Archive for Toby Dammit

The Elsie Beckmann Brigade

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , on July 8, 2020 by dcairns

The opening of Damiano Damiani’s GIROLIMONI, THE MONSTER OF ROME (1972) is SO arresting. A line-up of little girls is issued with white TOBY DAMMIT bouncing balls and driven off in a black maria to act as bait for a serial killer.

And the movie continues to provide startling scenes throughout — what it can’t quite do is synthesise them into a wholly coherent drama. It is amazing how — and you wonder WHY — it manages to veer from horror (graphic descriptions of the killer’s child-mutilating technique) to comedy (star Nino Manfredi is an adept underdog). Manfredi plays a suave seducer to begin with, his attitude to the crimes one of morbid curiosity, his reaction to the cops’ suspicions one of arrogant amusement, not a very attractive character, but as his life disintegrates under the burden of unjust suspicion, his increasing vulnerability makes him more likable a, a smoothie battered into the shape of a schlemiel.

It’s a wild ride. There are some big problematic bits — the actor playing Mussolini (Luciano Catenacci) is quite strong and interesting but it’s an issue that he doesn’t look or act like Mussolini — but it’s an incredibly bold piece of writing with a beautiful seventies-does-twenties look, all soft-focus and deco. Of course, it’s nothing to THE CONFORMIST, but what is there to compare with that one?

Arse Marathon

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on February 21, 2015 by dcairns

DSCF4154

Ha! I wrote so many things in Bologna last year at Il Cinema Ritrovato that I lost track of what I had done. Here’s one piece that never saw the light of your screens —

“Nobody’s really captured the quality of a film festival,” observed musician/composer Neil Brand, “You’re doing something that’s pleasurable, but then the fatigue sets in…” It’s true — a celluloid feast like Il Cinema Ritrovato is a particular case, too, since so many of the films are rarities. It’s like being a cake specialist and suddenly somebody offers you fifty magnificent cakes of unique recipe but says “You have to eat them all in an hour or I’ll take them away and you’ll never see them again.” You plunge in, and even when nausea starts to replace pleasure you can’t bring yourself to stop…

Cinephiles like to grumble, and the venues of Bologna attract a certain amount of criticism (one has a bar which runs between the front row and the screen, cutting the subtitles in half; air conditioning is switched on and off at random; and then there’s the “simultaneous translations” which come with heavy sighing free of charge) but fortunately the seats are all fairly comfortable, at least compared to Edinburgh Filmhouse, so I was able to average five shows a day without feeling like a funny balloon animal specialist had been let loose on my spine. The damage was purely mental, a combination of fatigue (screenings begin at 9 and end between midnight and one), overload (films blur together, and then reality blurs in too, and isn’t that the festival director lurking in the background in TOBY DAMMIT?)

Weird coincidence — when I attended Toronto Jewish Film Festival my arrival was greeted with thunderstorms and by the end of a week trudging the city with Serbian dandy Milos Tomin, my shoe exploded with an audible PFFT — the squishy remains afforded insufficient protection cause my right foot to assume the texture of bubble wrap — in Bologna, I got the impression that thunder was following me around, Frankenstein-fashion, as torrential downpours and cloudy rumblings (“God moving his furniture”) again heralded my arrival, and my right shoe, newly purchased, peeled loose its heel. I just got one blister this time, but of the size and contours of a second David Cairns, only even softer and slightly translucent.

Things I shall attempt to write about in some detail — curious and exciting earlies — Italian compendium film extracts — MARRIAGE, ITALIAN STYLE — early Wellmans — movie serials — restored Chaplins — a host of Hitlers — Germain Dulac projected by carbon lamp — the daughters of Blasetti and De Sica. Things I mainly missed — Polish Cinemascope — early Japanese talkies — Colleen Moore’s soundie WHY BE GOOD? — Garbo as THE TEMPTRESS.

***

It’s really going to be a pain to not be able to afford to go to Bologna, Pordenone, Telluride… here’s hoping a big pay cheque comes in!

4th of July

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 12, 2014 by dcairns

On the 4th of July I was in Bologna — this is what I saw.

