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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 August 2007, 16:23 GMT 17:23 UK
Romania mourns folk hero Pittis
By Razvan Scortea
BBC Romanian Service

Florian Pittis, Romanian actor, who died on Sunday
Florian Pittis was seen by many as a rebel against the Communists
In communist Romania, few dared to cross the line. But some found ways to sing and act around it.

Florian Pittis, who died on Sunday aged 63, turned this into something of a career, earning the respect of several generations.

His actual gestures of defiance may not look like much today. A word here, a song there - but for many, it was a sign of hope, and under dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, hope was scarce.

Pittis' mere presence evoked a degree of independence.

He had long hair, just like those exotic Western rock stars. Long hair was frowned upon by the authorities, always on the lookout for "degenerate, bourgeois tendencies".

A leading party boss once threatened Pittis with an enforced haircut - but he got away with it.

Beatlemania

In the early 80s, Pittis directed and starred in Stephen Poliakoff's play City Sugar (Cum se numeau cei patru Beatles?), about a DJ infatuated by the music of the 60s.

Magdalena Boiangiu, theatre critic
He was a pure artist
Magdalena Boiangiu, theatre critic

There was a certain mystique surrounding the show, and tickets were hard to come by. Yes, people came for the music, but more than anything, they came for Pittis.

His energy was legendary and magnetic. For a few hours, he gave you a taste of freedom.

During the show, he described "Beatlemania" - how thousands of fans would turn up at the airport when the group went on tour.

"And they did it out of genuine love, didn't they?" asked Pittis ironically, in a clear swipe at Ceausescu's grotesque personality cult.

He also encouraged the audience to write messages, which he then read out. This kind of interaction was unheard of at the time.

"He was a pure artist," says theatre critic Magdalena Boiangiu, "and they were hard to come by back then. His talent was unusual".

Acting career

It was also complex. In the mid-60s he studied drama under one of Romania's best-known actors, Radu Beligan.

Florian Pittis folk LP album
Florian Pittis enjoyed success as a folk singer

He then worked with top directors, including Andrei Serban and Liviu Ciulei, and performed in heavyweight productions such as Shakespeare's The Tempest, Long Day's Journey into Night by Eugene O'Neill and The Lower Depths by Maxim Gorky.

His role as Laertes in Hamlet during the mid-80s is considered one of the classics of Romanian theatre.

"It's as if he led several lives, each as intense as the next," says film critic Alex Leo Serban.

His film career was limited, perhaps because Romanian cinema was so ruthlessly controlled by the regime. "He loved music and poetry; exploring the meaning of life. For him, nothing in life happened without a reason," says Boiangiu.

No compromises

Music always played a major role. In the early 70s Pittis performed in a popular entertainment group and towards the end of the decade, he became involved in a controversial cultural youth movement called "Flacara" (The Flame). It was led by the Ceausescu court poet, Adrian Paunescu, currently a senator in Romania's parliament.

A Florian Pittis album from the '90s
Florian Pittis resumed his singing career in the 1990s

He quietly left when it became clear that it was just another vehicle for propaganda. After the fall of communism, Pittis became a founding member of the folk group Pasarea Colibri (Hummingbird).

In 1998 he went on to become a director of the youth channel of national radio, which he transformed into an internet-only station, Radio3net.

Perhaps one mystery surrounding Pittis is why the communist regime allowed him to exist as an artist at all.

"He was tolerated by the system, because he was a kind of pressure valve, and he was one of a kind," says Alex Leo Serban. "I do not think he had an agenda - he was authentic in what he did, an example to others."

It is said that Ceausescu did not care much for the theatre, and that is why the authorities occasionally turned a blind eye to what was happening on stage.

Through that small breach, Pittis helped keep hope alive.


SEE ALSO
Country profile: Romania
21 May 07 |  Country profiles

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