Saturday, 29 November 2008

Giallo Fever is two years old

Just noticed that I started this blog two years ago. As long as you keep reading it, I'll keep writing it...

Immagini di un convento / Images in a Convent

With the titles proclaiming Images in a Convent to be an adaptation of Denis Diderot's La Religeuse, Joe D'Amato/Aristide Massaccesi's 1979 naughty nun entry initially suggests that it may be offering something a touch classier than his usual fare; the novel having previously been adapted most notably by Jacques Rivette in 1965.

The Diderot reference, however, soon proves little more than pretext or justification for that familiar D'Amato melange of sex, sleaze and sadism, though proceedings remain comparatively tame, tasteful and softcore until a gratuitous hardcore porno-rape sequence relatively late on.

The action centres round a convent built upon pagan ruins, whose legacy remains in the form of a horned statue that some believe to exert a malefic influence, and the impact of two new arrivals upon its inhabitants.

The first of these, Isabella, played by D'Amato regular Paola Senatore, is a rebellious young noblewoman whose wealthy and influential uncle wants her safely out of the way for less than spiritually pure reasons.

The second is a mysterious young man, found wounded in the grounds one day, who may or may not be the devil himself.

Under the influence of this unholy trinity events quickly get out of hand until it is time to call in the exorcist, as incarnated by Eurotrash stalwart Donal(d) O'Brien.

While not quite reaching the high standards set by Walerian Borowczyk's Behind Convent Walls or Gilberto Martínez Solares's Satánico pandemonium, Images in a Convent emerges as a superior example of nunsploitation, benefitting in particular from an effective score by frequent D'Amato collaborator Nico Fidenco that merges quasi-religious chanting with eerie synthesiser drones, attractive cinematography by Massaccesi anduninhibited performances by a cast who just about manage to be convincing as nuns with their abundant pubic bushes and natural breasts.

Released by Shriek Show on R1 NTSC DVD a few years back, Images in a Convent looks and sounds pretty decent overall, although the company's quality control problems continued to haunt them somewhat in the form of a straight 1.85:1 presentation instead of the 16x9 indicated on the case.

Likewise, while the notion of an authentic version of a D'Amato film may be somewhat oxymoronic given his penchant for inserting or excising material in accord with audience and other requirements, it can be noted that a short sequence around quarter of an hour in, where the horned statue takes possession of Sister Lacinia before she visits and makes love to Isabelle appears to be missing, according to Midnight Video (

These minor flaws are almost compensated for by the presence of an edited version of Roger Fratter's 1999 documentary Joe D'Amato: Totally Uncut on the second disc of the set. Running just over an hour, it charts the progression of D'Amato's career from his early days as a stills photographer (his first credit was on Jean Renoir's Le Carrosse d'or) to camera operator (including work on Mario Bava's Hercules in the Haunted World) and in-demand cinematographer to director and producer, with the genial, forthright and self-deprecating D'Amato's direct-to-camera observations on his business - focus on the audience and the box office, not the critics his essential mantra - illustrated by numerous excerpts from his extensive filmography.

With the rough look of the documentary excusable on budgetary grounds my only criticism - speaking here as a Eurotrash more than a porn aficionado - is that it gives more attention to the latter and less to the former.

Completists will thus also want the other part of the documentary to give a fuller picture; thankfully it is included on the Anthropophagous DVD.

L' Isola dei morti viventi / Island of the Living Dead

Whatever you may think of his oeuvre, there can be no questioning of the Bruno Mattei / Vincent Dawn's commitment to low-budget popular filmmaking.

How many other directors in their 70s would have been willing to go to the Philippines for work and adapt to using digital video? Jess Franco certainly meets the second condition, but hasn't ventured outside more familiar territories of late as far as I'm aware.

The shit is burning show

Vincent Dawn of the Dead

But far from being a case of too little, too late from someone who many may feel should never have made the transition from editor to director in the first place, Island of the Living Dead is a pleasing return to the give them what they want school of gore. It also manages, by way of filone expert Antonio Tentori's script, to throw in some allusions to the likes of Zombie, Erotic Nights of the Living Dead and the Blind Dead films whilst apparently taking on board more modern influences in the unlikely seeming form of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise given the name of the production company, La Perla nera - i.e. the black pearl.

We begin with a prologue set during the colonial era, in which a group of Zombie-referencing Conquistadores are overwhelmed by voodoo-using native, slave and pirate forces.

1600 / 1980 / 2006

Following this we cut to the present day as a mixed group of treasure hunters, led by one Captain Kirk, find their vessel developing engine trouble. As (mis)fortune would have it, an uncharted island is nearby, allowing them to limp into shallow waters and apparent safety.