For once I managed to struggle out of bed early enough to see the 9 am show, something I always INTENDED to do, and which I convinced myself I was achieving more often than not. It’s only looking back from this angle that I realise what a fantastic slugabed I really was. But on this occasion it meant I got in to see the gloriously restored FANTOMAS CONTRE FANTOMAS, featuring my fave of all the master-crim’s disguises —

vlcsnap-2014-08-28-11h09m09s205

Wonderful. It makes you realise that, for all their national pride and aloofness, the French not-so-secretly still regard American is the mainspring of all modernity and the source of all coolness. The doubly-casual Tom Bob easily trumps our intrepid plodder Juve of the Sûreté, just by virtue of that insouciant prefix Americain. Juve is honest, fearless and dogged, but he is inescapably, gallic and therefor mundane. A fantastic inversion of the way we look towards France as a source of glamour and genius.

Neil Brand, who provided the piano accompaniment, confessed afterwards that he had initially regarded FANTOMAS and its serial kin as “meaningless running about,” which is indeed the trap a lot of serials fall into. Surrealism, elegance, and a blatant admiration for his evil characters helps Fieulliade escape this.

woodenc

I should have crossed to the next auditorium and seen the ten-minute fragment of Sternberg’s THE CASE OF LENA SMITH but I think I craved sunshine and coffee and conversation, so my next show was at 11.30, a discussion of Pathe’s restoration of WOODEN CROSSES, which I felt duty-bound to attend since I’d collaborated on a film about the movie’s producer, after all. It was interesting stuff, including as it did the revelation that the new version Pathe are releasing is mostly derived from a whole other negative, shot by a camera standing next to the one that filmed the previous release. It’s the same action and mostly the same takes, but technically speaking it’s a different film… Fans of the previous release need not worry, though, it carries the same authority and charge, as I confirmed later the same day.

After lunch, I enjoyed an episode of Riccardo Fellini’s STORIE SULLA SABBIA, already covered here. The real hot ticket was WHY BE GOOD?, a newly-restored Vitaphone soundie which I’m fairly sure I’ll get a chance to see again when Warners release it on DVD, but it would certainly have been fun to experience it on the big screen with such an audience as Bologna gathers…

Staying in my seat, I was blown away by WOODEN CROSSES all over again, which packs a severe wallop. The final barrages, and the protracted bleeding away of life at the end, left the audience drained, which is the only explanation I can think of for the fact that rather than staggering outside to inhale the evening air, I stayed where I was and saw MARRIAGE: ITALIAN STYLE, which was the perfect tonic. No falling asleep possible in this one (shouty Italians; genius choreography of actors and camera). Having revelled in De Sica’s acting the day before, I was favourably inclined to see more of his directing. That title had always put me off seeing the film before, which is silly — it’s perfect, and rather ironic. Maybe it’s the various movies that riffed on it that cheapened it. After all, GHOSTS, ITALIAN STYLE is a stupid name for a film.

Marriage Italian Style

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll wonder at the opening out of the source play with extensive flashbacks, and you’ll marvel at how Marcello Mastroianni manages to make a character who does such loathsome things seem somehow attractive enough to spend time with and laugh at and even feel sorry for. Loren, of course, is magnificent, even in a series of sometimes unfortunate wigs. De Sica’s daughter introduced the movie, and she has her father’s smile.

“Marcello Mastroianni was a very handsome man, but he liked very much the vodka and the grappa, so that some mornings he would come in with his face looking like an unmade bed. My father’s main direction to him on such days was, ‘Marcello, tomorrow, try to be younger.'”

I think I must have had a really good dinner after than, because I don’t seem to have seen anything else that day. It would have been hard to top De Sica at the height of his international entertainer period anyhow. I do wince a little at what I missed, but realistically I wouldn’t have made it through CABIRIA, in the opera house with live score, which didn’t finish until nearly midnight. That was one of the extra shows you have to pay for outwith the price of a pass, but get this, it was five euros. Proving my contention that Bologna offers the best value film festival on the planet.