We welcome a new DVD company, RaroVideo USA, and offer a not-so-silent prayer for the success of its mission. In fact it’s not a totally new company, since RaroVideo has existed in Italy for some time. What’s new is that the company opened an American label to capture the Region 1 market. According to its press release, RaroVideo made this decision after hooking up with the owner of Cult Epics (a label that’s been releasing the output of Italian eroticist Tinto Brass) and distribution company Entertainment One.
The PR declares that directors featured in the RaroVideo catalog include Michelangelo Antonioni, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Luchino Visconti, Derek Jarman, Roberto Rosselllini, Shinya Tsukamoto, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Jean-Luc Godard, Werner Herzog, Lars von Trier, Lucio Fulci, Mario Bava, Francesco Barilli, Tinto Brass, Jean Cocteau, Pedro Almodovar and Martin Scorsese. Bear in mind that this doesn’t mean they’ll be distributing all these folks in the US. It says, “Raro Video was also the first company in the world to release on DVD Andy Warhol’s: The Chelsea Girls, My Hustler, The Nude Restaurant and Lonesome Cowboys. RaroVideo will continue to spotlight the works of major Italian directors next year with plans to release Antonioni’s The Vanguished (I Vinti), Pasolini’s The Anger (La Rabbia) and Carmelo Bene’s Our Lady of the Turks (Nostra signora dei Turchi).
From this I conclude that RaroVideo US will emphasize Italian films, as well it should. At least one other label this century, an outfit called NoShame, flourished briefly with an excellent and ambitious slate of Italian items ranging from horror to crime to sex comedies to highbrow titles. Alas, NoShame went belly up. Another label, Blue Underground, still reissues Italian horror titles now and then, and of course Criterion often puts out deluxe versions of Italian classics. There’s plenty more where these came from, and RaroVido is coming out of the gate with two lavish Criterion-worthy releases. One is nominally “arty” and the other “lowdown”, but the lines deserve to be blurred and they are.
A Rare Fellini
Made for TV in 1970, The Clowns is an act of prestidigitation posing as a documentary. In this it resembles another TV project of the era, Orson Welles’ F for Fake, and The Clowns is as much a distillation of Fellini as the other distills Welles.
As historian Adriano Aprà observes in a very good visual essay on the film, the opening sequence seems to owe as much to the comic strip “Little Nemo” as to autobiography. Roused by noises in the night, a boy in a nightshirt goes to the window and witnesses a tent being raised next to his house. Unlike the nomads who supposedly steal away silently under cover of darkness, these people are arriving in the wee hours with some clatter. This whole sequence tends to present the boy from the back or with his face in shadow.
Film: The Clowns
Director: Federico Fellini
Cast: Federico Fellini, Anita Ekberg
Release date: 2011-03-01
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/b/barrett-clowns-cvr.jpgThe next morning, the camera follows him out the door into the new world of wonder, and we witness a lengthy montage of circus acts. Crucially, we never witness any act all the way through. It’s a series of jump cuts — acrobats to wrestling ladies to tigers — as though these are the highlights in a fragmentary memory. The proceedings are dominated by many clowns of extravagant violence. There are more axes and hammers to the head than dreamed of by the Three Stooges, and it all happens at once all over the scene in pairs and trios. The boy is dragged home crying. Instead of laughing at the clowns, he finds them frightening and sad.
Fellini’s voiceover tells us that despite their exaggerations, they don’t seem so unreal because any small town has characters like that. The rest of the sequence is series of memories of local oddballs, drunks, petty tyrants, and otherwise vivid faces that populate Fellini’s memories and films. This segment feels like a dry run for Amarcord, except that where that film was a more generalized series of childhood memories, this one is thematically linked to the clownish grotesqueries of human behavior.
This has been the first third of the film. Then we are in the modern day, and Fellini introduces us to his alleged film crew. They’re certainly a motley crew–not literally, though that would be appropriate for a clown picture. Although we seem to have transitioned from fiction to documentary, it’s a lie because these people who will accompany him throughout the following scenes, “filming” as he interviews many retired clowns in France and Italy, clearly aren’t his real crew. They’re his own private circus, there for flavor and perhaps to remind us that there really is a crew following him around, only not this one. Just as surely, all the interviews and lunches and visits are elaborately staged, even if some of the ex-clowns are saying more or less what they might really say in a straight documentary. Really they don’t give us many facts, just their faces.
