Escalation, directed by Roberto Faenza

Escalation, by Roberto Faenza

Escalation, by Roberto Faenza

Luca Lambertenghi (Lino Capolicchio)’s life of gentle meditation amid London’s flower children and gurus is rudely shattered when his wealthy industrialist father (Gabriele Ferzetti) cuts off his allowance and forces him to work for the family olive factory in Milan.  Here he shocks his colleagues with his eccentric clothes and his habit of projecting films about India on the darkened walls of his office, and is placed in an asylum.  Luca escapes to Geneva and works as a baby minder but, disguised as a Buddhist monk, a female kidnapper (Didi Perego) employed by his father has little difficulty in luring him back to Milan, where his father decides to seek the help of Carla Maria Marini (Claudine Auger), an attractive industrial psychologist.  Carla Maria soon has Luca madly in love with her and goes through a Buddhist marriage ceremony with him.  He cuts his hair and goes daily to the office in conventional clothes; but Carla Maria refuses to consummate the marriage until he has gained control of the business.  Realising that his daughter-in-law is using his son for her own selfish ends, Mr Lambertenghi reveals to Luca that her interest in him is essentially a professional one.  Luca coldly poisons Carla Maria with a mushroom stew, then paints her corpse with psychedelic designs before cremating it on the beach.  Later he identifies the disfigured corpse of an unknown woman as being that of his wife.  And after ruthlessly forcing his father to give him control of the business he has her coffin packed in ice and buried on a city rubbish dump to the accompaniment of Negro street museums.

Dealing as it does with the development of a peace loving egalitarian into an impassive murdered and ruthless businessman, it seems likely that Escalation was intended as L’enfance d’un chef Italian style.  But the comparison with Sartre proves as hollow as the more obvious one with Antonioni (for the scene changes not so much from London to Milan as from the swinging world of Blow Up to the sterile wasteland of The Red Desert.)  And although the artistic and philosophical pretensions of Roberto Faenza’s first feature film seem to demand serious analysis, the disparity between intention and achievement is great enough to warrant a rather curt dismissal.  Scenes like the final funeral procession display a real talent for visual composition, but Faenza seems constantly more concerned with lending a symbolic weight to his material than with what it actually signifies.  Lino Capolicchio’s interpretation of the generational hero as a blabbering moron further undermines the film’s claims to seriousness.  Perhaps Italian audiences are more attuned to this type of buffoon humour, but the idiom makes it hard for Anglo-Saxons to determine whether he’s supposed to be like Hamlet or just Harpo Marx.  (poor)

Reviewed in Monthly Film Bulletin, May 1969.

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Fantastikal Diabolikal Supermen – NOW AVAILABLE!

I’m pleased to announce that the first WildEye book, Fantastikal Diabolikal Supermen, is available.  I’ve posted all of the details before, but just to recap… it’s 94 pages, including 8 full colour pages, on 130gsm coated paper and with a laminated colour cover.  And, although I say so myself, it looks pretty darned good!

As the blurb says:

During the early 1960s, Italy was gripped by a new craze: adult comic books, known as fumetti neri, which pushed out the boat in terms of sex and violence. Characters such as Diabolik, Kriminal and Sadik became household names, not least because of repeated concerns voiced about their dubious morality in the conservative press. And film producers, never slow to spot a trend, quickly leapt on the bandwagon.

Fantastikal, Diabolikal Supermen is the first ever English language book to cover the curious genre that resulted. As well as including detailed reviews of over 30 films, from better known titles like Diabolik to obscurities such as The Devil’s Man and Three Supermen of the West, it also examines them in the light of the wider Italian film industry at the time, detailing how the cine-fumetti related to other trends such as Eurospy films and Spaghetti Westerns.

Featuring relevant excerpts from interviews with the actors and directors concerned and lavishly illustrated with numerous lobby cards, photos and posters, this is an invaluable reference guide to an otherwise ignored and forgotten cinematic phenomenon.

You can buy it from The WildEye online store for £9.99 + postage and packaging (£3 for the UK, £4.10 in Europe and £6 everywhere else).  All payments are processed through Paypal, which is fully secure and you can use even if you’re not a registered Paypal user (all you need is a credit or debit card).  I’ll also be selling on EBay, Amazon and some other retailers at a price of £12.99 (but not just yet…)

Click here to buy it.

