Artistic Licentiousness

I should be watching Damiano Damiani’s films in sequence, shouldn’t I? They all seem to be good, or interesting, or excellent, though the tail end of his career seems like a too-common tapering-off. So why not assess his development as I go?

This thought it prompted by LA NOIA — THE EMPTY CANVAS, or BOREDOM in English — which relates strongly to A VERY COMPLICATED GIRL, a later film which I’d already seen. Both feature painters, both feature male-model ridiculously good-looking guys and Catherine Spaak, both are based on tales by Alberto Moravia. But the second film is far crazier — Spaak plays the artist, not the muse, it feels like a misremembered nightmare version of its predecessor, with everything jumbled up confusingly and character motivation lost in a fog of insanity. So it would probably have been better to watch the films in order, but they still work independently and as distorting mirrors of one another.

LA NOIA has Horst Buccholtz as lead character, a frustrated, blocked painter who falls for model Spaak and is driven out of his senses by her free-spirited approach. HB is good at playing spoiled brats, or else tends to play them whether asked to or not, depending on your interpretation. He very nearly alienated us completely but then we kept watching to see him suffer.

His mom is Bette Davis, a rather overwhelming figure — with great fashion sense. One could sympathize with her son’s desire to rebel, except he’s still dipping into her wall safe to subsidize his “artistic” lifestyle.

I only recently learned that Damiani was a painter and sculptor (and comic book artist and fotoromanzi writer) — the paintings Horst’s neighbour has done of Spaak are very recognizable as DD’s style.

The more Horst suffers, the less appealing his character becomes. To a modern viewer it’s striking that he never asks Spaak if she wants an exclusive relationship, so his increasingly violent jealousy can’t be excused even as a regrettable uncontrolled response. It might have played differently at the time, when such assumptions dominated. As young audiences struggle to understand cheque readers, switchboards, rotary phones and references to Walter Kronkite, are they/we also struggling to interpret the social mores that were almost unquestioned back in the day?

Finally, Horst is redeemed, after nearly killing himself, slamming his sports car into a concrete abutment. He reconciles with his mother and cuts the apron/purse strings. He’s not sure what will happen when he meet Spaak again. In a fascinating bit of writing/performance, she’s revealed as a shallow, not very bright, not very interesting figure with no deep feelings. Her enticing libertinism loses all appeal. What’s impressive is the subtlety with which is achieved — we don’t sense that the character is being written or played inconsistently — it just feels like she’s viewed through a new lens.

LA NOIA stars Baby Jane Hudson; Otto Ludwig Piffl; Anna Terzi; Marina di Malombra; La Reine Catherine de Médicis; Arizona Roy; M. Treville; and Caroline Bonaparte.

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2 Responses to “Artistic Licentiousness”

  1. architekturadapter Says:

    Another Damiani yet to discover !!
    Interesting image of the girl covered with money in a bed. This image (girl+money+bed) can also be seen in “Danger : Diabolik”, “The Wolf of Wall Street”, “Indecent Proposal”, “CQ”, and even in Peckinpah’s “The Getaway” …

  2. And Bava and his writers might well have seen this movie. And then Scorsese probably saw the Bava, since he’s a fan, but he’d have seen the Peckinpah too I’m sure.

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