When we visit a working circus, whom does Fellini discover wandering by the tiger cages but Anita Ekberg, his star from La Dolce Vita, and many edits compare Anita to the tigers. One of the people we visit is fellow film director Pierre Etaix, whose output includes clown material and who married into an illustrious clown family. He’s supposedly going to show us a rare film but things don’t go as planned. Another tour-de-force involves viewing a rare film in a TV station, and this sequence is all elaborate tracking shots. At one point we’re told that a woman is Charlie Chaplin’s daughter; she resembles Geraldine Chaplin but it’s not her. Aprà identifies her as sister Victoria Chaplin, married to the magician in the scene.
The raucous final part of the movie (dream? reconstruction?) is a long big-top performance centered on a clown’s funeral to convey the idea that a certain type of clown is dead. After this melée comes a haunting coda of beauty and mystery about death and time in the form of another clown skit. At various points in the film, the movie had interrupted itself to illustrate anecdotes, and this final digression is our fade-out. Naturally, we’re exposed to Nino Rota’s music throughout, and in the final moments the jauntiness segues to trumpetary melancholy.
Aprà’s essay clarifies several things besides Chaplin’s daughter. By reading aloud from Fellini’s concurrent book on clowns, he tells us Fellini’s ideas on the social meaning of the clowns that have peopled his circus-like output. Europe’s clowns traditionally worked in duet with one as the “White Clown”, an authoritarian figure, and the other as the hapless “Augusto”, a victim and childlike anarchist. Fellini extends this to explain which categories his fellow directors fall into (Visconti and Pasolini are White Clowns while Antonioni is Augusto), or that Freud is a White Clown while Einstein is Augusto.
A bonus short is Fellini’s segment from the 1953 Love in the City, an important film. The influential screenwriter Cesare Zavattini, one of the guiding forces behind neo-realism, produced this as a showcase for that movement as employed by himself, Fellini, Alberto Lattuada, the young Michelangelo Antonioni, Dino Risi, and Carlo Lizzani. At the request of Italian censors, Lizzani’s segment about prostitution wasn’t shown abroad. It kicked off what proved a hardy Italian genre, the anthology or survey film, of which there were dozens through the next two decades. This movie, available on DVD in Europe, deserves its own Region 1 release.
Crime and the City
Fernando Di Leo Crime Collection is a box of four films directed by this fellow Di Leo. These pictures are usually categorized in an Italian genre called poliziotteschi, but that word refers most stringently to cop movies inspired by Dirty Harry and Serpico, while Di Leo’s are mob movies of the early-’70s.
In other words, these are the sort of violent gangster pictures that played American drive-ins in English-dubbed versions, and here they are gathered in a deluxe box with a booklet and cover copy that says “Di Leo’s films demonstrate the degradation of the working classes and how the mafia corrupted them.” You’ve got to love it, or at least I do. It goes on: “Though he slipped out of public consciousness after his death in 2003, his works have been revived and shown at the Tate Modern in London and The Venice Film Festival where Quentin Tarantino admitted that Di Leo truly inspired him to make gangster films.”
These films are offered in both their Italian soundtracks and the dubbed English tracks. Either choice is valid because Italian movies were shot silent and dubbed later. In the case of the Italian actors, they spoke their lines in Italian on camera and then dubbed themselves. Imported American stars spoke their lines in English and often dubbed themselves in the English versions but were dubbed by others in the Italian versions. So it’s often the case that the most complete or authentic performance of the main star can be found in the English version. Italians were very professional dubbers and it’s usually not a distraction.
Director: Fernando Di Leo
Release date: 2011-03-01
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/b/barrett-deleocollection-cvr.jpgWhen some DVD companies offer both tracks, their optional English subtitles are merely transcriptions of the English track, but RaroVideo doesn’t cheat. RaroVideo actually translates the Italian dialogue, which is generally equivalent to the English dialogue, without being the same. I find it informative to watch with the English soundtrack while having the subtitles on in order to notice the intriguing differences. It’s like experiencing two alternative universes at once.
