Saturday, July 31, 2010

Vampyr (1932)

This is the most elegant description of a vehicle crashing that I have ever read. The words attempt to relate facts and give descriptions, yet it is quite obvious that another story is beginning and being told:

I knew what was coming. I covered my eyes, unable to see it out, and turned my head away; at the same moment I heard a cry from my lady-friends, who had gone on a little.

Curiosity opened my eyes, and I saw a scene of utter confusion. Two of the horses were on the ground, the carriage lay upon its side with two wheels in the air; the men were busy removing the traces, and a lady, with a commanding air and figure, had got out, and stood with clasped hands, raising the handkerchief that was in them every now and then to her eyes. Through the carriage door was now lifted a young lady, who appeared to be lifeless. My dear old father was already beside the elder lady, with his hat in his hand, evidently tendering his aid and the resources of his schloss. The lady did not appear to hear him, or to have eyes for anything but the slender girl who was being placed against the slope of the bank.

I approached; the young lady was apparently stunned but she was certainly not dead. My father, who piqued himself on being something of a physician, had just had his fingers to her wrist and assured the lady, who declared herself her mother, that her pulse, though faint and irregular, was undoubtedly still distinguishable. The lady clasped her hands and looked upward, as if in a momentary transport of gratitude; but immediately she broke out again in that theatrical way which is, I believe, natural to some people.
These words are from Sheridan Le Fanu's "Carmilla" from the collection of tales In a Glass Darkly upon which Carl Theodor Dreyer based his 1932 film Vampyr. Dreyer begins his film with these words:

This is the tale of the strange adventures of young Allan Gray, who immersed himself in the study of devil worship and vampires. Preoccupied with superstitions of centuries past, he became a dreamer for whom the line between the real and the supernatural became blurred. His aimless wanderings led him one evening to a secluded inn by the river in a village called Courtempierre.

Here is a description of what Allan Gray sees upon arrival at the secluded inn by the river:

A man is walking down the narrow riverside path that winds its way toward the spot where a ferry crosses to the other bank. It is a summer evening, after sunset. The traveler, Nikolas, is carrying a rucksack and, in his hand, a pair of fishing rods. He wants to spend his holiday in solitude, which is why he has come to this remote region in search of peace.

He arrives at the old inn and finds the door closed. The inn is lying in profound silence, as if all its occupants have gone to bed. Nikolas rattles at the door, but it is well and truly locked. At this moment he sees a reaper walking along with his scythe over his shoulder. He looks at the man curiously as he walks down the ferry. He shouts after him:

Hullo, you there!

But the reaper, not hearing his cry, continues on his way. The landscape is bathed in gray, dim twilight; every object has a tinge of unreality.
The final description comes from Dreyer and Christen Jul's screenplay for Vampyr. In some sense, an understanding or an awareness of all this text is non-essential to Dreyer's film as its visuals are where its magic lies; or perhaps, all of the text is truly essential, as Dreyer's film also takes creative power in its hybrid nature of a silent film of recent past and a film of the burgeoning sound era. The opening text of the film which describes Allan Gray appears as exposition but also functions as a primer for viewing. Vampyr clearly adopts the sensibility of Allan Gray as Dreyer is depicting a "dreamer's" dream. The opening text allows an opportunity for the viewer, if he or she wishes, to adopt a detached or objective style of viewing, e.g. watching Allan Gray, the dreamer, and his adventures. I believe, however, this style of viewing is almost resisting the film. Having seen Vampyr numerous times, the visuals, the atmosphere, the music, e.g. its creative rendition, only allow for quick surrender. Seeing Vampyr through Allan Gray's eyes is far too seductive.A lot of the beauty in Vampyr comes from Allan Gray's smaller journeys within his his larger adventure. Upon his arrival at the inn, he does see the reaper but does not really have an encounter. He only witnesses the man call for the ferry at the river. The "unreality," however, is very much captured.The morning after Gray's night at the inn and his fateful encounter within, another "aimless wandering" occurs. This world is either Allan Gray's, Marguerite Chopin's, or Dreyer's. Once more, near the film's conclusion, Allan Gray leaves the manor after Gisele. As he runs, he trips and falls to then compose himself on a nearby bench. In an audacious move, Allan Gray never leaves the bench but has another small journey.Despite the interplay of written text within Vampyr (and playing with the outside texts which inform it), Dreyer's film is pure cinema. Dreyer's visuals and Wolfgang Zeller's score capture such beauty, making it timeless. The visuals and music defy description; or more appropriately, the visuals and music defy adequate description.
The Criterion Collection has released Vampyr in a stellar edition. Le Fanu's "Carmilla" and Dreyer's and Jul's screenplay accompany the disc (also from where the quotes above are taken). Criticism is also included in the form of an audio commentary and in a booklet. One of the more interesting reads are the notes on the film's restoration. It is difficult after viewing Dreyer's cinema to not recognize him as one of its masters. A personal favorite.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Umberto Lenzi's Il trucido e lo sbirro (Free Hand for a Tough Cop) (1976)

