Posts Tagged With: Italian Sexy Comedy

Lovelock Lies Limp… Edwige Fenech in THE VIRGIN WIFE

valentina-movie-poster-1978-1020205099.jpgTHE VIRGIN WIFE / “LA MOGLIE VERGINE” aka VALENTINA – THE VIRGIN WIFE, YOU’VE GOT TO HAVE HEART and AT LAST, AT LAST (1975)

Directed by “Franco Martinelli” (Marino Girolami).
Produced by Edmondo Amati.
Written by Marino Girolami & Carlo Veo.
Cinematography by Fausto Zuccoli.
Music by Armando Trovajoli.
Starring: Edwige Fenech, Ray Lovelock, Renzo Montagnani, Carrol Baker, Gabriella Giorgelli.

“What’s eating you” Ray Lovelock asks Edwige Fenech at one point in this picture. Not him, apparently. C’mon Ray, get down and get down to it… today is La Fenech’s birthday! (It’s rather a special occasion for everybody here at The House Of Freudstein, too… our 100th posting in this, our first year of blogging!)

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If Lovelock’s career reached its zenith in Jorge Grau’s sublime Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue (1974), its nadir can surely be fixed in this fitful, unfunny effort by Marino Girolami (Enzo Castellari’s dad and director of Zombi Holocaust.) The Virgin Wife is a variation on Ray Boulting’s The Family Way (1966) done as Sexy-Comedy all’Italiana and comes as an overdue opportunity to probe the link between Italian machismo and mama-worship, in which we’re supposed to believe that ol’ Ray (as “Giovanni”) can’t bring himself to consummate his marriage with the truly   (“Valentina”), despite the encouragement of lecherous old Uncle Fred (Renzo Montagnani, he of the ever-popular catch-phrase “Oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy!”) Priapismic Fred likens his own unbridled manhood to “an Olympic torch burning a hole in my breeches”, simultaneously complaining that “My nephew’s got a limp sardine in his pants!”

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“Oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy!”

Bottles of schnapps, red hot chillies in the minestrone, “bull’s hormones” and the contagious eroticism of cousin Gianfranco (Michele Gammino, an astonishing Peter Sutcliffe lookalike) and his nymphomaniac French girlfriend Brigitte (Florence Barnes), much addicted as she is to nibbling sensually on bananas, the ministrations of Maria the naughty maid… even Fenech’s restaging of Sophia Loren’s strip for poor old Marcello Mastroianni in Ieri, Oggi E Domani… all of these attempted remedies, and more, fail to get lovelorn Lovelock’s limp dick rising to the occasion (don’t forget, all of this took place in the days before Viagra.)

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Nature abhorring a vacuum, Fenech is soon on the receiving end of Sapphic overtures from Brigitte (“Your skin is fantasteek… eet must drarve your ‘usband warld! Your breasts are magnifique… lark a marble statue!”) as well as warding off the unwanted overtures of a smarmy family lawyer who’s trying to get into her briefs.  At one point Fenech is driven to take herself in hand, fantasising about Lovelock in a Superman costume… a virile horse also features in this dream sequence, so it’s probably just as well that Girolami rather than Joe D’Amato directed the picture!

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Any scant sympathy one might have felt for Lovelock’s plight, even after the realisation that it’s him croaking the godawful theme-song to this film (one section of the lyrics sounds horribly like: “Teek-tock, the time goes on / Teek-tock, my love has gone / Teek-tock, my goat goes on without you here”) flies right out of the window when the root of this Oedipus wreck’s trouble is revealed as a fixation on his mother-in-law, played by the matronly Carroll Baker. Distraught, Fenech runs off during a downpour and is discovered and deflowered by a member of a nudist colony (“They’re Americans – they like to do that sort of thing!”) Lovelock and Baker, searching for her, are themselves obliged to take shelter in a derelict building, where they make out  while Lovelock weeps and wails: “I want my Mama”, setting a new low for unwholesome Mommy love that would stand for several years, until Peter Bark and Marianga Girodano’s gob-smacking shenanigans in Andrea Bianchi’s Burial Ground (1981.)

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The unhappy family come to an awkward modus vivendi in an unexpectedly downbeat ending for such a frothy piece (something Hollywood took years to work up the courage to do – remember the fuss that was made over War Of The Roses?) Otherwise, this is typical and typically broad Italian comedy, complete with its groan-inducing compliment of double-entendres. Unfortunately Fenech’s oft noted comedic talents are severely compromised, in the British VPD video release, by the clumsy translation and disastrous dubbing of her waspish asides.

Trivia note – when the family doctor “tests” Giovanni for homosexuality, he does it by showing him pictures of a (then) little-known body-builder… yep, it’s Arnold Schwarzennegger!

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“Stop me if you’ve heard this before… oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy!”

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“The Ruthless Logic Of Commercial Production”… THE SERGIO MARTINO INTERVIEW

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Sergio Martino interviewed in March 1997.

