Monday, February 21, 2011

Anno 2020 - I gladiatori del futuro (1986)

Sometimes the stories behind the films are more interesting than the finished films. I find this shit fascinating. Let us first hear from the participants from a semi-obscure film from Italy, made in 1986, rooted firmly in the “Post Nuke” genre--Anno 2020 - I gladiatori del futuro (2020 Texas Gladiators). Ready?
Luigi Montefiori (aka George Eastman)

"I directed that film at Massaccesi's request," says Luigi Montefiori (aka George Eastman) about Anno 2020 - I gladiatori del futuro (2020 Texas Gladiators) (1986). "His production company had bought the ready-made 'package' (actors with contracts and fixed dates, script already written, cost of the film frozen) from another production company, which had backed out because they considered it impossible to make the film with such poor funding. Massaccesi thought he could manage, but then, over the next 24 hours (work was due to start on Monday and it was already Friday), he realized that the script was short...terribly short--the film would have lasted an hour at the very most. The shooting schedule had already been worked out (20 days exactly) and couldn’t be extended a single day unless somebody was prepared to put up the finances. He called me up and asked me if I would be willing to assist him with directing the film: I turned the offer down saying I’d do it alone, but not with him.” (from Spaghetti Nightmares, edited by Luca Palmerini and Gaetano Mistretta, Fantasma Books, Key West, FL: 1996, p. 108)
Montefiori continues, “To be honest, when he [Aristide Massaccesi, aka Joe D’Amato] said, ‘Let’s direct it together,’ I answered, ‘No, I’ll direct, and you can watch and learn how it’s done.’ He really got pissed off. No, I told him that the first day on the set. On the first day of the shoot, we were in the basement of the Hilton hotel, you know, where there are all the pipes, for heating and so on--in order to shoot a strange scene, like out of James Bond--Aristide and Donatella [Donati] were on the set. He stood there like this [Montefiori gestures with arms crossed], watching me. He wanted to see what I would say. Then the cameraman showed up, and I said, ‘Put the camera here, with this lens, then we’ll do a dolly shot...’ And he was totally quiet. After five minutes I was thinking he’d come up. I was saying to myself, ‘It’s impossible for him to hold his tongue.’ And in fact he come up and goes, ‘Why’d you put the camera there?’ I said ‘Aha! Aristide!’ I must say that I hadn’t asked him for a salary as director. When he’d proposed we direct together, I knew it was because he didn’t want to pay me! So I said, ‘I’ll direct.’ He started to object and I told him to pay me an assistant director’s salary. I didn’t care about the money--at the time I didn’t give a damn about money. So when he came up to me and asked me why I placed the camera there, I said, ‘Ari, you’re paying me to direct, not to teach you how to direct.’ He got really pissed and called me every name in the book and split. But I say he always let me work in peace, since of course he knew me. The thing that was fun for me was to do something that everyone said couldn’t be done. We’d just answer: ‘It can be done, don’t worry.’” (from the documentary, Joe D'Amato Totally Uncut, included as a supplement on the Shriek Show/Media Blasters Anthrophagus DVD)

Montefiori further states that, “I looked at the script and estimated that I’d need another half hour of film, which meant I’d have to improvise some scenes to shoot on the sets which had already been planned, I couldn’t have done this effectively as a co-director, as I’d have had to first discuss every idea for a new scene. He [Massaccesi] hedged a bit at first, but then, when I said I’d do it for a very low salary, he gave in. You see, I wanted to do the film at all costs and was convinced that if I could pull off such a difficult task, I could be a director for the rest of my days. Anyway, I did the shooting in exactly 20 days and everything went smoothly despite the lack of resources, and here I must say that I owe a great deal to the participation of my young and exuberant assistant-director, Michele Soavi. I never saw the finished film; once I’d supervised the editing, I left the technicians to do the postrecording and the mixing. I wasn’t particularly concerned about how it had turned out, being satisfied with the fact that I’d managed to keep to the schedule and produce a 95 minute film.” (from Spaghetti Nightmares, p. 108-09)

Pierluigi Conti (aka Al Cliver)

Question: You remember another film you did with Aristide [Massaccesi], but directed by [Luigi] Montefiori?

Answer: I vaguely remember it...

Q: Do you remember whether Montefiori directed the whole film, or was part of it directed by Aristide?

A: No, I think Montefiori directed the whole thing. Aristide was good at that sort of thing. When he’s entrusted the direction to someone, he didn’t interfere with it, unlike the usual producer. (from the Joe D'Amato Uncut documentary from source same as above)
Aristide Massaccesi (aka Joe D’Amato)

“Montefiori didn’t feel confident enough in the action scenes and so I dealt with those, leaving him to the directing of the actors. But in this case, the name recorded at the Ministry was mine.” (from Spaghetti Nightmares, p. 79)

I love Luigi Montefiori’s story. Notice the insinuation that he makes during the first paragraph with the phrase “over the next 24 hours”--it sounds as if Joe D’Amato bought a film production which was going to begin in less than a week, and he had only started to prepare for the shoot the Friday before the Monday starting of the production. So he calls in a old friend and collaborator to fix the shoot. The two had made films on the fly in short periods of time, before--Sesso nero (1980) is a prime example. Montefiori even further insinuates that the two didn’t finalize who was actually going to direct (or if the two would co-direct) Anno 2020 until the first day of shooting. Finally, although Montefiori makes it sound as if he directed the film, the statement by Massaccessi, in his typical modest and terse style, says a lot. If he directed solely the action sequences, then Joe D’Amato was a true co-director, because Anno 2020 has a lot of action sequences.
While the finished film has a few problems (as I’ll discuss below), Anno 2020 is quite an accomplishment considering its background.

