspect that to the Marcos government foreign action films were a way to keep the populace distracted from social issues. The cinema was the family baby-sitter. My earliest memories involve falling asleep in my motherís lap in crowded theaters, waking up to sweaty, dusty faces on the panoramic screen, then falling asleep again. There would be boys in these westerns, kids with a line or two, their accents so perfect I could not imagine their words being in anything else but English. Maybe some of them were you.

I was recently at the Copenhagen City Archives with a group of Ukrainian refugees who were learning English -- those who had answered a call for essays and photos of their first months in Copenhagen. There were 3 kilometers-worth of paper records beneath City Hall, and in a storage facility, another 40 km more. One thing I learned from the archivists is that people tend to write about shared experiences. Everyone has a narrative of how they got through a war, for instance. Or has stories of school, of family. Itís rare that people take the effort to write about the day-to-day stuff, or the unusual stuff that they feel no one else has experienced or will care about. In the end itís those special things that are lost. This is why I write what I write. I do believe I recognize that impulse in your documenting your life online. I'm worried I might scare you off with too many questions, though, too many demands. But would it be okay to email you from time to time? I do plan on finishing the Il Vespaio project, over-thinking as always and trying to figure out why else the movie may have been so popular where I grew up. Or at any rate why I loved it, even up to today. And after that, another project, the actual reason why I needed to clear my head, separate the fantasy from the fact, real life from fictional life.

Thank you so very much!

Bing <3


I replied,

This continues to boggle me...

> About your work as a dubberÖ I wonder if Iíd heard your boyhood voice before, back when I was a little kid.

The chances are good! I/it was in a lot of them. I declaimed, sang, whistled, cried, shrieked, etc. Whatever the script called for. It was quite fun, actually, and I loved the pocket money it earned. We dubbers belonged to a union and were paid by the line, a little less for a "brusio" (Italian word for crowd scene that didn't require lip-syncing.)

> I was recently at the Copenhagen City Archives with a group of Ukrainian refugees who were learning English -- those who had answered a call for essays and photos of their first months in Copenhagen.

Were you the teacher? Kudos for your humanitarian work!

> Iím worried I might scare you off with too many questions, though, too many demands. But would it be okay to email you from time to time?

Not scared. Yes, let's continue the correspondence, by all means!


My GF writes,

It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that BING.

WOW! with each communication I am more and more impressed with this woman. Have you checked out her facebook page? Pix of her paintings and pastels - she's multi-talented - an accomplished writer, artist, and humanitarian. And so sweetly vulnerable in showing her excitement at connecting with her pre-teen movie idol. I think you may appear as a character in one of her stories - a tale of youthful passion revisited (her next project?) Some crushes never go away - they build, instead, into something permanent, obsessive and all consuming. You are her MUSE baby!

Keep me posted. I'd love to be a voyeur of this epistolary flirtationEmoji EmojiEmoji

Joyce

Hi Dan,

Thank you so much for your latest email! Whoa, you've really done some digging through your files -- the latest photographs on your webpage convey a lot of information about the production, and I've been studying each one (of course). It's occurred to me that the call sheet, probably typed on transparent onion-skin paper, may have been preserved by your parents. The photos they took on the day they were up from Rome are of the filming of the scene by the creek where Aldo and his "lieutenants" press Turner into helping them avenge the death of their families. I found some writing showing through from the back of the sheet and, dogged good researcher that I am, used Photoshop to flip the image. It simply says, in an adult's hand: "Here's an example of a day's filming schedule." Your parents must have been very happy for you, very proud. I am glad they took these photos and saved them.

The pictures of you getting swabbed down with make-up while Daniel Dempsey (was he Irish?) waits his turn, and of you with Mauro Gravina carrying MP40s (the infamous Schmeissers of WWII novels!) are precious. As are the publicity headshot (gosh, another gift to my tween self) and the photos of Phil Karlson directing the "sigaretta" scene. The clippings made me realize what a big deal the movie was back then. In the New York Times review article, the three boys with the most English lines (Tekko, Giorgio and Franco) are listed right after Carlo; this is the first time I've seen the cast presented in this order. This must have been how the movie was publicized in the States. I've gone over the based-on-the-screenplay book many times, and have noted that Tekko, Giorgio and Franco originally had much larger roles. Franco was a demolition swimmer. Giorgio was a little kid who flagged the German truck down, with Bianca tied up beside him. And Tekko drove the truck through Reanoto while Turner pulled out the pins and cast the grenades!

