Paparazzi go for the floppy bits

A Word of warning to Italian celebrities: if you go down to the beach this summer, you'd better go in disguise. Or at least keep your clothes on. Because otherwise the paparazzi might just make a picnic out of you.

Business leaders in the buff, senior politicians making unseemly sexual gestures, ageing starlets showing their wrinkles and flab off camera - this year the gossip-mongering photographers have been more shameless than ever. To kick off the silly season, the cover of this week's issue of Panorama, purportedly a serious news magazine, featured a colour picture of Gianni Agnelli, erstwhile chairman of Fiat, jumping off his yacht as he'd never been seen before by the public, genitals flapping in the sea breeze.

Inside was a shot of the northern secessionist leader, Umberto Bossi, thrusting his hand between the legs of a female admirer while splashing around in the water.

The more overtly downmarket gossip magazines, meanwhile, have been having a field day trying to make people whose living depends on looking good look as atrocious as possible. Mara Venier, busty hostess of Italian television's most popular Sunday variety show, is caught without the fine clothes and make-up that usually make her seem 15 years younger than she is; the bulges and blemishes are all too visible as she lies back for a facial.

Where once there were unwritten rules of paparazzo etiquette, it seems now there are no limits. In the 1950s and 1960s, when the term paparazzo was coined on the Via Veneto, the gilded Roman playground of Hollywood stars and glamorous local playboys, it was considered a coup to snap a celebrity walking into a nightclub. A few years ago, scandal erupted as serious newspapers published a photograph of the prominent television newsreader, Lilli Gruber, lying topless on a beach. But that seems tame stuff by present standards.

Naked women have long since been considered passe; after all, most of the country's celebrity models are only too happy to take off their clothes in the course of their duties. A couple of years back, the fad was for naked men. A reasonably good-looking centre-right politician, Pierferdinando Casini, was snapped revealing all as he pulled away his swimming towel. Now, gratuitous denigration is the name of the game.

Panorama went so far as to compile a "hit parade" of the paparazzi's dream photos this summer. Top of the list were the naked breasts of either Ilda Bocassini or Tiziana Parenti - a magistrate and a former magistrate- turned-politician from Milan who have spent the past two months trashing each other's reputation in the mainstream newspapers.

It would be wrong to think the older generation of paparazzi disapproves of the new techniques.

"First I shoot, and only if I'm caught do I ask for permission," said Rino Barillari, the man who inspired the term paparazzo with his intrusions into the dolce vita of 40 years ago. "By that stage I've already taken out the film and hidden it."

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