‘Blue Movie’ (1978)

The color of going too far

RaroVideo’s DVD of Alberto Cavallone’s difficult-to-describe Blue Movie is an important release that I hope presages more from this obscure cult figure. I say this with due consideration. Many people, attracted by the title’s promise of sleaze (on which the film delivers both less and more than most would wish), will find the movie a confusing, unwatchable eyesore, which it is. This is partly for reasons beyond the late Cavallone’s control, and partly due to his deliberate vision.

It’s kind of Antonioni’s Blow-Up reinvented to account for Makavejev’s Sweet Movie and Pasolini’s Salo (with, of all things, a nod to William Castle’s The Tingler ), though I find it ultimately not as successful as these. Claudio (attractive non-professional actor Claude Maran or Claudio Marani) is a photographer who possibly hallucinates much of the story. It’s not quite clear that he’s a former Vietnam war photographer (as the notes explain) who’s now shooting sexy trivia, but he “sees” documentary war footage during various scenes, especially the moment when a woman supposedly smears herself with her feces while we hear Bach and see Holocaust footage. That should give you an idea that Cavallone is provocatively and perhaps pretentiously frustrating any viewers seeking erotic stimulus.

The first scene presents an unclear situation of a woman (Danielle Dugas) resisting the attentions of a black-masked man, whom she seemingly knows, in the middle of a forest with a ruined castle. Then she’s picked up by Claudio in his car and tells him a confused version that doesn’t jibe (she says there were three men, the mask was white, etc.). Later she says the real story is different and admits to knowing the man, but by then he doesn’t want to hear it and we never do. Clearly she hallucinates (thus the Tingler bathtub scene), and maybe she’s hallucinated. We suspect they might be engaging in a strange game, with Claudio always her boyfriend, and the latest twist is that he locks her in his apartment.

As their roles shift, two other women are involved in Claudio’s life, and there are visits from a black man (Joseph Dickson) who claims to be the first woman’s friend and to “like” men only, though these assertions don’t tally with his behavior. One commenter in the bonus “making of” speculates that the other characters are projections of Claudio, or at least that the women allegorize body, soul, and conscience.

The source of the standard-frame (1.33:1) print is unclear, as often is the print. You can tell when censor cuts are made by the fact that the music (by Bach, Offenbach, and Scott Joplin) have jagged jumps during the few sex scenes. Uncut versions of these scenes are offered as a bonus, culled from a wretched 8mm pirated edition. Despite or because of all this, the film was a hit in Italy, apparently to Cavallone’s surprise. Perhaps its extremity or rarity explains why RaroVideo chose to put it out first. I hope it’s not because it’s the only one they could get their hands on.

Online profiles of Cavallone’s mainstream films indicate intriguing sexual and political elements. They include the popular La Salamandre (1969), about a menage a trois; From Our Correspondent in Copenhagen (1970), about AWOL American soldiers from Vietnam; the Ethiopia-set Afrika (1973), with male homosexual lovers; the lesbian thriller Zelda (1974); the unreleased Maldoror based on Lautreamont’s poetry; Man, Woman and Beast (1977) and other “erotic thrillers”. He’s what the French call a cineaste maudit, a problematic personal filmmaker commonly dismissed for “bad” or tasteless movies, and I’d like to see his more reasonably budgeted, carefully presented output.

RATING 5 / 10