Archive for Maciste

Small Strangenesses

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 7, 2021 by dcairns

I’ve been a fairly poor viewer of Pordenone’s offerings this week — I mainly missed THE MAN FROM KANGAROO (1920, above), directed by Wilfred Lucas and starring stuntman-star Snowy Baker. I caught ten minutes, enough to appreciate the charm of the Australian scenery and the “art titles” adorning nearly every title card.

I did see the shorts programme, which was diverting but not exceptional — SOAP BUBBLES (Giovanni Vitrotti, 1911) used delightful special effects to tell a very pat story with an obvious moral, but the trick effects, whereby real bubbles blown by a nasty child froze in mid-air and transformed into crystal balls offering portals to his future, were marvelous.

A MODERN CINDERELLA (Eleuterio Rodolfi, 1913) was valuable chiefly for its behind-the-scenes footage of the Italian silent film industry, but I’ve seen such material before (eg in MACISTE, 1915) so this was a little bit of a snooze. However, I was sleepy so I can’t really say I gave it a fair try.

Far better was THE SPIDER AND THE FLY, an inventive Italian stop-motion animation with brief live-action prologue. The fly, wings plucked off by a wanton boy, flees the spider in a Keystonesque foot chase, erecting cunning traps for his pursuer — a bit of bug’s life role-reversal. The film had two flaws, both of which added to its appeal — the ravages of time had melted parts of the image into those delirious vortices and decalcomaniacal spacewarps familiar from DECASIA, and the animator’s had appeared, for a single frame, caught in the act of repositioning one of his tiny actors. He could presumably have cut this glitch out without to much trouble, but has perhaps left it as a bit of wabi-sabi or a kind of signature — a manual walk-on, Hitchcockian finger-cameo. Poignant, since the filmmaker’s name is unknown to us.

BIGORNO SMOKES OPIUM (Roméo Bosetti), its title a stark accusation, was a broadly overplayed comedy in which the grotesque clown hero is gifted an opium pipe by an explorer relative, and hallucinates a Melesian sex fantasy. The best parts of this were (a) the transition from real to unreal, in which the innumerable clutterings of the bourgeoise home dance and skate around the room at high speed, as in that short story by Maupassant (Who Knows?) or the actual Berlin hallucinations of David Bowie and (b) the return to reality, where Bigorno (real name René Lantini), in a frenzy of panic, manages to smash every single piece impedimenta in the hideously crowded room. That was actually funny. Elsewhere, the aggressive overplaying positively alarms and the thing is about as funny as the MARAT/SADE. Of course I appreciated this.

Bigorno made thirty-seven-odd shorts in three years, then presumably died of overacting.

I was looking forward to THE BLACK LILY GANG (1913), a bit of sub-Feuillade malarkey with a secret criminal society who wear domino masks to meet in their secret lair, then promptly unmask after the complex hidden doorway is closed… but their crimes are rather banal — letting the air out of a count’s tyres and stealing his jewels. There’s an impersonation (wig and false beard) and a deadly chamber that fills with water, so the building blocks of a good Fu Manchu type shocker are in place, with the stalwart Inspector Sereni supplying the copoganda. But despite the attractive locations, this cloak-and-dagger caper, appropriately anonymous, never quite caught my enthusiasm.

Frame grabs for this one stolen from here.

Pecs and Violence

Posted in Fashion, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 29, 2020 by dcairns

COLOSSUS OF THE ARENA, AKA MACISTE, IL GLADIATORE PIU FORTE DEL MONDO is my least fave Michele Lupo film so far — and in fact it was his first, so he got better. At least I now know his first name is pronounced Mee-Kelly (approx). Maybe it’s just that I’m not a big peplum guy.

Mark Forest, now, he IS a big peplum guy, especially about the chest. And he’s playing, appropriately enough, McChesty, or Maciste if you prefer. Righter of wrongs, puncher of faces. He has a shrill comedy sidekick, as is traditional (at least, it was traditional for Steve Reeves in HERCULES and that’s the tradition we’re following — something to do with the massive box-office takings of that film). This is Jon Chevron as Wambo, whose main job is to say stuff like “Maciste, come quick!” Maciste then waddles up, glistening, and attempts to sort things out using his knuckles. They make a good team.

Nothing about Wamba’s role is degrading, oh no. I get the impression Lupo liked casting black people, he seems to do it in nearly every film, but the roles aren’t particularly progressive. The evil black gladiator, Extranius, is a better character. He’s played by Harold Bradley and he also appears in Lupo’s second McChesty film as a different character, enabling him to be killed by McChesty all over again.

McChesty is described by Wikipedia as one of the oldest cinema characters — meaning he was invented by the cinema, in CABIRIA in 1914, embodied by the hulking Bartolomeo Pagano. Originally Nubian or something, Pagano immediately ditched the blackface and started turning up in contemporary settings. When the character was revived in the sixties, he was a series of white dudes, including Mark Forest but also a confusing swarm of Tarzans, Herculeses, Ursuses, machos and Mae West chorus boys. He traveled in time by simply walking from one period film to another, and encountered or punched vampires, mole men, witches, fire monsters, Mongols, Moon Men, the sheik, a cyclops, Zorro, and Czar Nicolas II.