Let’s take a closer look at this bullet-riddled quartet. Caliber 9 opens with a sleekly picturesque, nearly wordless sequence about a cache of money being delivered from one courier to another. When it turns out to be worthless paper, there’s a festival of over-the-top violence as the couriers are rounded up. The money is never recovered, and when our anti-hero (Gaston Moschin) is released from prison a few years later, he finds himself dogged by his criminal bosses as the only man who could have stolen the cash.
The whole movie is the tension of this guy negotiating his way through the criminals and the cops, aided only by his hitman friend (Philippe Leroy) and a girlfriend (Barbara Bouchet), who lives in a fabulous black and white art-deco pad. Mario Adorf is the primary goon, and their boss is played by Lionel Stander. Interestingly, his character is called L’Americano in the Italian version and The Mikado in the English version, so the English doesn’t make a point of identifying him as American. A couple of cops have sociological arguments about the politics of Italy’s North/South divide and the fact that the main criminal is supported by the wealthy who use him to transfer money out of the country. A retired mafia don remarks ruefully that there’s no mafia in the north, just gangs of opportunistic criminals.
The whole is curious mix of sociology and brooding not-muchness until the last act, which returns to over-the-top bloodshed in a manner that’s rather surprising and spectacular, within the general grainy grittiness of this low-budget item. Italian genres often ripped off American hits, but it’s important to realize that this 1972 movie resembles The Godfather not at all and may disappoint those looking for anything besides a trudge through a low-rent milieu. Loosely inspired by an Italian writer named Giorgio Scerbanenco, this film feels closer to something like The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, only with more firepower.
Another 1972 film is La Mala Ordina, which means “the evil order” or colloquially “the mafia order”. The American title, The Italian Connection, is a meaningless riff on The French Connection. It stars the vivid Adorf, the previous film’s antagonist. In both films he’s lumpen, sweaty, and crude, with swashes of fierce animation. He seems as blunt as an axe handle, yet it’s wielded with subtlety as he transforms from a careless pimp, not quite with a heart of gold but with certain vulnerabilities, to a desperate, angry man who doesn’t know why the universe has suddenly made him the most wanted slob in town. He’s at his scariest during one of the most exciting chase scenes I’ve ever watched; it beats French Connection all to hell.
The movie opens with a long scene of exposition in a ritzy setting. Cyril Cusack explains the assignment to two hitmen (Henry Silva and Woody Strode), whom Tarantino admits as models for the more characterful John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction. The backstory is complicated and turns out to be irrevelant, since they don’t really know what’s going on anyway. These American hitmen, dispatched to Italy to lord it over everyone, dominate the first and last acts, with Adorf carrying most of the film. It’s interesting how these movies claim the American mafia dominates the old country, while American mafia movies often imply the reverse. In either incarnation, it’s always some big guy arriving from over the ocean.
This is a brutal film in which almost all innocence is massacred. Di Leo’s politics come through in a gaggle of free-loving hippies, including Francesca Romana Coluzzi as a politically committed chick in outrageous blue afro (great intro via tracking shot in a nightclub) who serves as the movie’s truth-teller and secret heart. The hippies’ anarchy is more radical and healthy than the gangster’s organized chaos, and their pad is papered with posters for Godardian visual moments. In a telling moment, this gang offers Adorf his only reliable shelter from a hostile world. In another telling line, one of them thinks he looks like a cop. The guys in this thing look like pit bulls who got dragged by a bus, but the women are displays of gorgeosity, including Luciana Paluzzi, Sylvia Koscina, and Femi Benussi.
As in a game of round robin, one star from the last movie shows up in the next, and now it’s the “marble-faced” Silva who shows up in The Boss (1973), the final chapter in what’s been called Di Leo’s “milieu trilogy”. He’s the impassive hitman who uses a bazooka on a roomful of bosses watching porn in a screening room. Richard Conte plays the local boss in Palermo who relies on Silva until it becomes politic to get rid of him.
