Archive for Damiano Damiani

Artistic Licentiousness

Posted in FILM, Painting with tags , , , , , on November 22, 2022 by dcairns

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.

House Warning

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 25, 2022 by dcairns

One reason Damiano Damiani might be more obscure than he deserves, despite his easy-to-remember name, is that his two biggest films were artistic disasters. The Leone-produced A GENIUS, TWO PARTNERS, AND A DUPE (aka NOBODY’S THE GREATEST) is usually consigned to the less-said-the-better bin, though I plan on giving it another try. We took a look at the De Laurentiis-produced AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION, in the spirit of excavation — could anything be retrieved from the rubble of this sequel/knock-off?

It was a bold, trashy idea: make a sequel to the very successful (but dull) THE AMITYVILLE HORROR while also ripping off THE EXORCIST. Despite the US locations and studio filming at Churubusco in Mexico where the DeLaurentiis-Lynch DUNE was shot, this can be categorized alongside all those Italian imitations of the Blatty-Friedkin blockbuster, except that surprisingly it omits nearly all the gross (and highly commercial) elements.

The script is credited to Tommy Lee Wallace, something of a specialist in sequels to other peoples’ films; Dardano Sacchetti, frequent Lucio Fulci collaborator and schlockmeister, seems also to have contributed. The movie’s a prequel, purporting to show what happened to the family who died in the house before James Brolin et al moved in — which we kind of already know. And the story has the son called Sonny aiming a rifle at Dad’s head within minutes, so there’s not a great distance to cover.

Still, there’s good news: the actors are decent. Burt Young is the paterfamilias and Damiani, in it for the money, at least tries to interest himself in the possibility of this being a portrait of a dysfunctional family. Jack Magner as Sonny is very good indeed, required to go through a hell of a lot of transformations, both emotional and physical. Everyone, even the kids, seems well up to their tasks, though the family does initially seem both a parody of American family life, a step removed from The Simpsons, and at the same time more Italian than American — bursting into song, squabbling at high volume, becoming hysterical — which set of stereotypes are we going for?

But the abusive father stuff is authentically disturbing, which is good because non of the cod-supernatural stuff is a bit scary. There are some good practical effects but everything aiming at suspense is slathered over with Lalo Schifrin’s hackneyed score. He repeats the spooky lullaby approach first trotted out in Mario Bava’s KILL, BABY, KILL! — I guess it has an authentic Italian lineage but it’s pretty old by now and feels tired as hell. Schifrin was fired from THE EXORCIST, Friedkin at one point hurling part of his score out of the cutting room and across the WB parking lot, and this doubtless is his revenge. Damiani should have slung it from one of those quarter-circle window eyes.

The other angle Damiani finds to excite some interest is the mental illness one: if it weren’t for all the pyrotechnics, much of the story, even the bladder effects, could work as a rather tasteless exploration of schizophrenia. Sonny hears demon voices urging him to kill from his Walkman, the best use of the film’s 1982 setting (but if it’s a prequel to the ’79 film, the device wouldn’t have been available, surely?)

The intriguing parts, like Sonny’s Sony, are underexploited — the initial possession, with the camera plunging down on the partly-undressed young man like a spectral rapist, isn’t developed into anything more disturbing than consensual sibling incest (which is a BIT disturbing). And then all the main characters die, except Sonny, who becomes largely unavailable to us except as a bloviating demon voice, articulated through a set of disfiguring Albert Steptoe teeth.

Fortunately or otherwise, the film has established a priest, James Olson — Father Adamsky, a Damien Karras clone with the interesting parts deleted. He even has a blandly cheerful chum — “What’s this guy doing in the film?” I asked. “Father Karras had a priest pal, so he has to have one too,” diagnosed Fiona. Even if he has no story function whatsoever.

Rebooting the story, after the massacre, into another kind of thing altogether should be the film’s most original trope, but it merely completes the metamorphosis into EXORCIST MCMLXXXII: IT’S A BOY. In the rush to banality, nobody even wonders if Sonny might be insane. At one point, Moses Gunn is required to facilitate a jailbreak so an exorcism can occur, and it turns into a replay of Norval’s escape from THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN’S CREEK. “Oh I couldn’t do THAT, Mr. Kockenlocker,” one longs to hear Olson say. (The Sturges film also portrays a violent dad, a defiant child, an oppressive home — “The house ain’t paid for yet!” — and a miraculous ending.)

And, through it all, Damiani stays engaged — the blocking of actors and camera is consistently excellent in what I suppose we must call the dramatic scenes. The job was not just a paycheck, it was also I guess a potential calling card, but one soiled by the tackiness of the project: nobody much noticed Magner’s nuanced and compelling performance, or Damiani’s skill with the camera (making it rise over his young leads head and turn upside down at one point — and having this make some kind of sense).

The film finds its place alongside Richard Fleischer’s 3D follow-up: skilled works by inventive artists that never rise to the status of interesting stories because the material is so flat and derivative. A perfect double feature if you’re feeling too inspired and optimistic and need to be let down a bit.

Cop/Killer

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , on September 30, 2022 by dcairns

CONFESSIONE DI UN COMMISSARIO DI POLIZIA AL PROCURATORE DELLA REPUBBLICCA (1971), directed by Damiano Damiani, has been claimed as the film which launched the whole poliziotteschi genre, though there are rival candidates.

Damiani denied that A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL was a western, but I don’t know if he was similarly picky about his cop movies. It may seem a foolish delicacy, but perhaps it helped him think in non-generic terms. CONFESSIONE is no DIRTY HARRY knock-off, although it does make vigilantism of a kind seem an understandable reaction to Italy’s widespread Mafia corruption.

I don’t think of the following as a spoiler — run away if you feel you must, however — Damiani follows the logic Polanski explained with regard to CHINATOWN — if you want the audience to come away caring about the issues you’re outlining, you can’t have a traditional clean and happy resolution. So most Italian crime movies, and certainly all Damiani’s that I’ve seen, end with a worst case scenario, the good punished, the evil rewarded. His good guys are defeated by their very humanity.

There’s a flipside to Polanski’s theorem — if you keep slamming the audience with downer endings, they may find they prefer escapist nonsense — that’s one reading of what happened to the New Hollywood cinema. Keeping the audience engaged and angry without driving them to the despair of mere cynicism would be a hard balance to strike with the uncoordinated cinematic produce of an entire film industry. One interpretation of Italy’s current predicament might be an overall loss of hope in the democratic project.

Still — can’t blame Damiani for that. This one has Martin Balsam as the rogue cop and Franco Nero as the straight shooter. Marilu’ Tolo’s role could have stood enlarging, since she’s potentially the third point of the narrative triangle, and her role is a little predictable. Still, giving her more to do could have caused that problem to get worse. As soon as she’s put in the position of needing sheltered from assassins, we fear the worst. What saved the film from any rote quality is that Damiani can imagine a “worst” that’s worse than what I could have come up with. It’s pretty damn bleak.

Still, it has the gaudy fashions, frantic energy and pop-operatic Riz Ortolani score we like to see, and a plot that mostly keeps lurching, unbalanced, in wholly unpredictable ways — always from bad to worse, aided by Balsam’s zero-fucks-left-to-give character — but the actor’s underrated soulful quality greatly deepens the affect. And the film features a man-to-man love story which might have rivalled A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL’s, except that the flashbacks showing Balsam’s departed idol never show Balsam interacting with him… A narrative firewall against homoeroticism which might be read as revealing in and of itself.