Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Tuesday, Mar 27, 2007


There are two important stories surrounding the 1985 Stuart Gordon film Re-Animator (or if you go for the full blown ballyhoo treatment – H.P. Lovecraft’s Re-Animator). The first one is the narrative up on the screen, a balls-to-the-wall horror comedy which redefined both the gore film, and the outsider cult classic. But the second, and equally endearing tale, is the one involving a Chicago theatrical director, his decision to make movies, and the uphill battle he faced bringing his vision to the silver screen. In the days before DVD, this latter saga would have been saved for an extensive print interview, or a several article series in which various members of the cast and crew were interviewed to get their side of the story. Now, thanks to the digital revolution, we don’t need endless column inches to learn how junior mad scientist Herbert West became a genre icon. We just need to wait for the eventual merchandising concept called the ‘special edition’.


Re-Animator definitely remains a doorway film. It argued that horror and comedy could coincide effortlessly, and that the nastiness of gore could easily be sidestepped by keeping one’s vivisected tongue firmly in cheek. The outrageous and frequently over the top narrative, centering around medical school students (and lovers) Dan Cain and Megan Halsey and the terrors they experience at the hands of haunted newcomer Herbert West, was bloated with unbelievable moments of sheer cinematic audacity. Yet thanks to fresh faces Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, and Jeffrey Combs, director Gordon managed to balance the insane with the scientific rather well. He also tried to keep things as physiologically realistic as possible. When you consider that the main storyline centers on using an experimental formula to revive the dead – and the zombie zaniness that eventually occurs, - there are also a lot of super schlock theatrics as well. Pouring every ounce of his energies into pushing the limits of acceptable arterial spray, Gordon gave bloodhounds voluminous vein juice the likes of which they hadn’t seen before.


And it is indeed these moments of corpse grinding that maintain Re-Animator‘s current mythical status. From exploding eyeballs to carved up cats and a finale with more naked members of the living dead than in any alt-porn title, Gordon explored every parameter of his anarchic autopsy based atrocities. One sequence in particular still gives geek show fans the giggles. While describing it in mixed company would be quite unfair (as well as spoiling one of the film’s best ‘gags’), let’s just say that a headless ghoul with a co-ed crush tries to get busy with a certain decapitated body part. It’s sexual splatter at its tastiest. Yet there are those who find the claret and comic asides much ado about nothing - new. In fact, Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2 would eventually trump Re-Animator in most film fans minds. The narrative weight and cinematic invention of Raimi’s gonzo gorefest surpasses anything this Lovecraftian lunacy has to offer.  There are even those who prefer Gordon’s far more serious take on the author, his follow-up film From Beyond.


But that’s the beauty of a film like Re-Animator – and a perfect illustration of the value of DVD. In a format that proposes the possibility of contextualizing each release, to supplement and complement any film with a wealth of additional information, even those who are only slightly smitten with a particular motion picture can find reasons to rejoice. In the case of this latest Anchor Bay version of the title – there have been at least two other repackagings previously – the must-own moment is a brand new documentary, a talking head retrospective that finds almost all involved back to discuss their participation in what has become a fervent cult phenomenon. Indeed, the great thing about Re-Animator Resurrectus is that the entire cast is present, including all three leads - and that’s a real rarity in the world of digital distribution. Most reviews you read make a point of noting who decided not to participate in a bonus feature reunion. But in the case of this latest home video reincarnation, all are present and accounted for.


So is Gordon, and his big burly teddy bear appearance belies a past overflowing with hubris and misguided principles. All throughout the interview, we hear a man remembering his overblown conceits, his desire to use the experimental theater he ran in Chicago as a stepping off point for this new kind of horror experience. Wife Carolyn Purdy-Gordon is on hand to keep things in perspective, explaining the reactions people had to her husband’s ideas, and making sure to note when Gordon got a little out of control. For balance, the cast then comes along and argues for the filmmaker’s fascinating connection to the material. They praise his care and concern, his desire for rehearsal time and his mischievous personality on set. It’s a delicious dichotomy, and one that enhances what many would still consider to be a standard, if slightly unhinged, horror film experience.