Were you surprised to learn that Quentin Tarantino was one of your biggest fans?

When I first read his comments in Giallo Pages, yes – but after reflecting a lot on it, I realised that he was paying tribute to myself and also to a whole generation of Italian film-makers who knew, above all, how to improvise,  and use their imaginations to overcome restricted resources and shooting schedules. Tarantino started off in “low budget” cinema himself, so he appreciates only too well what it takes to get good results under these circumstances.

Are you aware of the increasing “cult” status of Italian genre films in America, England and Europe?

Yes, because with increasing frequency I’m hearing from journalists like yourself, who want to interview me about films I’ve made in the past… I hope that in the future I’ll get to make some more that will also be of interest to you!

Me too, but the present state of the Italian film industry isn’t very promising… what is the reason for this? And can you see any remedy?

The present state of Italian genre cinema is, indeed, very sad. The cause of our decline has been the massive economical and technical superiority of Hollywood, which you can only fight with improvisation and imagination for so long. The investment sources that we used to have in Italy have just dried up. If we could get a million and a half dollars to make an action film, then perhaps we would again be able to get the attention of the international market, but there is no Italian producer in a position to risk such a sum. Perhaps the future lies with more European co-productions, though these bring difficulties due to differing languages and national taste.

Have you managed to keep making movies during these last few difficult years?

I’ve been offered opportunities to shoot a few films on which the budgets would have been disgraceful, so instead I’ve been concentrating on making TV series.

I believe that in the early days, you worked as an assistant to the great Mario Bava… how do you remember him, and what did you learn from him?

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I worked on the shoot of Mario Bava’s The Whip And The Flesh (1963) as a production assistant. I remember his technical ability, his expertise in constructing scale models and how skilfully he used lighting and camera positioning to make up for certain deficiencies in the acting department. He had previously worked as a cinematographer, so he knew that a shaft of light or a lower positioning of the camera lower could heighten the dramatic impact of a line. Also, he knew exactly what he wanted to shoot and would never shoot anything superfluous. If a film was to last 90 minutes, he would scarcely shoot any more than that.

You also worked with Antonio Margheriti and Umberto Lenzi on some of their films…

I have very positive memories of them as two real pros, who had mastered the technical side of film-making.

Your earliest directorial credits were “mondo” efforts such as Mille Peccati… Nessuna Virtu (1969) and America… Cosi’ Nude, Cosa Violenta (1970)… how do your remember those?

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Extraordinary memories. These films allowed me, while very young, to live through unrepeatable experiences… this was the time of the youthful rebellion in 1968, the hippies, the anti-war movement, women’s liberation and the first men on the moon…

You also worked in a genre, which is a descendent of the “mondo” documentaries… cannibal movies: how would you compare and contrast your Mountain Of The Cannibal God with the cannibal pictures of Umberto Lenzi and Ruggero Deodato?

I saw one of Deodato’s films, though unfortunately I don’t remember what it was called. It was made before my Montagne Del Dio Canibale…

That would be L’Ultimo Mondo Cannibale, then…

 … but it was trying for the same sort of ambience. I think Lenzi’s films in this genre  were made after mine, but I must confess that I haven’t seen them. I think that between all of them there was some affinity… once one such film has been successful, the producers obviously want you to come up with something similar.

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Did you, your cast and crew encounter any real dangers in the jungle?

The only problem was the wasps, really. I made Montagne Del Dio Canibale and The Great Alligator in Sri Lanka and Malaysia. The most effective jungle scenes were actually shot in the botanical garden of Kandj, in very comfortable circumstances. I remember though, shooting in the cave in Montagne Del Dio Canibale… it was so hot and humid, even more so under the lights. In addition, we’d just had to climb 500 metres up a mountain!

Because she’s such a big star, did you have problems convincing Ursula Andress to have all that crap rubbed all over her?

Ursula had already experienced a lot in life and made other films in the jungle, so she was not worried on that occasion, nor indeed  in the scene with the python, which she insisted I shoot without using a double.

How do you respond to the charge that such films are “racist” or “cruel to animals”?

Racism? This is a first for me, but the things critics come up with never cease to amaze me! As far as I’m concerned, these films were inspired by American adventure cinema of the 4O’s like King Solomon’s Mines, and other American and European adventure cinema. I can understand the “cruelty against animals” charge, but the scene in which the python strangles the monkey, for instance, was shot almost by chance. Admittedly, the monkey was put next to the snake, but it had every opportunity to escape… there was nothing inevitable about it being killed. Anyway, in the jungle the law of life is the law of survival. I don’t believe, moreover, that the makers of all these “respectable” nature documentaries we see on TV just shoot what they find… I think that many of their violent scenes of jungle life are contrived and reconstructed.

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Were you surprised that your brother Luciano put some of your footage from Montagne Del Dio Canibale into Umberto Lenzi’s Eaten Alive?

