Archive for Senta Berger

Puzzle Pieces

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on October 20, 2012 by dcairns

A moderately good example of stealing (to contrast with CRIMES OF THE BLACK CAT, where the crimes would seem to be blatant plagiarism) — in PUZZLE (L’UOMO SENZA MEMORIA, 1974) , an unconventional amnesia-centred quasi-giallo, ginger villain Bruno Corazzari menaces the lovely Senta Berger, who’s laid up with a leg in plaster, by striking matches and dropping them on her. Just as we’re remembering that this is a swipe from CHARADE and that it happened to Audrey Hepburn first, Bruno admits that he saw the trick in a movie. This kind of takes the curse off it, ties in with the modest strain of self-reflective postmodernity in the giallo genre, and allows us to reflect that the gag actually works better with a disabled character and the figure of menace standing over her so she can’t simply huff the matches out before they’re dropped. In CHARADE, Audrey does seem a wee bit pathetic to be so terrified for so little reason.

PUZZLE is not bad — Duccio Tessari serves up some nice visuals and some stupid ones. He zooms like mad and racks focus like he was afflicted with the compulsive bolt-tightening movements of Chaplin in MODERN TIMES.

The plot suffers from a central silliness — murderous heroin-smuggler Luc Merenda has lost his memory and somehow become a nice guy. Regaining his memory by the end, he retains his niceness. How and why? It’s a little like TOTAL RECALL, only there a handy plot mechanism has been provided by the scenarists: the nice Ahnoltd is a construct, who manages to avoid being converted back to his authentic, horrid personality. An amusing conceit — most movies value free will and have heroes embarking on a voyage of self-discovery, but when Schwartzenegger’s Doug Quaid learns who he truly is, he decides to stick with his bogus nice-guy overlay.

I thought of a really stupid plot twist for PUZZLE which would have explained all this, but maybe I should keep it to myself — it might make for a whole other screenplay.

Meanwhile. PUZZLE isn’t completely satisfactory but does end with a brutal chase/fight involving the three leads, a straight razor, a chainsaw and some heroin-filled sausages in a toy train. The chic white interiors get sprayed red. People in gialli just can’t have nice things.

Fiona was very taken with Senta’s diving helmet lamp. And, by a coincidence so implausible you wouldn’t accept it in a giallo, the very next day I found an actual deep-sea diving helmet for sale in Georgian Antiques, where I was scouting props for an  upcoming shoot. Unfortunately, the figure on the price tag was not only more money than I’ve ever seen in my life, it was more money than you could get if you sold every object I’ve ever seen in my life. Still, these coincidences happen for a reason, and this time no doubt the reason was to remind me that it would be nice to be rich. I’ll see what I can do.

The whole thing’s on YouTube.

The Sunday Intertitle: Cave Art

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 18, 2009 by dcairns

vlcsnap-127789“In order to launch a product, a good enough publicity idea.”

From QUANDO LE DONNE PERSERO LA CODA — WHEN WOMEN LOST THEIR TAILS, a sequel to the popular, dumb, wildly unfunny Italian stone-age sex comedy QUANDO LE DONNE AVEVANO LA CODA, or WHEN WOMEN HAD TAILS.

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Both movies are spectacularly stupid, devoid of wit, and waste a vaguely promising comedy idea, done rather better by Buster Keaton in THREE AGES (which is one of his least interesting films). The fact that the films, directed by Pasquale Festa Campanile, use rock-carved intertitles, sets up a promising expectation that they might do without dialogue. Italian audiences love slapstick, and cavemen often communicate in grunts in the movies, so this seems like an interesting exercise for the filmmakers to undertake. But they don’t undertake it. All they undertake is curvaceous German import Senta Berger in a fur bikini, surrounded by a lot of hideous Italians in fright wigs, in a big ugly artificial Flintstones set, where the boulders actually cast shadows on the sky.

