Archive for Lucia Bose

A Portrait in Gold

Posted in Fashion, FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 25, 2017 by dcairns

A few weeks ago I had a couple of triumphs — I was able to procure for Chiseler scribe Jim Knipfel three films by his beloved W. Lee Wilder that he’s always yearned to see, and for David Melville Wingrove a copy of LA MESSE DOREE, a movie he’d been fantasising about since he was twelve. Read his report —

“We need to remember that we are still alive.”

Lucia Bosè, La Messe Dorée

The 70s were the decade that looked as if everything was about to change. For most of the much-mythologised 60s, a handful of rich and glamorous people hung out in exclusive nightclubs and talked about changing the world. By the dawn of the 70s, it seemed that people in increasingly large numbers were ready to do just that. Feminism, gay rights, Black Power, anti-war protests and burgeoning left-wing movements across the globe made it tempting to believe that bourgeois heterosexual patriarchy was well and truly done for. But what might the world look like once the end finally came? The cinema of the 70s made some bizarre attempts to imagine. The majority were less a case of Apocalypse Now and more a case of Apocalypse Yes, But Not Quite Yet.

Big commercial movies tried to reflect the anxieties of their audience with overblown epics of devastation and disaster – Airport (1970), The Poseidon Adventure (1972), The Towering Inferno (1974) – where the sheer wretched overacting made you wonder if The End Of Civilisation As We Know It was really such a tragedy after all. The art-house took a subtler but no less apocalyptic view. The single most radical and uncompromising film of the 70s – Pier Paolo Pasolini’s stomach-churning yet wholly non-sensational Salò (1975) – showed the patriarchy fighting back against the threat of annihilation and doing so in increasingly perverse and brutal ways. It may be the one film routinely described as ‘pornographic’ that seems designed to put its viewers off sex for the rest of their lives.

Only one other film of the decade can rival Salò for sheer aesthetic and erotic boldness. It is a film so obscure and so difficult to see that it verges on being ‘lost’ for all time. It was made in France in 1974 by the Italian designer and artist Beni Montresor. Its title is La Messe Dorée. That title translates as ‘The Golden Mass’ and – as one might expect – it is lush, ritualistic and sensual, as mysterious and glowingly over-decorated as a Byzantine mosaic. Its star is the darkly glamorous Italian diva Lucia Bosè, who resembles Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa in an unusually perverse mood. Watching from the shadows, in the subsidiary role of her husband, is the French actor Maurice Ronet – whose haunted face seems to hide wastes of depravity of which the Marquis de Sade could barely dream.

The action centres entirely on an orgy in their elegant Art Nouveau chateau outside Paris. Attractive young guests of both sexes are invited, there to indulge in various unspeakable acts. The parallels with Salò may seem too obvious to need pointing out. Yet the tone (and the ideological agenda) of the two films could not be more different. If Salò is the art of protest, La Messe Dorée is the art of seduction. In Salò we see a conservative patriarchal order (specifically, the Fascists of 1940s Italy) defending itself through acts of nauseating sexual savagery; in La Messe Dorée, we witness the defeat and dissolution of patriarchy itself. The father played by Ronet has become an irrelevance in his own house. Unwilling or unwelcome to make love to his wife, he gazes hungrily at the naked flesh of his teenage son and beds down at last (and, mercifully, off-screen) with his nubile 12-year-old daughter.

The real action is downstairs at the banquet. As the guests sit down to dinner, a glamorous lesbian (Stefania Casini) devours a chicken leg as if she were performing a full-on act of fellatio. Flouncing about in a voluminous red-and-gold kaftan, Bosè leads the company in a wild ritual dance. The women swoop and whirl about like Bacchantes while the men-folk, rather sheepishly, join in. Later on, the lesbian and her married girlfriend indulge in some surprisingly hardcore Sapphic action. The girlfriend’s strait-laced husband (François Dunoyer) watches them and masturbates helplessly in the doorway. His only way to join in is for the two women to tie him to the bed and torture him. As the S&M games grow more frantic, he screams out: “I want to die! I want to die!” When the two women leave the room, he is stretched out motionless on the bed. He does not appear at any point again.

Yet even this is not the climax. As the evening draws to a close, a young virgin (Eva Axen) is ceremonially robed and painted to resemble the Madonna. She is carried on a litter to the main hall, surrounded by guests with blazing torches, to the tune of Severino Gazzelloni’s incantatory score. There she is stretched out on the floor and ritually deflowered; as the whole company copulates around her, she penetrates herself with one finger. Orgiasts smear their faces with blood from her broken hymen. All of this proves too much for Bosè, who – as befits a star of a certain age – has presided with elegance over the kinky goings-on but, hitherto, has done nothing indecorous herself. Now, with a shriek of unbridled passion, she runs upstairs and becomes alarmingly intimate with her son. You may be glad the scene that follows is no more convincing than it is.

On its release in 1975, La Messe Dorée managed to shock the few people who saw it – in those few brave countries where it did not get itself banned. I myself first read about the film in a magazine when I was twelve years old. (Yes, I was that sort of child.) It has taken me the ensuing forty years just to track down a copy. That is not too long to wait for a dark and dreamlike fantasy on the breakdown of the heterosexual bourgeois order and the triumph of all things a therapist might label ‘polymorphously perverse’. The look and tone of the film suggest Beni Montresor was a homosexual aesthete in the High Decadent tradition of Oscar Wilde and Barbey d’Aurevilly. Yet, oddly, there is little if any sexual activity between men. La Messe Dorée is defiantly queer rather than gay. Complex and hard to pin down, it may never be reclaimed as a cult movie by one particular audience.

Beni Montresor, a lot like Oscar Wilde, may have lived in sheer terror of not being misunderstood. So we do La Messe Dorée a supreme honour if we do not understand a thing.