In fact, what most DVD manufacturers fail to understand is that, aside from an ardent fanbase desperate for a specific title, newcomers to something like Re-Animator will base their interest level solely on the extras and bonuses provided. Even with its regal reputation and obsessive devotees spouting its magnificence all over the web, with messageboard debates heating up and taking sides, when it comes to spending that hard earned green stuff, most people react with their head first, and their gut second. So if they really aren’t interested in a whacked out comedy centering on a group of doctors experimenting with corpses, you’ve got to give them some kind of value for their fiscal confidence.


And nothing cements a shill more successfully than getting two tales for the price of one – in this case, the film itself, and the story behind it. Certainly, those in the know will argue that reissuing a movie several times – also known as the notorious industry practice of ‘double dipping’ – lessens the overall worth to a targeted audience. But with new fans flocking to the medium every year, choice keeps a title alive and viable for anyone unfamiliar with its entertainment elements.


The same could be said for Re-Animator‘s enduring qualities. People love it because it defies expectations, tweaks the standards we except in a horror film, and puts the living dead into scenarios only the sickest of fans have ever dreamed of. It barrels backwards into its terror commitments and uses slapstick and satire to lessen the blow of its unbelievable gruesome extravagances. In a time when the MPAA was asking movies to moderate their levels of violence, Re-Animator went whole hog (and unrated), filling the screen with more body parts and killer intestines (???) than a dozen of the more derivative slasher epics. Love it, loathe it, like it, or merely shrug your shoulders and wonder what the big bloodletting deal is, but there is do denying that as a symbol of why some films endure while others quietly fade away, Re-Animator has a couple of significant stories to tell. And thanks to the dimensions of DVD, we now have access to both fascinating tales.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Monday, Mar 26, 2007


Forget all the other offerings this week. Pay no attention to the tepid horror films from an overhyped festival or those carefully commercialized cartoons. Heck, just avoid the whole stinking lot and make sure you pick up a copy of Alfonso Cuarón’s spectacular Children of Men. More or less rescuing sci-fi from the constant Star Warring of George Lucas and his ilk, this stunning cinematic achievement was criminally overlooked come end of the year awards season. Here at SE&L however, we put it right up there with The Prestige, The Fountain and Pan’s Labyrinth as an indicator of 2006’s best. Though the lack of a theatrical setting will cause the scope to shrink a bit, there is no denying the power in what Cuarón created here. All other releases this Tuesday are forced to take a back seat to this astonishing movie. For further comment on this classic, look no further than our proposed pick for the week of 27 March:


Children of Men


One of last year’s most amazing motion picture experiences (and illegitimately ignored titles) Alfonso Cuarón single handedly reinvented the speculative fiction genre with this look at a world gone infertile. Some have argued over the movie’s metaphoric meaning, which looks at life in London during a rebellion-suppressing siege, and suddenly see symbols of the current Western war on terror. But there is more to this magnificent masterpiece than party politics. What Cuarón accomplished was the ideal immersion of subject matter and audience member, creating a perfect parallel universe where we recognize ourselves, and imagine our reactions to the situations occurring. Then there is the brilliant camerawork by Emmanuel Lubezki (who should have his own golden statue), cinematography stuffed with amazing tracking shots and brilliant war zone ambiance. For this film alone, Cuarón would demand respect. When placed within his already impressive oeuvre, however, it becomes an omniscient omen of great things to come.

Other Titles of Interest


AfterDark HorrorFest: 8 Films to Die For


You have to admit – it’s a nifty gimmick. Take eight low budget, under the radar horror films, stick them together in a single marathon festival showing, and hype the holy Hell out of it. This is what the people at AfterDark did, and now seven of the onerous octet are arriving on DVD. You too can experience the shattering scary movie letdown of seeing publicized terror turn tepid right before you eyes.

Color Me Kubrick


It’s the perfect story for a film – a homosexual travel agent named Alan Conway fleeced dozens of people in the mid-‘90s by impersonating (rather badly, most say) the famous reclusive filmmaker. And in John Malkovich, director Brian Cook has the perfect gone to seed lead. But for some reason, the random events depicted never add up to anything meaningful. The result is a film that feels humorless and half-baked.