***

I've been busy most of the holidays, writing, of all things, Il Vespaio fan fiction. Nothing based on newly acquired knowledge, but an attempt to give an adult explanation for some of the crazy things my sister and I created, and the ridiculous situations she wrote and drew for my character. I used a female secondary character from that combined universe as narrator, recounting her memories of the orphans some forty years after she knew them. This enabled me to keep some distance between myself (the writer) and various characters and story arcs. And by using a secondary character, I didn't have to go through the emotional rollercoaster of writing from the perspective of "Bing," but could speculate about her struggles with a critical eye and sometimes humor. It was very liberating, especially when I looked at the day's harvest and saw word counts of 2000 words and more. I haven't written fan fiction about this universe for decades.

However, I chose not to refer to "Paolo" as Tekko. Names are very special, and thus the name "Paolo" served as the latch on a gate, to keep what I currently know about the boys from galloping in, Tekko leading the charge, and sowing disorder just when I was trying to sort things out. The other boys kept the names we made up for them, too, although I thought I would throw in a reference to the "secret names", the "true names" they used when they spoke Italian among themselves. And thus I partially reconciled my fictional world with the actual character name list. (Funnily enough, no one actually speaks Italian in Il Vespaio -- a stray "Bellissima!" doesn't count).

I'm keeping this fan fiction close to my chest, so to speak. It was an exercise, and also a kind of technique-test for a new book (hopefully). Practicing the act of writing, reminding myself it's okay to be sketchy, or cryptic, or naughty, and most of all not to have to write as though aiming for a literary prize, which I think has burdened the word-processor generation for decades now. And a way of getting in touch with a spacey female character who is still evolving.

So Joyce was absolutely right when she wrote "You are her muse." She is wonderfully perceptive and I love all that she wrote. Thank you, Joyce! (The name Lakambini, by the way, is an indigenous Filipino name often interpreted as "muse." So the muse has a muse).

***

About the photo of me -- sure! It's probably the best-looking one of me that was ever taken, so I'm glad it was that one you found and put on your page.

***

Some of the Ukrainians who went to visit the Copenhagen City Hall were my students. I'm teaching an A2 class (Common European Frame of Reference) while colleagues teach A1 and B1. I've also taught others in a mixed class at A1 level and on a one-to-one basis. Like many of the refugees (referred to as displaced persons -- I can't remember the Danish term just now) who arrived in the spring and early summer, they are from the eastern side of the country. Interestingly, the language that many of them speak among each other is not Ukrainian but Russian. From what they've told me, Ukrainian is a fairly new (30-year-old) language and was standardized and put into use upon its independence. But in the border areas there has been considerable use of Russian, resulting in a mixed identity that earlier Ukrainian politicians failed to consider. And on the western side of the country, an even more diverse mix of identities and languages, and underdevelopment.

Some of these learners had terrific jobs back home. Economists, managers, lawyers. It is a bitter aspect of the displaced person/refugee experience that they are currently working as hotel chambermaids, cleaners, gofers in law firms. The unemployed ones report 30 hours a week to what's called the JobCentre, a government-funded body that prefers that they learn Danish, though they believe that English is the quicker route to getting the kind of employment they need. The face of these learners is overwhelmingly female. I know that in some quarters their vulnerability means they are sexualized. They have some thought-provoking tales to tell, and lots of black humour. I guess none of this is new to you, or any reader, but it is hard to write about them, especially since their experience of loss -- of prestige, of home, of freedom to operate in their mother tongue -- is quite similar to the overall immigration experience, which I can vouch for as being painful. Add to that the ugliness of war.

***

This is pretty long already, so I'll just close by saying I've written enough fan fiction and will blog about the Il Vespaio boys next. Would it be okay if I used the photos taken by your folks of the filming? Just asking to be absolutely sure.

Happy New Year!

Bing <3

On 1/6/2023 4:50 PM, Bing Sitoy wrote:

Hi Dan,

This email is a bit long and has lived a few days in my head.

You wrote: You write compellingly of the experience of the Ukrainian immigrants you teach. Was that also your own experience when you moved from the Philippines to Denmark?