This film has the highest and goriest body count, yet it’s also the slowest and talkiest, and the point of all the conversation is that nobody means anything they say. People spend their time schmoozing and swearing loyalty, then turn around and do the same with the next person for the opposite goal. Cops and bureaucrats discuss their own webs of corruption, and there’s even a cameo by the Catholic church. According to the making-of, the movie ruffled some local feathers by using a few real names and references.
The whole theme of the film is the fatal politics of an organization that allows only the pretense of loyalty or truth, which in this case is more interesting to think about than sit through. (The English dubbing on this one is a bit problematic and one may do better to watch the Italian dub.) Di Leo has an ear for rationalization and hypocrisy as he constructs dialectical scenes that imply a whole social fabric, and this vision partly obstructs the typical goals of an action film. The final scene ends with “Continua” (“to be continued”) rather than “Fine” (“end”), not because there’s a sequel but to convey that the cycle never stops as the overarching powers remain in control.
Di Leo includes a glimpse of free-loving youth again in the person of a kidnapped daughter who feels no love for her mob-boss daddy and has no problem enjoying the attentions of her kidnappers after she’s over the initial fear and humiliation. As they trigger a mob war, they lecture her with blitheringly unconscious irony about how student protesters go too far and create chaos. Drugs are also discussed as some criminals admit they have no problem in trafficking but object to having anything available locally.
The fourth film, Rulers of the City (aka Mister Scarface) is the most straightforward action movie in the box, and perhaps the most purely satisfying as entertainment due to being less heartless and more on the side of rough justice. However, you can tell it’s made by the same sensibility as the other films, with their view of betrayal as the most essential element of any organization. And once again, there are nightclubs where women dance half-naked in front of tilting cameras before falling into bed with multiple partners.
Di Leo graces this film with the most self-consciously stylish opening, as the pre-credits sequence uses slow-motion and almost experimental music by Luis Bacalov to set up the revenge motif. The credits are relatively sleek and glossy. The ending, set appropriately in a slaughterhouse, is as exciting as can be and also greatly underlined by Bacalov’s percussive, metronomic score. In between, the story is a lean, tight series of surprises and setpieces with at least one beautifully played piece of misdirection.
Jack Palance is the star name here, while most of the film focuses on the point of view of a young handsome debt collector (Harry Baer) who wants to succeed in business and doesn’t understand it’s a business where success is doomed. He befriends a big blond hunk (Al Cliver) to help him out of a tight situation.
Early scenes in a seedy, makeshift gambling den epitomize both the criminal milieu and the philosophy. One aging clown remarks that if he had any money, he wouldn’t be losing it here, and the fact that Baer’s character doesn’t understand why he lost a hand of poker while he’s not looking tells us much about his fitness for this system. He dreams of Brazil, which is plastered on his walls, and where his brother is supposedly rich. It sounds like a pipe dream, but perhaps he’s not as entrenched in this malavita as the previous protagonists, and that might save him if anything will.
These films’ interest in crime as an essentially social phenomenon marks the influence of Francesco Rosi’s ’60s classics Salvatore Giuliano and Hands Over the City (both released on DVD by Criterion), and Di Leo acknowledges this in an interview in the booklet. He also acknowledges the influence of Jean-Pierre Melville’s crime films and admits (correctly) they’re better than his, but he also has a sense of his own value. He admires John Huston, and we can assume The Asphalt Jungle is especially relevant.
If We Ruled the World
As we stated above, we hope RaroVideo’s gambit pays off and they’ll be able further to explore the vaults of Italian cinema. With nice releases like this, we wish them all the success in the world in these hard times. And that reminds us: just for the heck of it, here’s an idle wish list of stuff that still hasn’t made it to Region 1 DVD, although some of it’s available in Europe. Call it “If We Ruled the World”, or:
Un Piccolo Inventory of Overlooked Italian Classics
I don’t touch upon Italy’s eminence in the silent era, when costly spectacles and romances dominated the screens, as can be seen via clips in the wonderful DVD Diva Dolorosa. I also don’t mention the “white telephone” films, the studio products aimed at diversion and distraction. This was the bathwater that got tossed out when critics starting canonizing neo-realism (non-professional actors, real locations, social conscience) but that doesn’t mean such films shouldn’t be re-examined.Nor do I mention the most honored, now utterly forgotten items of the Fascist era, when the Venice Film Festival gave out what was called the Mussolini Cup to epics directed by Augusto Genina, Carmine Gallone, and Goffredo Alessandrini–though I suspect these might be interesting also!
