Archive for Riccardo Freda

Hitting the Wall

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 5, 2014 by dcairns

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Jul 2nd — Mercoledi as they call it in Italy. And I ran out of stamina in Bologna, temporarily.

The day began well with FANTOMAS. I wasn’t completely sure of my ability to take the two-and-a-half hour SARAGOSSA MANUSCRIPT at 9am, so I opted for Feuillade’s serial, tempted by Ehsan Khoshbakht’s praise for the restoration. And indeed, so clean was the picture that it looked like a modern pastiche. When Rene Navarre looked into the camera he seemed to be RIGHT THERE with you.

In Edinburgh I had met Christoph Huber, curator of the Domenik Graf retrospective. Here he was again, in company with fellow donkey enthusiast Olaf Moller. Christoph wore a golden donkey T-shirt. Olaf, more discrete, had on a donkey pendant. And both made the revolutionary claim that Donkeys Make Everything Better. The donkey is an axiom of cinema.

So both were in ecstasy at the screening of scenes from the Ottoman empire — Turkish travelogues from the teens. Many exciting shots of donkeys, including a donkey photobombing a shot of camels at a trough. The ships of the desert are slurping away, and things are looking picturesque, and then the donkey sweeps majestically into frame in closeup profile, like Charles Bronson in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, and wipes them off the screen.

But for true Donkey Heaven we would have to wait a day…

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After lunch I made, i think, a mistake, dropping in on a Heinosuke double-bill — these early Japanese talkies tend to foreground sound and the voice in quite literal ways — the one I eventually stayed awake for was all about music, and featured a blind character for whom sound was particularly significant. These two, THE BRIDE TALKS IN HER SLEEP and THE GROOM TALKS IN HIS SLEEP were mild screwball comedies in which the voice plays a key role. Anyhow, I lapsed into unconsciousness for the first one and bailed on the second, which was apparently the better of the two. Makes me wish I’d discovered the Italian compendium films sooner, or opted for THE EPIC OF EVEREST, which cause quite a bit of excitement, or MIDNIGHT MARY, which is a SUPERB Wellman. When sleep threatens, you need a certain kind of movie.

I should have gone to see GIANT at this point, but opted for Barbara Steele’s video appearance, which I thought might be live and interactive but proved to be a pre-record. Beautiful Babs was speaking with regard to the Riccardo Freda season and was very entertaining and there is no danger of falling asleep when SHE is on the screen.

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I followed this with DER LETZTE AKTE, (THE LAST ACT, 1955), which deals with Hitler’s last days and is maybe the first big film to do so. It’s directed by GW Pabst and, as Olaf Muller said in his intro, comes from the post-war period when Pabst’s international reputation was and is very low, partly due to some inferior films but mostly because he had failed to get out of Germany during the Nazi era. Not that he ever made anything with pro-Nazi sentiments. The print was pure grindhouse — as Olaf put it (I paraphrase), “After seeing a lot of digital restorations that have all the charm of a hastily-done boob job, we are about to see source material that corresponds more to sagging skin and clumps of grey hair — to my body, in fact.”

The movie was indeed in ratty condition, but that somehow fit the low-ceilinged, oppressive claustrophobia of it. After two hours in the sweaty Sala Scorsese with intermittent, flirtacious air-conditioning, an exhausted simultaneous translator struggling in our earpieces, we all felt like we’d spent ten days in a bunker.

Albin Skoda played Hitler, and Oskar Werner played an obligatory Good German, perhaps not so much a sop to bruised national sensibilities as a sop to commercial cinema, which always feels more comfortable with a sympathetic character around. I was also dubious about whether Hitler really flooded the Berlin Underground to prevent the Russians reaching him by tube, but according to Wikipedia he may have done just that — the movie definitely inflates the resulting tragedy for dramatic purposes, though. I guess the idea of Hitler deliberately massacring the wounded who were sheltering below ground works as a metaphor for what he did to Germany.

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A leisurely dinner and then — carbon lamp projection! Germaine Dulac’s LA PRINCESSE MANDAINE is an elegant slice of exotic comedy, with a very funny camp central performance by either Edmond or Ernest Van Duren (IMDb and the Ritrovato catalogue disagree). It’s got a very slender plot and might not have sustained interest, but the added drama of an ancient projector belching poisonous fumes into the air, illuminated by blasting beams of light, and the resulting smooth, chocolatey picture shimmering on the screen, made up for quite a few deficiencies.