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CAVEMAN, which I was always perversely curious to see, is a lot more ambitious. The cavemen grunt in this one, using a primitive language created by Anthony Burgess farted out by writers Carl Gottlieb and Rudy De Luca, which should clear the way for visual gags to drive the plot. Unfortunately, there are (almost) no gags worthy of the name and (actually) no plot. Ringo Starr plays the hero, which would be funnier if he DID speak English. Ringo is only really funny when he attempts verbal acting. Future Mrs Starr and former Bond girl Barbara Bach plays the sex interest. A very cute young Shelley Long plays the love interest, Dennis Quaid is the best friend (so young!), and it’s all very wretched indeed, apart from the dinosaurs.

How wretched? A major “comedy” moment involves Ringo drugging Barbara with knock-out fruit so he can rape her in her sleep. And she’s meant to be the bad one (she gets dropped in dinosaur poo at the end). Of course, Ringo fails to get his drumstick in her, so we can all laugh, can’t we? Er, no.

(The Italian one has Senta Berger subjected to unsophisticated caveman mating techniques too, until a more sensitive, modern caveman turns up who teaches her the kama sutra, or something. Naturally, he becomes the enemy of the other troglodytes. Either way, both movies exude an authentically stone-age sensibility.)

But the dinosaurs! Jim Danforth  and Dave Allen, of EQUINOX fame, created some beautiful goofy monsters for this, which give by far the best performances and get all the laughs. And they actually manage to have charm, when surrounded by this putrid film. Actually, maybe the job of the movie is to make them look good. At the climax, Ringo rides atop a saurian, and the animated Ringo doll gives a much better perf than the real Richard Starkey. The best shots are the ones where the top half of the real Ringo has been matted onto the bottom half of the doll straddling the dino’s back. The stop-motion ass and legs are infinitely more nuanced and expressive than the live-action torso, arms and head.

EQUINOX is a movie so bad, with monster effects so good, that somebody has helpfully posted all the monstery bits on YouTube. Somebody should do the same with CAVEMAN.

The device of mixing live-action and stop-motion, with little animated people interacting with the big beasts, and match-cuts between miniature and real actors, all seems to date back to Keaton, who has brief but beautiful dino action in THREE AGES. His inspiration was Winsor McCay, who had interacted with a hand-drawn brontosaurus in GERTIE THE DINOSAUR way back in 1914. That seemed an impossibly long time ago even in 1923: Keaton’s collaborators told him he not only knew his film history, but his prehistory.

McCay, a brilliant cartoonist for the Hearst press, used to exhibit this film in the music halls, speaking to Gertie, anticipating the action in the cartoon so she would seem to obey his instructions. At the climax he would step behind the screen as Gertie lifts an animated McCay onto her back… all of which utterly trumps the seventies and eighties fantasy-farce of Campanile and Gottlieb, as far as I’m concerned.

Wait! Maybe I’m being unfair? Maybe these filmmakers, Campanile and Gottlieb both, are trying to make films the way actual neanderthals would? Such films would be concerned only with eating, fucking and shitting, and would avoid any kind of intelligence or originality in favour of wallowing in universally understood cultural effluent. Abandoning all efforts at aestheticism, they would crudely fashion their cro-magnon movies out of animal hides, bark, and bits of flint, projecting them by firelight on the cavern wall using a projector made of tusks and dung.

No, I can’t see it. Cave art is way more beautiful than these movies.

(Note: Gottlieb is co-writer of THE JERK, which is a funny film, in which he also plays the small part of Iron-Balls McGinty. De Luca worked on some lesser Mel Brooks flicks, including HIGH ANXIETY, which is a funny film. But any writing team needs to avoid self-satisfaction, with each writer spurring the other on to greater heights. My impression: that didn’t happen with  CAVEMAN.)

Duet for harpsichord and bongos

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 20, 2009 by dcairns

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When graphic designers go odd…

So, a puzzled Keir Dullea, surrounded by antique-style furniture, turns around and sees himself as an old man. What film are we watching?