Whilst the engineer - thankfully not named Scott, but Max - stays on board to carry out repairs, Kirk and the other five crew disembark and, splitting up into two groups, go to explore the island. Needless to say they soon encounter the zombies along with their mysterious supernatural masters...

If the use of digital technology benefits Island of the Living Dead in terms of scale, the computer game-ish quality it imparts to some of the effects perhaps doesn't sit too well with the physical abjection so important to the zombie idea, with the more traditional exploding heads and ripped entrails working better in this regard.

An old school make a mask and blast it with a shotgun type exploding head effect

Otherwise the main departures from the old school likes of Hell of the Living Dead are the absence of Ed Wood-esque use of stock footage (thank $deity) and a more progressive seeming mixture of characters. The females not being reduced to tits and a scream figures, instead kicking as much ass as the males, while the ethnically diverse nature of the crew - like related to the film's production and future markets - helps preclude the reduction of the non-whites to comic relief and / or outright racist ignominies.

Indeed, if there's anyone one feels particularly sorry for here it's the actors who formed part of Mattei's stock company in the last years of his life and career. In particular Ydalia Suarez and Yvette Yzon are the kind of 'exotic' beauties who could well have enjoyed Laura Gemser type careers had they just been around 30 years earlier, Yzon also tellingly appearing in Mattei's late WIP film, Anima Persa.

[Twitch Film discussion of Mattei's late films:]

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Dottor Jekyll e gentile signora / Doctor Jekyll Likes them Hot

Like the other couple of Steno films I've seen, the not dissimilar horror themed comedy Uncle was a Vampire and the anti-Magnum Force styled poliziotto La Polizia ringrazia, Dr Jekyll Likes them Hot incorporates a higher quotient of direct social commentary than is usual for filone cinema.

Indeed, incorporates is precisely the word here, with our Dr Jekyll (Paolo Villaggio) being the top troubleshooter for multinational oil and chemical corporation Pantac, with his and its every action - legal, illegal or borderline - motivated by the search for profit.

Though there is a lot of low humour here, as with the various nameplates listing the chairmen's qualifications including the extent to which they are figli di puttana in a sight gag borrowed from Villaggio's Fantozzi series, the board's subsequent discussions of of instigating regime changes in (fictitious) African countries and what to do with some otherwise unusable chemicals already known to have harmful side effects, have a more serious edge to them.

Some of the signs

One of the side effects of the chemical

Jekyll's ambitious new secretary Barbara Wimply (Edwige Fenech), who hangs on his every word, provides the answer to the latter: why not make the chemicals into chewing gum?

If the gum immediately corrodes the consumer's teeth, so much the better since Pantac can then sell them dentures.

The conspirators hit upon the idea of compelling no less than the queen to endorse the gum and accordingly summon and dispatch corporate mercenary Pretorius (Gordon Mitchell) and his team of hand-picked cut-throats to carry out the mission.

It is at this point that Dr Jekyll's grandfather throws a spanner in the works, by encouraging his evil nephew to take some of the old family recipe, the effect of which is to bring out the hitherto repressed nice side of his personality.

It's that man again...

This inverted Mr Hyde, complete with angelic countenance, then proceeds to scupper his alter-ego's plan, leading the other members of the board to want him dead. He also attracts the amorous attentions of Barbara...

Fenech doesn't really have a great deal to do in the first half of the film, which is very much dominated by the antics of Jekyll and Hyde, other than showcase her beauty in a number of outfits, some somewhat dated - her late 70s secretary with big glasses - and others more appealing - the maid outfit with which she infiltrates Buckingham Palace.

Though she is more prominent in the second half, she still keeps her clothes on most of the time, only briefly exposing her breasts before being saddled with a unflattering curly blonde wig and ditzy dubbing voice after her own inevitable transformation...

Really, however, it is clearly Villaggio's show. Not being familiar with his work and persona, I must reserve judgement on how well or badly Dr Jekyll Likes them Hot represents him compared to others, but certainly found his antics to pass the basic comedy test of being funny.

The film is relatively functionally shot, though this is perhaps better attributed to the general tendency of the comedy film, where the director is often better keeping things simple in order to showcase the performers, than any lack of imagination or ability on Steno's part. We may also note the relatively extensive use of location shooting rather than just stock footage combined with Cinecitta or Incir de Paolis studio sets, indicative that the veteran director was working with a decent rather than poverty-row budget.

