Archive for Carlo Lizzani

Cox’s Orange Pippins: A Fistful of Nails

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 4, 2022 by dcairns

There are a surprising number of crucifixions in spaghetti westerns: here are some of them.

I wanted to start with teenage Jesus Jeffrey Hunter because his Calvary was in Spain, like so many of the crucified cowpokes and such pictured here, but Hunter doesn’t say the line I needed him to say, so I resorted to Max Von Sydow for the second bit. Max’s Golgotha is a Hollywood sound stage, but his Holy Land generally was Utah, an acceptable western landscape.

Alex Cox, in his study 10,000 Ways to Die, traces the injury to the hand motif, first scene in the Italian west in DJANGO, to THE MAN FROM LARAMIE and ONE-EYED JACKS, which seems bang-on. OEJ is probably the more direct influence, and as Cox points out, it also introduces the dilatory, Hamlet-like hero who hangs about for unclear reasons until his opponents can get him. Which is one of the few things the hero of JOHNNY HAMLET shares with his Shakespearean namesake.

This observation is one of my favourite bits of Cox criticism. Brando’s revisionist western, coloured by his streak of sadomasochism, seems like an ur-text for the Italian west, with its amoral hero and generalized corruption, almost as much as YOJIMBO.

But the crushed or perforated gun-hand also calls to mind the biblical cross, perhaps the one big ur-text of Italian cinema. (Cox also points out that Terence Stamp in TOBY DAMMIT is in Rome to star in “the first catholic western”; and that his payment, a Cadillac Ferrari, is also what Pasolini got for appearing in Lizzani’s western REQUIESCANT: he doesn’t draw the obvious inference that TD is in part a swipe at Pasolini, a former script collaborator of Fellini’s. Fellini we know often resented members of his team when they went to work elsewhere. But Toby is also based on Edgar Poe himself, and on Broderick Crawford, alcoholic movie star who came to Rome for Fellini’s IL BIDONE.)

The Italian gothic cinema, surprisingly, isn’t so crucifixion-heavy, and nor is the peplum, despite the obvious possibilities (but there’s plenty of sadism with the attendant homoerotic element); for all its violence, the giallo doesn’t evoke Christ overmuch; why not? You have to go to the spate of seventies EXORCIST knock-offs to find such an orgy of crosswork.

5) Firenze – Zeffirelli

Posted in FILM, Sport with tags , , , , on March 9, 2022 by dcairns

So, we’ve got from A (Antonioni) to Z (Zeffirelli) in 12 REGISTI PER 12 CITTA’ but we still have seven little films to look at. Franco Z isn’t my favourite Italian director by a long chalk, but his episode is admirable — which is surprising to me because I hate football and his episode is all about the football.

Previous entries have either completely ignored (Antonioni, Bertolucci) the upcoming sporting event (the 1990 FIFA World Cup, apparently) or shoehorned a quick name-check in at the end (Lizzani). Obviously I prefer the first approach (take football money and make something elegant that has nothing to do with football) and obviously the second approach is inelegant, but Zeffirelli’s film is fairly elegant and has an approach that uses the sport to showcase the beauty of his chosen (or assigned) city and gives you some history without ramming facts down your throat like a tour guide, as Lizzani had done.

Basically, Zeffirelli shows people playing football in different locations and different historical periods. His film is attractively photographed by Daniele Nannuzzi (YOUNG TOSCANINI) and is scored by Ennio Morricone. It manages to look much more expensive than the earlier instalments — one wonders if FZ managed to squeeze more loot from his backers or if he was just really good at getting the money onscreen. He’d certainly had practice at that.

All he needed to make this a perfect little gem was a series of match-cuts so that the football flies from one game to another, travelling through time and linking all the scenes. This he somehow fails to do, perhaps because the games are real and though he’s got a lot of nice coverage he hasn’t got the precise material for beautiful matches. There are a few rough stabs at creating matches, creating a false cinematic geography and history, but it’s not quite as achieved as it ought to be. But it certainly looks nice and sounds nice and you get the impression that the filmmaker actually likes the beautiful game, or anyway the boys who play it. Not that his enjoyment is impure — I guess for anyone who appreciates sport, delighting in healthy bodies doing impressive athletic things is an essential element, as with ballet. Watching football through a gay filmmaker’s eyes gives me a slightly increased appreciation of it as a festivity (we’re not keeping score here) rather than as a competition. Which is more than I expected anyone to be able to do.

4) Cagliari – Lizzani

Posted in FILM, Sport with tags , , on February 22, 2022 by dcairns

The journey through 12 REGISTI PER 12 CITTA’ continues with the least impressive entry to date — to me, anyway. A shame, because I’ve liked some of Carlo Lizzani’s work, including his Cannes ’68 entry, BANDITI A MILANO. And the ’88 compendium/travelogue continues to be a role call of the dead: Lizzani suicided off a balcony at age 91, which is tragic but also vaguely impressive, even if it shouldn’t be.

Lizzani was a critic as well as a filmmaker and his last works are mostly documentaries about cinema — Rossellini, Visconti, Zavattini are subjects. So it makes sense that his segment is more like a straight documentary. But quite a boring one. The voice-over gives us a lot of dry facts, and the shots are rather conventional helicopter angles, static views of buildings, and some moderately interesting handheld roving around. We learn quite a lot about the history of Cagliari, but if you’re like me you won’t retain any of it.

The music is a disaster, I think. It’s credited to “the Grop’s Power” (?) and Luigi Lai (any relation to Francis Lai?) but the way it’s cut and the way it sounds makes it seem like library music, laid in by the yard.

Suddenly, at 4.50, things get interesting. Helicopter shots take us to the bronze age fortified villages of the nuraghi, which the camera starts exploring, handheld, in suspenseful, winding Steadicam movements through stone labyrinths, and then Lizzani throws in quick cuts to artifacts recovered from the site and now exhibited in a museum. The short sharp detail shots penetrate the film like knife blows, the brick-red background colour adding to their impact, and in addition the objects are all rotating to give them dimensionality. It’s a really lovely sequence: and the objects themselves are so stylised they same quite alien. It’s an encounter with the past that carries just the right quality of startlement: like diving into the water and meeting a sea monster, face to face. Even the music works here: even the fact that it feels chopped up.

I really dislike the voice-over man, so things take a dip when he comes back. I deduct several more points when this becomes the first entry in the series to mention the football, which is the films’ ostensible reason for existing but which Antonioni and co. quite rightly declined to have anything to do with. But Lizzani has shown, with that one great bit, that he’s still a true filmmaker, and my enthusiasm for the piece as a whole has risen. As the sun sinks slowly in the west and we say a fond farewell to Cagliari, I tip my hat to another dead director.