Umberto Lenzi's Il trucido e lo sbirro (Free Hand for a Tough Cop) (1976) begins as a Western. Literally. From a tight close-up shot of a movie screen, the camera pulls out to reveal a darkened movie theatre, full of patrons obviously not entertained by the film's action. Sitting in the back is Sergio Marazzi, aka "Monnezza" (Tomas Milian), who sleekly pulls a pack of cigarettes from the breast pocket of the gentleman sitting next to him. Monnezza draws a cigarette from the pack for himself and then offers the gentleman sitting next to him a cigarette from his own pack. "Watch my seat, would you?" asks Monnezza. "I got to take a shit." Waiting in the hallway outside is Antonio Sarti (Claudio Cassinelli). "Are you Monnezza?" asks Sarti. Monnezza gives a smart-aleck answer, and Sarti coldcocks him. Sarti wants Monnezza, because Sarti is a commissario after Brescianelli (Henry Silva), a notorious and ruthless gangster who has kidnapped a young girl. Sarti believes Monnezza knows where he can find Brescianelli; and the clock is ticking, as the young kidnapping victim suffers from a kidney disorder which requires regular hospital visits. If she doesn't get to the hospital in a week, then she is going to die.
Il trucido e lo sbirro is a damn entertaining poliziesco, perhaps one of the decade's best: swiftly-paced, exciting and excessively violent, and well-written (by Lenzi and Dardano Sacchetti). By all means a soundly commercial, successful, and almost perfect poliziesco. Outside of its commercial genre and within its action, Il trucido e lo sbirro calls for questions. Here's an example: Monnezza is a street criminal; and pick-pocketing and small cons are his trade. Sarti coerces Monnezza into helping him by threatening to lock him up. However, whatever methods that Monnezza chooses to find Brescianelli and the young child, Sarti does not question them. Aboard a moving train, three armed criminals attempt to rob it. The police stop the train, surround it, and make an attempt to raid it. The three criminals escape on foot and take shelter in a moored boat. Enter Monnezza and Sarti who board the boat with an offer to help: Monnezza tells the gang that Brescianelli is the one who tipped off the police about their robbery. Would they be interested in teaming up to take down Brescianelli, as Monnezza also reveals that he and Sarti were double-crossed by Brescianelli? They agree. Now Sarti has three additional criminals to help him locate Brescianelli, but these criminals are not like Monnezza. These cats are seriously dangerous and violent criminals. Can Sarti keep these criminals in line, maintain his cover, or find Brescianelli and his young hostage?By the numbers, Il trucido e lo sbirro plays out like a Pyrrhic victory but it ain't. The entire premise of Il trucido e lo sbirro is predicated on the presumption that the state of law enforcement and its methods are wholly ineffectual in stopping crime. The kidnapping case becomes the police department's top priority when it occurs. Cassinelli's Sarti was brought into Rome to head the case. Sarti was demoted to a post in Sardinia away from his position in Rome because of his hard-lined intensity and unorthodox methods against criminals. The once-exiled policeman returns home, now embraced by those who put him exile: his methods are now necessary. In a particularly nasty and fascinating scene, Sarti and one of his violent criminal crew infiltrate the home of a promising suspect. A maid answers the door and Sarti pushes through. Sarti is going to raid the suspect's documents in his study, and would his criminal cohort mind watching the maid? No problem, he says. As soon as Cassinelli's character is out of the room, his cohort grabs the woman and rips her blouse. His intentions are clear and unequivocal. Sarti returns to his cohort when he has heard a gunshot. The suspect that Sarti needs to interrogate lays dead on the floor, a victim of Cassinelli's criminal associate. What the hell did you do that for? yells Sarti. He could have led us right to the little girl. Sarti knocks the shit out of the criminal and points his pistol directly at his head. Cassinelli (who gives another fantastic and emotional performance) has generated enough anger to appear that he is going to shoot the man directly in the head but he checks himself: as much as he wants to kill him, he realizes that he needs him.So what are Lenzi and Sacchetti saying about current culture and crime in Il trucido e lo sbirro? Here's a scene which may hide their intentions: outside of a movie theatre, two very young men enter its lobby. One is holding a box of tissues while the other appears to suffer from nasal congestion. After a toss of the tissue box, one of the young men wipes his nose with a tissue. "Has anyone ever told you that your face is lovely?" asks the young man to the woman behind the ticket counter. "Why no," she says. "No one is going to say so in the future," says the thug and Whack! He hits her directly in the face with the box of tissues (it's hiding something to charge it up). The two young men rob the box office and run out of the cinema. Sarti witnesses the fleeing criminals and begins to give chase. One of his criminal associates stops him: "Where are you going? What do you care? It's just kids having fun." Sarti again checks himself and maintains cover. The scene within the movie theatre is quite kinetic and exciting. It would appear that Lenzi had a bit of fun filming it and maybe wants to share some of that energy with his viewer.