Dulac could be quite cheeky — at the end of his Michael Strogoff-inspired dream, the hero rescues the princess only for her to run off with her maid. “I’ve sold myself down the river for a couple of dykes,” complained Bob Hoskins in MONA LISA, and we were supposed to agree (and not wonder what happened to the girls afterwards). Actually, MONA LISA has one of the worst endings of any otherwise quite-good British film of the eighties. Whereas even my most soporific day in Bologna was a treat.

Day Two

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 19, 2014 by dcairns

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My second day at Il Cinema Ritrovato and I was for sure going to make it into town in time to see THE EXPLOITS OF ELAINE — a serial represented by one tantalising still in Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies. Sadly, the two episodes screened, fun though they were, did not include the Jekyll-and-Hyde sequence Gifford depicted, so I can’t altogether chalk that one off my list.

Still, the bits shown, two full episodes with some sequences spliced in from elsewhere (those wacky Belgians!) were jolly good fun.

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Like a lightweight, I gave myself 45 minutes of daylight before plunging into TEODORA, IMPERATRICE DI BISANZIO (THEODORA, SLAVE EMPRESS), part of the too-brief Riccardo Freda season. This was campy, sword-and-sandal fun, showing signs of the amoral and unsympathetic eye Freda would later turn on his characters. One character, a prison guard is seduced by the vamp-heroine so she can escape her bonds. He’s blinded with a red-hot poker for his troubles (the sadism of the giallo and the spaghetti western is fully present in the peplum). Later, he turns up as a kind of monster, stalking towards Teo in his fur-trimmed barbarian/s&m costume, only to get speared by the hero. Shouldn’t he merit a little sympathy? Apparently not.

The movie also features the best beast attack I’ve ever seen — scores of wild cats of all breeds leaping upon and devouring Roman soldiers. Freda uses the standard formula — shot of real big cat jumping, shot of extra being walloped with stuffed lion — but he cuts so frenetically and does it so many times that the sequence attains a kind of ludicrous, drunken conviction. Hilarious and breath-taking.

The feature screened with a short, I MOSAICI A REVENNA, in which Freda artfully films the religious art of the early Byzantine Empire — and he interpolates a few shots from the doc into his feature to bolster the production values.

On to the big screen at the Arlecchino, for OKLAHOMA! which I could only justify on the grounds that a Todd-AO restoration is an unusual event, and I wanted to see what it looked and sounded like. Well, pristine, for starters. I kind of resented the way the intro was all about the difficulty of the restoration — the challenge seems to have been the main motivation — with no mention of Fred Zinnemann and his achievement, mixed though it may be. On the big screen, with the six-track magnetic stereo sound remastered and the image taken from the decaying negative ten years ago and digitally restored at 50fps 30fps, the film is overwhelming. Rarely have I seen so much of the great outdoors indoors. The micro detail allows you to spot tiny flies and butterflies (and water-snakes) wafting through frame, sometimes to dramatically fortuitous effect. Note also Zinnemann’s innovative direct cutting, achieved without the guiding influence of the nouvelle vague. When Gordon MacRae sings of his putative surrey with a fringe on top, we just cut to the damn thing, on the beat, rollicking along against a massive sky, just as if it had existed all along.

If I started to list the things I missed while watching this jolly 148 minute roadshow pic, complete with intermission, I might start to cry. That’s the curse of the film festival. Oh, very well — Cagney’s debut in OTHER MEN’S WOMEN — a 1935 Mizoguchi and a Takashima of similar vintage — something called IN THE LAND OF THE HEAD HUNTERS — NIGHT NURSE with Stanwyck and Blondell in their scanties — a conference on film restoration — a film by Henny Porten’s sister — Chaplin’s THE VAGABOND and EASY STREET — Giuseppe Tornatore talking about Francesco Rosi’s SALVATORE GIULIANO — Guru Dutt’s PYAASA… and the same impossible choices are offered up from 9am to 9.45pm every day!