(and if you have any problems during the purchase process or want to make any other comments please do get in touch)

Fantastikal Diabolikal Supermen

Fantastikal Diabolikal Superme

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Devilman Story (The Devil’s Man)

Devilman Story

Devilman Story

Shortly after the kidnapping of a famous surgeon Professor Becker, American journalist and science correspondent Mike Harway (Guy Madison) finds Becker’s associate Karl Bloch murdered in his Rome laboratory.  Attracted by Becker’s daughter, Christine (Luisa Baratto), and anxious to promote his own career, Mike decides to hunt for the missing professor and agrees to let Christine join him.  Their search takes them to an area of the North African desert where nomadic tribes live in terror of the mysterious Black Riders, whose equestrian sorties from the old fortress of El Faium result in the disappearance or savage mutilation of everyone who crosses their path.  Christine is captured by the black riders and Mike succeeds in following her into the fortress where he finds that Devilman, a hypnotic villain who conceals his hideously scarred face beneath a scarred mask, has built an all-powerful artificial brain which he hopes to have transplanted into his own head.  To this end he has kidnapped and brainwashed Becker, whom he now order to perform a trial operation on Christine.  Devilman’s sadistic assistant, Kuhn, realising that a successful operation will mean the end of his own usefulness, helps Mike escape from the fortress.  He returns with the nomad tribe of Tuareg warriors whose chieftain’s daughter was one of the Black Riders’ first victims. In the violent fighting that ensues, Devilman is destroyed when his machine overheats and blows up the entire fortress, from which Mike, Christine and Becker escape in the nick of time.

The routine formula of the power crazed scientist whose manic schemes are thwarted by an inevitable final holocaust is here lifted out of the rut by some splendid desert locations and a fine fortress whose traditional exterior, evoking all the vintage struggles of the foreign legion, conceals some austere chrome and glass SF sets.

[This is an absolutely loopy film which makes no sense whatsoever, but it’s also very entertaining, made by Paolo Bianchini when he was just starting out and establishing himself as one of the best Italian action directors of the 1960s.  Most reviews are negative, which makes the broadly positive views of the above piece refreshing.  For more information on this film check out the forthcoming Fantastikal Diabolikal Supermen book!]

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R.I.P Vittorio De Seta

Vittorio De Seta

Vittorio De Seta

The director Vittorio De Seta, celebrated creator of award winning documentaries and films both in Italy and abroad such as Un giorno in Barbagia, Banditi ad Orgosolo, Lu tempu di lu pisci spata and Diario di un maestro, has died in Calabria at the age of 88.  The news was given by family members.  De Seta, who was born on October 15th 1923, completed his last film Lettere dal Sahara in 2006, which was presented out of competition at the Venice Film Festival.

De Seta began his career in 1953, working as an assistant director on an episode of the film Amori di mezzo secolo for Mario Chiari.  He then became a screenwriter and documentary filmmaker, shooting films from the 1950s onwards, mainly in Sicily and Sardinia.  Among these works, Isola di fuoco, set on the Aeolian Islands, was his best known work, winning awards at the 1955 Cannes Festival.

De Seta made his feature debut in 1961 with Banditi ad Orgosolo, which he wrote with his wife, Vera Gherarducci, a film that was made with a simple style and a sensitivity that was like a modern reinvention of neo-realism.  It won the Best Debut Feature at Venice and the Silver Ribbon for Best Cinematography.  He followed it up in 1966 with Un uomo a meta, which marked a distinct move away from the documentary approach which had characterised his early years.

Between 1969 and 1970, he moved to France to shoot L’invitati, a film which was coolly received despite winning he appreciation of Alberto Moravia and Pier Paolo Pasolini.

Then in 1972, he returned to the themes of his early years with a TV miniseries produced by RAI: Diario di un maestro, a documentary about a difficult teaching experience in a Roman town.  His deep connection with Calabria, where his mother was born, was explored in the documentary Calabria, in 1993, while his last film, Lettere dal Sahara, followed the life of an African migrant in Italy.

Note: I watched Banditi ad Orgosolo recently and it’s an excellent film, a perfect partner piece to Francesco Rosi’s Salvatore Giuliano.  De Seta wasn’t a very prolific filmmaker, though, which probably explains why he never made as much of an impact as similar neo-neo-realists such as Rosi or Pontecorvo.  But I really recommend checking it out if you can track down a copy.