Virtually all of the scenes with the young kidnapping victim truly tug at the heart strings. It is rather difficult to envision a viewer who is not touched by a child victim, suffering from a debilitating condition, held hostage by a truly nasty human being (it is truly amazing how Henry Silva can appear almost like the Devil himself in his villain roles). Despite the numerous victims of criminal carnage in Il trucido e lo sbirro, the viewer is still behind Sarti and his pursuit. The little girl character more than anything is a symbol for Sarti, Lenzi and Sacchetti, and the viewer: she represents an ideal of justice. While it is intimated that Sarti is as violent as the criminals who he is pursuing, Sarti differs only in the fact that his goals are different. A noble and just cause? or perhaps Sarti has not yet lost his faith in humanity. The viewer of Il trucido e lo sbirro can pick either. What is clear is Lenzi portrays his culture in a state of chaos, and the characters left standing are not only its survivors but its winners.
For all of my pontificating, Il trucido e lo sbirro is most famous for Milian's performance as Monnezza (the name roughly translates as "Trash" and he is called "Garbage Can" in the English dub). Not only is the character the most richly-drawn (and not incidentally making everyone around him look more like an archetype or a stereotype), but Milian's performance as Monnezza is the most richly-detailed. Antonio Bruschini and Antonio Tentori, authors of Citta' Violente: Il Cinema Poliziesco Italiano Volume Primo, see Milian's character having its origins in Milian's "Cuchillo" character from Sergio Sollima's masterful The Big Gundown (1966) (p.90, Mondo Ignoto, S.R.L., Rome, 2004). The authors write, "Nel 1976 Lenzi da vita al primo, mitico, personaggio quasi totalmente farsesco interpretato da Tomas Milian, il vero precursore del successivo marresciallo Nico Giraldi." (p.89) Milian's Nico Giraldi character is phenomenally popular, beginning with Bruno Corbucci's Squadra antiscippo (1976) and spanning almost a decade with numerous films. It is difficult to describe how excellent and intricate Milian's performance is: from his facial expressions, to his body language, to his character's charming vulgarity, Monnezza floats through this violent world with a smile on his face, little money in his pocket, and behind all appearances, has a very good heart. Milian is so good that he instantly becomes focal in any scene. Milian drives the narrative of Il trucido e lo sbirro and its investigation. Monnezza is a survivor of this world and his energy is perhaps borne of its chaos. Regardless, Il trucido e lo sbirro is very much worth seeing for Milian's brilliant and landmark performance. Two other interesting facts: the Western playing at the beginning is Tutto per tutto (1968) (Citta Violente, p. 90), directed by Lenzi; and Henry Silva's character, Brescianelli was "the real name of a gangster who otherwise operated in the Milan area within the Marseilles clan." (p. 56, Tomas Milian Il Bandito, Lo Sbirro, e Er Monnezza, Mediane S.R.L., Milan, 2007, text by Pierpaolo Duranti and Erminio Mucciacito with English translation by Pat Scalabrino.)

See it.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker (1979)