Not at all – it’s the ruthless logic of commercial production. Would it be more just to shoot another scene of violence to animals? So it seems right to me to re-use the footage, as it suited the purposes of that film so well.

Is it more or less difficult working with a producer who is also your brother?

As with any other situation, there are both advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side I have managed to keep working in a field that is otherwise rather precarious, and I am allowed to make my films with a certain autonomy. The disadvantage is that, I’ve made so many films with my brother that other producers are less inclined to call me for their projects.

How would you define the term “giallo” and assess the Italian thriller’s influence on the thriller genre internationally?

It’s obvious that directors like Romero and De Palma have been influenced by their viewings of Italian gialli. In essence, these are thrillers based not only on the intricacies of uncovering the identity of the culprits, but also on the use – and, at times misuse – of violent imagery. As for myself, the biggest influence on my own gialli has been Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques.

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That influence is very apparent in a film like Your Vice Is A Closed Room… what are your favourite and least favourite of your own entries in this genre?

My least favourite would certainly be Murder In The Etruscan Cemetery, my favourites are All The Colours Of Darkness and – my absolute favourite – the sequence at the end of Torso in which Suzy Kendall is locked in the room, being stalked by the killer. I think that I was very successful in generating a lot of suspense there.

Was Kendall cast as an hommage to her role in The Bird With The Crystal Plumage?

Suzy Kendall is an excellent actress, and at that time she was very bankable, internationally. The film was shot in English, and her casting was partly motivated by this, though of course the fact that she had been in Argento’s film was also a major factor.

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Do you agree with the assessment that Torso represents a transition from the stylish gialli of the ‘60s and early ‘70s to the brutal “splatter movies” that came later?

I don’t really know how to answer that, because I don’t recall the kind of films that were being made at the same time or just afterwards… in fact I followed Torso up with a comedy and two tear-jerkers.

How did you find the experience of working with Carlo Ponti?

It was a very positive experience. There was a great deal of trust between us. I was then a very young director, and not particularly self-confident… it’s fair to say that I became one of his pupils. Unfortunately we only made a few films together… three, and all successful. Soon after this, he had his tax problems, and could not work as a producer in Italy for a long time. A pity from my point of view, but above all for the Italian film business, because he was one of the most intelligent producers we ever had.

What did you think of the alterations that American distributors made to your films, e.g. Joseph Brenner with Torso, the way that All The Colours Of Darkness lost its opening nightmare sequence in America, and the way that more gore was added to Island Of The Fishmen?

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For a long time, I was not even aware of this. I was later told that these changes were made to make the films more appealing to an American audience. It’s not that the distributors found the content of these films below par, just that different audiences are looking for different things.

The theme of female masochism in your The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh echoes that in Mario Bava’s The Whip And The Flesh, which as we mentioned earlier, you worked on…

Possibly so… the films shared the same writer, Ernesto Gastaldi. But the real inspiration for Strange Vice, of course, was the commercial success of Argento’s first film.

What was Nora Orlandi’s inspiration for the haunting theme music to that film?

Nora Orlandi is a woman of great musical sensitivity and passion. I thought it was right to use her because she would be better able to interpret the sensations of the female protagonist.

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Murder In The Etruscan Cemetery and Delitti Privati are both, in their different ways, “TV gialli”. Is the genre suited to this medium?

In a TV series, which runs longer than a feature, it’s more difficult to keep suspicion moving between the various characters… the plot must be much more intricate to hold the viewer’s interest and persuade them to tune in next time. In the case of Delitti Privati, I think we managed this quite well.

Sergio Stivaletti worked on Etruscan Cemetery and other  of your movies… how do you rate this FX man-turned-director?

He’s a young man with a fantastic talent. I think that it’s a good move for him to start directing, and I’m sure that he will be successful.

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Giovanni Lombardo Radice from Etruscan Cemetery told me that he found you a very “cold” director, but later realised that you had made him give one of his best performances… do you have a set way of working with actors?

I think that the rapport between director and actors is determined, above all, by the quality of the story and by adherence to the truth of the characters’ motivations. In genre films the stories are often very mechanical and the characters are moved not by true reactions to the situation, but by the necessities of moving the story along. For example – why, in giallo films, do so many beautiful and vulnerable girls sleep alone in sinister, isolated  castles instead of comfortable and secure hotels in the towns nearby? Because otherwise, it would not be possible to generate any suspense. The characters are motivated by the will of the writer and the director. In this respect it is difficult to communicate to the actors how they should be interpreting their roles, when it’s mainly a matter of mechanics. Perhaps my “cold attitude” towards actors in certain films was determined a little by my own natural timidity, but also from my awareness of the limitations on creative possibilities in these circumstances, where all you want from them is a routine “fearful” expression, or whatever. If Lombardo Radice believes that this brought out the best in him as an actor, so much the better.

Was it important for you to keep a regular cast (e.g. Edwige Fenech, George Hilton) from picture to picture?