Oddly, McChesty doesn’t appear for the first twenty-five minutes of this pseudo-epic (big sets, but they’re repurposed from other movies, evoking a dizzying array of periods and places). Lupo spends the whole first act introducing his bad guys, six nasty gladiators and their boss who hires them as mercenaries for some dirty tricks. Seven was Lupo’s lucky number, it seems (SEVEN TIMES SEVEN, SEVEN SLAVES AGAINST ROME, SEVEN REBEL GLADIATORS). The non-magnificent seven (and their pet chimp, which has been dubbed with eeks and ooks of a transparently human origin) seem to interest Lupo more than his musclebound protag. Since he was about to switch over to the spaghetti western genre, this enthusiasm for bad guys and antiheroes seems appropriate. It’s surprising that this bad-guys-on-a-mission show predates THE DIRTY DOZEN. I’m not sure what the influence might have been (hard to believe they invented the trope in this obscure series entry).

Their Asterix names would be Follicles, Grampus, Yulbrynnus, Chucknorus, Dubius and Extranius.

Plus the nicer one, who’s good at dodging. I’ll call him Avoidus.

These guys are hired by a cut-out working for evil Prince Chinbeard and their mission is to kidnap the liberal queen of a mythical kingdom. No sniggering at the back. Only one man can stop them. Clue: it’s not Wambo.

Wambo, First Bwud.

Mee-Kelly made a second McChesty film the following year. I got a little bored of COLOSSUS OF THE ARENA one so I jumped over to GOLIATH AND THE SINS OF BABYLON, which is American International’s title for MACISTE, L’EROE PIU GRANDE DEL MONDO. Then I jumped back and forth, which made no difference. The main distinction seemed to be that the bad guys pass themselves off as gladiators in one film, but in the other the good guys do. Plus the evil prince in the second film has muttonchops instead of a chinbeard.

A great moment in one or other film, where they have to dub some rhubarbing extras reacting to bad news. No lipsync is required here, so the gloves are off for the dubbing artists: “Aw, the Queen is dead, and she was so nice!”

I find, after jumping back and forth between films a few times, I can’t see the wood for Mark Forest. But he’s undeniably skilled at staring into the middle distance and looking like he wants to punch it.

No sign of Wambo in this one. I assume McChesty ate him. Instead of Wambo, and instead of the chimp dubbed with a man’s voice, we have a dwarf dubbed with a woman’s voice.

McChesty sees his first dwarf. He’s delighted! So funny! Or maybe he’s seen lots, and they never get old.

Apart from this one. He’s gotten old. He is Weejimmikrankus.

The films look simultaneously costly and cheap, an interesting feat. You get big sets and exotic locations and elaborately choreographed action scenes and lots of them. On the other hand, the costumes are unwearable and look recycled from every different kind of period movie. So are the sets, but at least those are big enough to contain entire actors. The frocks always have bits bulging out.

Oddly, the first one has more of Lupo’s hyperkinetic style. He’s putting the pep back in peplum. But then he seems to get weary, and stays that way for his whole next feature. Still, not even Leone could muster much brio when it came to sword-and-sandal shenanigans.

“You idiot, I said ‘Avast’ not ‘Aghast’!”

MACISTE, IL GLADIATORE PIU FORTE DEL MONDO stars Hercules; Molly Pink; Oliver Mellors; Zorikan; and Calamity John.

MACISTE, L’EROE PIU GRANDE DEL MONDO stars Hercules; Mary, mother of Jesus; Scott Mary; Cesare Borgia; Iphitus, Son of Pelias; Dr. Stephen Arrowsmith; and another Hercules.

The Sunday Intertitle: The Film Within the Film

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , on June 9, 2019 by dcairns

MACISTE (1915) is an earl meta-narrative, being not only a sequel to CABIRIA, of a sort, but a film which CONTAINS its predecessor. “Here I shall try to explain myself, lest I be suspected of madness or indulgence in symbolism,” as Maxim Gorky is always saying.

We have a damsel in distress, fleeing pursuers. Where better to take refuge than a cinema?

In the movie theatre, our heroine happens to see CABIRIA, which is reworked for dramatic purposes so that the credits claim that Maciste is the tar of the film, rather than a supporting character played by Bartolomeo Pagano:

Great tinting and toning and matting!

Inspired by the heroic antics onscreen, our heroine sends move star Maciste a fan letter/distress call, because when you’re in trouble, you don’t want the police, you want a former dock worker turned movie actor.

We then get a lovely glimpse of the Itala Film studios, viewed with the exploratory moving camera unique to Italian cinema at that time:

And then we meet Maciste Pagano, getting into character by weightlifting three men and a dumbbell. Of course, when he gets the note from “a helpless young girl pursued by powerful evil-doers,” he drops everything and rushes to the rescue.

This wacky narrative device performs two helpful functions: it means that CABIRIA sequels starring Pagano need not be costly (and I mean REALLY costly) period epics, and it means that Pagano can ditch the shoe polish that turned him into a Nubian slave, appearing with something as near his own skin tone as the quirks of orthochromatic film stock will allow. Which maybe made him a more popular or anyway acceptable fantasy figure for audience members like this film’s “helpless young girl,” and had another effect nobody at the time could have predicted: it allowed Pagano to continue playing the role after the rise of the blackshirts.