“Everybody asks me what things mean in my films. This is terrible! An artist doesn’t have to answer for his meanings. I don’t think so deeply about my work—I don’t know what my symbols may represent. What matters to me is that they arouse feelings, any feelings you like, based on whatever your inner response might be. If you look for a meaning, you’ll miss everything that happens. Thinking during a film interferes with your experience of it. Take a watch to pieces, it doesn’t work. Similarly with a work of art, there’s no way it can be analyzed without destroying it.” (“Tarkovsky’s Translations” Sight and Sound 50, no.3, Summer 1981, 152-53, Reprinted in Andrei Tarkovsky Interviews, ed. John Gianvito, University of Mississippi Press, Jackson, Mississippi, 2006, p.71) I didn’t like the looks of that cover. Its shadow wasn’t right. The sun was at our backs, yet its shadow was stretching towards us. Well, all right, it was far enough away from us. It seemed OK, we could get on with our work. But what was the silvery thing shining back there? Was it just my imagination? It would be nice to have a smoke now and sit for a spell and mull it all over—why there was that shine over the canisters, why it didn’t shine next to them, why the cover was casting that shadow. Buzzard Burbridge told me something about the shadows, that they were weird but harmless. Something happens here with the shadows. But what was that silvery shine? It looked just like cobwebs on the trees in a forest. What kind of spider could have spun it? I had never seen any bugs in the Zone. The worst part was that my empty was right there, two steps from the canisters. I should have stolen it that time. Then we wouldn’t be having any of these problems now. But it was too heavy. After all, the bitch was full, I could pick it up all right, but as for dragging it on my back, in the dark, on all fours…If you haven’t carried an empty around, try it: It’s like hauling twenty pounds of water without a pail. It was time to go. I wished I had a drink. I turned to Tender. (Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, 1977, Macmillan Publishing Co., 2007, Great Britain, p.25)“What does ‘Stalker’ mean?”
“It’s a made-up word that comes from the English verb ‘to stalk’: to approach furtively. In this film this word indicates the profession of one who crosses the borders and penetrates a forbidden Zone with a specific objective, a bit like a bootlegger or a smuggler. The Stalker’s craft is passed on from one generation to the next. In my film, the forbidden Zone represents the places where desires can be satisfied.
“The spectator may doubt its existence or see it merely as a myth or a joke…or even as the fantasy of our hero. For the viewer this remains a mystery. The existence in the Zone of a room where dreams come true serves solely as pretext to revealing the personalities of the three protagonists.” (From “Stalker, Smuggler of Happiness” Telerama, no. 1535, June 13, 1979, Translated by Deborah Theodore, Reprinted in Andrei Tarkovsky Interviews, ed. John Gianvito, University of Mississippi Press, Jackson, Mississippi, 2006, p. 50)"The perception of colour is a physiological and psychological phenomenon to which, as a rule, nobody pays particular attention. The picturesque character of a shot, due often enough simply to the quality of the film, is one more artificial element loaded onto the image, and something has to be done to counteract it if you mind about being faithful to life. You have to try to neutralize colour, to modify its impact on the audience. If colour becomes the dominant dramatic element of the shot, it means that the director and camera-man are using a painter’s methods to affect the audience. That is why nowadays one very often finds that the average expertly made film will have the same sort of appeal as the luxuriously illustrated glossy magazine; the colour photography will be warring against the expressiveness of the image.
“Perhaps the effect of colour should be neutralized by alternating colour and monochromatic sequences, so that the impression made by the complete spectrum is spaced out, toned down. Why is it, when all that the camera is doing is recording real life on film, that a coloured shot should seem so unbelievably, monstrously false? The explanation must surely be that colour, reproduced mechanically, lacks the touch of the artist’s hand; in this area he loses his organizing function, and has no means of selecting what he wants. The film’s chromatic partitura, with its own developmental pattern, is absent, taken away from the director by the technological process. It also becomes impossible for him to select and reappraise the colour elements in the world around him. Strangely enough, even though the world is coloured, the black and white image comes closer to the psychological, naturalistic truth of art, based as it is on special properties of seeing as well as of hearing.” (from Sculpting in Time Reflections on Cinema, by Andrei Tarkovsky, translated by Kitty Hunter-Blair, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1986, 2008, p. 138) “Redrick walked in his bare feet to the entry hall, took the basket and brought it to the storeroom. Then he looked into the bedroom. Monkey was sleeping peacefully, her crumpled blanket hanging on the floor. Her nightie had ridden up. She was warm and soft, a little animal breathing heavily. Redrick could not resist the temptation to stroke her back covered with warm golden fur, and was amazed for the thousandth time by the fur’s silkiness and length. He wanted to pick up Monkey badly, but he was afraid it would wake her up—besides he was dirty as hell and permeated with death and the Zone. He came back into the kitchen and sat down at the table.” (Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, 1977, Macmillan Publishing Co., 2007, Great Britain, p.59)“What matters to me is that the feeling excited by my films should be universal. An artistic image is capable of arousing identical feelings in viewers, while the thoughts that come later may be very different. If you start to search for a meaning during the film you will miss everything that happens. The ideal viewer is someone who watches a film like a traveler watching the country he is passing through: because the effect of an artistic image is an extra-mental type of communication. There are some artists who attach symbolic meaning to their images, but that is not possible for me. Zen poets have a good way of dealing with this: they work to eliminate any possibility of interpretation, an in the process a parallel arises between the real world and what the artist creates in his work.
“What then is the purpose of this activity? It seems to me that the purpose of art is to prepare the human soul for the perception of good. The soul opens up under the influence of an artistic image, and it is for this reason that we say it helps us to communicate—but it is communication in the highest sense of the word. I could not imagine a work of art that would prompt a person to do something bad…Perhaps you have noticed that the more pointless people’s tears during a film, the more profound the reason for these tears. I am not talking about sentimentality, but about how art can reach to the depths of the human soul and leave man defenseless against good.” (“Against Interpretation: An Interview with Andrei Tarkovsky “, Framework, no. 14, 1981, Reprinted in Andrei Tarkovsky Interviews, ed. John Gianvito, University of Mississippi Press, Jackson, Mississippi, 2006, p.68-69)While I am typically long-winded in writing about films, I felt that writing about Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979) was, at least for me, an exercise in futility. I began with the intention of writing a very academic post, detailing production history and the like, before realizing that I was heading into the Dissertation Zone before I knew it. Instead, I thought a collection of some thought-provoking quotes from Tarkovsky and from Stalker’s source novel would be far more interesting. I selected them, and the images from the film, based upon primarily the emotions that they elicited from me. Stalker is a cinematic masterpiece from one of cinema’s masters. Here’s a final quote from Roadside Picnic (also a beautiful work of art), and quite possibly my favorite:“He had never experienced anything like this before outside the Zone. And it happened in the Zone only two or three times. It was as though he were in a different world. A million odors cascaded in on him at once—sharp, sweet, metallic, gentle, dangerous ones, as crude as cobblestones, as delicate and complex as watch mechanisms, as huge as a house and as tiny as a dust particle. The air became hard, it developed edges, surfaces, and corners, like space was filled with huge stiff balloons, slippery pyramids, gigantic prickly crystals, and he had to push his way through it all, making his way in a dream through a junk store stuffed with ancient ugly furniture…It lasted a second. He opened his eyes, and everything was gone. It hadn’t been a different world—it was this world turning a new, unknown side to him. This side was revealed to him for a second and then disappeared, before he had time to figure it out.” (Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, 1977, Macmillan Publishing Co., 2007, Great Britain, p.67)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sergio Martino's Morte sospetta di una minorenne (Suspected Death of a Minor) (1975)