It produced a great sense of camaraderie among us, which probably helped everybody to give their best to the production.

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What are your memories of working with Fenech?

Very agreeable and positive. I hope to work with her again in the future.

What did you think of her appearances in gialli made by other directors, like Giuliano Carnimeo and Andrea Bianchi?

I don’t think it’s my place to judge the work of my colleagues, in the giallo field or elsewhere. I will say though that these are excellent professionals, who have worked well in most genres, not just the giallo.

Do you think Fenech is better as a giallo ingenue, or a comedienne?

Her sunny face and Mediterranean beauty inclines me to think she’s more suitable for comedy. On the other hand, Delitti Privati demonstrates just how well she can do in a dramatic role.

Any memories of Barbara Bouchet?

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Another actress with a great comic talent. I think it’s a real pity that she doesn’t seem able to get roles in the cinema and on TV these days. She works mainly in the theatre, now…

Presumably you used international actors like Marty Feldman, for example, in Sex with A Smile, in an attempt to make the Italian comedy a less domestic affair and more saleable abroad?

Yes, obviously. Marty Feldman in particular was a great comic. In fact, at this time Italian comedies did have a certain amount of international success, and actors like Buzzanca and La Fenech became quite marketable.

Your cop films – like Milano Trema: La Polizia Vuole Giustizia (The Violent Professionals) with Luc Merenda – were criticised for being “fascistic”…

I remember that in Italy at the start of the seventies there were moves in  parliament to disarm the police, and sociologists were arguing against putting people in prison. But the man in the street wanted strong, decisive action against crime. All the cop films of the time had this same theme, like the American films of Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson – are they, then, “fascistic”?

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In 2019: After The Fall Of New York, you tried to put a new slant on the hackneyed “after The Bomb” scenario, with Wagnerian allusions, and so on…

To be honest, although the Wagnerian tone is a suggestion that pleases me, I’m not sure how intentional it was.

Well, you’ve got a character named “Parsifal” in there, for starters… what are your memories of the Westerns you made?

Arizona Si Scateno was my first non-documentary film. I remember with nostalgia how green I was in those days. I think that with Mannaja (A Man Called Blade) I made a good film with some beautiful sequences, though it came a little too late in the great “spaghetti western” cycle.

Can you tell us something about Claudio Cassinelli’s tragic death during Vendetta Del Futuro (Hands Of Steel)?

More than ten years later, it still feels like an iron in my soul! Claudio was one of my dearest friends, a sensitive and gentle person. The circumstances of his death were really absurd… I don’t want to go over it all again, because no amount of that will bring poor Claudio back. I prefer to cherish the beautiful, personal memories I have of him.

What can you tell us about your 1993 film Craving Desire, with Serena Grandi?

It’s a film that I was able to make after the TV success of Delitti Privati. Serena did play a part in that film, though the star was Vittoria Belvedere. Serena had already played some small roles for me at the beginning of her career, so I knew very well how good she was.

Has Queen Of The Fishmen been completed yet? Is Edwige Fenech in it, as announced?

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The film was shown, with some success, at the Cairo Film Festival in 1996. It’s a kind of fairytale that uses repertory footage from Island Of The Fishmen and 2019.  La Fenech did not appear in the film, because at the last moment she decided that she couldn’t face wearing a heavy costume in the equatorial climate that we would be shooting in.

Why do you use two American-sounding pseudonyms (“Martin Dolman” and “Christian Plummer”) instead of the customary one?

The name “Plummer” was used only for the abridged version of Etruscan Cemetery, the feature that we “salvaged” from the TV series. At this time there were so many films by “Martin Dolman” on the market, we thought that another pseudonym was in order, so as not to devalue the name.

Any future projects that we should be anticipating?

Some TV projects, then another “giallo” serial.

Sergio Martino, thank you so much for your time.

You’re very welcome.

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In Memoriam, Luciano Martino (22.12.33 – 14.08.13)

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Edwige Fenech Gives Mutant Nazi Sex Midget The Boner Of The Year… SEX WITH A SMILE Reviewed

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VHS. Pal. Skyline. Unrated.

Justly feted as one of the masters of giallo (see reviews of The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh, All The Colours Of The Dark and Torso elsewhere on this site) Sergio Martino was also a nimble genre jumper, diving fearlessly and  proficiently (as was required from any journeyman director of his generation) into several other filoni. The “Sexy-Comedy” proved a particularly fertile furrow for his plough and his favoured giallo ingenue Edwige Fenech doubled, of course, as the Queen of Sexy-Comedy. Her only serious rival in both genres, Barbara Bouchet, shares prominent billing (though no scenes) with her in this 1976 portmanteau effort, Martino’s take on Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask (1972). It seems fitting to kick off our Martino weekender with a look at Sex With A Smile (aka 40 Gradi All’Ombra Del Lenzuolo), as this prolific field of spaghetti endeavour has so far received pretty short shrift here at The House Of Freudstein… and perhaps we’re about to find out why.

