The Mattei Affair + more stuff

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The Mattei Affair

The story of Eni

I went down a rabbit hole when investigating a post that I have in draft at the moment and discovered The Mattei Affair. I got to find out more about Eni – one of Europe’s oil supermajors. Even though I had worked in the oil industry at the start of my carrier I didn’t have a good understanding of the story of Enrico Mattei. Despite the great work done in documenting the industry though Daniel Yergin‘s book The Prize published in 1990. Yergin’s book was recognised as the defacto history of the industry back when I worked in the oil industry.

Francesco Rosi

Who would have thought that a film maker would have been able to make a film about a prosaic story like the life of an oil industry executive? Francesco Rosi managed to create something special with The Mattei Affair. Enrico Mattei was an extraordinary oil industry executive who helped Italy recover economically from the post-war period until his death in 1962 in a mysterious private plane crash. Rosi has a very distinctive story style mixing documentary footage with docu-drama, often performed by non-professional actors. In this respect The Mattei Affair mirrors Rosi’s 1961 film of Sicilian bandit Salvatore Giuliano.

The story line covers different aspects of Mattei’s career and then loops back to the aftermath of the plane crash providing an innovative form of non-linear storytelling.

Rose’s film production became part of the story itself. A journalist that Rosi had used to research The Mattei Affair himself disappeared which added to the mystery surrounding Enrico Mattei and the film. Rose’s search for the missing investigative journalist became part of the film itself.

So The Mattei Affair is a remarkable film for all sorts of reasons.

Mauro De Mauro

Mauro De Mauro was the journalist that Rosi had hired to dig into The Mattei Affair and try to find out what had happened. At the time De Mauro worked for L’Ora newspaper based in Palermo, Sicily. He disappeared in September 1970 and his body was never found.

Hard to find

De Mauro wasn’t the only hard to find aspect of The Mattei Affair. For a film that won the grand prize at the Cannes Film Festival it had been very hard to find, even in the world of YouTube. It had a limited screening in the US with just one screen showing the film in New York back in 1973. It doesn’t appear at film festivals as a retrospective.

The BBC apparently tried to licence it for broadcast in the mid-1990s and failed. Bootleg DVDs of the film occasionally surface, but its never been licensed and released on Blu-Ray or DVD, which is very strange indeed, given the remarkable nature of the film and story behind it.

The New York Times review of the film published on May 21, 1973 described the film as an ‘immensely honorable but unsuccessful film’, rather like the reviewer was trying to bury a film that they themselves were intrigued by and had enjoyed watching.

I found the film to be intriguing, enjoyable and beautifully shot. I was haunted by the story that I had seen on screen and am puzzled by the film’s lack of wider distribution – given the significant nature of the film in its own right.

Subaru Impreza 22B

Nothing brings home the inflationary world of cars at the moment like this review of the Subaru Impreza 22B STi. This was the first Impreza model to do well in rallying after the legacy, though much of this was down to the disqualification of Toyota’s Celica GT-4 cars that had been previously all-conquering. These cars were sold in Japan and made it outside on the grey market import scene over time, there were less than 500 of this particular model made. One of these Subaru cars with just the delivery mileage had been put in storage for over 20 years and sold for £295,000 in 2020.

This Subaru isn’t a bonkers road going version of the Ford RS200 or an Audi Sport Quattro of the mid-1980s. This nicely kept, but worn in version of the Impreza 22B STi is still worth more than £200,000. By comparison you can buy a 1987 vintage Toyota Celica GT-4 from Japan (so it will have been well looked after in comparison to the UK, with just 77,000 kilometres on the clock) for about 4.2 million yen or £26,000 plus import costs. You can find even better bargains if you are prepared to have up to 100,000km on the clock.

For that you are getting a similarly fast Japanese piece of Group A homologation rally history in a smaller package and prettier looking. And its a Toyota, which means the kind of reliability that Mercedes used to be famous for. And with the extra money you can buy yourself a 1980s vintage Porsche 911 SC or even an early 1990s Porsche 911 Carrera 4 coupé.

Open AI takes on e-sports

Open AI built a machine to do for e-sports for DeepMind did for Go. The Open AI team focused on Dota 2. More from a talk by the Computer History Museum here.

All of this is very impressive, but we are still a good distance from having a ‘general purpose AI’ that works across multiple disciplines. Once the system is trained on a particular model, it can’t then learn new skills or areas of expertise and apply the knowledge across areas. The models used in Open AI are deep reinforcement learning (or Deep RL in programmer lingo), all of which goes back to the neural network academic work done from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s. It was first applied to a backgammon game.

Interest in it amongst technologists is due to one book first written in 1998: Reinforcement Learning: An introduction. The point being is that ‘AI’ champions like Google and others, haven’t moved the science of artificial intelligence on any further, but are throwing more processing power at it instead.

Your Hit Parade

I came across this 1955 TV show that was syndicated around NBC TV and radio affiliate stations as black and white film. It was interesting to see the way primary programme sponsor Lucky Strike was integrated into the show. Secondary sponsor ‘Pin Curls’ got a very brief mention at the beginning of the show, in a ‘blink and you’d miss it’ kind of placement.

“readings of radio requests, sheet music sales, dance hall favorites and jukebox tabulations”

Your Hit Parade chart methodology

The use of the word tabulate to indicate how the hit parade chart was compiled, implying mechanical computing in the background. I don’t know whether a juke box could of determined the number of plays of each record at the time. Dance hall favourites sounds particularly nebulous. Finally radio plays wasn’t included in the chart mechanism, instead there was the vague ‘reading out of radio requests’.

By 1949, we know that there were steps taken to try and stamp out paid placement aka Payola, but music publishers didn’t engage with this process in a positive manner. When it eventually became a scandal the big music companies tried to tie payola to rock and roll music. Independent record companies or music publishers frequently used payola to promote rock and roll on American radio. The reason for these payments was to get around DJs own biases regarding ‘black sounding music’. Payola got put under a spotlight after a congressional investigation in 1958 and 59 that killed DJ Alan Freed’s career and saw Dick Clark transition to television.