Archive for Caligula

The Sunday Supertitle: Porn Yesterday

Posted in Fashion, FILM, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , on December 2, 2018 by dcairns

“I believe back in England the papers call you a merchant of death.”

“I know, I keep meaning to write and thank them.”

On the Adriatic private island of a rich arms dealer, a selection of toffs celebrate a “festival of Aphrodite,” justified by a rare astrological occurrence. That’s about it for plot, but the pre-WWI setting gives the coupling a prelapsarian poignancy. And the whole film is out of time: a stylish exercise in period erotica made just a year or two too late to succeed even in its own modest terms.

APHRODITE (1981) is a ripe piece of soft-focus softcore Eurosleaze which happens to be the last feature credit of Robert Fuest (THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES, THE FINAL PROGRAMME), a Shadowplay favourite. Fuest had his fingers burnt by AIP on his previous feature, THE DEVIL’S RAIN, any mention of which would cause him to become incandescent with rage even decades later. It’s a good thing that the subject of APHRODITE never came up, since this artsy and genuinely quite intellectual, or at least plausibly pseudo-intellectual, smut film suffered even more violence at the producers’ hands.

As well as finishing Fuest off (though he directed a fair bit of TV afterwards), this was the last writing credit for actor John Melson, who also attained screenplay credits on BATTLE OF THE BULGE and Alessandro Blasetti’s SIMON BOLIVAR). Unfortunately, he’s given very English dialogue to a pan-European cast who sound very odd saying it: it’s a film that feels badly dubbed even if it might not be. It’s also the last film of its cinematographer, Bernard Daillencourt, a specialist in “classy” porn (BILITIS, THE BEAST) who also participated in Raoul Ruiz’s THE HYPOTHESIS OF THE STOLEN PAINTING: he’s a participant in one of the film’s tableaux vivants. Not sure what became of him: probably rendered obsolete by changing trends in wank-fodder.

The whole thing is so sloppily released that this English-language version begins with a scene-setting text crawl — in French. I reproduce it here for Francophone smut-hounds/historians and so I can spuriously make this post a kind of Sunday Intertitle.

But the film’s quite pleasing in places, even as a ruin of what it might have been if someone hadn’t spliced a lot of grotty porn into the “classy” and “sensual” film Fuest shot. The pretty and pretty debauched people name-dropping Clausewitz while dropping their garments include Horst Buccholtz, a young Valerie Kaprisky, Delia Boccardo and Capucine. What they must have thought of the end product I can’t imagine. To make room for the heavier stuff, presumably those who took it upon themselves to butcher the movie must presumably have ditched plot scenes, since the runtime is under 80 minutes as it is, even with the added toe-sex (yes, someone has sex with a toe). The film as conceived may have been merely EMMANUELLE crossed with a Ferrero Rochet advert with a few historical allusions thrown in, but it was too smart an affair for somebody in charge. A shame: with his fetish for elegant production design and costumes as displayed in the PHIBES films and elsewhere, Fuest could have been trusted to stage a sexy, even kinky film without getting gross.

The, ah, inserts are rammed in willy-nilly, if you’ll forgive the expression, with the original music tracks (Dvorak, Mahler) allowed to continue as the only glue holding the film together. Bob Guccione’s hardcore additions to CALIGULA are comparatively elegantly worked into the narrative by comparison. Vulgarian artistic mutilations can be judged horrible or pleasing only by comparison, you know. Poor Fuest’s relatively delicate but still spicy sequences are interrupted by random organ close-ups, spliced in like commercials for genitalia. We don’t NEED commercials for genitalia!

While it’s true the original movie was, in every sense, kitsch — the sapphic writhings have the listless, lugubrious languidity so common to the late seventies, like all the young lesbians were on Valium to help them deal with being letched at by David Hamilton — it at least had a definite and consistent style, from what we can see here. I used to argue with a producer friend about the director’s creative rights. “Why should the director be presumptively right?” he would propose. “Surely others, equally involved, such as producers, have as much chance of being on the correct side of any artistic disagreement?” I kind of lean towards the assumption that if the director is, as Gilliam likes to say, the filteur rather than the auteur, having one consistent sensibility more or less in control of what goes in or stays out of a movie, will give the thing a cohesion it can’t have if a variety of sensibilities are imposed. So that, even when the director is WRONG, she or he is still the best person to make the choice.

At the end, somewhere offscreen an archduke is assassinated, and the rich shaggers prepare to get even richer as the world burns.

“Even in our new world, there’ll always be a place for you, and me.”

Bad Cinephile

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 27, 2017 by dcairns

I did get a lot watched on Monday at Il Cinema Ritrovato.

On Sunday there had been a discussion about whether to try the 1917 CALIGULA, since it partially overlapped a later screening I wanted to see, and a friend who shall remain nameless suggested just watching a bit. “You don’t need to see how it turns out,” he suggested. To another friend who had an overlap at the opposite end, he suggested, “You don’t need to see the beginning. What are you going to miss? The horse? You won’t miss the horse.” “Are you suggesting,” I asked, “that we treat CALIGULA like an installation?” But that is sort of what Monday felt like.

(In the event, CALIGULA was sold out to enthusiastic orgiasts before we got back from lunch.)

