Monthly Archives: July 2020

Let Sleeping Corpses Lie… Antonioni’s STORY OF A LOVE AFFAIR Reviewed.

tumblr_mxs66ozgTM1rat02ao1_400.jpg

BD. Region Free. CultFilms. PG

Enrico Fontana (Ferdinando Sarmi) is a Milanese industrial magnate, doing very well for himself, but his wife Paola (Lucia Bosè), whom he married after a whirlwind romance in 1943, remains a beautiful, remote mystery to him. Intrigued by the discovery of photos she’s kept from her apparently carefree youth in Ferrara, he enlists private detective Carloni (Gino Rossi) to fill in some of the gaps from her biography.

tumblr_o7llfrTPl61qaihw2o5_500.jpg

The problem is, there’s an obscure incident that occurred just before Paola met Enrico, which she would very much like to remain that way… as would her former lover Guido (Massimo Girotti). Obliged to reconnect in an attempt to thwart Carloni’s investigations, they rekindle their earlier passion. Somebody who previously came between them has already died in unexplained circumstances… will boring Enrico go the same way?

index.jpg

Those “post car sex” blues will get you every time…

Neorealism served Italian Cinema and society very well in the immediate post War period (expiating guilt for both the excesses of Fascism and the ridiculous, Mussolini approved  “White Telephone” films) but the writing was on the tenement wall after the 1950 feature debuts of two diverse talents. Federico Fellini clocked in with Lights Of Variety (Luci Del Varietà) and Michelangelo Antonioni, after making documentaries, writing film criticism and teaching at Centro Cinematografia Sperimentale (where one of his “livelier” students was a certain Lucio Fulci) directed Chronicle Of A Love Affair (Cronaca Di Un Amore).

ossessione-01-1-g.jpg

As well as being an eminently watchable and artful thriller (proto giallo, anyone?), the latter is a crucially transitional film, as can be best understood by contrasting its approach with that of Visconti’s similarly Noirish 1943 effort Ossessione (above), both of course owing much to James M. Cain’s novel The Postman Always Rings Twice and both starring Girotti. Yes, Antonioni honoured the NR tradition of casting non-actors… Bosè’s career trajectory (from soda jerk to beauty queen, Antonioni’s lover and – at Visconti’s insistence – the star of this film) was almost as unconventional as that of the character she plays (and plays very well, her apprehension of looming Nemesis almost palpable). Ditto coutourier and one shot thespian Ferdinando Sarmi, who also provides the film’s set decoration and sumptuous costume design, at a time when Milan was just starting to challenge Paris in the High Fashion stakes.

29.jpg

While Visconti, though, got down with the dispossessed (in a way Antonioni would still be echoing  three years later in his short doc People Of The Po Valley), Story Of A Love Affair flips the Neorealist coin by portraying the lives of the well to do, but in a far less flattering light than that afforded them in any amount of Telefono Bianco drivel.

Bellentani.jpg

Antonioni and his co-writers based Story Of A Love Affair on the notorious Countess Bellentani case (principals pictured above) of 1948, just as the similarly scandalous Fenaroli case, ten years later, influenced the plotting of several gialli out of the Martino stable and their imitators, from Romolo Guerrieri’s Sweet Body Of Deborah (1968), the films Umberto Lenzi subsequently made starring Carroll Baker and Sergio Martino’s Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh (1971).

LenziBakerCollection-500x585.jpg

All of those were in a determinedly populist tradition (and nothing wrong with that, it was precisely such box office hits that underwrote production of the supposedly “worthier” stuff) but in beginning to shrug off the proletarian prescriptions of classic Neorealism, Antonioni was taking the first step in a personal cinematic journey of a thousand miles that would turn him into the Quintessential “Arthouse Director”, the Silver Screen’s most potent purveyor of existential alienation.

tumblr_m57uxrMMgf1qg8i40.jpg

Alienation’s a very old word… it’s been around since Richard III.

This release, an international Blu-Ray debut, is based on a 2k restoration from 15 years ago (Story Of A Love Affair was one of the first films to undergo such treatment, under the supervision of Giuseppe Rotunno, no less) and does full justice to the magisterial monochrome photograpy of Enzo Serafin and Aldo Scavara’s camera operation through some long, fluid takes. Special mention too for Giovanni Fusco’s disquieting score, with its strangulated woodwind.