I donít know where to begin. The move from the Philippines to Denmark was Öcomplicated, and was carried out over several years, as I travelled back and forth between both countries, trying to figure out whether I wanted to be married to a Dane or not. In the beginning there was the usual euphoria of being in a new place Ė the romance of perfect Scandinavia. (Incidentally, the first European country I ever visited, in 2001, was Finland, and it was then that I fell in love with the whole Nordic shebang)

I was free and independent. Then came the realization that, with the move to Denmark, I had lost everything. Friends, network, career, a job, all my languages. Unless they are lucky enough to have found employment in a Danish company (in which case they can speak English to their heartsí content) new immigrants must go through public Danish-language education, and itís here that the breaking-in, or breaking-down, begins. My situation was complicated in that I was here on account of marriage (so the permanent resident requirements were harder to meet), and I am a youthful-looking Asian woman. So in 2008 I went from being journalist with a career and "one of the best Filipina writers of her generation" to being the Asian wife of an older man, categorized alongside "mail order bride," "au pair" and "Bangkok prostitute." I was the Asian woman no one would talk to at parties because maybe she didnít even understand what was going on and it wasnít worth the effort spelling things out to her.

In time I learned to manipulate that "youthful-looking Asian woman" thing Ė but it was haaard.

You wrote: As a nurse, I am especially conscious of Filipina immigrants who have been so many of my colleagues. The Philippines produces a lot of nurses.

The Filipina nurses in the United States have a different trajectory of migration. Theirs is more acceptable. Becoming a nurse and "earning dollars" has been ingrained in Philippine culture for at least two generations. Seven of my first cousins are nurses, as were two aunts and countless high school friends and family friends. My best friend in high school is a nurse in the US (she was born there and has always been a Filipino-American) -- sheís retiring now, whereas Iíve just started rebuilding my career as a writer.

My parents were teachers at Silliman University, which is said to have the best College of Nursing in the entire Philippines. In the 1980s, the dean of this institution was our next-door neighbor on the Silliman campus. Expectations were high for me. Nursing was, and certainly still is, a respected career choice for a young woman (or a young man). Whole families go to nursing school. The people who become nurses are not the extremely poor who are in desperate need of American currency (after all, good nursing schools are privately-run and expensive). Theyíre middle class, and sometimes the children of nurses as well, and they are certainly one of the most affluent groups of people in the Philippines today. The city of Dumaguete where I grew up is now one of the more expensive cities in the Philippines (comparatively) partly because its residents trained to be nurses at Silliman, worked in the States, built nice houses, started their own businesses and continue to send money home.

When I was in the UK in 2003 (on a writing fellowship), I met a few Filipino nurses in Norwich. They were annoyed because UK rules set a cap on the number of hours they could work in a week. Those contemporaries of theirs who were "lucky" (their word) to have found employment in the United States could have a five-day workweek at one hospital, then move on the weekends at a different hospital, and even complete evening shifts. They were young and were willing to work their bodies to the bone. The British-based nurses felt they were cooling their heels, wasted.

You wrote: You mention a "based-on-screenplay book". What is that? Someone wrote a book that tells the movie's story? Is it any good?

The author is Michael Avallone. He writes in a Jack Higgins/Alistair McClean style, sort of. War adventure novel potboiler style. The book is copyright 1970 and was probably timed to be released alongside the film, or even before it. It was clearly written from an earlier iteration of the screenplay, maybe back when it was called ďChildren at their GamesĒ and making the rounds of Hollywood studios.

Iím kind of on the fence as to whether the book is good or not. As a writer, I respect what Avallone was able to do with just the screenplay (knowing full-well the product would probably be very different from the movie) and working within the genre.

As a movie tie-in, well... I donít get a feel for the boys and the dynamic that we see in the final movie. As a stand-alone book itís okay, might serve as a diversion on a long train ride. It's told from Turner's perspective. The boys are much younger than in the film (ranging in age from 8 to 14). They sometimes do cute, precious things.

Tekko is a big role, with lines that eventually went to other boys. He's like the super-soldier in a platoon who is in everything. He gets special mention in the would-be rape. He gets to redeem the boys the following morning by claiming that they wouldnít have gone through with it (that line went to Dempsey!). He is a strawberry-distractor, an avid listener to Aldo's prostitute tale, the truck driver and a demolition swimmer. He's that soldier who never gets killed. All that, and he's not even 13.

I'll see if I can send you scans of a few pages.

You wrote: You snuck in a zinger... You're writing "fan fiction"? A book? Somehow derived from this movie thing we've been discussing? The boggling doesn't cease!