Award yourself 10 points if you answered “2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY”, and eleventy million points if you added “or DESADE.” Since DESADE is a film about a man trapped in an infinite time loop, the sense of deja vu Dullea must have experienced from his work as astronaut Dave Bowman may have helped him get into character.

Donatien Alphonse, Marquis de Sade, embodied by Dullea, is on his death bed, adrift in visions from his past life (it doesn’t so much flash before his eyes as trundle) in this late work from blacklistee and ZULU helmer Cy Endfield, produced by AIP. One wonders what must have gone wrong with Endfield’s career to bring him to this point — and thence to the horrors of UNIVERSAL SOLDIER? After 1965′s SANDS OF THE KALAHARI, he didn’t work for four years, and when he did…

…he got a project already rejected by Roger Corman. Corman told his bosses at AIP that this movie wouldn’t work, since the censors would let them show what they needed to show in order to make a respectable life of Sade. He also voiced concerns with their choice of replacement — there was some doubt that Endfield would be able to bring himself to include the exploitation elements the film needed in the marketplace. The whole thing was a balancing act between the censors and the box office. Endfield faithfully promised to shoot a spicy yarn, but seemingly chickened out when it came to the crunch, so Corman was roped in to shoot some extra skin.

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How we laughed. Pouring hot wax on prostitutes — I guess you had to be there.

You can pretty much identify the Corman interpolations: he shoots the orgies in slow motion through a thick red filter, just like Hazel Court’s satanic rite in MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH. It pretty well robs the scenes of erotic potential, since we lose the flesh tones, and gain only the opportunity to observe jiggling cellulite at 100 fps. Also, everybody’s laughing in Dullea’s orgies. The relationship between sex and humour is a complex one, but generally speaking, if you’re throwing an orgy (does one throw orgies? Or organize them, like posses?) and the “guests” or “participants” or “fuckers” or whatever you call them, are in a constant state of hysteria, is anything going to get done? Is anyone going to get done?

Leaving aside the sex, we have the story, at least in theory. It’s a kind of biography-by-hallucination, comparable to Raoul Ruiz’s more recent KLIMT, only written by Richard Matheson. I admire Matheson’s work, and his contribution to cinema is as fine as his contribution to genre fiction, but I have to admit his bad-guy dialogue is inclined to the fruity. He really needs Vincent Price to get away with some of these lines. A few years later, acting in a TV version of Huxley’s Brave New World, Dullea would display the camp chops necessary to pull off a Vincent, but here he lacks full confidence in his flounce and pout, so it’s left to older hams to relish the rich flow of Matheson’s verbiage.

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Darling Lilli — still porcelain-perfect, but huge black eyes like mouseholes.

Lilli Palmer is in fine fettle as Sade’s mother-in-law (and WHAT a mother-in-law!), and John Huston has disruptive fun with the part of Sade’s wicked uncle, the Abbé. He even plays his first scene with some kind of stage Oirish accent, just because he’s John Huston and nobody can stop him. He also gets the most disturbing scene, the primal scene, if you will, where Sade as a boy spies on his uncle molesting a maid, and then gets caught and punished. The future arch-pervert’s young mind forms a lasting association between sex, cruelty and voyeurism. It’s all very dollar-book Freud, but it’s passable as motivation, and the sequence is genuinely distressing. I’m not sure you could even film it nowadays.

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Eyes Wide Crossed.

Complicating the psychodrama is his love for his sister-in-law. He’s forced to wed plain-jane Anna Massey (in the middle film of her sadeian trilogy, sandwiched between PEEPING TOM and FRENZY) despite being hopelessly in love with glamourpuss Senta Berger. This embitters him and sets him on his path of sexual turpitude, if turpitude is the word for it.

vlcsnap-854234Senta’s little helper.