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Submission of a Woman, by Alessandro Lucidi

Submission of a Woman

Daniela Poggi in Submission of a Woman

aka Al calar della sera
1992
91 mins
Italy
Produced by Paolo Lucidi for P.C. Coletti Productions
Director: Alessandro  Lucidi
Story & screenplay: Alessandro  Lucidi
Cinematography: Beppe  Maccari
Music: Claudio  Rovagna
Editor: Maria  Donolis
Art director: Simonetta  Vitelli
Cast: Daniela  Poggi (Luisa), Gianluca  Favilla (Giorgio), Paolo  Lorimer (the psychopath), Cecilia  Luci (the child), Andrea  Ward, Anna  Orso

This is a (very) late period Italian thriller from 1992 and directed by Alessandro Lucidi, son of the better known Maurizio.  The early 90s was a pretty dismal period for Italian popular cinema: although films were being produced, they tended to have low budgets and were made with broadcasting on television rather than cinema in mind.  They also tended to suffer from poor scriptwriting and acting, recycling old formulas with very little in the way of innovation or style.  So, although Submission of a Woman isn’t a particularly good film, it’s certainly not the worst of its type and time and stands comparison with the kinds of works that directors such as Lamberto Bava or Umberto Lenzi were producing under similar circumstances.

Luisa (Daniela Poggi), an actress, is getting weary of the sexpot roles she’s customarily offered, especially now that she’s in her thirties, married to Giorgio (Gianluca Favilla) and has a kid.  She’s also sick and tired of receiving phone calls from a crank caller, who insists on ringing whenever she’s alone and hanging on the line without saying anything.  And her problems are about to get much worse: the caller is actually a psychopath who has already murdered at least one unfortunate girl, and he’s settled on her as being his next victim.

One weekend, just before Luisa and Giorgio are supposed to go away on a romantic holiday, he attacks.  Giorgio doesn’t last long, but Luisa manages to lock herself in the house.  Unfortunately the phones have been cut off, so there’s no way of calling for help, and making a break for it is made impossible by the fact that she still has her baby to protect.

More of a slasher movie than a giallo – there’s no mystery element to the plot at all – much of the second half of the film is made up of a protracted cat and mouse game between Luisa and her crackpot attacker.  Some of it’s simply ludicrous – it’s one of those films where someone who knows where they’re going and is running seems to move more slowly than a pursuer who’s both on unfamiliar territory and walking – and the dialogue leaves a little to be desired; ‘I swear that if you leave I won’t sue you…’, for instance, is a novel line to say when you’re being held at knife-point by a psychopath.

Daniela Poggi in Submission of a Woman

Daniela Poggi in Submission of a Woman

There’s little in the way of violence, but it becomes increasingly sleazy as the running time progresses.  Nothing like the home invasion films of the 1970s, productions like La settima donna and Late Night Trains which had a much more gritty, raw feel; but there’s a lengthy rape sequence which goes on a little too long and in which the camera lingers a little too longingly over Ms Poggi’s naked flesh.  Bizarrely, given this – not to mention a weird flashback that implies she actually enjoyed the experience – it does a complete double take at the end and comes out as a wannabe treatise on small town prejudice and rebuttal of the opinion that, to paraphrase, just because a woman is wearing tight trousers she’s inviting every slime-ball in the vicinity to have sex with her.

Lucidi does his best, using the claustrophobic setting pretty well and generating a fair amount of tension.  A respected editor, he also directed two other films, a pair of sexy comedies from the early eighties called La maestra di sci and Il marito vacanza (both 81).  Stylistically, his work very much resembles that of Lamberto Bava, and if he’d have started his directorial career twenty years earlier he might have had a chance of achieving something more substantial.  Unfortunately, as it is Submission of a Woman has the dull, flat look and dismal music (seemingly inspired by Angelo Badalamenti’s soundtrack for Twin Peaks) that so characterised Italian productions of its time, and it comes across much like a less respectable version of those dull TV slasher movies that were made in the wake of Halloween.