Happy Feet


This year’s unlikely Oscar winner (beating out Cars and Monster House) proves that penguin power is still alive and well. Besides, it’s cool to think of Mad Max‘s George Miller picking up his first Academy Award for a CGI kid flick, not some amplified action adventure epic. If you can survive the shtick provided by a couple of the voice cast members (why, Robin Williams – WHY???), you’ll clearly treasure this musical treat.

Turistas


Thank you, Eli Roth. Thank you so BLOODY much. When Mr. Cabin Fever released his masterful post-modern Ugly American condemnation Hostel on an unsuspecting world, many cited it as the beginning of a new, nauseating horror genre – violence porn. They were wrong. THIS is the actual result – a horrid hackjob about adolescents gone gratuitous that offers none of the terror or talent that Roth exhibited.

Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj


How do you make a sequel to a movie that your original star no longer wants to be associated with? Why, pick on a supporting player and start shooting – film, that is. While some might think this kind of goofball gross out comedy went the way of the Farrelly Brothers’ Me, Myself and Irene, the reality is that small budgeted idiocy of this kind continues to make a minor profit - thus this pointless follow-up


And Now for Something Completely Different
Pervert


Proudly proclaiming its debt to Russ Meyer and the frisky exploitationers of the ‘50s and ‘60s, outsider auteur Jonathan Yudis (most noted for working on Spike TV’s Adult Party revamp of Nickelodeon faves Ren and Stimpy) has ALMOST made one of the best worst movies ever. Starring “adult film star” Mary Carey (who does bear a decent resemblance to her Grammy winning namesake) and a remarkable Darrell Sandeen in the mandatory Stuart Lancaster roll, what we get here is part horror film, part softccore smut fest and a whole lot of bare naked bosom. In fact, the film is flawless for its first 40 or so minutes, easily mixing screwball comedy and lots of Carrey caressing her cans. When she finally leaves the narrative (for reasons that won’t be spoiled here), her replacements can’t keep things afloat. The rest of the randy monkey business kind of flops around, never finding the perky pace of the previous pulchritude. As long as you ignore this questionable quibble, you’re sure to have a good time.

 


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Sunday, Mar 25, 2007


When last we left director Terry Gilliam, he was waging a one man war against THINKFilm and their Region 1 DVD release of his latest effort, Tideland. Angry over the way in which the addled “adult fairy tale” was treated – from a purely technical standpoint – he had called for a kind of boycott. The disagreement was over that most tenuous of digital dynamics, the original theatrical aspect ratio. THINKFilm made a decision – rightly or wrongly – to change the film’s framing from a longer and thinner 2.35:1 (how it played during its short big screen run) to a wider and more ‘open’ 1.85:1. To make matters worse, only the Region 2 version from Revolver Entertainment maintains Gilliam’s original ‘vision’. All other presentations have, for some reason, perverted his compositions.


Some have questioned the filmmaker’s motives in this case, citing various conspiratorial reasons why he would purposefully decide to undermine his own film. Such sentiments were further amplified recently when Gilliam released yet another statement, suggesting that anyone who bought the Region 1 release of Tideland place black masking tape across the top and bottom of the image. He even provided some crude instructions on how to freeze-frame the opening credits and apply the image-blocking material. Instead of destroying our TV sets in such a manner however, SE&L has decided to apply science to a question of tenuous technology. With a copy of both the Revolver release from Region 2 and our trusty THINKFilm’s Region 1 title, we’ve taken screen caps of similar scenes from the film, and offer them up for comparison. Pay close attention to the black bars featured on the overseas transfer. It is the supposed telltale sign that something is amiss with this release.