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By simply remaining in my seat I could catch MY DARLING CLEMENTINE, so I did. Later, Dave Kehr told me about the earlier cut, the authentic Ford cut, which alas does not seem to have been restored. But Linda Darnell on the big screen, even playing a character called Chihuahua ffs, was possibly the most impressive sight of the fest.

In the massive Piazza Maggiore, the public gets in free along with the guests — to watch SALVATORE GIULIANO, in this case, with Tornatore introducing. The restoration makes it look new. It’s a very impressive film, but after 12 hours of screenings I am not taking it in as well as I might — though the film’s unconventional structure (a bit like a CITIZEN KANE in which we see Thompson but don’t see KANE) certainly comes across — when you’re dog-tired and have no idea how far from the end of the movie you might be, you certainly notice.

Sodom & Begorrah

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on September 4, 2012 by dcairns

Riccardo Freda’s IGUANA WITH THE TONGUE OF FIRE won’t be forming part of my Forgotten Gialli series over at The Daily Notebook — because we’ve got to preserve some standards — but I couldn’t let it pass my retinas without comment.

Set and shot in Dublin, the story follows the odd goings-on at the embassy of an unnamed country, where Anton Diffring is the ambassador so it’s Germany, OK? Flick begins with dull tourist views, and then a woman is splashed with acid and has her throat hacked through in graphic close-up, a brief but shockingly nasty slaying without much of the traditional giallo panache. The ECU effects are unconvincing but nonetheless horrid.

Then we get a thick broth of plot, blending sinister homosexuals, adultery (Anton Diffring is shagging half of Ireland — the wrong half, I’d have said), more murders, unconventional police tactics, and granny-bashing.

Freda, ” a true intellectual” according to his associates, has a genius for concealing his brains and directing like an idiot, which perhaps reflects more on his opinion of his audience than his own capabilities. His vulgar zooms, blatant titty shots and willingness to linger on appalling dialogue distinguish him from his colleague Mario Bava, who endeavored to turn even the lamest scene into chromatic poetry. Freda follows Sidney Pollack’s dictum: “Let the boring crap BE boring crap.”

The cast is a mixture of faded, disdainful Euro-trash glamour and lumpen Irish depressives, with Arthur O’Sullivan (Feeny the highwayman from BARRY LYNDON) the most interesting presence, not so much for his way with dialogue as for his general manner: cold, guarded, a beady-eyed toad.

Luigi Pistilli, a Leone fave (Tuco’s brother in THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY), with a dubbed Irish accent, makes an interesting hero, with a Hank Quinlan backstory and a dotty would-be Miss Marple mum. The moment where mum, son, and grand-daughter discover their cat decapitated in the fridge, dripping onto a perfectly good cake, is the film’s strongest moment of horror for me (I love cats and I love cakes).

Valentina Cortese exudes her particular form of high fashion elegance, which at this point consists of dressing like a madwoman with cancer from the nineteen twenties.

Diffring is above it all (and his arse at no point bursts into flames, so that we can’t call the film ANTON WITH A BUM OF FIRE, so just don’t go there) and at one point delivers the Line He Was Born To Say.

“How did you get in here?” asks bonnie colleen Dominique Boschero.

“It doesn’t take much imagination to use a back entrance,” he explains, keeping a totally straight face.

But the most gob-smacking moment (apart from the savage murder of a beautiful woman taking place ENTIRELY OFFSCREEN, surely a first for this genre) is the interrogation of the German chauffeur, who claims he was in a hurry to get to the cleaners.

“Is this the cleaners?” asks O’Sullivan’s associate detective ~

SWASTIKA LAUNDRY LTD. Did Dublin really have such an establishment? I know Ireland maintained her neutrality in WWII, so maybe they felt duty-bound to have matching laundries for balance: perhaps the Swastika was opposite Field Marshall Montgomery’s Wash ‘n’ Go? Or maybe this was an exclusive establishment catering solely to the staff of the German embassy, in a misguided attempt to make them feel at home? It certainly raises many questions more intriguing than the plot of IGUANA WITH THE TONGUE OF FIRE, waiting to beguile you when you get tired of wondering what the title means.

Stop Press: It’s real. Or it was, up until 1980.

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