Armando Trovajoli provides yet another quirky and endearing score.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Shocking Representation

Much like Joan Hawkins's Cutting Edge, this is one of those academic studies of the horror film that seeks to position the genre in a more central, less peripheral position within film studies and to challenge some commonly held distinctions around high and low cinemas.

Whereas Hawkins focused on the intersection between horror and avant-garde cinemas, Lowenstein's focus is simultaneously both broader and narrower, insofar as he is looking specifically at moments of historical trauma within horror cinema but thereby engaging with the distinct field of trauma studies.

The intersection between his selection of films – Franju's Eyes Without a Face, Powell's Peeping Tom, Shindo's Onibaba, Craven's Last House on the Left and Cronenberg's Shivers, each the subject of one chapter – and trauma studies comes through a dissatisfaction with the kind of binaries that pertain in both disciplines and the desire to seek an alternative approach that goes beyond the limitations of this kind of thinking.

In trauma studies, the key binaries are identified as those of melancholia and mourning, acting out and working through, historically irresponsible and responsible, and of the realist and modernist representational modes. In each case the former part of the pairing is ascribed a negative value and the latter a positive one.

In film the corresponding binaries are those of genre and art cinema and of popular and national cinema. Here Lowenstein notes the tendency for certain art house directors and movements to come to represent their nation internationally with a concomitant marginalisation of the actual popular (we might also say vernacular) cinema that the majority of cinema-goers within the nation actually go to see.

Something of the intersection of the two discourses is represented by serious critical reactions to Lanzmann's Shoah compared to Spielberg's Schindler's List. The representational strategies of the former mean that it is an authentic work that demands to be taken seriously, whereas those of the latter render it less authentic, incapable of being taken as seriously as its director would like.

Lowenstein's key alternative to the binaries that have come to dominate trauma studies and which have hitherto limited its application within the cinema to canonical art cinemas is the notion of the shocking allegorical moment, derived from the German-Jewish thinker Walter Benjamin, that exists as an image without a fixed meaning and between poles.

One weakness in Lowenstein's argument is that at times he introduces binaries similar to those he critiques earlier, albeit at a considerably more specific level. This is most evident in discussion of Eyes Without a Face where, again drawing from Benjamin, he develops the idea of two somewhat distinct surrealisms, one associated with Breton and tending towards the interior world of dreams and the other, which he favours, associated with Bataille and emphasizing towards the external material world; in his earlier discussion of Benjamin, Lowenstein likewise emphasizes the baroque allegory over the romantic symbol and historical materialism over historicism.

This said, it can also be noted that the background against which Lowenstein situates the film is in terms of its own impurity at a time when the Gaullist project was one of reconstructing a true, authentic, pure vision of French national identity as a means of overcoming the historical trauma of occupation in World War II.

Crucially, this project found its cinematic analogue in Truffaut’s manifesto cum essay A Certain Tendency of the French Cinema, in which he argued for the essential / existential falsity of the existing Tradition of Quality and the need for a new true, genuine national cinema to replace it – a cinema which he and his New Wave colleagues would soon supply.

Though Lowenstein’s discussion here gets a bit muddled, insofar as he sometimes situates Franju with the Left Bank filmmakers against the New Wave and at others separates Franju out from both movements – movements which are often, we must note, frequently amalgamated into one, thus minimizing their differences – the basic point that Franju offered a challenge to the New Wave’s ideals in his impure, mixed cinema, is well made.

If Lowenstein makes no mention of Bazin’s writings in defence of a mixed cinema, perhaps because Bazin here represents the negative side of realist theory against Benjamin’s friend Siegfried Kracauer, the contrasts he makes between Franju’s disturbing, disquieting, decentring representation of Paris and Truffaut’s far more reassuring one is also well made. (I also suspect here that a detailed consideration of Bazin’s The Cinema of Cruelty, with its Artauldian title, might add further complications here as well.)

A similar pattern is evident in Lowenstein’s readings of Peeping Tom in relation to The British New Wave, specifically Room at the Top, in relation to post-war class anxieties, and Onibaba in relation to the Japanese New Wave and the legacy of Hiroshima: The analyses of the films are hard to fault, though one feels that there is the occasional striking omission. Thus, being more familiar with the British than the Japanese cinematic context here, I noted that whilst Lowenstein comments on Hammer and the figure of the Teddy Boy, he fails to note their conflation in the studio's The Ugly Duckling, with its Teddy Hyde figure.

A difficulty some horror fans may have is that the horror films Lowenstein discusses, while perhaps marginal in relation to the non-horror national cinema type films they are paired with, occupy rather more central positions in relation to the genre itself.