It was the time when lots of films of the action/poliziesco genre were produced in Italy. I already had several big successes with my films, e.g. Violent Professionals. And after a short break during which I shot some movies of other genres I shot this film whose original title was "Milano violenta." "Milano violenta"--when was the film shot?--in 1976, 1977 or was it 1975?--the genre was nothing new anymore and it was my very last poliziesco. Before it was released, however, the distributor Titanus changed its title from "Milano violenta" to "Morte sospetta di una minorenne," because they feared that the film, since the genre was already past its peak wouldn't be very successful. But that was a huge mistake because only a short time later, a film was released that was called Roma violenta or Violent Rome and which was a big hit. That shows the intuition of the distributors wasn't always the best...The title was misleading because with "Morte sospetta di una minorenne" the audience expected an erotic touch, which just wasn't there, since it wasn't an erotic film. I think the attempt to attract the audience with a title that deviated from the poliziesco genre, led to a lesser success...Consequently, the movie lured people into the cinema who actually didn't want to see it.
"Now take your hands off my butt, asshole, and bring me to the exit." The hands from this line belong to Paolo (Claudio Cassinelli), and the butt belongs to Marisa (Patrizia Castaldi); and they are a dancing couple. Paolo is flirting with pretty Marisa and asks for a dance; and Marisa reluctantly agrees, because she is scared of the mirrored-sunglassed party guest who has taken an intense infatuation with her. Marisa bolts from the party, knocking Paolo's eyeglasses from his head, and rushes to safety within a seedy boardinghouse. She is killed, and after the police discover her corpse, two police officers chat about the case outside of a cafe. Paolo, playing a game of pinball, overhears the two police officers and decides to begin an investigation, himself, of Marisa's murder.Since there was a lack of actors those days who represented the poliziesco genre except for Giuliano Gemma, Franco Nero and few others maybe--I had the idea to cast Claudio Cassinelli who had shot several movies to that date but no poliziescos. He was an actor who didn't fit the current beau ideal but who embodied a certain sympathy and who was very believable. Claudio was a very versatile and good actor who, in my opinion fit himself into the role very well. I remember that he was in great shape, and when I watch the film today I can't see any failing in his performance or a non-identification with his character. In the following years, we shot several films of other genres together and therefore I consider him as a friend who became very dear to my heart--unfortunately he passed away--and who I hold in high regard especially from a human factor standpoint and because of his delicacy of feeling.Cassinelli as Paolo is the biggest attraction of Morte sospetta di una minorenne (1975). In a representative sequence of events, Paolo arranges a meeting with a young prostitute (Barbara Magnolfi) at a hotel in order to uncover the source of the prostitution racket. Paolo plays it cool, but she's even cooler and blows him off. With the help of his young associate, Cassinelli's Paolo is able to follow the young woman through the city to a dilapidated tenement across town. In a bolder move, Paolo walks directly through its front door and is forced into a violent confrontation with its inhabitant. The confrontation does not go well, but Paolo regains his composure and patiently waits at the building. His patience is rewarded with a big score and huge lead in his investigation. The sequence of the narrative events are familiar, yet its Cassinelli who is unique. His character lacks the complete tough-guy quality of the typical poliziesco and also the obsession of the amateur sleuth of any giallo. There is a lot more humility to his character. Martino has Paolo wear eyeglasses in Morte sospetta di una minorenne, and they become his signature. Whenever Paolo gets into an intense situation or when a character remarks upon his eyeglasses, these motifs are subtle symbols of Paolo. Cassinelli's performance follows suit: his character is certainly unorthodox and quirky but very sympathetic. Despite a strong narrative (another well-written script by Martino and Ernesto Gastaldi) in Morte sospetta di una minorenne, it is Cassinelli's performance which stands out.Adrian Luther-Smith, author of Blood and Black Lace: The Definitive Guide to Italian Sex and Horror Movies, writes:

Too Young To Die [English title for Morte sospetta di una minorenne] is an odd combination: part police thriller, part giallo, and part comedy. Its cynical central theme--teenage girls being sexually exploited by [spoilers edited]--was a background motif for several gialli. But rather than merely providing the basis for a number of sleaze scenes (some brief nudity) and violent deaths (two of which are gratifyingly nasty), the exploitative elements are intertwined with the unorthodox enquiries being undertaken by Cassinelli [spoilers edited]. Had the film remained a cop/giallo thriller hybrid it might have found an audience but because Gastaldi's script audaciously attempts to incorporate humour it fails to satisfy fans of any individual genre. The comedy works well during a high-speed car chase but seems out of place elsewhere. Thankfully, it's dispensed with in the later scenes which include a gun battle on a rollercoaster, the penultimate rooftop encounter between [spoilers edited]. When providing lightweight accompaniment to the comic episodes, [Luciano] Michelini's score imitates Gaslini's Deep Red opus. (p. 120, Stray Cat Publishing Ltd., England, 1999.)
It is really Cassinelli's performance and character within Morte sospetta di una minorenne which does not fit within either strictly a poliziesco or a giallo. There are giallo elements within the film, primarily the murder scenes: these are not prominent yet are very evocative of Argento's Profondo rosso (1975) (the scenes are also less intricate and orchestrated). During Marisa's murder, the viewer gets treated to a loving shot of the killer holding his knife, and Martino shows the blade in close-up (with the Argento signature "flash" of the blade). Another murder in the film is eerily similar to a famous one with in Profondo rosso. Sergio Martino in his interview included as a supplement on the Region 2 DVD from Sazuma (from where the first paragraph and third paragraph are taken and are direct quotes) never refers to his film as a giallo and always as a poliziesco (and offers his alternative theory to Luther-Smith as to why the film did not find a strong audience base). I agree with Martino that it is a poliziesco (and placing it in a specific category, however, is not really necessary in my opinion). Morte sospetta di una minorenne is an obscure film but really shows Martino's talent again and showcases how fine of an actor that Cassinelli truly was. Like most of Martino's cinema, it is irreverent and satisfying for those seeking something different from the traditional.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Meme Fun

I got tagged by Jeremy at his blog, Moon in the Gutter, with a meme originally started by Stephen at Checking on My Sausages [edit on 7/18 this meme has its origin at The Dancing Image.] The inspiration for the meme is "a gallery of images chosen by you to stand for so much of what makes Cinema such a rich and exciting medium." Here are the rules (cut and pasted and slightly altered from Jeremy's post):

1. Pick as many pictures as you want - but make them screen-captures. These need to be moments that speak to you that perhaps haven't been represented as stills before.