Jeliza-Rose Meets Dell - Region 1 release (1.85:1 aspect ratio)



Jeliza-Rose Meets Dell - Region 2 release (2.35:1 aspect ratio)



Jeliza-Rose Dreams of Life Underwater - Region 1 release (1.85:1 aspect ratio)



Jeliza-Rose Dreams of Life Underwater - Region 2 release (2.35:1 aspect ratio)



Jeliza-Rose and Dickens Play Dress Up - Region 1 release (1.85:1 aspect ratio)



Jeliza-Rose and Dickens Play Dress Up - Region 2 release (2.35:1 aspect ratio)


From an initial look, it’s obvious that the Region 1 edition provides a minor amount of additional information at the top and bottom of the screen. In the scene where the character of Jeliza-Rose is imagining her life in an underwater world, you can clearly see more of the floating table in the top right corner and make out the base of the pillar in the front foreground. In the sequence where Dickens and our lead share a quiet, intimate moment, more of the man’s leg is visible. In the first images of Dell, all that’s obscured is the top line of the horizon. In fact, throughout the Region 2 version of the film, insignificant moments like this have been cropped. In addition, it’s quite clear that NO information is lost along the left or right edges of the frame. Some websites had complained that, in order for THINKFilm to maintain the compositions created by Gilliam within a 1.85:1 aspect ratio readjustment, the print would have to be digitally “zoomed”. Clearly that is not the case here.


As the result of such a side-by-side comparison, what stands out most of all here is that this entire OAR argument appears to be a case of much ado about principle. As we have seen, the movie doesn’t really suffer from the rather unnecessary reconfiguration. The visuals are still stunning to look at, and THINKFilm has not altered the size of the images to fit its designs. Watching either version of the title will still provide you with the aesthetic intent of the cinematography and art design. What does suffer, however, is Gilliam’s rights as an artist and a man of integrity. His film has undoubtedly been fiddled with, and it appears to be a situation out of his control. What this says about the future of the digital format, and how the creative clashes with the commercial for the sake of some higher ethical standard could be something very concerning indeed. In fact, it could be the beginning of a whole new ‘pan and scan’ style argument – the kind that more or less killed off the VHS format.


When one starts with the basic acknowledgement that Tideland is definitely NOT being offered in its original aspect ratio, two questions immediately cloud the conversation – (1) why was this done, and (2) is it really a circumstance worth committing career suicide over. While the later inquiry may seem harsh, it does hit on the reality behind the reaction by Gilliam. A filmmaker already walking around with a dark cloud of difficulty surrounding his reputation doesn’t need to add further fuel to such a raging character inferno. All throughout the commentary track on the DVD he complains about the difficulties of working independently and how he longs to be back in the mainstream moviemaking fold (at least, he admits, until he gets booted out again). He definitely doesn’t earn any employability brownie points with this kind of schaudenfreuda shenanigans. Or perhaps, it’s a case of whistling past the given graveyard. Gilliam really isn’t anyone’s fool. He clearly knows his already skittish status in Hollywood. Maybe he thinks this kind of goofball grandstanding will endear him to someone looking for an outsider desperate to crawl back in. Either way, he doesn’t lose so much as deflect attention back toward his distributor.


That’s why the first question is a far more intriguing – and lasting – consideration. It seems clear that THINKFilms felt it could marginalize this movie, removing the black bars present on the Region 2 release to “open up” the image. Little else about the DVD itself is different – both versions contain nearly the same exact supplementary features and added content. Maybe they still believe – as company’s like Blockbuster and Disney claim – that audiences prefer home theater images that fill the frame. And since they couldn’t get away with a standard 1.33:1 edition, they instead decided to make the letterboxing as likable as possible. Of course, this remains a mere theory, especially since the Academy screener they sent out in November was also formatted for the 1.85:1 image. If Gilliam is to be believed – and there is always a bit of the carnival barker about this extremely talented man – all of this was done without his knowledge. Whether he even had the right to interfere and demand his original vision be offered is another story for another day.


In the end, it appears that the Tideland scandal – or whatever lesser variation of said word you want to use – boils down to idealism vs. intent. On the pragmatic side, the OAR has been altered, and yet the effect is negligible. On the motivation surface, it seems THINKFilm’s undermined its product by presenting it in a manner that made its creator very angry. No matter how much salt one takes with Gilliam’s basic ‘boycott’ comments, you don’t want the maker of your merchandise calling for a embargo. Visually, you are not missing anything if your purchase the Region 1 DVD. But behind the scenes, away from the camera and the cast, the issue lingers. Was it just a mistake? Was it meant to be a kind of demographically demanded compromise? Was THINKFilm simply out to lunch when they made the decision to handle this already tripwire title in such a manner? The plot thickens. Sadly, we may never have an answer. Leave it to Terry Gilliam and everything he touches to always remain a pleasantly puzzling enigma. 