A notable point of contrast in this regard is Bob Clark's Death Dream, which Lowenstein uses to further illustrate the idea of an allegorical moment that crosses and confuses conventional categorisations, but then passes over in favour of Last House on the Left in relation to Vietnam-era trauma in the USA in his fourth chapter.

While his analysis of the marketing of Craven's film is illuminating – I had never realised that the “It's just across the street from Joe” line on the famous poster referenced another film of the period dealing with the gap between the dominant and counter-cultures – there can be few horror fans unawares of Last House's relationship to Bergman’s The Virgin Spring.

Similarly, while it is true that Deliverance is a respectable, non-horror, rape-revenge and culture-clash film, it is also rather closer to mainstream Hollywood than the three films discussed in the previous chapters. The issue, one feels, is that the US lacks a national cinema in the same way as other nations, as its national cinema is in fact Hollywood.

The final chapter is also different in this regard, though more satisfactory. Lowenstein presents Croneberg as something of an exception to the general divisions found in the previous discussions of trauma cinema, highlighting the way in which he has become internationally recognised as an auteur and as the most famous and influential director to come from Canada's despite the consistently trangsressive qualities of his films. Here Lowenstein compares critical reaction to Shivers, Night of the Living Dead and Crash, noting how Robin Wood's contrasting evaluation of Night as a progressive text and Shivers as a regressive one might be challenged, in suggesting that it is precisely Cronenberg's embrace of radical possibilities inherent in his 'new flesh' and transgression of the art/genre and national/popular cinema distinctions that represents his greatest challenge.

Though this review has perhaps accentuated the negative somewhat, I must conclude that Shocking Representations is a thought provoking book and one that I can see influencing my own readings of certain Italian films by Argento and Leone in my academic work.

Yet, insofar as I am opting for these filmmakers over the less respectable / more obscure / cult likes of Fulci, Di Leo, Bava and Lenzi as providing allegorical moments within Italian cinema, it could be argued that I will end up similarly rescuing some popular, genre filmmakers whilst condemning others to underserved obscurity.

My defence would be that one has to start somewhere, with the relatively low-hanging fruit, before moving on to them pair the Nazisploitation film with its more respectable – if still transgressive – Salo. In the spirit of self-criticism, however, one does wonder if the greatest challenge would be to begin rather than end with the apparently indefensible, and that Leone and Argento just represent a pragmatic choice of far enough out there to shock dominant sensibilites, but not so far as to seem completely other.

Friday, 21 November 2008


Directed by Tinto Brass in the wake of the Caligula debacle and prior to his reinvention as a purveyor of sophisticated erotica, Action comes across in the main as something of a throwback to his more pop / avant-garde films of the 1960s such as Yankee and Cul cuore in gola.

The main difference, however, is that whereas those films engaged with genre and filone cinema in the form of the Italian style western and thriller, Action seems more of an attempt to respond to the such art films of the time as Bertolucci's Partner, Godard's Weekend and Pasolini's Uccellacci e uccellini, infused with a touch of 1970s punk spirit reminiscent – if almost certainly not consciously derived from – Jarman's Jubilee.

Anarchy in the UK

As such, the results are something of a deliberate mess, albeit an intermittently entertaining and provocative one.

Luc Merenda plays Bruno Martel, an idealistic young actor working on a curious looking gangster movie – curious insofar as he dresses and acts like an American gangster whilst the cops pursuing him are London bobbies – who walks off the set and goes wandering through the literal and metaphorical wasteland, searching for existential meaning.

In the course of this ballade or bildungsroman – choose your frame of reference – he encounters Garibaldi; his co-star Doris and her double Ofelia; a group of menacing punks; the inhabitants of a Snake Pit style madhouse; witnesses his co-star being forced to defecate on cue and on camera; and, possibly most memorable of all as an image, a decidedly surrealistic and oneiric group of formally attired men and women with penises and vaginas for noses and mouths respectively.

Brass's genital faced figures

Rene Magritte's Le Viol

Two of the Chapman Brothers' figures

The presence of Adriana Asti references another likely source of inspiration in Bunuel's The Phantom of Liberty – and thus, perhaps, a further vague justification / rationale for the sadistic defecation scene, given its memorable vignette where defectation is public and eating is private – whilst genre fans will delight in John Steiner's appearance as Merenda's manager and the casting of Suspiria's Susanna Javicoli as Doris / Ofelia.

That the viewer must endeavour to tease out such meanings is, of course, the whole crux of how he or she is likely responds to Action beyond simple knee jerk reactions that it is misogynistic or tasteless, as the feminist and bourgeois responses respectively.

Is it just bad?

Is it only bad by the selfsame conventional standards Brass wants his audience to (re-)(re-)re-examine?