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The title of the first episode, One For The Money, actually short changes Enrico Montesano, who manages to seduce the glacially beautiful Barbara Bouchet on three separate occasions in return for money which… well, I’ll leave you to discover the twist for yourself if you’re not already familiar with it. Suffice to say, this is a well constructed little piece of ribaldry, probably the best segment of the picture. Which means, of course, that everything goes downhill a bit, thereafter. Marty Feldman and Dayle (Spermula) Haddon star as The Bodyguard and his client, the latter finding her love life thwarted by Marty’s tendency to see kidnap plots everywhere. Feldman was cast to enhance the international box office appeal of SWAS but for me he’s the most irritating thing in a film that’s chock full of “broad” performances. I’ve enjoyed him in plenty of other things but his lame attempts to do Buster Keaton here come across more like Buster Cretin. In Catch It While It’s Hot Alberto Lionello is a chauffeur being mercilessly prick teased by his aristocratic mistress Giovanna Ralli, a situation which resolves itself in another entertaining if not exactly unguessable twist.

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In Dream Girl, Edwige Fenech is the town hottie driving the horny locals crazy (“She’s giving me the boner of the year!” drools Salvatore Baccaro), none more so than Tomas Milian, nebbishly cast against type as the schmendrick getting completely lost in his nerdy daydreams about her. When he phones his fantasies in to the divine Edwige she starts getting hot pants herself, coming over all twitchy while watching a Dracula movie whose lighting is highly suggestive of that on Mario Bava’s The Whip And The Flesh (1963), in which Christopher Lee starred and Martino served as assistant director. The ultimate, accidental beneficiary of her stoked libido, however, turns out to be Baccarro. Yes – spoiler alerts be damned – “Sal Boris”, the mutant Nazi sex midget from Luigi Batzella’s “video nasty” The Beast In Heat enjoys carnal knowledge of Edwige Fenech… there’s hope for all of us!

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This instalment might have made a good closer but regrettably Martino opts to wind things up with a mutt of an episode entitled A Dog’s Day in which Aldo Maccione saves dotty Sydne Rome from suicide and seems set for a carnal reward, only to fall foul of her protective Alsatian… the same one from Suspiria? Or is it Dicky himself from The Beyond? Buggered if I know…

Italian comedy travels about as well as Gorgonzola and my Skyline video of Sex With A Smile, having sat gathering dust on the shelf for some decades now, doesn’t look that fresh either. I have to admit, I just don’t get the “Comedy” component of “Sexy-Comedy”… which is fine, as I’m sure your average Italian hipster would similarly struggle to get any chuckles out of Keith Lemon (and why wouldn’t they? That guy is about as funny as popping a hemorrhoid!) As for the “Sexy” bit.. well, we’re talking international language here. Martino’s celebration of the physical charms of Haddon, Rome and Ralli requires little explanation, though it might need justification in some politically correct quarters. As for the naked vistas he affords us of Bouchet (impressive) and Fenech (quite jaw dropping)… forget about it!

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Skyline Video found themselves dragged into the whole “video nasties” brouhaha when they released Ruggero Deodato’s sexually violent essay in crude class struggle, House On The Edge Of The Park. Although that one has now been released (albeit with cuts) on DVD by Shameless, I suspect that this Martino effort would struggle to get certified today, cutting perilously close to depicting, as it does in at least three of its episodes, women who mean Yes when they say No and rape as suitable subject matter for comedy. Nothing remotely funny about that, Sergio. Different times, different mores as several UK radio DJs could no doubt have told you…

The Sergio Martino Weekender continues tomorrow evening, with all eyes on Edwige Fenech…

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“Canterbury Rides Again”… PASOLINI & HIS “DECAMEROTIC” IMITATORS

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During the quarter Century that Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salo (1975) was banned, raided and prosecuted in the UK, it became one of the most hotly traded items on the bootleg video underground, alongside those familiar Fulci, Lenzi and Deodato titles. No doubt many of those trading it were more interested in seeing people eating shit, raping, torturing and murdering each other than with weighing the political and philosophical arguments with which Pasolini underpinned his dark masterpiece. .. blissfully unaware of the ambivalent relationship between Italian “Art” Cinema and the “B” movies whose profits sustain it.

I’ve always been suspicious of false dichotomies such as the one between Art and exploitation… the long running Continental Film Review (redubbed Continental Film And Video Review a couple of years before it went out of business) remains one of my all-time favourite film magazines precisely because of the completely guileless way with which it juxtaposed the sacred texts of Robbe-Grillet and Godard with the latest crime thriller from Fernando Di Leo or new Joe D’Amato sexploiter, genuflecting as reverently before the iconic screen presence of Laura Gemser as that of Anita Ekberg and proving perfectly capable of following up an earnest discussion of the latest Ingmar Bergman effort with a splash of cheeky FOH stills and verbatim press office synopses for the likes of Danish Dentist On The Job. The hoary old Art vs exploitation distinction cut no dice in the editorial office of CFR, where the only thing that mattered was the exponentially increased likelihood in a European film (of whatever stripe), as opposed to any British or American production, of encountering some tit, a bit of bum or possibly even a stray wisp or two of pubic hair.