2. Pick a theme, any theme.

3. You MUST link to Stephen's original gallery and the gallery at The Dancing Image.

4. Tag five blogs.

The theme that I have chosen are complimentary/contradictory themes/images from four films. I always believe no matter how serious the subject matter of a film that there is always opportunity for a creative artist to be playful with his/her images. Artistic inspiration and creation and rendition are three complimentary/contradictory ideas for the truly playful.

Anthony Steffan as Django in Django il bastardo (1969), directed by Sergio Garrone, looking like Death in front of the cross.

Django about to meet Death with the cross behind him.

In Chungking Express (1994), directed by Wong Kar-wai, Takeshi Kaneshiro as Cop 223 has cleaned the shoes of the Woman in the Blonde Wig (Brigitte Lin), because she has been running around all night and her feet are tired.

Tony Leung Chiu Wai as Cop 663 who is messaging the feet of Faye (Faye Wong), because she got scared standing still and her feet went to sleep.

Party host Angela (Amelia Kinkade)who is watching her expected party guest show off her rockin'-hot body in Night of the Demons (1988), directed by Kevin Tenney; and

Angela whose rockin'-hot body is host for an unexpected party guest.

Andrei Tarkovsky capturing natural scenery on Earth and making it look alien in his Solaris (1972).

Characters in Solaris who are trying to capture natural scenery in an alien setting with man-made material.

For the following writers, consider yourself tagged:

1. Neil at The Agitation of the Mind.

2. Jay at The Lucid Nightmare.

3. Didier at Shoot First, Die Later.

4. Drew at The Blue Vial.

5. Kevin at Hugo Stiglitz Makes Movies.

Have fun.;)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Sergio Martino's Torso (I corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale) (1973)

I corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale (Torso) (1973), directed by Sergio Martino, contains some bold artistic choices by its creative collaborators.
First, who is the main character? There are only two characters within Torso who give a persuasive answer to this question: Jane, portrayed by Suzy Kendall, and Dani, played by Tina Aumont. For the viewer who has seen Torso subsequent to viewing slasher films, such as John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) and its progeny, then intuitively, Jane is the main character. She holds a very iconic position within the third act. However, if Torso is viewed as a mystery or more specifically, a giallo (which its first half certainly appears to be), then Dani is the main character. Dani is the one character who has seen the mysterious killer within the film, and the killer knows it. Hence, the viewer intuitively knows that Dani is the next prospective victim for the killer. In the most uninteresting way, minutes on screen can determine who is the main character, and even a by a few seconds, the viewer can determine its protagonist. Even if Torso does not have a main character, it is not a film driven by an ensemble cast. Some characters are red herrings for the mystery, some are eye candy, and some serve plot devices, such as a victim for a brutal killing, for example. By and far, Torso is a plot-driven film, rendered creatively in sequences with different characters, like a collage.
One of the boldest and most creative moves by Martino and company within Torso occurs at the halfway mark in its violent shift in setting. The expansive setting within the city, which houses the university where Jane and Dani attend, is removed to a villa secluded atop a hill, overlooking a small village below. This one change in setting completely fractures the narrative of the film. The isolated villa with Dani and her two friends, Ursula (Carla Brait) and Katia (Angela Covello), kills any of the mystery within Torso. The narrative becomes focused on this small group of characters at the setting, and the viewer knows as these characters unwind and relax (the narrative also unwinds and relaxes), the more likely they are to become victims of the killer. To be fair, it is fairly obvious to identify the killer by deduction right before the beginning of the third act, so it did not seem that Martino nor his co-screenwriter, Ernesto Gastaldi, really saw this fracture in the narrative as a deficiency in their plot. By the way, when the killer's identity is revealed and in the classic moment where the killer reveals his/her motive, it is truly irrelevant to whom the killer is revealing.Torso has an interesting history. Adrian Luther Smith, author of Blood and Black Lace: The Definitive Guide to Italian Sex and Horror Movies, writes: "The American release proved to be extremely popular on the drive-in circuit and along with Bava's A Bay of Blood probably had a significant part to play in the development of the stalk 'n' slash genre." (p.120, Stray Cat Publishing Ltd., England, 1999.) Craig Ledbetter, editor of European Trash Cinema, writes, "Like most Americans, I first saw this on the lower half of a double-bill with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. While the former went on to fame and fortune, poor Torso still gets no respect. The ironical thing is that "Society" would have you believe that TCM was the goriest of the two, NOT!" (European Trash Cinema, Vol. 2, No. 6, Kingwood, TX, 1992.) The authors of Violent Italy, Daniel Dellamorte and Tobias Petterson, write: "His [Martino's] last giallo, Torso, is mostly remembered for its brutality. None of the previous leading actors [from his previous gialli] take part in this film and it is obvious that Martino had lost interest in the genre at this point. The film lacks the flair and visual style that is so evident in his previous films, and he left the genre for other projects." (p.43, Tamara Press, Malmo, Sweden, 2002.) (Interestingly, the Violent Italy authors note that the giallo peaked in 1972 with twenty two released in theatres in Italy (p.39). According to the IMDb, Torso was released in Italy during the first week of 1973.)
If Torso is truly influential upon the subsequent slasher genre, then it is not solely because of its brutality but also its boldness and creativity. As to whether its boldness and creativity was borne from hearing the death knell of a dying genre and attempting to be as shocking and provocative as possible to draw in the genre's last viewers is unknown. Torso is, however, a terrific film and like a lot of Martino's cinema, it is beautifully and elegantly photographed (by Giancarlo Ferrando) and populated with beautiful people. By far not a shy film, Torso is very provocative and very playful. In a wonderfully lurid sequence, Carol, friend and classmate to Jane and Dani, portrayed by Conchita Airoldi, upon hearing of the murder of her friend, becomes overwhelmed with both fear and grief. She takes a ride from the open-air piazza at the university with two friends to a dingy den somewhere in the city to get high. Carol wants some comfort; her two friends want to sleep with her; and Martino has a beautiful and scantily-clad woman dancing alone in the center of the den. After a fairly bold composition of the woman dancing, Carol tires of her two friends' fondling and she bolts from the den. Martino gets a laugh from the viewer when one of Carol's shunned suitors stupidly crashes his motorbike into the mud. Poor Carol, both dejected and disoriented, continues into the ash-colored and mud-soaked forest alone, where Martino delivers one of his most effective atmospheric sequences. It becomes quite brutal as well. Like most of Torso, there is no consistency in tone to the sequence, but this lack of consistency is not borne from carelessness but playfulness. Torso is daring, perhaps in its creative impetus but definitely in its execution. A personal favorite. Ernesto Gastaldi's contribution cannot be overstated: his screenplay is essential to Torso's success. Gastaldi's body of work is astounding, and he deserves wider praise in subsequent entries. The music by Guido and Maurizio De Angelis is an excellent accompaniment.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Alain Delon's Pour la peau d'un flic (For The Death of a Cop) (1981)