Is it a bad example of its particular type of filmmaking, inasmuch as it seems to have little that is particularly insightful or original to actually say?

And then, if the last of these – not entirely incommensurable – possibilities is the case, could this potentially be the point, as a joke targeted at contemporary avant-garde types?

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

A couple more sites

A couple more sites that cult movie fans may find worth a look:

The Drive-in Connection (how many of the starlets along the top can you name?)

Only the Cinema (now reviewing Privilege, a film by one of my favourite non-Euro cult directors, Peter Watkins)

Follie di notte / Crazy Nights / Notti pazze della Amanda Lear

Given Joe D'Amato's prodigious work-rate and his willingness to engage with just about any filone, it comes as little surprise that he should have made a mondo film, Follie di Notte.

The closest points of comparison are probably the two Jimmy Matheus / Bruno Mattei entries hosted by Laura Gemser and released about the same time, Le Notti porno nel mondo and the self-explanatory Emanuelle e le porno notti nel mondo n. 2, the latter co-scripted by Mattei and D’Amato.

Though Gemser is absent here, her stand in being Amanda Lear – a popular singer of the time, who book-ends proceedings with performances of a couple of her songs in a nightclub – it’s otherwise largely business as usual:

A touch of stock footage of Brazil in an unsuccessful attempt to convince us that the routine there, featuring a panther woman and some J&B bottles, wasn't conveniently filmed in Rome; voice-over documentary type scenes of highly dubious authenticity, such as a black mass cum orgy and a look inside a S&M club filmed with a rather noisy ‘hidden’ camera where outwardly respectable men enjoy being whipped and humiliated; doubts over that Lear knew what she was actually commenting on in her bridging scenes; and the overlaying of the mass of dialogue-free material with stock library music, much of it forming a Piero Umiliani greatest hits collection.

Being a D'Amato production, it's also a touch more sexually explicit than Mattei's films and others of the time, with brief masturbation and fellatio shots amongst the simulated fumblings between the likes of two 'primitive' dancers and a couple of 'lesbian' ‘ballerinas’.

The Amanda Lear variety hour?

There’s even a touch of reflexive self-justification as one segment sees a reporter interview a porn actress, who remarks that there’s no essential difference between porn and other types of cinema and discusses her unusual relationship with her impotent, voyeuristic husband, as clips from one of her movies – or maybe another of D’Amato’s– play on the screen before her and the interviewer. (There is no doubt that Marina Frajese / Hedman appeared in several porn films, including many for D’Amato, more that she is really representing herself here rather than a character.)

The thing that is lacking about this supposedly shocking material is, however, its ability to actually shock anyone who has sat through the full version of the director’s Emanuelle in America – as a film whose fake snuff scenes are far more disturbing than the S&M here, in diegetically going beyond the safe, sane and consensual – or any of the sex and horror themed crossovers he would soon engage in.

On the plus side, D’Amato’s presence as cinematographer under his real name, Aristide Massaccessi, grants proceedings a touch more visual dynamism as he attempts to mimic and further embody the performers delirium rather than just record it.

The film may also encourage us to think about the longer history of the mondo film, as a continuation of the hitherto repressed anti-narrative, exhibitionistic, spectacular and shocking tradition of the early “cinema of attractions”.

Yes, trash meets the avant-garde yet again...

Die Bande des Schrekens / The Terrible People

The second krimi to be made for Rialto by director Harald Reinl, Die Bande des Schrekens / The Terrible People begins much where his first, The Fellowship of the Frog, had ended, as the mysterious master criminal Shelton who has hitherto run rings around the police is captured at last.

In case anyone doubts that we're really in London, England

Gunning down a policeman in a desperate bid to escape Shelton is sentenced to death by hanging. Facing the executioner in prison, Shelton seems remarkably calm, indicating that he will have his revenge on those present and the others he holds responsible for his death.

The hanged man's revenge?

Believing Shelton's warnings to be nothing more than an idle threat, Inspector Long (Joachim Fuchsberger) is about to resign from the force and take up a job in his father's Lord Long's bank.

Two things put paid to this plan.

The first is the Inspector's promotion to Chief Inspector, received on account of his bringing Shelton to justice. The second – far more important – is the question of whether Shelton, who apparently took his own life with poison to cheat the hangman, is in fact dead as a series of apparitions and accidents ensue.

Not believing in ghosts, Long orders the exhumation of Shelton's body, revealing a coffin filled with bricks and a hit list of targets, some already effectively crossed off and the remainder including himself and beautiful young bank worker Nora Sanders (Karin Dor, Reinl's wife at the time).

Though things get somewhat bogged down at this point with a confusing number of characters and subplots and a locked room mystery as another victim is somehow shot in the head in his hotel room – the various individuals having been gathered there to better allow Long to protect them whilst contuining the investigation – they pick up for the third act with a suspenseful game of cat and mouse between hero and villain(s) in the latter's trap-laden hideout.

Shelton's appearances and disappearances are well executed

If there is perhaps already a sense of deja vu about some of the characters and situations, the more Mabuse-like figure of Shelton provides Reinl more scope to play Langian games than the Frog did, pointing the way towards his actual Mabuse films, whilst the introduction of Eddi Arent's soon to be patented comic relief figure – here a police photographer who habitually faints at the sight of blood or a corpse – points the way forward for the Rialto series as a whole. (Arent had appeared in Der Racher, but it was not a Rialto production and proved to be a one-off from Kurt Ulrich Studios.)

Visually the film presents an advance on its predecessor, with some pronounced expressionist touches around the phantom Shelton's brief appearances in the shadows and / or fog, various chiaroscuro effects and some attention-grabbing but nevertheless restrained compositions alongside the elegant dolly work.

The good-humoured Long responds to the phantom's note by correcting his rank to Chief Inspector

There are also some repeated visual motifs such as the frequent Langian clocks – Reinl tellingly overlaying the first with his credit and cutting away from it at the exact moment of Shelton's intended execution – and the sudden appearance of a noose before the hangman in an ironic reprise of the noose he had placed before Shelton. (Reinl's way of introducing the nooses into the frame is also somewhat reminiscent of Leone's in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly)

The process shots, featuring racing cars and speedboats, are less satisfactory unless we work on the possible but unlikely seeming premise that this was intentional on Reinl's part, as a way of giving the film more of a 1920s or 30s feel, or of further drawing attention to its filmic nature beyond Arent's character. (Here it's worth remembering, however, that some of critics who would likely have taken Reinl to task here may well have been more sympathetic to the equally obvious process work in Hitchcock's Marnie, indicating the difficulty of drawing a clear distinction between bad filmmaking and Brechtian distanciation.)

Shelton as Mabuse

Heinz Funk's score is more experimental than its immediate crime-jazz predecessors, featuring some suitably disquietingly weird timbres and effects alongside the more usual suspense cues.

There is no ende gag yet, nor any Hier Spricht Edgar Wallace, though the Goldmann's novel is specified – nummer 11 in the series.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Gli Amici di Nick Hezard / Nick the Sting

Here's an interesting one: crime auteur Fernando Di Leo directing a script by Alberto Silvestri that seems less written for him than as an obvious imitation of The Sting for whomever happened to be available to take on the project.

The closest point of comparison amongst Di Leo's own films as a writer-director – and sometimes producer– is probably probably Colpo in canna, as another relatively light-hearted entry where the cat and mouse games are more for fun than keeps.

The story is simple: Nick Hezard, played with winning charm by Luc Merenda, wants to avenge the dead of one of his friends at the hands of Robert Clark, played by Lee J. Cobb, and plans an elaborate con to achieve this end.

While Clark is a more or less direct stand in for the Robert Shaw character in The Sting, there is perhaps also a Di Leo element in that he has clearly transgressed against the kind of rogue's code often found in the director's work. Killing someone because they successfully conned you and thereby demonstrated themselves to be a better player of the game than you is fundamentally 'against the rules' that these men (and occasionally women) live by.

Umberto Raho and Tom Felleghy

Lassander and Merenda, in exaggerated form

The most pronounced departure from The Sting is that the film is less a buddy movie than a buddies movie, as highlighted by the alternative The Friends of Nick Hezard title. There is no figure comparable to Paul Newman's character in George Roy Hill's film, but rather a host of endearing supporting characters ranging from Valentina Cortese's eccentric mother to Luciana Paluzzi's jealous girlfriend to Gabrielle Ferzetti's fellow professional.

Besides the already formidable array of talent already mentioned, the cast also includes the likes of Dagmar Lassander, William Berger, Umberto Raho and Fulvio Mingozzi to make for arguably the best ensemble Di Leo would ever work with and a virtual who's who of Italian popular cinema around this time.

Di Leo's regular composer Bacalov contributes a score that is by turns suspenseful and whimsical, demonstrating his versatility by avoiding more contemporary instrumentation and stylings – this despite the film's present day setting – in favour of jazzy clarinet, oboe and so on.