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During the samizdat flowering of a thousand fanzines that thrived in response to the introduction of draconian video censorship in early ’80s Britain, my own writing and editorial efforts were intended as a contribution towards extending and enriching this democratic and eclectic tendency. In the best of the zines, the new wave of pundits were as comfortable enthusing about the latest beguiling enigma from Borowczyk or Zulawski as they were in singing the praises of some rediscovered giallo or slice of crime-slime and the flip side of this was the rash of learned papers emanating from the groves of academe, whose scholars were apparently poring over the collected works of Russ Meyer, Dario Argento, et al. I’m sure that the ever-iconoclastic Pasolini would have welcomed this sacking of the academic ivory towers though in characteristically contrary fashion I’m not so sure the grumpy old bugger, mindful of the Marxist notion of “repressive tolerance”, would have appreciated the degree to which his own incendiary efforts had become “respectable”, clutched to the bosom of the bourgeois cultural mainstream. No doubt he took a few turns in his tomb after the BBFC’s decision to finally pass the much persecuted Salo on 16/11/00…

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You can only fully comprehend the disorienting howl of rage, recrimination and despair that is Salo if you are familiar with the fierce joy of the films that Pasolini made immediately prior to it, the “Trilogy Of Life” he initiated with The Decameron (“Il Decameron”, 1971), continued in Canterbury Tales (“I Racconti Di Canterbury”, 1972) and concluded in Arabian Nights (“Il Fiore Delle Mille E Una Notte”, 1974). Pasolini’s loving, albeit free ranging adaptations of these stately story cycles (self mockingly replaced by pernicious pornography employed to tickle the jaded palates of old fascists by the time of Salo) were expressions of his faith in the common people (or his picaresque vision of same) in all their lustful, acquisitive and roguish “authenticity” (a quality which Pasolini, on account of his homosexuality and genteel antecedents, felt that he lacked), the great unwashed whose ribaldry and very zest for life could recapture the pre-capitalist, essentially pagan idyll for which Pasolini pined. Well, whatever… readers are urged to check out the BFI’s spanky , extras-packed BD /DVD combi editions of the “Trilogy” Films, unalloyed gems of joyous European cinema which are guaranteed to significantly lift your spirits even if they don’t propel you to the nearest barricade, movies which happily occupy the middle ground between Art house and outhouse… in the Canterbury Tales alone you can gawp at the spectacle of Satan blowing sinful friars out of his crimson arse at the film’s astonishing conclusion… giggle uncontrollably at the sight of a badly dubbed Tom Baker’s knob…

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… most pertinently to the purposes of this piece, check out this disc’s 35 minute bonus featurette “Pasolini And The Italian Genre Film”, lovingly put together by the ubiquitous Severin crew to celebrate the brief but intense flood (some have estimated nearly fifty films!) of “decamerotic”  cheapo knock-offs, illuminating in the process the symbiotic relationship of Arty and more popular films in Italy which stands in stark and refreshing contrast to the snotty, hidebound attitudes of the British cinema establishment. In the words of the BFI’s genial James Blackford: “Genre fans will be pleased to know that the documentary features interviews with such Italian exploitation veterans as Luciano Martino and Gabriele Crisanti, who speak eloquently and candidly about their relationship to Pasolini’s work and the Italian commercial cinema at that time… for the British Film Institute to have commissioned an extra feature that includes the producer of Giallo A Venezia, Burial Ground and Patrick Still Lives (below) is certainly something of a landmark moment and should really capture the imagination of genre enthusiasts”. Too true, matey…

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The now moribund tradition of Italian popular cinema was, in its pre-’90s pomp, often subjected to the simple minded criticism that it did nothing more than regurgitate bargain basement copies of commercially successful American models. Kim Newman refuted this simplistic charge beautifully in a series of articles he wrote for the Monthly Film Bulletin, although I’ve mislaid the original quote and must here rely on my imperfect translation of an Italian translation (itself possibly imperfect) of a previous piece in which I quoted his indispensable aphorism… seems kind of appropriate, somehow. Anyway, in the wise words (approximately) of Mr Newman, “the best examples of Italian ‘imitations’ are actually an incredibly sophisticated mix of revision, pastiche, parody, deconstruction, reinterpretation and operatic conflation”. I couldn’t have put it better myself… in any language. Leaving aside any consideration that some of the American hits that inspired Italian cinematic trends sometimes owed their own debt to Italian originals (anybody who doubts that the cinema’s enduring genres were forged in the white heat of the nascent Italian film industry is advised to check out Tim Lucas’s miraculous Mario Bava biography All The Colors Of The Dark, published by Video Watchdog in 2007), the erotic medieval portmanteau movie provided an unarguably Italian form on which the spaghetti exploitation and imitation mills lost no time going to work. “The secret was being quick, not letting the audience’s interest die down after Pasolini had opened it” according to incorrigible scum producer Crisanti, who relates in the Severin doc how he braved a snooty dressing down from Pasolini himself, then a plagiarism lawsuit from the production company Pea and finally a threatened obscenity rap before establishing his right to bring Il Decameron No. 2 to the screen. “And that’s where it all started…” according to Signor Crisanti: “the circus of real and fake Decamerons”…