CULT313 Story of a Love Affair 2D packshot.jpg

Extras include assorted scholarly appraisals of the film’s status, the reminiscences of co-writer / assistant director Francesco Maselli (the sheer chutzpah by which Marco Ferreri kickstarted and nursemaided the production emerging as a consistent theme) and a featurette on the restoration process. Most engaging of all is a visual record of the restoration’s Premiere screening with the director and Bosè, plus guest attendees including the likes of Giuseppe Tornatore, ’60s / ’70s sex symbol Zeudi Araya (now a producer, still looking mind bogglingly fine) and Dario Argento. Argento hails Antonioni as the guv’nor (“the greatest Italian director”) and while it isn’t too hard to spot the influence on his Deep Red (1975) of 1966’s Blow Up (another Antonioni picture in which a forensic investigation ultimately obfuscates more than it illuminates), first time viewers of SOALA might acquire a new perspective on the conclusion to Argento’s own masterpiece, in which the hero watches somebody die in a lift mechanism. Sins of omission, of course, are one small step away from acquiescence … from sins of collaboration… and as in much of the finest Cinema that Italy produced in the second half of the Twentieth Century (from Pasolini, overtly, to more oblique offerings such as Pupi Avati’s The House With Laughing Windows), Story Of A Love Affair touches on that touchiest of questions for a whole Italian generation: “What did you do in the War?”

Chronaca1.jpg

The most moving image on this set is that of Antonioni at the aforementioned Premiere, feted by his peers but immobile and unresponsive, locked in by the stroke which blighted the last quarter Century or so of his life, simultaneously sad and appropriate for (a good line, they say, is worth repeating) the Silver Screen’s most potent purveyor of existential alienation.

zabriskie-point-1970-002-00m-swr-antonioni-in-canyon.jpg

Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Whole World Will Admire Us!” Kung Fu From The Closet In Paul Grau’s Amazing MAD FOXES.

vlcsnap-2015-12-14-12h10m56s181.jpg

“Mad Foxes” aka Los Violadores (Spain / Switzerland, 1981). Directed by “Paul Gray” (Paul Grau).

“Shut up, you shitty skunk or I’ll tear your tongue out!”

The roll of dishonour which constituted the “Section 3 video nasties” (i.e. liable for confiscation but not prosecution) was every bit as randomly thrown together as the list that the DPP compiled of their fully fledged “nasty” cousins, a real grab bag of the cinematic good, bad and what the actual fuck?!? Prominent among the latter was Paul Gray / Grau’s Mad Foxes. Although VCL’s VHS edition was significantly cut (notably missing a Nazi biker choking on his own severed genitals and another enjoying a bowel movement until somebody throws a hand grenade down the pan), in the UK the early ’80 were the best of times, the worst of times to release a tape with the legend: ” Warning: This is an extremely violent film which could seriously disturb you” emblazoned across its pack.

MV5BMGUyZjU0OWUtNDNmYS00ODA3LWExZDQtMjhjM2U4Y2FjNjdhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjUyNDk2ODc@._V1_.jpgThemtharhillsplunger.jpg

Rewinding 50 years, does anybody (apart from Darrell Buxton, obviously) remember the Laurel & Hardy shorts Them Thar Hills and (its sequel) Tit For Tat? Those are the ones in which Stan & Olly take turns with Charlie Hall to perpetrate ever more surreal and outrageous acts of violence upon each other. Nobody tries to de-escalate the situation or even evade their turn on the receiving end, content that they’ll soon be able to retaliate with a real doozy. It’s like watching public information films explaining the theory of Mutually Assured Destruction. I consider it not entirely impossible (though admittedly unlikely) that Gray / Grau regarded Mad Foxes as an unofficial entry in the same series. If he did, no doubt he directed it under the working title Shit For Tat.

vlcsnap-2017-08-17-19h44m28s808.jpg

The action kicks off with Hal Walters (“Robert O’Neal” = José Gras) out cruising in his Corvette Stingray with his best girl Babsy (“Sally Sullivan” = Andrea Albani) by his side, until they get into a little traffic light altercation with the lamest motorcycle gang since Homer Simpson formed a chapter of Hell’s Satans. Seriously, these guys ride around on trials bikes (the budget obviously wouldn’t stretch to Harleys) and one of them actually sits in his mate’s sidecar! Nor can they seemingly conclude a run without at least one of them falling off their vehicles. Plastered as they with swastikas, these guys’ political leanings are no big secret and their sexual orientation is scarcely less easy to discern… lots of lumbering around naked, with taut buttocks clenching and soft knobs dangling. If it’s any consolation for this flaccid disappointment, Hans R. Walthard (who produced Mad Foxes with Eurotrash legend Erwin C. Dietrich) is anglicised into “Woodhard” on that video sleeve. I guess there could be a hard core edit of Mad Foxes somewhere but if it exists, I really don’t want to see it.

