Archive for the MUSIC Category

All Roads Lead to Ruin

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 24, 2020 by dcairns

Snorted up two more Luigi Comencini films: the unwieldily titled INFANZIA, VOCAZIONE E PRIME ESPERIANZA DI GIACOMO CASANOVA, VENEZIANO from 1969 and, from ten years later, L’INGORGO.

The former, which I’ll call YOUNG CASANOVA for ease, stars Leonard Whiting, Zefirelli’s Romeo, and as you’d expect some glamorous supporting players, including Senta Berger and Tina Aumont, but as you might NOT expect, also Lionel Stander and Wilfred Brambell, making for some serious WTF imagery.

They’ve found a really close-matching kid to play Casanova as a child, so that the transition to young adulthood is quite smooth, and Giancarlo Giannini of all people dubs Whiting with skill. Despite being sourced from his own words, the film leaves Casanova just as mysterious and inconsistent as Fellini’s deliberately headspinning treatment of the later years — he might be a modern man born too soon, or a complete psychopath.

Lots of good — agonizing — period detail like dental extractions in the street and a fatal operation performed at home with the neighbours watching avidly through the windows. More of that kind of thing, in fact, than this kind of thing ~

The film ends, abruptly, with Casanova’s decision not to enter the priesthood but to instead become a libertine. You wouldn’t have thought it would take him so long to make the choice. Is there much money in libertinage, though? Do you get benefits? (Boy, do you get benefits.)

L’INGORGO is kind of like the traffic jam in WEEKEND expanded to feature length, but it also harkens back to the dream-jam that opens EIGHT AND A HALF — and here comes Marcello Mastroianni, playing a movie star whose limo is caught in the days-long gridlock, to make the connection overt. And a few shots really seem like deliberate callbacks.

Comencini has also acquired all three leads from LES VALSEUSES, Depardieu, Miou-Miou and Patrick Dewaere, plus Annie Girardot, Fernando Rey, and a substantial cross-section of Italian cinema including his fave muckers Alberto Sordi and Ugo Tognazzi. Cross-cutting from one stranded vehicle to another, he paints a portrait of a society, or civilisation, in the final stages of anomie and entropy. It’s an incredible, unpleasant watch. Kind of like a disaster movie where the disaster is purely internal (IN-GORGO)– strangely, it makes stasis seem dramatic, if stifling. Great music, too, by Fiorenzo Carpi — it captures things I remember feeling as a kid in 1979 — dismal, dirty things. Not that I don’t feel that way now.

It’s got a pretty good ending — as desperate and despairing as the rest. Endings seem to give Comencini trouble, but once in a while he comes up with a banger.

INFANZIA, VOCAZIONE E PRIME ESPERIANZA DI GIACOMO CASANOVA, VENEZIANO stars Romeo; Lucrezia Borgia; The Guru Brahmin; Czar Peter III; Paul’s Grandfather; Carmen; Teresa Santiago; and the voice of Rene Mathis.

L’INGORGO stars Lt. Alberto Innocenzi; Niobe; Don Lope; Pierrot; Conchita; Ludwig II; Guido Anselmi; Giulia Clerici; Mark Hand; Nicole Kunstler; and Cyrano de Bergerac.

Helium Hunchback

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 22, 2020 by dcairns

STRIKES AGAIN is the PANTHER film I could never see as a kid — RETURN and REVENGE and SHOT IN THE DARK played on TV regularly, but not this one. No idea why.

When I did finally see it, I was underwhelmed. Again, not sure why. I do think the whole Octoberfest bit is lacking in good laughs and gags, and the mad mastercriminal plot is maybe not the right fit for the series? But on the other hand, they had done the heist film, the whodunnit, and the Hitchcockian wrong man story — so they needed a different branch of the crime genre, and the Fu Manchu angle was pretty low-hanging fruit…

Herbert Lom ascends to full Mabuseian supervillain status, and gets to play the organ maniacally, spoofing both his PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and MYSTERIOUS ISLAND characters. Along the way, the narrative allows us to take in a bit of country house mystery (“I expect you’re wondering…”) as Lom abducts a scientist and his daughter, a fairly straight riff on Christopher Lee’s Fu Manchu activities for Harry Allan Towers. The plunge into outright fantasy might be a sign that the series has jumped the shark, as might be the fact that the title now refers to… nothing at all. The Pink Panther diamond is nowhere to be seen. (They could have had Lom using it to focus his death ray, I suppose. And the ray could have omitted a Phildickian PINK LIGHT…)Going by Blake Edwards’ diagnosis, that Sellers was tractable when he needed a hit, and impossible when he was coming off one, this shoot must have been hell, I suppose. If the libraries were open (lockdown) I could borrow Roger Lewis’s Sellers bio and find out.

Some excellent work from Burt Kwouk. Sellers tries on his Quasimodo cossie and Cato declaims, theatrically, “What have you done to Inspector Clouseau?” It’s obvious he knows this is his boss in a rubbish disguise, but he loves him so much he humours him. They have a sweet relationship, really.

Like Cato, my cat Momo has been trained to attack me at random intervals, to keep me on my toes. But he’s too lazy to make a go of it.

Richard Williams and associates provide the title sequence, so it’s much, MUCH more beautiful than it really needs to be. As with RETURN OF, the joke is to make the Panther Clouseau’s playful tormentor, and to reference famous movies. But the silvery backgrounds! The special lighting effects! The art deco type! And it features the Panther as Mrs. Edwards. And, speaking of love and marriage, Clouseau’s investigations lead him to a gay bar in this one, where Julie Andrews dubs a drag queen. Edwards seems to be furiously signaling something to us here, but if you ask him about it he’d just look innocent. Just about the only real stab at continuity in this series — Lom’s Chief Inspector Dreyfus was confined to the booby hatch at the end of the previous film, and he’s just about to be released in this one. Then Clouseau shows up to wish him well, and everything goes wrong. We thus get to see a new dynamic between Dreyfus and Clouseau. Clouseau is genuinely solicitous of his deranged ex-boss, but still too cloddishly foolish to realise he ought to stay away. A lot of what goes wrong is random accidents, things that Clouseau can’t really be held responsible for (but Dreyfus doesn’t see it that way). The strange logic of the clouseauverse is that Clouseau’s accident-proneness is transmitted to Dreyfus, in a more painful manner, but only when Clouseau is around or when Dreyfus is obsessing over him.

I confess that as a little kid I was really freaked out by the mistreatment of Dreyfus — the thumb-chopping and nose-blowing went beyond what I was comfortable with in slapstick. But I loved the films so much I forced myself to toughen up (I was a crybaby). Clearly, Edwards is aiming for a live-action cartoon thing, where serious injuries just go away after. But I never liked bandages and plaster casts in comedy, either: they implied that the violence was real and had consequences, which made it unfunny. Everyone else would be laughing like it was TOM AND JERRY, and I’d be staring at the screen in horror like it was THE TENANT.The obligatory Cato fight, with Lom spying through a little periscope from downstairs, is really good — Edwards makes a rare foray into handheld cam, and for some reason this makes everything even funnier. Indefinably so. There’s probably less overt brutality in this movie than in SHOT or RETURN (Graham Stark’s fingers!), but an excruciating moment occurs when Lom, being a madman, climbs a tower of furniture and inserts a finger through the ceiling-floor hole he’s drilled, Clouseau steps on it, and Lom loses his balance so he’s hanging by the crushed digit. (Paul Schrader has theorised that writers obsess about damage to their hands because that’s what they write with, unless I suppose they’re Norman Mailer and they just dip their balls in an inkpot.)

Then, some masterful finger acting — Clouseau shifts off the finger, which remains pressed to the floor for a moment, then springs erect, stays there, in defiance of all gravity, like Wile E. Coyote just before he realises he’s over a canyon with nothing holding him up — you actually sense the fingertip opening its eyes wide in alarm — and then it slips from view. CRASH.

I wonder if Lom did his own finger acting? Carol Reed doubles Orson Welles’ fingers through the grate at the end of THE THIRD MAN, and I would think Blake Edwards might well have done the same here, since in a sense he IS Chief Inspector Dreyfus.As the Clouseauverse breaks out onto the world stage, there’s a joke about the American president, a Gerald Fordalike, being clumsy. Is this the right time to recount my friend Mark Bender’s close encounter with Ford on a ski course? “Hey, that’s Gerald Ford! On skis. Coming right at me. Say, he really IS coming right at me, isn’t he? He – OOF!”

The Bondian climax is biggish and I guess it allowed Edwards to focus on things other than his difficult star. Stunts, special effects, supporting cast. There are, by the way, a couple of very good hide-in-plain-sight stuntman substitutions in this film. 

Earlyish, Edwards performs a simple match cut as Clouseau turns to the parallel bars, allowing him to replace Sellers with a Fake Clouseau, keeping the voice droning nasally on, and allowing “CLouseau” to do something the physically unsound Sellers never could.Likewise, when the Inspector attempts to pole-vault into Dreyfus’ schloss, he backs into the bushes as Sellers, and charges out, in a single, unbroken shot, as an anonymous stunt double. The end of the pole remains constantly in view, so if you were in those bushes you’d have seen Sellers handing it to his clone.

Bold!I don’t know if Dreyfus’s climactic disintegration means they were really planning to end the series, or they thought they’d gone as far as they could with this particular character — obviously, having him return in the next film would require a breathtaking dismissal of basic plot continuity. Most likely they weren’t worrying about it, and just needed a strong finish to the Dreyfus-as-Mabuse/Blofeld/Fu Manchu scenario. And clearly just bringing him back without explanation in the follow-up film was the right way to go.It’s a shame the film crams Leonard Rossiter, Colin Blakeley and Dudley Sutton into the British sequence and then finds nothing to do with them. Rossiter is positioned as a substitute Chief Inspector Dreyfus, but it doesn’t go very far. It feels more like Edwards is padding the film with characters he can shoot on Sellers’ days off, giving everyone a rest from the inevitable madness. (Remember, Sellers was bored of this character a film and a half ago.) But it’s nice to see the familiar faces. Dud has just finished Fellini’s CASANOVA. As he told me, “He cut out all my lines, but I’m still in there.”Obligatory Graham Stark routine. A joyous excuse for a crap joke. I don’t know if the policy of surrounding Sellers with mates from the UK comedy scene actually made him behave better, but anything’s worth a try, and you shouldn’t need an excuse to hire Stark. (One chilling anecdote I recall from the Roger Lewis bio is Sellers phoning David Lodge up one evening after shooting, and asking if his behaviour had been really terrible that day. As a straight-talking friend, Lodge said Yes, it had. And from the receiver there sounded a cold, blood-curdling chuckle…)
Very, VERY sexy work from Lesley-Anne Down. Not much of a role, acting-wise, but sexy. Her story plays like a spoof of THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, but was filmed first: she’s supposed to kill Clouseau, but his astonishing loveplay converts/enslaves her. Only it wasn’t Clouseau, because in the dark she’s mistakenly tumbled and uncredited Omar Sharif.

And a hilarious final sequence, the Clouseau striptease, which had Fiona genuinely can’t-breathe-hysterical, on the floor. “I’d FORGOTTEN!” she gasped. Clouseau, it turns out, can’t undress himself, which turns his sexy strip into a failed Houdini routine. Fantastic stuff like the necktie stuck round his cranium like his hippy hairband in ALICE B TOKLAS. Somehow my keen nudity-spotting eyes always missed the fact that L-AD’s bottom comes into view when the insanely huge Murphy bed folds up. That would have meant a lot to me when I was first seeing the film as a teenager. It still seems packed with significance. And the scene is the greatest example of Kwouk-blocking Edwards ever filmed.

At any rate, Cato’s martial arts intervention has saved L-AD from what would presumably have been a highly disappointing sexual experience. Still, though, I can’t help but see the end of the opening titles, when Edwards’ credit appears, as symbolic of the whole enterprise at this stage: the PANTHER movies were the most successful comedy series in screen history, and the writer-director and star pretty much hated each other, but both of them felt the need to carry on working together despite the strain of collaboration and the difficulty of continuing to reinvigorate the character. The image of the cartoon Clouseau, having ascended into cinema like SHERLOCK, JR, trapped, hands pressed against the other side of the silver screen, staring bleakly at us…THE PINK PANTHER STRIKES AGAIN stars Fu Manchu; Captain Nemo; Georgina Worsley; Mr. Ming; Dr. Watson; Dr. Andrei Smyslov; Prof. Trousseau; Slartibartfast; Baron De Laubardemont: Dr. Ralph Halvorsen; Mrs. Emma Bulstrode; the Oompa Loompas; Catweazle; Dr. Auguste Balls; Hugh Abbott; Arab Swordsman; Charles Bovin; Sherif Ali (uncredited); and the voice of Mary Poppins.

Sabata resubmitted

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , on June 17, 2020 by dcairns

If you wanna get money / And if you wanna be rich / If you want a good life / You’ve gotta be a son of a – / Bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom / Bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom…

The inanity of the title song of RETURN OF SABATA is hard to beat, and if you happen to be looking for a non-Leone comedy western with Lee Van Cleef, so is RETURN OF SABATA. It might even have the edge on the original. It is not an important film, I stress. But it’s rather jolly. Even Van Cleef seems determined to show he’s not just a cold-eyed stone-face.

Sabata! / Sabata! / The fastest gun in the west! / I said the fastest gun in the west! / Nine-fingered man! / Four-barrelled Derringer! / Sabata is the only invincible man in the countryside…

Yes, you see, Van Cleef was missing the tip of his right index finger, something Leone was very enthusiastic about. In this film, the finger is mentioned and has a backstory (something about Sabata chewing it off to get out of the Southern army). And at the end he shoots a semi-bad guy in the finger, so it’s a motif. And the trick Derringer with extra barrels hidden in the handle (impossible to aim, one would have thought, but Sabata can use it with amazing skill) is a Bondian gadget established in the first film and reintroduced in the opening scene here, a bloody shoot-out that turns out to be part of a traveling wild west show. So Sabata invented the blood capsule, if anyone asks you.

Later, he produces a miniature squeeze-gun, cupped in the hand and fired by clenching the fingers — and this turns out to have been a real weapon, though very uncommon.

Ignazio Spalla, AKA “Pedro Sanchez” returns too, but as a different character, just to keep things confusing.

(Say, we know that Van Cleef and Gian Maria Volonte are playing different characters in their two entries in the DOLLAR trilogy, but can we be sure Clint Eastwood is playing the same guy in all three? Sure, he has the poncho and cheroot in all three (though he only dons it neat the end of TGTBATU, but he has different names.)

Reiner Schöne is really entertaining, although he’s more of an out-and-out swine than the loveable scamp the movie seems to imagine him as. Similarly, both films in the series seem less sympathetic to the female characters then is warranted…

Both Sabata films are fairly boys-only, sexist affairs, with women as decorative murderees — they look forward to the gialli, in a way, with little moments of murder mystery amid the massacring, and director Gianfranco Parolini’s “circus western” atmosphere introduces some visual elements that would have fitted right in with later genre developments. Sabata acquires a kind of girlfriend, though he was sexless in the first film like a lot of spaghetti western heroes — “only interested in killing,” suggested Alex Cox, though money serves as a convenient universally-understood MacGuffin.

The weirdly asexual he-man mythos connects pretty directly to the peplum, where desire is expressed mainly through flexing and fighting — and Parolini was a veteran of that genre. It also goes back to Leone (FOR A FEW DOLLARS is an extended flirtation between two gunfighters), another graduate of the sword-and-sandal school, and I guess you can find some of its origins in YOJIMBO and SANJURO.

Van Cleef is by now more used to the idea of doing comedy, and his facial expressions get surprisingly varied. I didn’t want to see him camp it up TOO much — playing it straight is often a good policy in this kind of thing — but he manages to avoid embarrassing himself.