Indeed, Iím writing ďfan fictionĒ, though only in the sense that itís about characters I didnít originally create, crossed with characters my sister and I did create. I donít plan to publish any of it. There are probably hundreds of thousands of stories in the Fan Fiction genre out on the internet by now, on apps dedicated to that purpose. Some of it is bad, and some X-rated. I never read the stuff, though.

No, Iíve been writing the "fan fiction" for myself. For the pure enjoyment of it. And certainly for the practice Ö when I havenít written in a long time the words donít flow as they should, and the writing becomes self-conscious. It helps me in my writing practice because I donít have to worry about creating new characters nor scenarios (since these are alternate perspectives on earlier ones I created) and enables me to focus on the act, the art and the pleasure of putting my fantasies into words.

I wrote 18,000 words over the holidays. Hooray!

Thereís another kind of fan writing I've been doing, though, and that's a blog. Itís called The Boys of Il Vespaio and it focuses on the 15 boys from that movie. How do you say the mirror version of that Ė is it "I ragazzi di Hornetís Nest?" At present the blog is not yet public, but it exists in rudimentary form. The blog format is easier for me than a website, though the latter would probably have a higher likelihood of being read. Apart from posts identifying each boy, Iím thinking of short essays about various aspects of the movie. Iíve been trying to write a book about the experience of migrating to Denmark for years and years. Most often a certain anger boils up and I have to put the task away. By practicing the craft of writing I hope to find the right balance between passion and distance. At some point in 2023, I'll put aside the blog and find my way back to this book. I wrote a short novel for young people early in 2022, so I've gotten some recent practice already.

***

Here's a wee bit about Carlo from the fan fiction. "Tekko" is called Paolo in my file, because itís the name I knew him as. The narrator is the minor character, female:

"So Carlo and Tekko fell out over a girl and stopped sharing a dormitory room. For a time, Carlo slept wherever he happened to be hanging out when curfew sounded. After all he didnít have any personal possessions to his name.

Or perhaps he slept alone, because no one wanted him. He was a strange kid Ė because of his angelic looks you tended to think he was harmless. But he had been to the other side and back, and for this reason he spooked the boys, though they did their best to hide it. Heíd been intense and eager to grow up and copy what the older ones were doing, and they'd tolerated him, but now every time he said some weird thing or looked at them in a particularly hard way, Mino and Lorenzo and Giorgio would avert their gaze. They never crossed themselves, but they would do that particular Italian gesture with the fingers, discreetly so as not to draw attention to their fear. Warding off the evil eye."

***

Poor Carlo. He hasnít been spared, either. I guess I should stop for now. Thank you for being my patient audience. (Oh, could you share some more of the backstories of the boys you remember?) Iíve been stepping further into your website and have found the Oakland Riviera, among others. What an incredible life you have. What projects! What memories! Now Iím the voyeur.

Best regards,
Bing <3

Hi Bing --

I'm reading a couple of your numerous blogs (wow, you are prolific) and my awe grows. Beautiful, eloquent. And your art (on Facebook) equally so. Kudos, sister!

For example:

I am saddened but not surprised by your recounting of your experience as an immigrant to Denmark. As you know, I grew up in Italy, also a country that prides itself on its non-bigotry. I remember, in the 60s, being chided as an American, "Why do you treat your Blacks so badly?" That was when Italy was still homogenous, Catholic, white. Today it has much immigration -- Africans and Asians of every kind. And in recent visits I have witnessed racism -- astonishingly ugly -- of a kind we have long outgrown in the United States. Turns out everyone is racist. But you knew that.

Curiously, what Hornet's Nest is to you, Apocalypse Now is, to some degree, to me. It's a movie not from my childhood but my early adulthood. It's impactful because,
a) as a nurse I have worked with Vietnam veterans and seen the damage,
b) that's my generation's war, and
c) if I were a year older, I would have gone.

I still have my draft card. I was assigned a lottery number (152). Nixon got us out of there just as I was finishing high school.

My kids have watched Apocalypse with me and, together, we recite every line of dialog along with it. The most acclaimed, of course, is "...the smell of napalm in the morning." The blackest of humor. Your love of Hornet's Nest seems more fanciful, romanticized.

I continue to enjoy these exchanges. Thank you for reaching out.

Joyce says, let's invite Bing to California. Great idea! Have you ever been? Do consider it!

D.

 

Facebook, of course

 

Bing is now working on a blog devoted to this movie: https://hornetsnest1970.blogspot.com

 

 

-- Dan Keller 2023