As for the cast, it’s really a two hander between Daniele Poggi and Paolo Lorimer, who are both actually rather good.  Poggi, a familiar performer since her debut in The Gestapo’s Last Orgy, looks a bit like a more mumsy Jamie Lee Curtis, and she manages to bring some character to her part.  Lorimer was a new face to me, and a pasty, goggle eyed face at that, but he’s actually been in a few films over the years, including The Sin eater (2003) and Fade to Black (2006).  A couple of other interesting names also crop up in the crew: assistant director was Edoardo Margheriti, Antonio’s son, and Diego Spataro is credited as ‘capo macchinista’; whether this is the same Diego Spataro who also produced films by Joe D’Amato and Demofilo Fidani is unknown.

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I crudeli (The Hellbenders)

Joseph Cotten in The Hellbenders

Joseph Cotten in The Hellbenders

Review from The Monthly Film Bulletin, May 1969

Jonas (Joseph Cotten), a renegade Confederate Colonel, in fanatically resolved to win back the South for the Confederacy by reorganising the Confederate Army and attacking the Union.  Supported by his sons – Ben (Julian Mateos), Jeff (Gino Pernice) and Nat (Angel Aranda) – he massacres unionist soldiers escorting a large consignment of banknotes, then packs these into a coffin supposedly containing the body of a fallen confederacy officer.  When Kitty (Maria Martin), a dissolute alcoholic co-opted to enact the role of the widow, is killed after attempting a double cross, Ben persuades Claire (Nora Bengall), a saloon hostess, to take her place and the pair soon fall in love.  Saved by Ben from being raped by Jeff, Claire feels increasingly resentful of the effects of Jonas’s fanaticism and arranges for the coffin to be buried in the fort once commanded by her fictitious husband.  With the coffin disinterred, the party moves towards its destination, but a beggar who shelters in their camp steals their possessions and shoots their horses before being killed by Jonas, who is wounded in the struggle.  When Jeff is accused by an Indian tribe – to whom he had gone to buy fresh horses – of raping one of their maidens, Ben denounces his family’s fanaticism and offers the Indians the money in the coffin, which his mercenary brothers die trying to protect.  Ironically, since the wounded Jonas now discovers that he had dug up the wrong coffin.

Formulary [sic] European Western, quite efficiently made but with the usual quota of gratuitous violence and the inevitable solo trumpet blaring away on the soundtrack.  The script is a little more ingenious than most; and though the tortuous journey which provides the basis of its story has its longueurs, there are enough dramatic highlights to keep things ticking over until the nicely times ironic twist at the end.  Joseph Cotten, who seems to be specialising in fanatical Southern patriarchs (he had a similar part in the same producers The Tramplers), is a little too conspicuously out of place among an otherwise almost entirely European cast.  2/3 (Average)

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Teorema (Theorem)

Teorema poster

Teorema poster

A Milan industrialist, Paolo (Massimo Girotti), has suddenly handed over his factory to the workers he employs there; the events are traced which led to this curious act of generosity.  Not long previously a handsome young man (Terence Stamp) arrived unexpectedly to stay with Paolo and his family: the youth makes no particular demands upon his hosts but they all find him irresistibly attractive.  It is their maid, Emilia (Laura Betti), who is the first to give way physically to his fascination after he has rescued her from a suicide attempt.  Paolo’s son, Pietro (Andrés José Cruz Soublette), with whom he shares a room, is the next to offer himself, and again the guests response is a gentle, almost therapeutic acceptance.  The industrialist’s wife, Lucia (Silvano Mangano), strips thoughtfully and lies in wait for the youth the following day, and soon after he also gratifies the desires of the daughter, Odetta (Anne Wiazemsky).  Finally, it is Paolo’s turn to succumb during a car trip in the country.  A telegram then arrives, summoning the guest away and he politely takes his leave of the family, despite the separate protests of each member that he has irreparably changed them.  Emilia is again the first to react; she slips off to her home village where for days she sits in silence while peasants gather reverently around.  A number of miracles occur, including levitation, and she is last seen buried up to her eyes preparing to weep a fountain of tears.  Meanwhile, Odetta goes into a catatonic trance and is taken away on a stretcher, Pietro leaves home to carry abstract painting to extremes, and Lucia drives restlessly around seducing young men until she finds peace in a remote chapel.  Paolo himself, his life in ruins, decides to give away his factory and then strips naked in a railway station, which vanishes into a desolate grey landscape across which he staggers, screaming and alone.