Split screens

Di Leo's own work is replete with gimmicks both old and new, such as irising, wipes, split screens and multiple images. If this proves a combination that at times feels a touch schizophrenic as a mix of 1920s and 1960s idioms, it also helps further distance the film from its sepia-toned period inspiration and, with the split screens recalling the original version of The Thomas Crowne Affair and thereby highlighting another possible caper film inspiration.

Importantly, however, sometimes this technology amount to more than a gimmick, as when the fragmentation of the characters' spatial relations during a car journey hints of Nick's closeness to his mother in one frame within the frame and his relative distance from girlfriend in another in a way a conventional two or three shot perhaps couldn't.

Nick and his friends

Likewise these constant reminders that we are watching a film – as another carefully orchestrated performance – neatly c(l)ue us in to the film-within-the-film finale, where Nick plays a role comparable to Di Leo's own.

A welcome further demonstration of Di Leo's talents and versatility.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Another couple of nice posters

British quads for Peter Walker's slasher / giallo styled Schizo and Jess Franco's Count Dracula, complete with Christopher Lee in a move that probably annoyed Hammer.

Note that the tagline has been changed from 'killing' to 'doing'

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Blue Nude

Rocco is an aspiring Italian-born actor and screenwriter, resident in New York, who in the meantime performs whatever hustles he needs to to get by, ranging from stripping to acting in porn films and as an escort, and endeavours to extricate himself from the various tricky situations these tend to get him into with gangster lowlife types.

Though not framed as a mondo, with the only voice-off we hear a vaguely Taxi Driver style one of Rocco's working in his room on the screenplay in which he is the main character, the film actually ends up capturing more of a particular time, place and world than many a comparable documentary might through the presence of several actual porn performers of the time including Wade Nichols, Carter Stevens and Susan McBain; a roughie shoot that results in an accidental piece of quasi-snuff, and lots of actuality shots of 42nd Street type locations. (I say quasi-snuff because, to their credit, the filmmakers avoids the more obvious and sensationalist scenario of a film being made with the intention of murdering its female performer at the climax.)

Another reference point is Sylvester Stallone, a poster of whom as Rocky adorns Rocco's wall, encourgaging us to think of the actor's parallel struggles to bring Rocky to the screen and not so hidden porn past with The Party and Kitty and Stud's / The Italian Stallion.

If Taxi Driver is a film about the relationship between film and real life, Travis Bickle taking inspiration from the heroes of the western film and trying to apply their mythic solutions to the real-world situation of New York circa 1976 with decidedly ironic results, Blue Nude performs a similar function for the relationship between Italian-American actors and filmmakers of the period such as Stallone, De Niro and Scorsese and its own Italian protagononist.

Rocco's voice-off as he works on the screenplay in which he is the protagonist echoes Bickle's reading / writing of his diary serves to suggest that, whilst certainly possessing more self-awareness than Bickle and a fundamentally different attitude of being able to adapt to circumstances, also fails to adequately recognise the difference between his situation as an Italian immigrant and those of his Italian-American models.

A telling exception is Rudolf Valentino, though Rocco's need to identify who Valentino is to his new girlfriend signals that there is a problem here as well. Valentino and the Latin Lover type he represented were, after all, figures from half a century ago. Yet the myth of the American Dream, as promulgated by Hollywood, has endured. (In that it was inspired by the real life case of Chuck Wepner, the almost unknown boxer who went the distance with Muhammad Ali, Rocky provides a partial exception to this rule.)

One difficulty in making sense of all this is that the dubbing of the film into Italian makes it harder to ascertain how far Rocco is actually out of place. We don't know if he is thinking and writing in English rather than Italian, or if his screenplay suffers from translations of the “hill of boots” variety, although a reference to linguistic misunderstanding in the dialogue does sees Rocco correct a fellow immigrant on the distinction between Scorsese and Scozzese.

Rocco's misunderstandings perhaps thus appear more in terms of attitudes and his awareness of the porn demi-monde in particular, as when he wonders about the mixture of milk, whisky and honey he and the other male performer are served – apparently the 1970s equivalent of viagra – and later attacks his colleague, failing to recognise that the man and his new girlfriend are only acting when declaring their affections for one another in the course of the shooting of another film.

Renato Romano / Raf Valenti is credited as executive producer and Giacomo Rossi Stuart as assistant director besides their acting roles.