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Saturday, Mar 24, 2007


An elderly couple’s car has broken down along a lonely country road. With their tire flat, the man struggles to change it with little success. Suddenly, a motorcycle gang shows up, a bunch of leather-wearing weirdoes with their sleazy old ladies along for the ride. But instead of harming the aged pair, they proceed to repair their car and send them on their way. While still out for a sometimes illegal good time, this Harley-riding horde is also considerate and concerned for their fellow man. Recognizing that the freedom they seek must be provided to others as well, they only use their bad-ass image to undermine the Establishment.


When the girlfriend of a dead buddy’s brother is assaulted, the police naturally pin the crime on the Club. Turns out, it was a rogue officer that was responsible for the frame-up. With the help of the gal’s frantic father and a local weapons lover who masquerades as a nature-loving sportsman, the town hopes a little vigilante justice will drive the bikers away once and for all. Resolved to clear their name, the clan prepares for a showdown. A funeral for a fallen member provides the perfect backdrop for a standoff, and with everyone loaded for bear, it’s not long before the Northville Cemetery Massacre is in full, fatal swing.


Let’s just call this two-wheeled wonder Uneasy Rider and get it over with, shall we? Like Robert Altman directing a Roger Corman biker epic, Northville Cemetery Massacre defies description as precisely as it plays with certain cinematic classifications. Some sort of counterculture experiment by first-time filmmakers Thomas L. Dyke (his only credit) and William Dear (who would go on to helm Harry and the Hendersons and Angels in the Outfield), this combination of cinema vérité, born to be wildness, and standard cautionary storytelling is one bizarre bit of motorcycle mayhem.


Both embracing and examining the outlaw nature of the chopper champion, Dyke and Dear originally called their movie Freedom: R.I.P. , with good reason. This movie was meant to symbolize the inner corruption among so-called law-abiding citizens, including the police themselves, while striving to show the leather-wearing biker as a righteous dude with an undeserved rowdy reputation. Oh sure, there’s some bar-based fisticuffs, and the movie ends in one of the biggest bloodbaths captured on independent film, but at its heart, Northville Cemetery Massacre wants to draw a distinction between brutality based in the support of brotherhood, and cruelty as a sense of civic duty.


Buried inside all the “us vs. them” underpinnings are class-crossed lovers who just want to get high and roll in the hay. With a voice dubbed by a very young Nick Nolte, our slightly fey hero is an ex-Vietnam vet whose decision to drop out has a lot to do with the treatment of his dearly departed brother at the hands of authorities. His potential old lady is a typical small-town twinkie who’s lost in her own inner world of frilly drapes, romantic phone calls, and sexual assault at the hands of a psychotic sheriff’s deputy. Together, the duo makes an uneasy core for the average audience member. He feels like an afterthought to the whole narrative construct, a drive-in denizen who presents passion pitters with a like-minded weed head they can identify with.


As for the gal, she emanates about as much sex appeal as a socket wrench, and her moments of tasteful toplessness do very little to stir male viewing interest. It would be interesting to see a version of this film sans the lovebird life lessons, one that uses the real-life Detroit Scorpions Motorcycle Club as a foundation for a pragmatic look at how ‘70s society viewed such “gangs.” Instead, we get the gratuitous rape, the sportsman/serial killer who can’t wait to hunt that most dangerous of games, and an ending that’s both perfunctory and profound, questioning all that’s come before while offering little in the way of easy solutions.