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… ah yes, “the circus of real  and fake Decamerons”: Roll up, roll up roll up, for Mino Guerrini’s Il Decameron No. 2 – Le Altre Novelle Di Boccaccio (“Boccaccio’s Other Stories”, this being the one that Crisanti weathered so many storms to bring to the screen and whose cast includes Camille “I Spit On Your Grave” Keaton, Buster’s niece) and Gli Altri Racconti Di Canterbury (“The Other Canterbury Tales”); Italo Alfaro’s Il Decameron No. 3 – Le Piu Belle Donne Del Boccaccio (“Boccaccio’s Most Beautiful Women”, optimistically and inaccurately retitled The Last Decameron for overseas release, with the enticing subtitle Adultery In 7 Easy Lessons) and Canterbury Proibito “”Forbidden Canterbury”, with Femi Benussi); Giuseppe Vari’s Beffe, Licenze Et Amori Del Decamerone Segreto (“Pranks. License And Love From The Secret Decameron”); Gian Paolo Callegari’s Le Calde Notti Del Decameron (“Hot Nights From The Decameron”); Renato Savino’s Decameron ‘300; Decameron Proibitissimo – Boccaccio Mio Statte Zitt from Marino Girolami (Enzo Castellari’s dad); Lucio Dandolo’s I Racconti Di Canterbury No. 2 (“Canterbury Tales 2”, released in Anglo territories as “The Lusty Wives Of Canterbury”); Brunello Rondi’s Racconti Proibiti… Di Niente Vestiti; Bruno Corbucci’s starkly titled Boccaccio; Pino Tosini’s Racconti Romani Di Una Ex Novizi; Vittorio De Sisti’s Fiorina La Vacca; Silvio Amadio’s … E Si Salvo L’Arentino Pietro Con Una Mano Avanti E L’Altra Dietro; Aldo Grimaldi’s Quando Le Donne Si Chiamavano Madonne; Pier Giorgio Ferretti’s Decameroticus; Manlio Scarpelli’s Le Notti Peccaminose Di Pietro L’Aretino; Enrico Bomba’s Le Mille E Una Notte… E Un Altra Ancora; Antonio Margheriti’s Novelle Galeotte D’Amore; Franco Rossetti’s Una Cavala Tutta Nuda; Paolo (Beast In Heat) Solvay’s Confessione Segreti Di Un Convento Di Clausura; Mariano Laurenti’s La Bella Antonia Prima Monica E Poi Dimonia and Adalberto Albertini’s Metti Lo Diavolo Tuo Ne Lo Mio Inferno.

Incredibly, all of those and more were cranked out in 1972 alone, as were a brace of pictures by the dynamic directing duo Carlo Infascelli and Antonio Racioppi, namely Decamerone Proibito – Le Altre Novelle Del Boccaccio (aka Forbidden Decameron) and Le Mille E Una Notte All’Italiana (“One Thousand And One Nights, Italian Style”), which was also known in the domestic market as Decameronissimo and released in France as Canterbury Interdit, illustrating the extent to which the different story cycles were getting confused with each other in the popular imagination (with the active encouragement of film makers as opportunistic as any medieval rogue) and also how the quick fire knock off merchants were actually anticipating the release of announced instalments in Pasolini’s trilogy… the inexhaustible Margheriti’s cheekily titled Finalmente… Le Mille E Una Notte (1972) seduced the gullible Italian punter into believing he was coughing up his lire to see Pasolini’s projected adaptation, a full two years before the latter actually hit the screens.

