Earlier this evening a fellow student and I introduced an intended double bill of exploitation all'italiana comprising Mattei's SS Girls, which we didn't show due to unforeseen technical difficulties, and Vari's Sister Emanuelle, which we did.
In her discussion of Sister Emanuelle, my co-host mentioned the article on Italian nun films in the Alternative Europe collection. She noted how it drew a distinction between those films that engaged with the figure of the nun specifically and those which were more exploitation films that just used the nun rather than, say, the prisoner in jail or a concentration camp, but did not address anything specific to her situation. There are, as it were, nunsploitation films and nunsploitation films.
Besides making me want to revisit the Alternative Europe essay, this got me thinking about these ideas more generally.
Obviously nun, WIP and Nazi themed Italian films have a lot in common, like the period with which we most associate them, primarily the 1970s; their tendency towards 'total institutions' settings; their emphasis on corrupt authority; sexual perversity and the various ritual scenes / sequences.
But there are also certain more specific features that the better filone filmmaker might engage with: in the case of the nun films it is Catholicism / religion; in that of the Nazi films fascism and resistance, and, in the case of the WIP film, perhaps a focus on the official corruption in the present rather than the past.
Going beyond this, it also makes me think of what I've previously referred to as the “hat” theory of filone, following the remarks of screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi and critic Christopher Wagstaff on how the difference between a film in one filone cycle and other could often be reduced to the paradigmatic choice of this or that hat or other prop.
What I'm wondering is whether the distinction between the best directors in any given filone and the rest is that the best directors do something more than just make the same old film within a particular genre in also bringing out or introducing other themes more specific to it.
In the case of the western it's maybe the difference between Leone's distinctively Italian westerns, which responded to the Hollywood western and its myths rather than merely emulated them, as had the 25 or so previous entries within the cycle made by Italian filmmakers, or of westerns all'italiana compared to westerns all'italiana.
In the case of the thriller, it's perhaps the way in which a specifically modern world of science and technology is foregrounded by the likes of Argento's animal trilogy, Bazzoni's The Fifth Cord and Questi's Death Laid and Egg where more routine filmmakers often seem to use these elements primarily as backdrop.
Or, in the case of the crime film, it's maybe the way someone like Di Leo explores the meaning of the criminal code in an age of anonymous, impersonal, 'only business' relationships, compared to the good cop vs bad robbers type entries from some other directors.
Thoughts on other directors and / or cycles and counter-examples welcome...
[If anyone in the Edinburgh area is interested, next week is a follow-up double-bill of Mattei's Hell of the Living Dead and Fulci's Zombie; send me an email if you want more details]