For many a seasoned grindhouse fan, this sounds like solid sleazoid stuff, right? Well, the truth is trickier than that. While obviously aimed at an exploitation-appreciating throng, there is a strange, audience adverse approach to Dyke and Dear’s designs. Obviously unable to “direct” the real-life bikers, we get a clashing confrontation of styles and substance, amateur acting accented by professional performers trying to add to the authenticity. Many of the scenes are fascinating free-for-alls, dialogue constantly overlapping and conversations collapsing in on each other. We never really get to know the riders, and their women are pure props, positioned on the back of their Harleys for maximum hot mama effect. But this was probably not Dyke and Dear’s point. With that original title of Freedom: R.I.P. , they were clearly responding to the idea that America was becoming a nation divided along generational lines.


To the conservative clans who held the power, a group like the Scorpions represented lawlessness and defiance. That many of them were actually decent people drawn together by a sense of family that was sadly lacking in a post-‘60s society never really mattered much to those in charge. Bikers were an easy breed to pick on (the Hell’s Angels not helping matters much). By turning them into amiable anti-heroes here, the directors manage the mirror reflection on the culture that so many movies of this kind miss. For those who long for the days of Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper puffing their way across a dying America, Northville Cemetery Massacre will be a big, bad, bloody mess. But for those looking for more depth than defiance in their motorcycle storyline, this movie makes a very strong, if rather surreal, point.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Friday, Mar 23, 2007


Serafina Delle Rose is a proud woman. She has a pompous self-importance that makes her stand out among the other Italian women in her small Gulf Coast community. Her marriage to truck driver Rosario saved this destitute wretch from a miserable life in the old country, and she has faith in his love and affection. Unfortunately, Rosario has secrets, and when he dies in an accident, the truth comes pouring out. He was not only transporting produce—he was smuggling, and cheating on Serafina with a local slut.


Pregnant with a son when Rosario died, Serafina had a miscarriage, and now spends her days in a stupor, unable to connect with herself or with life. Her teenage daughter, Rosa, worries about her mother, fearing that she will fall deeper into depression. Serafina feels the need to protect her child, especially when she learns how serious Rosa’s relationship is with young sailor Jack Hunter.


Then one day, Serafina meets Alvaro Mangiacavallo, a vibrant, slightly silly man who instantly falls for the melancholy madam. Naturally, Serafina wants nothing to do with him. But slowly, and gradually, she learns that there is more to life than the memory of her late husband and the scandal with which he left her. Serafina must forget the past and embrace the future. With Alvaro, she has that chance.


It is said that the legendary playwright Tennessee Williams was desperate to craft a vehicle for his longtime friend and occasional muse, Italian actress Anna Magnani. Hoping to showcase this fiery, intense diva with a play equal to her supreme stature, Williams devised a simple story of an Italian widow wounded by her dead husband’s infidelity, only to be courted by a new, brash beau. It would mix elements from his previous literary successes as well as celebrate the Sicilian heritage he learned from his companion, Frank Merlo. The result was The Rose Tattoo, featuring another of Williams’s certified strong, slightly unhinged women at its center.


The stage was literally set for Magnani to take Broadway by storm. Problem was, as the time came to essay the role of Serafina Delle Rose, Magnani balked, claiming her English wasn’t good enough to effectively bring the character to life. She refused to appear, and Williams was left to recast the part. He got the far younger Maureen Stapleton for the lead, and The Rose Tattoo opened on the Great White Way in February 1951. It was another Tennessee Williams smash, going on to win four Tonys, including Best Play and acting honors for stars Stapleton and Eli Wallach (as Mangiacavallo). When the time came to make the movie, Magnani was again approached. Again, her English was less than graceful. So, via a very unique performance style, Magnani was fed her lines by a dialogue coach, and she mimicked the sounds she heard. The result was a monumental thespian turn, earning Magnani an Oscar as Best Actress.


Magnani is indeed the main reason to visit The Rose Tattoo. Those who enjoyed—or suffered through—the works of Williams while in school will recognize the arcane, poetic writer’s style all throughout this early piece. Tattoo was written after The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire (two classic works of theater if ever there were any), but before Williams’s other successes like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Sweet Bird of Youth.