The day began with two by William K. Howard and one by Tod Browning, at the Cinema Jolly, which meant I could just take my seat and soak up three pre-code super-productions in as many hours. THE TRIAL OF VIVIENNE WARE was zippy (Lilian Bond, in her plummiest accent: “I’m going to show him how a warm momma gets hot!” Zasu Pitts: “I like horses, in a nice way of course.”), with rapid-fire patter and frequent whip pans, used to transport us across town, across a room, of back into flashback and out again. TRANSATLANTIC combined swank melodrama and crime with spectacular sets and camera moves. OUTSIDE THE LAW, the second film Tod Browning made under that title, had a strong story but, being a 1930 Browning, lacked pace. “Tod the Plod,” Andrew Moor Charlie Cockey called him. But it did have the bottomless man illusion, and a guest freak in the form of John George from TRAIL OF THE OCTOPUS, in the role of Humpy the hunchback. I’m a John George completist so this made me happy. This is likely also the first film in which Edward G. Robinson says “See?” a lot, as a threat.

Then I went to THE TECHNICAL REFERENCE COLLECTION SHOW after lunch — we saw Technicolor reels from BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S, THE JUNGLE BOOK, ROSEMARY’S BABY, THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY… quite a range. HERCULES AND THE SLAVE GIRLS featured the line “This day is dedicated to Uranus.” Reg Park didn’t look as pleased as you might hope. Each reel ended JUST as we were getting snared by the narrative, so it was a frustrating as well as beautiful experience.

But these extracts set me off on a regrettable pattern of incompletion. I went to a programme of Russian fragments and saw the surviving reel of KULISY EKRANI (BEHIND THE SCREEN) from 1917, which stars Ivan Mosjoukine, Russia’s top film star, in the challenging role of Ivan Mosjoukine, Russia’s top film star. But the fictional version has lost an arm. It was good to see a younger Ivan, though he looked older than in KEAN. Other than that, I couldn’t tell much.

I’ve been seeing the Helmut Kautner films religiously because Olaf Moller told me to, and he’s bigger than me. But the Mosjoukine fragment made me late for EPILOG – DAS GEHEIMNIS DER ORPLID and it was standing room only at the back. I stayed through the early subjective camera stuff, then the soft-titles disappeared just as Fritz Kortner showed up. I slipped away quietly —

— and into KEAN, where I wanted to see the new restorations tinting and toning, which was indeed lovely. But three hours of Mosjoukine seemed rather ambitious after five and a half hours in the dark, so I slipped silently off to TWO MONKS, the biggest challenge to wakefulness yet.

This early thirties Mexican melodrama has stunning sets, interesting camera moves and cutting, beautiful lighting and some Gothic horror hallucinations which are very striking, but it’s also slow to develop and tells a slightly dull story TWICE. So I did nod off a bit and found myself dreaming more exciting plot developments, which sadly were knocked out of my head by the real story when I awoke.

Then I dined with Neil McGlone and his lovely wife Justine, and hit the Piazza Maggiore, which proved to be ram-packed — no seats, so I sat on the warm stone and saw the prelude to Gance’s LA ROUE with Arthur Honegger’s newly discovered orchestral score played live for the first time in, what, ninety years? That was something. But it was another fragment. And I was too tired to watch more than ten mins of BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN afterwards.

A day in pieces. Leaving me feeling the same way, but happy.

Chamber of Dreams

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 19, 2016 by dcairns

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One after another, the films in out POW!!! retrospective turn out to be far better when seen on the big screen than one would expect — DANGER: DIABOLIK’s somewhat episodic plot seems to flow more smoothly, MODESTY BLAISE’s jarring tonal shifts seem more thought-through, and BARBARELLA —

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I used to assume that of the army of writers on this film (including Hammer scribe Tudor Gates, also credited on DIABOLIK), Terry Southern was probably responsible for the funniest lines, but when I got ahold of the Grove Press (!) edition of Jean-Claude Forest’s comic strip, I found they’d been lifted straight from its speech balloons. (“A great many dramatic situations begin with screaming!”) All of them are enhanced, however, by Jane Fonda’s witty and inventive line readings. How many ways of doing wide-eyed innocence ARE there? An infinite number, apparently. Fonda not only makes the film funnier, she defuses offense in the more exploitative scenes, reassuring us that good taste, and the heroine, will not be violated altogether.

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Embodying a very up-to-the-minute view of the future, 1968-style (the swishy shipboard computer seems like a riposte to 2001, but surely can’t be), the film is also, by movie standards, comparatively generous towards its source, crediting Forest once for co-co-co-co-co-co-writing, and once for design. Combining his art with the craft of production designer Mario Garbuglia (THE LEOPARD) results in wonderfully Felliniesque settings.

In my intro I said that Roger Vadim’s direction was the weakest link, but after watching the film with an audience I would have to retract that halfway — true, Vadim’s marshalling of his resources into camera coverage sometimes seems a bit random, so that you frown at shapeless footage of clearly magnificent environments and crowds — not as bad as CALIGULA, say, but a milder version of that effect — “I know we’re in an amazing set, but we just can’t see it!” As if, having covered his wife/star, Vadim had no clear plan for how to present anything else, and just let the cameramen roam about as if in a behind-the-scenes documentary. But the pacing of the film is really good. Despite their charms, DIABOLIK and MODESTY BLAISE are both peppered with dead spots in their talking scenes, partly a result of rather thin sound design, partly a result of directors who are either not so comfortable with actors (Bava, I’m afraid) or with comedy timing (Losey, unquestionably). BARBARELLA, in front of an audience, really PLAYS.

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