Archive for Pasolini

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

It’s Turkey Time

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 8, 2013 by dcairns

The Late Show Blogathon is, and is not, over! We’re in extra time, where I run late-filmed-posts I couldn’t cram into the official week, and maybe a few guest blogs will still turn up. It’s the after-party, and it doesn’t stop until we say so!

The Blogathon master-post is no longer pinned to the top of the blog (using science), but it’s here. It links to every single post, here and elsewhere, that appeared in the blogathon. Or you can use the Late Show tag on the right of the main page to see all the posts from all four years of the blogathon. Some good stuff there! I’ll attempt to take stock and say something summative about this year’s jamboree soon.


REINDEER GAMES was called DECEPTION in the UK because they’d figured out that their original title confused people. It always sounded like a thriller to me, but Fiona reckons that name only would work for a comedy. But it kind of IS a comedy. Anyway, I was browsing a charity shop and saw a Polish DVD of this going for £1 so of course I bought it…

John Frankenheimer’s last theatrical feature stars Ben Affleck and was made for Dimension Films — there are a few hints of the kind of obsessive quest to hammer plot points home that distinguishes the Weinstein aesthetic — “Did you get it? DID YOU?” Frankenheimer’s late career renaissance — I think he saw it in those terms — is an odd beast. You have THE ISLAND OF DR MOREAU which is fabulously terrible in ever-changing ways, like looking into a kaleidoscope of shit. I love it dearly. Then you have RONIN which allows Frankenheimer to exercise his action movie chops in a film literally about nothing — chasing a suitcase, the most abstract MacGuffin imaginable. Then somebody decided to make it literal and boring and dub on a radio voice saying it was all about state secrets vital to the Northern Ireland peace process, which struck me as ridiculous and offensive, as if any cause could make all the cold-blooded mayhem we’ve just enjoyed in any way justifiable.


And then REINDEER GAMES, a Christmas-set wrong man heist movie tarnished by a clever-clever ending that’s really stupid-stupid, but which is a pretty agreeable time-waster and a summation of Frankenheimer’s cynical, empty, hardbitten and hardboiled worldview. There’s even a great Frankenheimer substitute in it, Dennis Farina’s blunt, world-weary casino manager, a washed-up pro with no patience for politicking, last seen riddled with bullets in the ruins of his trashed gambling den. “I can’t go back to Vegas,” is his recurrent lament. There’s a melancholy under Frankenheimer’s post-sixties nihilism, and however happily the stories turn out, what you remember is a dying fall.

Lots of Christmas imagery, starting with a bunch of dead Santas reddening the snow. This preps one for a bracing, nasty take on the festive season, but there’s a big mushy ending being cued up by Bob Weinstein somewhere in a back room at Dimension, so watch out! It’s a horrible betrayal of the film’s noir attitude. The movie works better when it’s contrasting the tough thriller angle with corny Xmas pop songs, and has Affleck singing The Little Drummer Boy to himself. I think he should have his own lyrics.

I have no gift to bring


Can barely lift this chin


Fun bad guys, less-skeezy variants on the gang in 52 PICK-UP — here we have Gary Sinise and Danny Trejo, who has “become a serious pain in the ass” since he “went to night school.” Charlize Theron sporting one of her early-career bad hairdos (see also THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE) — maybe it’s necessary to make us believe she might be the kind of woman who writes romantic letters to convicts.


Here’s the plot set-up — Affleck and James Frain are due for release from prison. Frain can’t wait to meet his sexy penpal, but he gets shivved before the big day. Affleck comes out and recognizes Charlize from Frain’s photos and kind of feels sorry for her, waiting in the snow for the convict who’s never going to come. And also, she’s rather attractive (she has a hat on so he can’t see the hairdo). So he pretends he’s the deceased Frain…

I would submit that, for all the film’s flaws, anybody who likes stories would kind of have to stick around after this point to see what’s going to happen…

Here’s one of Frankenheimer’s even-later works — an eight minute car commercial from the screenwriter of SE7EN, Andrew Kevin Walker. It’s rather fine.

Wait, there’s a director’s cut? Now I’ll have to see that — maybe next year.  Reindeer Games (The Director’s Cut) [Blu-ray]

More Blogathon!

Chandler Swain revisits Losey’s STEAMING. Here.

Scout Tafoya’s second blogathon post explored the last film to end them all, PP Pasolini’s positively final SALO, as well as taking in the last essay films of Lindsay Anderson and Dusan Makavejev. It’s quite a feast, if you can get past Signor Pasolini’s unappetizing entreesHere.