A sense of continuity with director Luigi Scattini's earlier mondo films is provided by Piero Umiliani's music, with snippets of score (and dialogue) from Sweden Heaven and Hell audible on the audio track. The main theme here, with acoustic guitar, electric piano and commentative lyrics about New York, rather than vocalism and organ, is quite different from most of the composer's other work for Scattini.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

The Fellowship of the Frog

Another piece of CP Company clothing, this time reminding me of the krimi The Fellowship of the Frog:

I particularly like that the ensemble is completed with black gloves ;-)

Monday, 10 November 2008

Garage kits

I've recently become aware of the Garage Kits hobby and the availability of all sorts of weird and wonderful resin models. Browsing on Ebay just now two that caught my eye were Barbara Steele in Black Sunday and Steve Reeves as / in Hercules:

What other kits have you seen, or built?

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Tecnica di un omicidio / Professional Killer / Hired Killer / No Tears for a Killer / Technique d'un meurtre

This is another film by the non-mondo Franco Prosperi, a man whom I've managed to confuse with his better known counterpart on at least one previous occasion. The date of the film, 1966, makes it easier to distinguish between the two men, however, since the other Prosperi would have been busy with Africa Addio around the same time.

The story is nothing special. Clint Harris, an ageing hitman, is hired by the shadowy organisation to do one last job before retirement: locate and terminate Frank Secchy, an independent who is suspected of making a deal with the authorities.

After Harris's brother is murdered, he agrees to take the job although the high fee he requests and receives – $200,000 compared to the initially offered $50,000 – leaves it open whether the matter is more business or personal.

Admittedly there are complications that would justify the fourfold increase in price. The first is that no-one knows what Secchy looks like, as he has undergone face changing surgery of variety seemingly much more common as a movie McGuffin than in real life. The second is that Harris, who normally works strictly alone, is required to take an up and coming youngster, Tony Lo Bello, along on the job and show him some of his hard-won professonal wisdom.

It's a collection of clichés, yes, but certainly provides a solid framework for the requisite action scenes that demonstrate Harris's no-nonsense professionalism and further allow for the development of his and Lo Bello's personalities and relationships with one another. Even if they don't quite emerge as fully rounded, believable individuals, they are nevertheless something more than instantly forgettable types. Nor is this the fault of the actors or the writers, instead simply being the archetypal effect that the filmmakers were going for.

One point of comparison that comes to mind is Point Blank: if Boorman's film is more complex in its narrative structure in disrupting chronology and making it hard to tell what is real and what being imagined by the protagonist, Lee Marvin's Walker is nevertheless is a similarly memorable instance of an impossibly single minded man on a mission, a human Terminator. (As another similarity both films also feature a drug-addicted supporting female character.)

Crucially, however, it is not that Robert Webber, who plays Harris, represents a poor man's Marvin, nor that Tecnici di un omocidio is merely a more straightforwardly structured version of Point Blank for the Italian vernacular audience and its international counterparts. Boorman's film, after all, wasn't released until after it.

Prosperi's mise en scene, use of location and the urban landscape impress

Rather, it's that both Prosperi and Boorman were drawing inspiration from the same hard boiled, film noir world and seeking to adapt its premises to an ever more technocratic, bureaucratic world in which romantic, independent figures were concomitantly more and more of an anachronism. (The lone avenger of Fuller's Underworld USA, with his one man vendetta against the faceless organisation that was responsible for the only business death of his father, would be another case in point.)

This is also reflected by Tecnici di un umodicio's visual style. Prosperi makes extensive use of the zoom, moving in and out on his characters from a distance. It is however excessive in a meaningful rather than overused sense, neatly establishing a shared paranoiac atmosphere. Harris is never sure if he is under surveillance by the organisation, his younger counterpart or the mysterious Secchy and the spectator of which of these points of view – if any – he or she might be momentarily sharing / occupying. Adding to this effect is the director's neat use of unusual angles to isolate and dwarf the characters against their environs, a probing use of hand-held camera and a persistent self-referentiality through repeatedly bringing techologies of vision and surveillance to the fore.

Paul Virilio or the panopticon?

The main attraction for many Eurocult fans will, of course, be the presence of a young Franco Nero in the role of Lo Bello. Clean shaven and wearing thick framed glasses and a sports jacket, he's almost unrecognisable compared to Django, with the part allowing him an early opportunity to demonstrate his range and avoid the typecasting that Corbucci's film and other spaghetti westerns could so easily have led to. (With regard to the spaghetti western, it's also worth noting that the relationship between the older and younger hitmen has some similarities with the Van Cleef / Eastwood pairing in For a Few Dollars More and the various films in the Day of Anger mould in which Van Cleef played a mentor figure; Unforgiven also fits this pattern somewhat, albeit with a more complex take on the relationship between the old timers and the newcomer out to make a name for himself.)

Robby Poiventin's score, all big-band brassy crime jazz, is another major asset, beginning with an opening theme that really draws one into the film's world and never really letting up thereafter.

Well worth a look.