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Oblivious to such niceties of priority, Anglo distributors renamed Margheriti’s picture (which starred both Femi Benussi and the even more gorgeous Barbara Bouchet) as 1001 Nights of Pleasure or House / Bed Of A Thousand Pleasures. No prizes for guessing that it took Aristide Massaccesi aka Joe D’Amato to take the numbers game to its logical, smutty and quite possibly chronologically accurate conclusion with 1973’s Sollazzevoli Storie Di Mogli Gaudenti E Mariti Penitenti – Decameron No 69 (or plain old More Sexy Canterbury Tales over here). Ever busy and diligent in his studies of classic literature (if uncharacteristically slow off the blocks to exploit a cinematic trend), D’Amato knocked off Canterbury No. 2 – Nuove Storie D’Amore Del ‘300 (imaginatively aka Tales Of Canterbury) in the same year,  which he rounded off with Novelle Licenziose Di Vergini Vogliose (“Lusty Stories Of Willing Virgins”), whose working title (Le Mille E Una Notte Di Boccaccio A Canterbury) took the proverbial soggy biscuit for mythos mix-and-matching. If D’Amato was surprisingly slow in jumping this Medieval muck cart, the likes of Paolo Bianchini’s Decameron No. 4 – Le Belle Novelle Di Boccaccio (“The Most Beautiful Stories of Boccaccio”); Adalberto Albertini’s … E Continuavano A Mettere Lo Diavolo Ne Lo Inferno; Edoardo Re’s I Racconti Di Viterbury – Le Piu Allegre Storie Del-300; Amasi Damiani’s Quando I Califfi Avevano Le Corna and Roberto Bianchi Montero’s Donna E Magia Con Satanasso In Compagnia (all released in 1973) represents the tail end of all these titillating tales  (the wooden spoon though, must go to Lucio Dandolo’s 1975 effort, Quant’E’ Bella La Bernarda Tutta Nera, Tutta Calda) which were about to be supplanted from their brief period dominating terza visione screens by the altogether longer running vogue for Sexy Comedies All’Italiana. In that Severin documentary, Exploitation film scholar Antonio Tentori identifies the transitional film, probably correctly, as Mariano Laurenti’s Quel Gran Pezzo Dell’Ubalda Tutta Nuda E Tutta Calda (“Ubalda, All Naked And Warm”), produced in 1972 by Luciano Martino as a vehicle for the pneumatic charms of his main squeeze and soon-to-be undisputed queen of the Sexy Comedies (not to mention gialli) Edwige Fenech.

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Martino, Crisante and Bianchini are among those contributing their ten penn’orth to the Severin doc, as does producer Alfredo Bini who, having produced several of Pasolini’s earliest films, would later (i.e. in 1972) discharge the same function for a Decameron / 1001 Nights mish-mash directed by Piero Vivarelli (who also appears in this featurette), namely Il Decamerone Nero (“Black Decameron” aka Africa Erotica). Bini happily concedes that this move was partially designed to pay Pasolini out for jumping production ship on Il Decameron but, as if to underline the point that the high and low brow are not nearly as clearly demarcated in Italy as an Anglo-American observer might presuppose, Pasolini’s new producer Alberto Grimaldi (who continued to punctuate his collaborations with Pasolini, Fellini, Bertolucci, et al, with stints on spaghetti westerns, mondo movies and at least one Zorro adventure) also contributing to the rush of cash ins with Storie Scellerate (aka Bawdy Tales” / Roguish Stories), directed by Pasolini’s frequent collaborator Sergio Citti in 1973.

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When I interviewed Giuseppe “Pupi” Avati, who has himself successfully juggled alternate careers in Art-house and genre productions, just one of his uncredited gigs that we discussed was his contribution to the script of Salo and he insisted that “Pasolini had never even read De Sade… we wrote the film with Sergio Citti, who was going to direct it. Then the company that was supposed to produce the film went bankrupt. One evening I met with Pasolini and proposed to him that he should direct the picture himself. He accepted my suggestion, and that’s what happened” Serafino Murri, author of a critical study of PPP and a prime candidate for “Italy’s thinking woman’s crumpet critic”, argues in Severin’s documentary that Pasolini was furious to see his vision of a lost erotic paradise vulgarised into a popular franchise of disposable cheap thrills (though he was surely tempting fate by speeding up scenes for comic relief in The Decameron and casting Robin Askwith, he of the “Confessions Of..” series, in Canterbury Tales) and specifically that it was his outrage at the spectacle of the masses lapping up these low brow mutations of his poetic purpose that inspired the notorious shit banquet in Salo.

Alienated from the Left by The Historic Compromise (by which the Italian Communist Party entered into mainstream Parliamentary politics) and disgusted by his idealised youths’ acquiescence to their own enslavement in a consumerist cage, Pasolini disowned his Trilogy of Life as an over optimistic aberration… Boccaccio, Chaucer and the storytellers of the 1001 Nights were out, enter De Sade and his four killer libertines. Ironically, it was Pasolini’s continuing desire to get down with the kids in a very literal fashion that proved his undoing. On November 2, 1975, a month before the premiere of his grim magnum opus Salo, Pasolini’s ideological rejection of Italian youth was reciprocated in all too solid fashion, when one of the common people he wanted to sleep with took up a spiked club and beat his brilliant brain to a, er, pulp.

Do yourself a favour, skip the latest block headed remake of some American slasher movie that wasn’t that great in the first place and engage with Pasolini’s Trilogy of Life, if only as  a prelude to immersing yourself once again, with a cleared palate and enhanced understanding, in the vituperative vileness of Salo.

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