Monday, 18 December 2006

Some thoughts on the giallo and the krimi #2

Both the giallo and the krimi exhibit a broad stream of anti-clericalism. This can be seen in such films as the krimis Dark Eyes of London and The Hunchback of Soho, where the leaders of criminal gangs masquerade as priests; the gialli Don't Torture a Duckling and The Bloodstained Shadow, where psychotic priests murder their erstwhile charges; and the occasional crossover entry like What Have You Done to Solange and Seven Bloodstained Orchids, as gialli based on (Bryan) Edgar Wallace krimi sources.

The krimi is much more favourable to the gun than the giallo, insofar as the weapon of choice of most of their policeman and many of his antagonists is a pistol or – more for the bad guys and the rank-and-file officer – machine gun.

While other weapons have a place – e.g. the thugee-style necktie of the Indian Scarf; the bizarre snake-venom firing machinery of The Squealer; the whip of The Sinister Monk, or the straight-razor of Room 13 – they are the gimmicky exceptions to this mundane rule, designed to add an extra frisson and mystery to the proceedings.

In the giallo the range of weapons is broader and sometimes even more bizarre, if we think of the likes of My Dear Killer's decapitation by digger or the poisoned cat claws of The Crimes of the Black Cat. There is, however, a general preference for the blade over the gun, which is just too, well, mundane.

Indeed, guns are rarely used until relatively recent more "realist" examples like The Stendhal Syndrome. Whatever the case, full-scale shoot out between the good and bad guys, blazing away at one another with submachine guns, are conspicuous in their absence.

Modernism and modernity
To paraphrase Fontane's Effi Briest (pretentious, moi?) this is the one that's "too big a subject".

The world evoked by the krimis is, at least in the early days, an anachronistic one that hearkens back to the period in which Wallace was writing, with typewriters; ocean-liners; bowler-hatted, impeccably middle-class gentlemen; aristocrats with dark secrets to hide, and ingénues with inheritances to claim. It is, in a word, a pre-WWII world, perhaps also characterised by a certain nostalgia.

The world of the giallo is, with few exceptions, a contemporary one of the 1960s and 1970s, with reel-to-reel tape recorders; jet-engined planes; casually dressed protagonists; bourgeois with dark secrets to hide, and a comparative lack of innocents and innocence. It is a post-war world, characterised – as Koven says – by an attitude of ambivalence around the economic miracle of the 30 glorious years and all that it has brought with it.

These two worlds are in turn also different in how they relate to their audiences: whereas the krimi consciously distanced the German viewer from Hamburg, 1962 or similar for a neverwhere London, the majority of the gialli were more directly engaged with the lived realities of their audiences in Rome 1972 or suchlike.

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