The Peasants are Revolting

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on May 16, 2011 by dcairns

I both do and don’t get along with Pier Paolo Pasolini. Looking at his Trilogy of Life — THE DECAMERON,  THE CANTERBURY TALES, THE ARABIAN NIGHTS  — I don’t think I’d watched all of it before — I found quite a bit of it got up my nose. The not-quite-handheld camera style — “Tighten your fluid head, mate, it’s wobbling amok!” — is a permanent source of irritation to me, though it can work well in some films or some scenes. Here I think it’s meant to add vigour and nervous energy, which really should come from elsewhere. The approach is all over the last film, dominates about half of the first, and is only fitfully present in the middle one (my favourite).

In addition, I’m sometimes doubtful of the selection process: in adapting these three big medieval story-cycles, he’s cherry-picked a small sampling of yarns, and they’re not necessarily the best. ARABIAN NIGHTS in particular seems to leave out nearly all the magic, a shame since PPP is really quite good at magic and myth in THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST MATTHEW and OEDIPUS REX.

And since what’s left are mostly bawdy comedies, isn’t it worth noting that Pasolini’s talent seems both anti-comic and anti-erotic? For all their explicitness, the sex scenes never convince me on a basic anatomical-movement level, and even when the people are attractive, which isn’t always by any means, I never feel any interest in seeing them at it. Quite possibly it would help to be gay, but also possibly PPP is hampered by the fact that all the actual sex is hetero — he seems more sparked by the sidelong glances, often between men and very young boys, scenes which provoke considerable discomfort today (how were they taken back in the 70s?).

Ninetto sings his ever-unpopular “yowling cat theme.”

As for the laughs, the use of accelerated motion to impart Keystone Kops freneticism is usually just embarrassing in any film (I give a pass to Richard Lester, but not to Tony Richardson), and doubly so here, maybe because it feels doubly desperate. Ninetto Davoli’s  Chaplin impersonation in CANTERBURY TALES  is just awful, a would-be homage that actually insults the master by suggesting that enthusiasm is enough to allow you to step into his outsize shoes. If Davoli had been hit in the face with a rotten cabbage at the end, that might have redeemed things though. There are a few laughs, always at unexpected moments, but Pasolini’s timing, framing and view of life doesn’t generally seem conducive to the laughter of surprise, and his performers are a mishmash of skilled and unskilled, seemingly left to their own devices with no attempt at finding a Milos Formanesque harmony between amateur and pro.

I’m also kind of disgusted by Pasolini’s use of grotesques, who are encouraged to display their bad teeth by gurning and laughing for no reason — Fellini seems much more sympathetic to me, and he always gives his caricatures at least the dignity of being effective performers within their scenes, rather than just saying “Stand their with your mouth open so we can see your dental cataclysm.”

But then PPP gives us a shot like this, and I forgive him everything ~

This weird Fayre of Allegories comes at just the right point to rescue THE DECAMERON, adding a sudden gust of the strange and melancholy, and prefiguring the spectacular religious vision that concludes it. Pasolini’s casting of himself as a master painter here, and as Chaucer in CANTERBURY, is also very successful, allowing him to more or less state his own thoughts about his grand project as it unfolds. His absence from THE ARABIAN NIGHTS may well be down to his not looking Arabian enough, but I also interpret it as a sign of his emotional withdrawal from the series.

Franco Citti is an incredibly impressive Devil in THE CANTERBURY TALES.

Common wisdom has it that Pasolini was perturbed by the fact that his films inspired a rash of softcore imitations, and made SALO as a somewhat embittered response. Something that couldn’t be turned to an exploitative use. A friend was fond of claiming that with SALO the filmmaker had “defeated the capitalist mechanism of cinema” by making a film that got banned in most countries and couldn’t be made to generate profit. But if that’s so, didn’t John McTiernan achieve something similar with THE LAST ACTION HERO, a far more expensive movie that not many people wanted to see?

SALO does seem to me a more successful work on some level, though — maybe because the elements of comic grotesquerie are harnessed to a purpose that’s very far from making us laugh. And Pasolini is not a natural clown. (It occurs to me that “Unnatural Clown” would look nifty on a business card.)

One way in which I *do* get on with Pasolini — I love his use of locations. I saw my first PPP film, OEDIPUS REX, right after I’d made my first short as director, a medieval comedy called THE THREE HUNCHBACKS (mine has laughs in it — not enough, but some). It struck me that we’d both been wrestling with the same stuff: staging historical scenes amid crumbling ruins, trying to make them look lived-in and not like monuments, post-dubbing dialogue to avoid intrusive modern sounds (make a period movie and you’ll be amazed how often aeroplanes fly over your head). And, in  my modest short as in his epic Trilogy of Life, we were both attempting to connect with the ribaldry and brutality of another age’s comedy.

Both DECAMERON and CANTERBURY end with spectacular religious visions, including the sight of naughty friars being popped out by a giant red devil in Hell — an image unequalled in Ken Russell or Terry Gilliam’s oeuvres. The tableaux here at times equal Paradjanov’s evocation of Russian icons — for some reason, the art of another era translates more readily to cinematic life than any idea of the naturalistic comings and goings of the people, at least in PPP’s hands.