Matheson may have a simplistic but clear angle on Sade’s psychosexual upset, but he’s forced to short-change us on Sade the philosopher. The do-what-thou-wilt catechisms we associate with Sade’s books are here either ignored, in order to present us with Sade the lovelorn drip, or they’re given to the Abbé, the real villain of the piece. This rather falsifies the story, and is the aspect of the film the Divine Marquis would no doubt have despised the most. In fact, Sade’s writing barely gets a look in.

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“Ooh, I could crush a grape…”

Paul Schrader observed, when he was making Mishima, that the only way to film a writer’s life was by dramatizing his stories. With a composer, you play the music; with a painter, you show the work; but a novelist is unique since you have to actually adapt their art into a whole new medium just to give some (unavoidably falsified) idea of what they do. I’d be interested in a radical solution to this problem that involved lengthy recitations, but I can’t think of one of hand. All I can think of is films that dramatize the work (MISHIMA, DREAMCHILD, GOTHIC) or films that don’t, and fail (IRIS). And oh yes, a third category, which DESADE falls into –

– along with Cronenberg’s NAKED LUNCH — the films which create a phantasmagoria, the life of the artist merged with their work, or filtered through their style. That’s what Matheson has tried to write, but he’s unable to get to grips with Sade’s pornographic side, and unwilling to get to grips with his world-view (which is arguably even more unpleasant). But at least it gives him an unusual style and structure. Increasingly the film plays like the last act of Terry Gilliam’s BRAZIL, with reality and fantasy cascading together in an avalanche of dream.

How do you solve a problem like the Marquis? I confess I haven’t seen MARQUIS, in which the naughty nobleman’s life is enacted by puppets designed by renaissance man Roland Topor, with the Marquis’s most satisfying relationship being with his talking penis, but that sounds like the most realistic version conceivable. Nor have I seen Peter Brook’s film of his stage success, THE MARAT/SADE. I have scant regard for Brook as a filmmaker, but that might be at least a bit interesting. Saw the play once. It was a bit interesting. Philip Kaufman’s QUILLS falls flat because again, it’s reluctant to admit how nasty Sade’s fantasies were: when it tries to do so, the film’s rather jovial tone disintegrates, which would be fine if it were an intentional effect, but it doesn’t seem to be. Pasolini’s SALO is still the most unadulterated, apocalyptic version of Sade put on screen, and that was promptly banned in nearly every country on Earth. I believe it was legal to screen it on the Moon, but the film came out three years after the last manned flight there. I’m not sure astronaut Eugene A. Cernan has seen the film to this day.

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Their royal lownesses, the King and Queen of Lilliput.

Returning to the Endfield: he directs it with some pictorial flair (although my MGM DVD seems to cut things off at the top), aided by decorous locations, but there’s sometimes a lack of good sense in his shooting: after showing the newly married Dullea and Massey advancing between two lines of people, he cuts to a reverse angle, seemingly a POV, but shot from knee-height as if the protagonists had been abruptly munchkinated. He’s also inclined to masturbate the zoom lens a bit.

Somehow, the film is still a decent watch, maybe because it has enough bad taste  to compensate for its lack of bad taste. It’s not offensive as porn or very upsetting as drama (apart from that one scene), but it’s decorated with enough lapses of common sense to make it amusing. The opening credits, in which Sade is envisioned as a ball-playing winged fish, are ludicrously abstract, and the music by the wonderfully-named Billy Strange chooses to equate decadence with modernity, so that the faux-18th century chamber music segues into bongo jazz or wah-wah guitar whenever anything juicy threatens to happen. Like most bad decisions in films scoring, this approach has a perfectly sound reason behind it: it’s just that it doesn’t work. I expect Michael Mann to try something similar any day now.

Here’s some more sado-erotic action with Lilli Palmer, thirty years earlier in Carol Reed’s pre-make of SHOWGIRLS, enticingly entitled A GIRL MUST LIVE. Lilli’s Scottish opponent is the great Renee Houston.

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