In the pre-credits sequence of Theorem, a reporter hectors the dazed recipients of Paolo’s factory, with the style of Godardian questioning that simultaneously supplies the required answers, into agreeing that no matter what the middle-class does it’s in the wrong.  The joke is not simply one for Bertolucci and Bellocchio to enjoy, for Pasolini aims it at himself; his lifelong anti-bourgeois crusade having won for him a full measure of profit, he now perches with precarious irony on the fence between the vituperative ranks he once spoke for and the establishment comforts that irresistibly claim him.  Not unnaturally, the result is neo-Moravian, a parable of dissipated integrity in which Marx and Christ… become interchangeable symbols of self-destruction.  The trouble with gods is that they aren’t human; too easy, then, for them to demand the inhumanly possible.  So Pasolini portrays the bourgeois family unit as if nothing could be more foreign to him than, for instance, to suggest to the whores of Rome that they form a trade union (Il gobbo) or to their pimps that money is a garbage commodity (Notte brava).  True, the home is splendid to the point of being a palatial caricature, but within the breast of each family member beats a loneliness that Accattone would have been proud of.

Teorema

Teorema

A capitalistic yearning for true values?  A portrayal of the characteristic bourgeois inability to avoid excesses of every kind, spiritual and physical alike?  The film works both for and against its characters in an ambiguity that extends as far as the music on its soundtrack – a Mozart mass sung by a Russian choir.  The reincarnation of Billy Budd invades them with a docile sexuality, they declare that this mirror of their desires has cured the blindness that kept them sane and they all go careering off the rails with varying degrees of despairing inventiveness.

One could leave it at that, if it were not that Pasolini gives too many strong signs of going with them.  First, he is quite clearly find of the characters he has written: the maid who distractedly attempts to mow the lawn while her saviour coolly reads in his deckchair, the son through whose eyes we contemplate the piercing malaise of Francis Bacon, the daughter and her enormous snapshot albums (although Pasolini’s very choice of actress here is a simple enough guide to his feelings about the part [Anne Wiazemsky was married to Godard at the time]), the mother whose white, mask like face contorts with a terrible pain as she unwillingly picks up yet another man, and the father who is used for the last and most striking sequences of the film so that Pasolini’s identification appears complete.

Secondly, Theorem is punctuated by shots of bleak, volcanic dust, blowing almost subliminally across the narrative until everything is buried beneath an arid desert; flashing in, as it does, even while the guest is feeding the lusts of his disciples, the image spells despair throughout the film.  And thirdly Theorem flicks its jaundiced observations (glibly, at times, but allegory does depend upon broadness of definition) across a full spectrum of social activity – political, sexual, artistic and religious – and finds nothing that can be trusted, nothing that endures.  Even the godhead is carted away in a taxi, just as it once ascended into the clouds or became mutated through the words of Mao.

Yet, for all the depression, if this is indeed the Pasolini mood, Theorem is a film of extraordinary crystal beauty, in which Pasolini establishes himself as a master in the use of lighting and colour (the husband’s early morning wander is a hymn to both), as well as of landscape and architecture.  Ambiguity aside, his scenes are crisp and unfussy: he has caught a number of Antonionian habits, possibly the most typical of which is the creation of compulsive cinema out of the tiny details of the narrative, such as Odetta’s choreographics on the grass, or Paolo’s long walk through the station.  While his spokesman naked across a wilderness of demolished ideals, Pasolini has undoubtedly found in film-making a religion that affords at least a few compensations.

Philip Strick, Monthly Film Bulletin, May 1969

[One thing that struck me while reading this review was how Pasolini unconsciously initiated a whole subgenre: the ‘innocent arrives in middle class household and brings everone’s sexual frustrations to the surface’ type film.  These were very popular throughout the 1970s, with Nello Rossati’s La nipote (74) and Mario Siciliano’s Erotic Family (80) springing to mind.  In these film, though, there are some couple of big differences: the newcomer is almost always a nubile young woman; if homosexuality is often touched upon, it’s depicted in a ludicrously comic fashion; the emphasis is on having attractive performers – often Orchidea De Santis – disrobing as often as possible; and hardcore inserts were often added post-production in an attempt to make them more appealing to overseas markets.  Quite what Pasolini would have made of all this I don’t know, but part of me thinks that he might have been tickled pink.]

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