These are simply films mentioned in a few reference books. While very far from definitive, this list gives a glimpse of the wealth of Italian cinema and the poverty of what’s available outside Italy. If RaroVideo can hardly handle all these, I hope others get some ideas. I take an auteurist approach for convenience, although writers and producers have often done more to shape the Italian industry, and social conditions have done most of all. In roughly chronological order:
Sometimes called Italy’s Frank Capra, he specialized in comedies starring future director Vittorio De Sica. In their book Cinema: The Magic Vehicle, Adam Garbicz and Jacek Klinowski make entries for Rails (1929), a precursor to neo-realism, What Scoundrels Men Are! (1932), I’ll Give a Million (1935), Il Signor Max (1937), and the postwar The Street Has Many Dreams (1948), described as “his best, if an underestimated work”.
The other important ’30s director who pointed toward neo-realism, he’s noted by Garbicz and Klinowski for Sun (1929), the historical epic 1860 (1933) and Four Steps in the Clouds (1942), about a traveling salesman who pretends to be the father of a pregnant woman’s child. For the record, 1860 and Camerini’s What Scoundrels Men Are! (see above) are two of the three films produced by influential critic and writer Emilio Cecchi, who believed Italian cinema should be Italian instead of Hollywoodian. His third production, another of Italy’s most important early talkies, is Walter Ruttmann’s experimental Acciaio (1933), based on a novel by Pirandello and filmed at a steel factory. The mouth waters.
Vivere in Pace (1946), once hailed as a masterpiece of neo-realism, is about two escaped American POWs (one black, one white) hiding in a barn. It was produced by Carlo Ponti, co-scripted by Suso Cecchi D’Amico, and scored by Nino Rota–all on their way to careers as major shapers of Italian cinema. Cecchi D’Amico also worked on Zampa’s landmark mafia film A City on Trial (1952). Indeed, almost the whole contour of postwar Italian film could be traced through the scripts of this woman, the daughter of the above-named Emilio Cecchi.
Primarily a writer, Soldati is best known (or forgotten) for films made under Mussolini in WWII, such as Piccolo Mondo Antico (scripted by Emilio Cecchi, and winning a prize at Venice for star Alida Valli) and Malombra. And when there was such a category, his Policarpo (1949) was named Best Comedy at Cannes. He sounds ripe for rediscovery.
The Sun Rises Again (1946) is a tale of conflict among partisans and fascists that Garbicz and Klinowski hail as a wartime social panorama equal to Roberto Rossellini’s Paisan.
Criterion has released his Variety Lights (because it’s co-directed with Fellini) and the lately rediscovered Mafioso (1962). It’s time to rediscover his pioneering neo-realism, including The Bandit (1946) with Anna Magnani; Without Pity (1948), co-written by Fellini and with Giulietta Masina; and The Mill on the Po (1948). Garbicz and Klinowski refer to the second of these as “one of the most pessimistic works of Neorealism…not a didactic exhortation to honesty, but the bitter conclusions of a humanist”.
Vittorio De Sica
Frequently working with ubiquitous writer Cesare Zavattini, his neglected titles include Miracle in Milan (1951), an example of neo-realist techniques applied to satirical fantasy; Terese Venerdi (1941) with Anna Magnani, The Gold of Naples (1954) and The Roof (1956).
Giuseppe De Santis
An early proponent of neo-realism with melodramatic slickness. His crime film Caccia Tragica (1947) is an early script for Antonioni, and his international hit Bitter Rice (1949) made stars of Silvana Mangano and Raf Vallone. This was a legendary film. Where is it now? “De Santis was never faultless or original, although he was at times great,” say Garbicz and Klinowski, and they call Rome, 11 O’Clock (1952) “the last classical masterpiece of Neorealism”.
Criterion pays attention to this meticulous auteur, as witness their recent definitive Senso and the Blu-Ray of The Leopard, but how long must we wait for similar restorative dazzlement on the monumental Ossessione (1942, the first, unofficial version of The Postman Always Rings Twice), La Terra Trema (1948), Bellisimà (1951), and Rocco and His Brothers (1960)? Then there’s his lovely, neglected Sandra of a Thousand Delights (1965) and his version of Albert Camus’ The Stranger (1967), which might be controlled by Paramount.
For many long years I’ve imagined Criterion would put together a box of his films with then-wife Ingrid Bergman. I’m still waiting. (However, they’ve put out his late historical films, which is a surprising pleasure.) Also waiting: the controversial L’Amore with Anna Magnani (1949), the Stendhal romance Vanina Vanini (1961) and the witty fantasy The Machine That Kills Bad People (1952).
Pietro Germi–Known for sardonic ’60s comedies, Germi actually made the first film to mention the mafia, In the Name of the Law (1949, co-written by Fellini!). NoShame released The Railroad Man on DVD and Criterion put out Seduced and Abandoned and Divorce Italian Style, but the unreleased The Birds, the Bees and the Italians (1965) won the Grand Prize at Cannes.
We’re still awaiting his three ’50s features between debut Story of a Love Affair (released by NoShame) and Il Grido (Criterion). There’s also the oddball shot-on-video The Mystery of Oberwald (1979), the enigmatic Identification of a Woman (1982) and more recent films that have barely been released. He also made documentaries.
The Oxford Companion to Film (1976) praises Friends for Life (1955) as “a remarkably sensitive study of childhood”, and Death of a Friend (1960) for “gentle psychological awareness”. Wonderful. Where are they?
Vittorio De Seta
Not to be confused with De Sica, De Seta made his reputation with color documentaries in the ’50s before garnering acclaim with his feature The Bandits of Orgosolo (1961), about a shepherd boy and bandits. Next came the experimental, New Wave-ish Un uomo a meta [“A man in half”] (1966). Where is this stuff?
The Abandoned (1954), about a youthful romance during WWII, is praised by Garbicz and Klinowski as worthy of comparison to Fellini’s I Vitelloni and Antonioni’s Il Grido. Can we see for ourselves? They also praise the freshness and conviction of young love in Renato Castellani’s Dreams in the Drawer (1956) and Lattuada’s Guendalina (1957).
Life is Short: Watch Movies
The Great War (1959), a widescreen epic produced by Dino De Laurentiis, is a comic-tragic WWI tale described by Garbicz and Klinowski as “the best achievement of the Italian populist cinema in the post-Neorealist period”. This film won at Venice and was Oscar-nominated for Best Foreign Film. In fact, Monicelli is probably the most honored Italian director to be almost totally unknown in the US. (Only Big Deal on Madonna Street is on Criterion.)
He had two other Oscar nominees in The Organizer (1963) with Mastroianni and The Girl with the Pistol (1968) with Monica Vitti, and was also nominated for writing The Organizer and the anthology Casanova 70 (1965). He won at Venice for directing A Tailor’s Maid (1957), Caro Michele (1976) and Il Marchese del Grillo (1981). He won his country’s Donatello for Best Director for An Average Little Man (1977), We Hope It’s a Girl (1986) and Dark Illness (1990). This guy had legs, and we haven’t even mentioned his historical satires For Love and Gold (1966) and We Want the Colonels (1973). When he died last November at 95, his New York Times obit claimed his first two films were a short of Poe’s “Tell Tale Heart” and a version of Ferenc Molnar’s novel The Boys of Paul Street that won a special award at Venice. It must be true.
NoShame released two of his early films and the 1976 Desert of the Tartars. Another famous achievement is the Venice winner Cronaca Familiare (Family Diary) with Mastroianni. This was released in the US by MGM with narration by Orson Welles, and Warner Brothers may now control it; it’s been shown on Turner Classic Movies. (Someone at IMDb labels his review “A fantastically poetic existentialist masterpiece; one of the ten most gorgeous Technicolor films ever made.”)