Alain Delon is Choucas, an ex-cop turned private investigator in Paris. One morning a new client, Isabelle Pigot (Annick Alane), seeks his services: her young-adult daughter, Marthe, has been missing for a month, and Isabelle believes the police are not working diligently. Marthe didn't leave on her own free will, believes Isabelle, as she had a good life with a stable position working at an institute for the blind. Marthe is also blind. Before Isabelle can write a check, Choucas gets a visit from Coccioli (Daniel Ceccaldi), a police inspector who tells Choucas just to take this lady's check and say that he cannot find Marthe. Subsequent to taking her check, Choucas gets another visitor, Pradier (Gérard Hérold) who tells Choucas that Marthe is with his friend and has gone to another country. Pradier isn't credible, and Choucas doesn't believe his story. Isabelle summons Choucas for a meeting at the open-air Trocadero plaza where she is killed. After a couple subsequent attempts on his own life, Delon's Choucas realizes that he is not working on a simple missing-person case in Alain Delon's directorial debut, Pour la peau d'un flic (For The Death of a Cop) (1981).By this point in his career, Delon was developing his own projects and he reunites with screenwriter, Christopher Frank (who penned the previous Parisian crime thriller with Delon, Three Men to Kill (3 hommes à abattre) the year before) for Pour la peau d'un flic. Interestingly, the film indirectly serves as a representative transitional film at the beginning of the decade. Delon is clearly the attraction in Pour la peau d'un flic, and his camera rarely leaves his character during its run time. While the film is clearly intended to be modern, Delon uses cinematically outdated investigation techniques (Choucas actually has to hit the streets and find clues; interview and interact with people; and speculate and take a chance on where to go next after finding a clue). Not only would the 1980s see technology become more focal in action cinema (bigger weapons with even bigger explosions), technology in cinema would become embraced by its investigators, forever changing their style and depiction. The classic and iconic actor imbues Pour la peau d'un flic with an old-school private-eye narrative, a classic and sometimes light comedic subplot, and action scenes, honed from repetition during the entire decade of the 1970s.
The simple missing-person case doesn't stay simple in Pour la peau d'un flic, as it grows much wider in scope, implicating a bigger conspiracy, only growing slightly incredulous at times. Delon's Choucas enlists his good friend, Haymann (Michel Auclair) to help him in the investigation when Choucas becomes a target himself. The two veteran French actors feel like close friends, and the intimacy the two share is genuine. The majority of their scenes are dialogue,as each bounces ideas and questions off the other as to how to proceed in the investigation. Then there are really clever scenes with the two, as when Choucas has a subdued suspect before him, he tells Haymann to get a hammer. Haymann just slightly nods, well-familiar as to what Choucas is going to do to the man. When Choucas has a gun pointed at him and looks as if his adversary has the upper hand, it is Haymann who pops in right on time in aiding Delon's character.The real attraction besides Delon, in my opinion, in Pour la peau d'un flic is the character Charlotte, Choucas's secretary, played by Anne Parillaud. About a decade later, she would blow cinema's door off the hinges in Luc Besson's nearly pitch-perfect La Femme Nikita (1990). Her screen presence is quite powerful, and one gets the impression while watching Pour la peau d'un flic that she is underused, despite appearing in nearly the entire picture. The romantic subplot involving Delon and Parillaud is well developed, as the events become more intense in the picture, the two begin to reveal their feelings for each other. A lot of the humor in the film comes from these scenes, and unfortunately her character's English-dubbing (of the version that I saw from an HK DVD) is terrible and most of it is lost. Delon adeptly knows how charismatic and beautiful the young actress is and doesn't spare her close-ups. Parillaud is a fantastic actress and she brings more energy to the film than the action scenes. The classic romantic comedy is dated, yet both Delon and Parillaud are able to carry it with their charisma and chemistry alone.I've seen seemingly a million crime films, and despite the familiarity of the narrative of Pour la peau d'un flic, I really cannot tire watching Delon acting super cool and taking on the bad guys. Even dubbed in English, when he makes smart-aleck remarks during a high-speed car chase, Delon is cool. When sitting in a cafe and having coffee and smoking Gitanes, Delon is cool. He's so cool that he cast this beautiful young actress in a small and welcomed part:Pour la peau d'un flic shows a lot of the magic of the waning days of this cinema. A must-see for Delon fans (and Parillaud fans and don't be surprised when it's her that stays with you after viewing).

