Friday, June 14, 2024

Franco Cozzo and the ghosts of Footscray

For anybody outdoors Melbourne, the honest, spontaneous emotion that has adopted the loss of life of a former furnishings salesman is perhaps faintly baffling. Franco Cozzo, the flamboyant proprietor of ornate, baroque furnishings shops that bore his title has died on the age of 88, however the world that made his life attainable, not to mention his movie star, was already gone.

Figures broadly occupying the identical area as Cozzo had been comparatively widespread till just lately. Eccentric showmen appearing because the face of an area enterprise in agreeably low-cost advertisements that appeared to return on continually, usually taking part in to a comically amplified model of their ethnicity — mine rising up was Claudio Versaico’s “Luigi Savadamoni” character from Perth’s WA Salvage advertisements, and had it been performed by an Anglo it will have virtually certified as a hate crime. Little question readers in different states have their very own variations. However so far as I do know, none of them got here to symbolise what Cozzo did.

Arriving in Melbourne in 1956, Cozzo had heritage from each the Greek and Italian tributaries that flooded into Footscray and its environment after World Battle II, however he got here to be considered a distinctly Italian sort: the shrewd, trendy and flamboyant migrant entrepreneur. These immaculate fits, that completely easy salt-and-pepper swoosh atop his head, the clouds of cologne he could be seen making use of on the opening of Madeleine Martiniello’s 2021 documentary Palazzo di Cozzo.

Each his furnishings — baroque, regal, shapely items, undulating with gleaming curlicues, which gave his fellow newly arrived southern Europeans entry to the outdated nation glamour they may by no means have afforded within the outdated nation — and his private success in promoting it turned emblems of all these post-war migrant hopes. And, at instances, their fears. Cozzo’s son, Luigi, was convicted within the Nineteen Nineties of promoting medication that had been hidden within the Footscray retailer’s furnishings; thereafter Cozzo was usually compelled to disclaim rumours that the shop was a drug entrance.

Ten years earlier than SBS existed, he produced and affixed his title to Carosello, an Italian pop music showcase and the primary largely non-Anglophone present on Australian tv — one other means his sense for gaps in a market melded with the loneliness that afflicts first-generation migrants — that fashioned a part of the material of a neighborhood. Watched from 2023, it’s a glimpse into an entire different world. Not simply the matching fits and glinting pompadours of Sergio G and The Flippers, or the closely British-inflected voice of the host stumbling over the performers’ names, however the sheer truth of such localised neighborhood broadcasting taking over a slot on business TV (it was on Community 10, again when it had the faintly ominous title of Channel 0).

After all, a part of his attraction, little doubt cultivated by Cozzo himself, is pure kitsch: the sheer pretty strangeness of these outdated trilingual advertisements, the colors of the Nineteen Eighties video and titles each in some way fading and over-saturated, the gauche grandeur of the show rooms.

However it’s greater than that. At one time he had three shops, then one, and by the point of his loss of life, none. Palazzo di Cozzo reveals faintly heartbreaking footage of him surveying the built-up inventory he might now not shift, and also you sense he was mourning then what we’re mourning now. He was a person who watched the varied strands that had knotted collectively to create his life’s work — historic likelihood, demographics and attendant fashions — unravel in his lifetime. Aside from the rest, attempt to think about a newly arrived household, with few connections, a working-class ability set and rudimentary English, shopping for a house 20 minutes from the town centre and filling it with artisanal furnishings from Italy. Not simply in 2023, however possibly ever once more.

“My Italians,” Cozzo says, referring to his clients, “are within the cemetery now.”

In itself, this is perhaps a tragic however seemingly inevitable historic shift. Melbourne’s western suburbs are impressively haunted, even by the requirements of former industrial hubs; you may barely go a block with out encountering pale signage promoting some long-vanished product retreating right into a red-brick facade (see: Warren Kirk’s beautiful Westography). Correctly performed, the shop’s conversion to (what else) a brewery might and may retain a wealthy, bittersweet sense of place and life because it was as soon as lived. However it’s greater than that. It’s the sense that as that lifestyle comes aside, nothing is changing it.

Just a little means northeast of the positioning of the ultimate Cozzo retailer in Footscray is the Joseph Street Precinct. The large towers on the banks of the Maribyrnong, constructed with no regard for the occupants’ skill to entry providers or inexperienced area, stand as monuments to the significantly nihilistic planning regime between 2010 and 2014.

On the similar time, deserted tons purchased up by land banking builders have been left to decay throughout Footscray for years. This isn’t some pure technique of destruction and renewal, detritus feeding the forest ground. That is extra just like the scorched earth left by a retreating military. These vanished locations kind an lively, virtually corporeal lack, a palpable gap within the air.

Cozzo’s loss of life comes roughly a month after the aged road sellers who had been hocking produce on Leeds Road for years had been all of the sudden shut down, threatened with fines and authorized motion by the native council. A much-loved a part of Footscray’s crowded tangle of life swept away — well being and security issues, apparently.

Notices to road sellers in English and Vietnamese, Leeds st, Footscray (Picture: Charlie Lewis)

There’s one thing faintly dystopian about a spot concurrently gentrifying its life away, whereas sustaining a number of bleak, arid rubble piles for years on finish and internet hosting abject horrors just like the homicide dedicated by a 12-year-old in November.

These occasions mirror a number of strains of trendy life that start to whole up to one thing extra lively than indifference and even greed; there’s something virtually hateful about it, an abhorrence of natural human bonds.

Although it took place for various causes, the gradual, seen decay of the Franco Cozzo retailer ran parallel with, and felt like simply one other a part of, that creeping sense of nihilism.

On Thursday, simply because the final information crew was leaving, we handed the outdated furnishings retailer, as we had numerous instances through the years on our approach to the practice, or the market, or the pub. Over that point, slowly then all of the sudden, the signal had pale, the furnishings disappeared and the home windows had been coated up. And the mural of the outdated showman, who would outlive the world he had promised his clients, receding behind clouds of graffiti.

Mural on the outdated Franco Cozzo retailer, Footscray (Picture: Charlie Lewis)

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