Specifically crafted to emphasize—and perhaps stereotype—certain ethnic Italian ideals, as well as to showcase the fall and rise of a stubborn, selfish immigrant, Tattoo has all the trimmings one associates with a stage show. Magnani must work around all the obvious imagery, shuttling symbolism (especially the awkward title emblem) and incidental iconography within this standard slice of melodrama to make Serafina a real, vital individual. It is to her well-deserved credit that the actress takes what could have been a harsh, almost unsympathetic character and imbues it with life and substance.


Magnani is all sex and shame in The Rose Tattoo, a mixture of Old World classicism and New World haughtiness molded into a defiant, somewhat desperate woman. Though she is dowdy and depressed throughout most of the film, Magnani manages to hint at both the life and the love still locked inside Serafina. Saddled with a couple of obvious showpiece moments (her visit to the church bazaar and the confrontation with Rosario’s mistress come to mind), she still managed to cement this overwrought work with the earthy neo-realism of her amazing performances from Italian cinema. She is the heart and soul of The Rose Tattoo, and after watching her for nearly two hours, it’s hard to see anyone else in the role.


As the other major element in the movie, Burt Lancaster is a bit of a problem, albeit a very minor one. He has the size and the heft to play Alvaro Mangiacavallo, and as an actor, he matches Magnani’s efforts bravura to bravado. But he makes an ethnically blank Italian. Lancaster, who was purely Anglo-Saxon, tries his hardest, and sometimes he succeeds. When not required to mutter and bumble over Williams’s culturally queer dialogue (there are times when The Rose Tattoo feels like a parody of a Mediterranean melodrama), the usually magnificent actor finds the sincerity and strength at the center of Alvaro’s persona. We are supposed to feel an instant connection between Serafina and the strapping suitor, and it’s as much a testament to Magnani’s smoldering sexuality as Lancaster’s matinee idol attractiveness that the combination works.


There is a tendency in The Rose Tattoo to see the actors as working at stylistic cross-purposes within the film. Magnani wants to keep Serafina grounded while still successfully existing within Williams’s mannered circumstances. Lancaster, on the other hand, wants to go with the hyper-realistic flow, to make his character as large as—or occasionally larger than—the life the author prescribed for him. Such a dichotomy would normally kill a film, but it works in The Rose Tattoo only because of the immense talent of both actors. Had director Daniel Mann—a Hollywood journeyman responsible for such diverse films as Come Back, Little Sheba, Butterfield 8, and Willard (1971)—utilized someone like Marcello Mastroianni or Anthony Quinn, the film may have been more culturally sound. But Lancaster brings something to Tattoo that both adds and subtracts from the experience.


For a modern moviegoing audience, the real enemy here is the stagy, almost claustrophobic nature of the film. Mann keeps the majority of the action inside the cramped, closed-off Delle Rose home with its shuttered windows and low ceilings. While all the ominous trappings are supposed to suggest the cloud of grief overwhelming Serafina, one has to wonder how much of her dilemma comes from the death of her husband, and what percentage derives from a lack of sunlight and fresh air. There has been no real attempt to “open up” the play, to make it less like a single setting circumstance. Certainly, the scenes at the festival, and Serafina/Alvaro’s trip into town are an excuse to introduce the real world into the insular domain of the Delle Rose’s, but the overall impression given off by the film is of a distinct, compact world (which may be what both Mann and Williams wanted).


Equally uncomfortable is the standard subplot silliness of Serafina’s teenage daughter, Rosa. All the clichéd checkpoints are here: a child embarrassed by her mother’s raging ethnicity, the over-attached puppy love for a milquetoast man (the sailor, Jack), and a near-constant sense of public and private adolescent angst. Marisa Pavan is given the difficult, if not impossible, task of trying to find a compassionate center to what is basically a living, breathing reminder of Serafina’s shame. While such a blatant object—either human or otherwise—may work on stage, it’s far too obvious a device on film. Though it is occasionally hampered by such histrionics, The Rose Tattoo is still a solid drama with excellent performances piercing through the poppycock.


Now on PopMatters
PM Picks
Announcements
PopMatters' LUCY Giveaway! in PopMatters's Hangs on LockerDome

© 1999-2014 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters.com™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.