Giuseppe Bennati's L'assassino ha riservato nove poltrone (1974)

Since everyone has known each other for so long, says Patrick (Chris Avram), each has a motive for murder. Inside of a large ancient theatre, Patrick was standing center stage when the counterweight which supports the stage's curtain was cut. He walked away seconds before it landed. There is no performance, and the theatre has been in disuse for years. Patrick and nine others have spontaneously decided to visit the place (Patrick owns it by inheritance) after one of the group suggests a visit. One of the ten is a killer in Giuseppe Bennati's L'assassino ha riservato nove poltrone (The Killer Reserved Nine Seats) (1974).
Director Bennati penned the script of L'assassino ha riservato nove poltrone with Paolo Levi and Biagio Proietti, set in a single location with ten characters. Patrick is quite correct when he says that each character has a motive for murder: nearly every one is either related to, romantically involved, or in financial debt/dependence to Patrick. Hence, since every one is a potential killer (at least until becoming a victim), most are depicted as passive/aggressive or contemptible people. While motives are essential for murder mysteries, watching these characters bicker and backstab (metaphorically) for ninety minutes is far from entertaining; so this familiar plot gets one interesting and unfamiliar addition, a supernatural element, and the sensational elements of the script get pushed to the foreground. L'assassino ha riservato nove poltrone is a fairly successful mix of classical mystery and 70s-style sex and violence. One of the notable features of L'assassino ha riservato nove poltrone is the inclusion of several notable actresses of the period. Janet Agren appears as Kim, a would-be actress and fiance of Patrick, who every one knows is marrying Patrick for his money; Paola Senatore is Lynn, Patrick's daughter who in initial scenes appears as if she has romantic feelings towards her father; and Lucretia Love plays Doris, who is involved in a romantic relationship with Patrick's sister, Rebecca (Eva Czemerys). Bennati goes to some lengths in depicting Doris and Rebbeca's relationship as not only secret but also very taboo and decadent. In addition, all the actresses mentioned perform at least one nude scene, and of the actresses mentioned, those who are victims suffer more terribly as the film progresses. The first murder in L'assassino ha riservato nove poltrone is less graphic and ornate than the subsequent one, as the murders increasingly become more brutal and contrived. Bennati does not rival his script, despite any attempts to do so, with his sensational scenes in L'assassino ha riservato nove poltrone. Rather, the sensational scenes afford a more judicious use of character-driven scenes, keeping the bickering and backstabbing to a minimum. By far not a character-driven film with depth, there is enough background to each character to keep the viewer intrigued. Among the sex and violence and exposition, Bennati, to his credit as each are quite effective, is able to compose more than one odd and unreal sequence. One of the ten characters is named, at least in the English-dubbed version, "the man in the Nehru jacket" (Eduardo Filipone). None of the other characters knows who he is, and when he appears, his character brings an appropriate theatrical feel to the film as his dialogue feels scripted. It is not as if his dialogue feels contrived but rather when he speaks it feels as if he knows something about someone or something is about to happen. Keeping the theatrical motif, Bennati lets "the man in the Nehru jacket" serve as a sort-of commentator on the drama, as from some classical Greek play. Very nice. It is always welcome when a character takes a violent shift in character by performing some nonsensical, non-violent act: subsequent to a murder, which intuitively one would think would instill grief or some accompanying emotion, Senatore's Lynn takes a moment in a dressing room for some disrobing and dancing. At a couple of minutes, the scene goes on too long for the narrative, but Bennati uses multiple angles to lovingly capture the actress. The scene is not completely sensational and has little narrative weight. Just disorienting and lithe. L'assassino ha riservato nove poltrone benefits from these scenes' inclusion.Carlo Savina delivers a beautiful score, a mix of funky-70s and classical composing. The film was shot by Giuseppe Aquari, and he captures the classical mix of old-school mystery and 70s sensationalism: the authentic theatre location goes a long way in creating its own atmosphere. It is a beautiful location and has enough claustrophobic settings and shadows to create its own tension and fear. Beyond that, Aquari shows an adept eye at the subjective, giallo-style P.O.V. from both victims and killer. There are classically-composed shots from wide, medium, and close-up angles side by side with more innovative camerawork, like his handheld shots. Low-budget and certainly now obscure, L'assassino ha riservato nove poltrone benefits from its talent and energy, focused and directed for its duration.