Anno 2020 - I gladiatori del futuro (2020 Texas Gladiators) begins with a group of law marshals who patrol the post-apocalyptic wasteland of Texas. This group is comprised of Nisus (Al Cliver), Jab (Harrison Muller), Catch Dog (Daniel Stephen), Halakron (Peter Hooten), and Red Wolfe (Hal Yamanouchi). Like a Black-Ops team, they disrupt a band of rabid and violent raiders who attack a peaceful group of religious settlers. All of the raiders are killed, and the remaining settlers are rescued. This group has a code--they intend to restore justice in the post-apocalyptic wasteland, by any means necessary. However, Catch Dog sees a distressed settler hidden in the corner, named Maida (Sabrina Siani), and decides, with no one looking, to rape her. He is stopped by Nisus and given a beatdown. The group expels him on the spot and forces him into exile. Maida, while grateful for Nisus’s help, questions his violent methods: if he just kills the killers, isn’t he just a killer, too? This observation is astute, and Nisus cannot disagree. He agrees to accompany Maida to her settlement--a community living under the shadow of a power plant. This group has hopes of rebuilding it, just like they are rebuilding ideas like community and harmony. This is just the beginning.
I’ll be damned if the story of Anno 2020 isn’t epic in scope. It’s definitely a Western in its structural design, its archetypes, and its mythology, complete with a saloon sequence, a canyon standoff, and a fort defense by incoming raiders. Love, revenge, redemption, good versus evil, hope, despair, wagon wheels...all that shit. Eventually, Cliver’s Nisus abandons the group and settles with Maida in the community. Nisus becomes a pillar and helps the community restore power to the plant. He and Maida even have a child together and are beginning a family. Eventually fascist bastard, the Black One (Donald O’Brien) busts in on the group with his elite futuristic warriors in tow. A band of raiders also appear to be supporting the Black One, led by Nisus’s former colleague, Catch Dog. They subdue the community after a valiant defense by the settlers, and the Black One takes power, intending to kill the rest of the law marshals in the area. Part of the charm of Anno 2020 comes from the era, and those, like me, who love Italian action films from the 1980s, especially the “Post Nuke” films, will enjoy revisiting this era: the Mohawks, the makeshift battle armor, spiked armbands, the facepaint--as much as these are costumes for new tribes of the post-apocalyptic world, they are also staples of the 1980s fashion scene. Anno 2020 has a synth score by whom the credits reveal as Francis Taylor who may be Carlo Maria Cordio, as the IMdB suggests, as nearly everyone in the credits has an Anglicized pseudonym. Like most music for Italian genre cinema, the “Post Nuke” cycle of films wouldn’t be memorable without the fantastic synth scores. Anno 2020’s score is pretty cool. The inclusion of actors like Muller and Siani are memorable, solely because the bulk of their work was few and was during this decade. Both of the actors are eye candy: Muller has beautiful eyes and a pretty baby face which he hides under a beard; while Siani is voluptuous, tanned, and bleached blonde. Anno 2020 is a representative film of the era.

As the film progresses, it is evident that the haphazard planning by Montefiori and Massaccesi would have an effect. There is some shit in this film that really comes out of left field. The saloon sequence involves a bizarre game of Russian Roulette. Later in the film, the remaining group of marshals, after fleeing the raiders, wander in the woods to encounter a group of Native Americans who are rendered visually in stereotypical cinematic fashion. There is even a slavery sequence in a mine where the Black One houses his prisoners. This scene seems an opportunity to film a slave revolt.
Visually, Anno 2020 is competent and slick yet not flashy. Its design is to be a commercial action film and it delivers--it hides its low budget well with its editing while also being exciting editing in its action sequences. Montefiori’s improvisations to the script and his direction of scenes with the actors are well done. He’s a professional and seasoned (and in my opinion, underrated) screenwriter who knows scenarios and characters well. Although the story is disjointed and fragmented (and a lot of the time, weird), there is a richness and depth to the fragments.

Anno 2020 - I gladiatori del futuro is ultimately really representative of how creative Italian cinema was. Film makers, like Joe D’Amato, could pick a whole production up on the fly and were professional and sly and creative enough to craft an entertaining film. These films were designed to make quick cash and not lasting memories. The film makers can have the former any day. I’ll gladly take the latter.


Alex B. said...

Spot on about Montefiori being an underrated writer. He penned such brilliant films as Stagefright, Keoma, Porno Holocaust(OK, maybe this last one isn't widely considered a classic, but for me it is:)). Sesso Nero has a very strong script for what it is.
Anno 2020 - I gladiatori del futuro is great, great fun. Some memorable bike stunts in that.

Hans A. said...

Thanks for reading and commenting, Alex. This turned out to be quite the long post.

Speaking of Stagefright, I probably should do a write-up on that one soon. I read quite a bit on it while researching Anno 2020. Looking forward to more of your work, Alex, and your comments and opinions are always appreciated and respected. Thanks again.

Alex B. said...

Cool, well I'd love to learn more about Stagefright. The Montefiori interview that you quote in this post is really something, gives it a new perspective.

Paul Cooke aka Buckaroobanzai said...

Great piece Hans. Always interesting learning more about the Italian Action / Sci-Fi genre movies of that time & particularly some good old Post Nuke goodness. Thanks for sharing.

Hans A. said...

@Paul--you're welcome and thanks! I always try to share the research that I come across in magazines and books and interviews and the like. I enjoy reading material about films primarily from the participants themselves, and I hope others do. Take care.

A.D. said...

PLEASE cover STAGEFRIGHT some time!

Have you seen METAMORPHOSIS? According to IMDB, it's the only other film besides this that Eastman directed. It's awful, but surprisingly fun in spots. Supposedly he also had a cameo in it but I could never spot him.

Dig the new banner, by the way. That movie has been on my "need to see" list for so long.