David Melville

That’s entertainment

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on April 20, 2011 by dcairns

Very grateful to Masters of Cinema for sending me a complimentary dual-format edition of THE LADY WITHOUT CAMELIAS, and early, underseen Antonioni movie starring the stunning Lucia Bosè. Watched it with guest David Wingrove, which was a good decision — the film is slow to start, and the more people you have in the audience on such an occasion, the less likely you are to switch off. And I’m so glad we didn’t!

The picture begins with Bosè becoming an overnight sensation in her first movie — this Milanese shopgirl is now a rising star. The problems she now faces concern both love and art — can she achieve anything worthwhile in the cinema, and can she balance that with a successful romantic life. The reason both goals are so difficult is that the men in her life all want complete control of her, and are threatened whenever she tries to make a decision. It’s when this starts to become clear that the drama kicks in and the film goes from sliding past your eyes in a slightly apologetic fashion, to gripping you by the skull while fixing you with a hypnotic gaze. More of what we think of as the Antonioni style becomes visible as the story develops, also, as the drab studios and streets of the opening scenes are replaced with ultra-modern cinemas and chic, soulless duplexes.

They’re so chic they have a fire surround in the middle of the room.

Sophia Loren was apparently offered the lead role, but turned it down as being too close to home. But it’s Bosè
who really was a Milanese shopgirl (Loren’s background was less respectable), though Loren did work in the fumetti, as this character is supposed to have done. Bosè’s extraordinary glamour comes with a slightly uncomfortable edge — her waist is so slender it looks cinched, but isn’t. Her body achieves a blending of the voluptuous and the starved that no body should be expected to attain. Her performance has something of the glacial quality I associate with later Antonioni, but the movie invites emotional engagement with the character in a way that’s progressively less common in the maestro’s oeuvre.

The obvious comparison is Ophuls’ Italian opus, LA SIGNORA DI TUTTI, which likewise charts the rise and fall of a female movie star. That film begins with a suicide before flashing back, whereas this one adopts a straight linear path, maybe accounting for its trouble getting started, but the Antonioni is no less clearly a tragedy. While the fate that awaits Isa Miranda in the thirties flick is potentional death by her own hand, Antonioni’s heroine is threatened with spiritual death — the possibility of a life of compromise and failure. It’s potentially more depressing that way — Ophuls’ tragedy carried with it a built-in feeling of “if only”. There may be no “if only” in Antonioni’s world.

“Is every man in her life part of some conspiracy to drive her insane?” asked David W, quite early on. The answer is YES, with the multi-tier conspiracy consisting of the film business, family life, marriage, Italian society, and human nature.

David later apologized in case he was poor company, having been emotionally shattered by the experience of the film (of course, he was still spendid company, even while reeling). I never actually find films depressing if they’re good. This one I’d call devastating but not depressing. Fiona thought it was depressing, but she still liked it. Does that say something about our differing personalities?

David W tells me that only ill-health kept the octogenarian Bosè from her stated intention of appearing on the Italian version of Celebrity Love Island last year, which suggests that Antonioni’s askance view of celebrity may be more timely than ever.

Eating Duras

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on June 27, 2008 by dcairns

Everybody who’s done the long-haul film festival thing will have experienced screenings where they suddenly realise they’re too tired to take in what’s happening on the screen. I got tired just a few days into the E.I.F.F. but now I seem to be floating along on a cloud of cinema, still exhausted (I fell asleep this morning and was nearly late for Jeanne Moreau’s L’ADOLESCENTE) but unable to really feel it.

At the screening of Marguerite Duras’ NATHALIE GRANGER yesterday, I had a different problem. It was noon, and I hadn’t eaten that morning, and suddenly I found myself famished. The film is, on the surface, extremely uneventful, following Lucia Bosé and Jeanne Moreau as they float around Duras’ house in capes, do housework, listen to the news, and talk on the phone (but not so much to each other, face to face). As with many “avant garde” films, one is able to think one’s own thoughts, influenced by the film, rather than being completely wrapped up in an unfolding narrative and thinking only the movie’s thoughts.

This led to an unusual viewing experience for me, since what I was thinking about desperately was food. How I would never go anywhere without a snack again. And how I would like to climb up on the screen like Buster Keaton in SHERLOCK JNR and eat the food on it. That apple is the size of a refrigerator! It’s grey, this being a b&w film, but what the hell. People in b&w movies live on grey food and it doesn’t seem to do them any harm. I guess the skin of the apple would be pretty thick, hard to break through, and the surface curves too gently for a person to bit into it. But I could throw my arms around the apples and smell it and maybe cut a piece off with a knife, if I could find one small enough to lift. Or wait until a longshot appears, and the apples are a more normal size.

A baguette the size of a couch! I could break through the crust and crawl inside, tearing at the soft flesh of the bread and cramming it into my mouth, entering the bread and curling up inside, protected by the brittle carapace of the crust and pillowed by fluffy loaf-matter.

Anyhow, that’s what the film made me think of.

EXCEPT for the sudden burst of — what? comedy? — as a painfully young Gerard Depardieu shambles in, and attempts to sell the ladies a washing machine. The youthful Depardieu is always a startling sight for those who know the beefy lummox of today. That impossibly long, strange face, apparently assembled in armature form out of leg-bones, then covered in a translucent coating of unborn calf skin and decorated with a mop. Yet it speaks! And attempts to sell a Vedetta-Tabard washing machine. The ladies stare coolly at Mr. D., giving nothing back as he sweats and stutters his way through a prolonged, incoherent sales pitch. Finally, utterly defeated, he goes to look at their present washing machine. He staggers back, somehow EVEN MORE defeated. “It’s a Vedetta-Tabard,” he mutters, aghast at the cruelty.