Saturday, 21 July 2007

Un Posto ideale per uccidere / Dirty Pictures

Two young hippie tourists, Dick (Ray Lovelock) and Ingrid (Ornella Muti), hit upon a clever way of financing their trip to Italy: stopping off in Copenhagen, they visit a sex shop to stock up on pornographic material, which they then sell on at a considerable mark-up to Italians deprived of such product and eager to taste the fruits of “Sexual Freedom in Denmark”

Having exhausted their supply and the money it has brought in almost as quickly, Dick then decides they can make their own pictures just as easily with Ingrid as their main subject.

Things continue to go swimmingly until they are apprehended by the police and given 24 hours to get out of Italy, followed by a run-in with some similarly anti-establishment bikers who then proceed to take off in the middle of the night with the last of their money in a no honour among thieves kind of way.

Their car having run out of petrol, Dick and Ingrid are forced to stop at a large, isolated villa. Believing no-one to be at home, they go to explore and discover the garage door to be unlocked and a car with petrol therein.

But before fortune can help those who help themselves, the lady of the house, Barbara (Irene Papas) unexpectedly shows up. Even more surprising is her reaction: rather than responding like the typical representative of middle-age, middle-class society that the couple have encountered until now, she invites them in.

Or, given some of the customers for their dirty pictures, perhaps she is more typical than they realise, this being a notion characteristic of this film's ambiguities and ambivalences.

For what Dick and Ingrid do not realise is that Barbara is less interested in hearing their counter-culture arguments or the chance to indulge in a ménage a trois than in their potential value in relation to her own criminal conspiracy – one that involves rather more than the victimless crimes the young couple have engaged in thus far...

One of the little games you can play for yourself when watching golden age gialli is that of trying to guess the generation and politics of the film-makers concerned – are they left or right, counter- or traditional culture, and post- or pre-1960s in their general intellectual and cultural formations?

Sometimes it's relatively easy, as is the case with Argento and The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. (Hint: look out for the Black Power posters on the wall.) Sometimes it's a bit more difficult, as with the likes of Fulci and A Lizard in a Woman's Skin or Don't Torture a Duckling, although the complexities and contradictions that emerge thereby can also at least be argued to be in accord with the contradictions and complexities of the man himself. Sometimes, as in the case of Lenzi here, it is damned difficult to tell.

At issue is that key descriptor used by both Craig Ledbetter and Adrian Luther Smith in their write-ups: cynical. More specifically the question might be phrased thus: if the attitude of Lenzi's film is a cynical one, who is (t)his cynicism addressed to and what form does it take?

For while Ledbetter suggests that Un Posto ideale per uccidere / Dirty Pictures is characterised at its core by a cynicism towards the youth audience it was likely intended for, found myself wondering whether in their desire to merely live free Dick and Ingrid aren't in fact established as more tragic / romantic characters who, to quote the introduction to Nicholas Ray's They Live By Night, “were never properly introduced to the world we live in.”

Certainly they seem to approach the world with a (conventionally) childlike innocence, playfulness – note here, for instance, the way Dick treats the pistol he finds as if it were a toy – and general guilelessness, especially when compared with Barbara. (Or “Age and Guile Beat Youth, Innocence and a Bad Haircut,” as the title of a book by satirist P. J O'Rourke puts it.)

Part of the difficulty in knowing for sure is that Lenzi's direction throughout is characterised by the same directorial style, which we might term – in keeping with the theme of apparent contradiction – an energetic laziness. By this I mean that while his camera is constantly doing something, there rarely seemed much sense of any real logic underlying its peregrinations, with the potential shock effect of the zoom lens being particular diluted through overuse. Had Lenzi established greater contrast between acts, interior and exterior locations, subjective and objective perceptions, or simply dramatic scales – with these all being things he managed in his previous gialli, so they were certainly not beyond him – the effect would have been more telling, the indication of whose side he was on that little bit clearer.

Ignoring these questions – admittedly not necessarily of interest to everyone – the main pleasures be had thus come from the performances by the three leads, each ideally suited to their part and all the more convincing for it, with Papas in particular again delivering the kind of performance that is all too rare – and even less rarely critically recognised – within such cinema; and the incidentals, including cameo roles from such giallo regulars as Tom Felleghy and Umberto Raho; some pleasingly modish fashions – most notably Lovelock's Austin Powers style Union Flag jacket – and an inspired departure from convention by virtue of not having the radio broadcast a vital piece of information at exactly the right moment for it to be heard by the protagonists.

1 comment:

ecom said...

What version of this film did you review? I was trying to sync up the Greek subtitled English dub with the Italian widescreen DVD and noticed some extended bits of footage and dialogue in the 85m English version that are absent from the 83m Italian version. My Greek subtitled copy also reverted to Italian for a few minutes from the scene of Lovelock and Muti painting the car to the chase into the greenhouse and the scene where Lovelock forces Papas to answer the gardener. After that, its back to English. I can't imagine it being like this in the US versions. My Greek version (a DVDR from tape) has Italian credits but mostly the English soundtrack except for the above-mentioned scenes.