Monday, 11 May 2009

Hanno cambiato faccia / They Have Changed Faces

Milan, the late 1960s / early 1970s present:

Alberto Viale is surprised when his superior cancels his meetings for the day and summons him to his office, several floors above in the 20+ storey monument to capital where he works.

He is still more surprised when his superior indicates that he is only passing on a message from the top floor.

Yet the top floor is itself just the messenger, for Alberto is being summoned to see none other than the boss of the not quite faceless corporation - his portrait is on the wall - namely Giovanni Nosferatu, at his country estate outside la citta.

At this point alarm bells likely begin ringing in the viewer's mind, if not Alberto's: we understand Alberto is Jonathan Harker / Hutter and that Nosferatu is Dracula.

Though a sense of divergence continues as Alberto heads out to the mist-shrouded estate through winding roads, villages seemingly untouched by time and a petrol pump attendant who flees at mention of Nosferatu's villa as if we were in Borgo Pass and the destination Castle Dracula, these same details and the way in which they go unmentioned also helps make clear that we are supposed to understand things this way.

The same can be said of hitch-hiker Laura, whom Alberto picks up and who likewise sees little out of the ordinary, or at least their modern, urban, bourgeois notion of normality - admittedly one that she critiques in her own hippyish, counter-cultural way.

Vampires don't exist today, do they?

Or, as the title indicates, they do.

They have just changed faces, becoming capitalists.

This, crucially, is a change of face somewhat prefigured in Marx. After all, he remarked that "Capital is dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks."

Or the feudal master becomes the capitalist master...

Were this Godard, Marx's statement would likely have appeared on an intertitle to Hammer [sic] the point home.

Farina, however, instead continues to update his intertexts as Alberto / Harker arrives at one of those Italian palazzi, already so familiar as Gothic/modern Gothic sites through the work of Bava, Freda, Margheriti and company, and which here looks uncannily like Down Place all'italiana.

Rather than baying wolves, Alberto is confronted by menacing white mini cars, while the Bride of Dracula is represented by Nosferatu's secretary, Corrina, played by Geraldine Hooper. Later to have an equally face-changing role as Massimo, Carlo's lover in Deep Red - i.e. a woman playing a gay man - she here looks eerily like the masked version of Edith Scob in Eyes Without a Face.

Not surprisingly, her entrances have an uncanny quality, as do the way in which advertising slogans are triggered by Alberto's sitting on particular seat or taking a shower. He and we can, of course, easily assimilate these examples of advanced technology as magic without a second thought.

Around about this point Nosferatu himself, played by Adolfo Celi, makes his entrance, as non-threatening as Christopher Lee's in Dracula but, as such, all the more unsettling for it.

Nosferatu offers Alberto the opportunity to become one the elite, the board of directors, the masters of this world...

The more he comes to know what we already do, the more Alberto resists.

Or does he - after, all what would you do if given the choice of entering the real Society...


"Today, terror is called technology"

This quote, from Herbert Marcuse, concludes They Have Changed Faces, being superimposed over the final freeze frame image.

Though apparently intended as a pessimistic closing statement, in line with the image and the resolution it suggests - a resolution I won't reveal, although anyone familiar with the resolution of Lang's Metropolis may recognise another German Expressionionist intertext here - it's also a quote which, forty years on, suggests hope.

Specifically, It's that we can see Farina's obscure satire by downloading it and, even if we speak English rather than Italian, understand it thanks to a fan-subtitler, and then comment on it in our blog, hopefully encouraging others out there to seek the film out and think about what it means.

If to Marcuse technology was terroristic - the internet which makes all this possible can be traced back to the DARPA net and thus the the military industry complex - we can also invoke the likes of McLuhan, where every media both gives and takes (the wheel may be an extension of the foot, according to the Futurists, but it also means that that foot is repurposed, adding potentialities in one way whilst subtracting them in another) and Ivan Illich, whose Deschooling Society in retrospect proposes something very like the internet and its virtual communities, against him...

Moreover, what really impresses here, in McLuhanistic terms, is that the medium and the message, or form and content, combine.

If the connections between Celi's Nosferatu and Largo and Christopher Lee's Dracula / D D Denham and Scaramanga are (co-)incidental - though a line of descent may be traced from Mabuse through Spione through North by Northwest to Bond and back - Farrina's direction, the production design, editing, scoring and performances and their inter-relationships are most definitely not.

Two particular stand outs are the discovery of a body in the woods, presented in the manner of Blow-Up without the photographic evidence, and the Todo Modo-style bunker / boardroom meeting of the vampire-capitalist and his minions, who include a cardinal, a representative of the censors board (i.e. Marcusean sublimation) and a Godardian radical film-maker turned advertiser.

By way of more overt allusions this film-maker presents three alternate versions of a LSD advertisement, two - those rejected by Nosferatu - modelled on Godard and Fellini and the third - the one accepted - modelled on de Sade

Everything - and here we can also invoke Godard's own Alphaville, with its parallel figure of Werner von Braun / Nosferatu, and mockery of science fiction - seems recuperable by the system.

Or at least, was then?


Anonymous said...

A classic,the Italian dvd also includes 4 excellent short films from Farina as well.

Anonymous said...

If only someone would release the highly original and very rare giallo LA NOTTI DEI FIORI on which Farina worked as the assitant director.