Criterion has released some of his late additions to neo-realism, but where is a beautifully styled chamber piece called The Legend of the Holy Drinker (1988)? Starring Rutger Hauer in an adaptation of Joseph Roth’s novel, this is like a transcendental rebuke in advance to Leaving Las Vegas. A purely cinematic film with little dialogue, this won at the Venice Film Festival and grabbed Donatellos for Picture, Director, Editor (also Olmi), and Photography (Dante Spinotti)–and was never released in America!
Criterion finally released this button-pushing bad boy’s mysterious Dillinger Is Dead (1969), and a few years ago Koch Lorber put out an ambitious eight-film box. I hope they didn’t take a bath on it. (I swear, the Spanish-made El Cochecito is a Robert Altman film, shot in deep-focus black and white, ten years in advance.) Anyway, there’s been no follow-up box, and we’re still lacking such sexual provocations as The Conjugal Bed (1963), The Ape Woman (1964), The Harem (1967), La Cagna (1972), and The Last Woman (1976).
Ephraim Katz’ Film Encyclopedia: “His specialty is the Neapolitan-style bittersweet humor, casting a cynical, winking eye on unwholesome aspects of life in contemporary Italian society, the rich as well as the poor….Robust buffoonery often thinly veils serious social satire.” His most famous is probably the 1974 Scent of a Woman (remade with Al Pacino), but Il Sorpasso or The Easy Life (1962) was acclaimed in its day.
After writing for Dino Risi, he turned to directing with Let’s Talk About Women (1964), answered by Lina Wertmuller with Now Let’s Talk About Men (1965). He hit a stride of acclaim in the ’70s with We All Loved Each Other So Much (1974), Down and Dirty (1976, best director at Cannes), the Oscar nominee A Special Day (1977) with Sophia Loren and Mastroianni, Passione d’Amore (1981), La Nuit de Varennes (1982) about the French Revolution, and the dialogue-free Le Bal (1983). Some of these used to be on VHS and now need proper DVDs.
Early obscurities include the little-seen The Lizards (1963) and two musical comedies with singer Rita Pavone. For a while in the ’70s she could do no wrong, but still missing in action are The Seduction of Mimi, All Screwed Up and the monumental Love and Anarchy (a 1998 disc is long out of print).
Pier Paolo Pasolini
While most of his films have floated around on DVD, someone should properly tackle his elusive literary trilogy of the ’70s, The Decameron, The Canterbury Tales and The Arabian Nights in a single box. His first novel was filmed by Mauro Bolognini as Le Notte Brava (1959).
Criterion has released his 1965 debut Fists in the Pocket and some of his more recent films are also on disc (Good Morning Night is one of the new century’s great films about terrorism). There’s still a lot in between for this hostile yet beautiful artist, including China Is Near (1967), In the Name of the Father (1971), Leap Into the Void (1980, with Michel Piccoli and Anouk Aimée picking up awards at Cannes), The Eyes the Mouth (1982), and Henry IV (1984). That last isn’t Shakespeare but Pirandello, with Mastroianni and Claudia Cardinale.
I fully expect that one day Criterion will release the 1964 milestone Before the Revolution (released on VHS by the defunct New Yorker Films) but it’s sure taking its sweet time. Also among the missing: the maligned sexual angst of Luna (1979) and Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man (1981). He’s made documentaries too.
Best known for horror films, his early titles sound obscure and cultish, which is always good: Balsamus l’uomo di Satana, Thomas and the Bewitched (1970), The Mazurka of the Baron, the Saint and the Early Fig Tree (1975), Bordella (1976), and Tutti defunte…tranne i morti (1977). The Childhood Friend (1994) and The Mysterious Enchanter (1996) are thrillers. He’s made acclaimed nostalgic dramas such as Help Me Dream (1981, a musical cult waiting to happen) and The Story of Boys and Girls (1989), plus many TV items. RaroVideo in Italy has already distributed some of these.
One of my dream projects is a box devoted to films scored by this great maestro which otherwise seem hard to find. There’s a lot to choose from. One could simply pick 10 or 20 films with the grooviest or most haunting scores.
Frequently overlooked as the bastard children of Italian cinema, there might be a whole anthology of anthologies!
Clearly I’m greedy. That’s okay. Life is too short, and one must watch as many movies as possible in one’s lifetime.