MadFoxes.jpg

Word up, gay Nazi dude!

Hal runs one of these bully boys off the road, with fatal consequences. Obviously not wanting to let this disagreeable interlude ruin the romantic evening they had in prospect, Hal and Babsy adjourn to a swinging hot spot, where a jitterbugging competition is in full, anachronistic flow. Do these guys know how to party or what? Unfortunately, as they leave, the waiting bikers beat up on Hal and rape Babsy.

Hal rings his mate Linus at a martial arts club, the ambience of which seem scarcely more heterosexual than that prevailing in the motorcycle gang, its bare chested members (including the mandatory Bruce Lee lookalike) going through their sweaty paces in a broom cupboard sized gym. Good job this joint was closed (under the alarming circumstances described below) before social distancing became de rigeur. “Babsy was raped the other day and I went you to do me a little favour”, Hal tells Linus. “We’ve gotta give those pigs a good whipping…” agrees the latter: “You know our methods!”

91cMBw0sEVL._RI_.jpg

The bikers are cremating their pal Jimmy, with attendant manly drinking games, at a local amphitheatre (where else?) when Linus and co turn up. “Let’s teach these skunks a good lesson” he implores his students, but what ensues is one of the limpest dust ups in action cinema history. Nobody’s winning any Oscars for the fight choreography here. “Stunts” are attributed to one Ronnie Lee, though Mad Foxes seems to be his first and final film credit. Things climax  in memorable style though, with the Nazi biker honcho’s aforementioned castration and enforced genital auto-ingestion, a move straight out of the sho’nuff Shaolin handbook.

With Babsy avenged and apparently recovering in hospital, Hal is soon off shagging somebody else and the matter seems successfully concluded… but violence begats violence and the remaining bikers (announced by the disco music that heralds their every appearance) visit the kung fu clubhouse to establish conclusively that martial arts, of whatever sexual persuasion, are no match for machine guns and hand grenades.

Having gotten the gay kung fu dudes into another fine mess, Hal decides he’d better take a cooler and heads off to his parents’ country pile in the Stingray. En route he picks up promiscuous hitch hiker Lily and invites her to stay with him and the folks for the weekend, advising her that mom “fell from a horse and now she’s paralytic”. Dad’s a bit of a stock market whizz and “they never lock their doors”, which is convenient for the bikers when they, inevitably, arrive. Needless to say, before they do, Hal fits in another bonking session. “You don’t know how long I’ve waited for this moment” he tells Lily, a weird thing to say to a hitch hiker he only met a few hours ago, but we’ll let it pass. Plenty stranger things than that happen in this film…

madfoxes_4.jpg

… and continue to do so as the bikers kill the gardener with his own shears, unconvincingly disembowel the hilariously badly dubbed (in broad cockney) maid and shoot everybody else up. “We’re the kings of the universe… the whole world will admire us!” is their verdict on their bloody handiwork. Well, perhaps not, though the scene in which Hal’s crippled mother gets blown out of her wheelchair is undeniably, unforgivably funny. Returning to discover this scene of carnage, Hal is understandably keen to find where the bikers are hiding out. Luckily he gets into a casual conversation with a bloke from the local garage, who can tell him precisely that. But is he sure they’re talking about the same guys? “Yeah, they have helmets and dirty hair”. Hal’s revenge includes hand grenade enemas and a session with a Nazi dominatrix before that dickless wonder from the amphitheatre atrocity pops up again for a truly explosive finale.

It took four people (Grau, Walthard, Melvin Quiñones and Jaime Jesús Balcázar) to write this thing, which is surprising enough. What’s really surprising, though, is that not one of them appear to have compared notes with the other three  on what, exactly, they were writing. Mad Foxes is so relentlessly random, it’s kind of the trash film equivalent to Bob Dylan’s Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall, the lyrics of which comprise elusive allusions to songs that The Zim envisaged he would never live to complete in the wake of the Cuba missile crisis. What was Paul Grau envisaging when he directed Mad Foxes? If it was a long and illustrious directing career, he will have been disappointed. He did manage one more directing credit two years later, with a more typical outing from the Erwin Dietrich stable, a film whose title translates (loosely) as Six Sexy Swedish Girls Up A Mountain and which sounds as self-consciously straight as Mad Foxes is coyly gay. Those sexy Swedish girls might well have been up a mountain, but the film under review here will always remain Paul Grau’s career pinnacle (and no, I’ve got no idea whether he was related to the late Manchester Morgue mainman Jorge Grau or not).

vlcsnap-2017-08-17-19h44m07s459.jpgC80ZNnaXYAQueZh.jpg

Categories: Film Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: