Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, Directors, Essays

The New Wave Wonders of Tinto Brass

Bring up the name Tinto Brass and, if you recognize it at all, the first thing that comes to mind  is Caligula, the notorious and grotesque X-rated Roman epic produced by Penthouse magazine publisher Bob Guccione (who also added explicit footage into the already sleazy spectacle).  There’s also the Nazisploitation Salon Kitty (the film that earned him the Caligula assignment)  and finally a string of lighthearted erotic romps notable for their fascination with the ample derrieres  of his usually unclothed leading ladies.

But before he plunged headlong into Eurotica, Brass was a free-wheeling cat mining a vein right out of the nouvelle vague. We’re not talking Godard, mind you, but here was an ambitious young Italian director looking to break out of the comedies and westerns cranked out by the industry by getting young and hip and groovy, dabbling in social satire and pushing the boundaries of film  conventions and subject matter.

‘Deadly Sweet’

And thus was born Deadly Sweet (aka I Am What I Am, 1967), a spy thriller turned kooky murder  mystery romp. Adapted from a novel by Sergio Donati (a frequent screenwriting partner of Sergio Leone and Sergio Sollima), it plays like a psychedelic Bond spoof directed by Richard Lester. Jean-Louis Trintignant is the out-of-work actor who spots sex kitten Ewa Aulin (the  Swedish baby doll of Candy) at a disco and rushes her out of a murder scene and into pop-art playground of shifting film stock, multi-pane split screens, and Mad magazine gags. Brass  embraces the creative energy and anything-goes culture of sixties cinema and tosses every pop  culture impulse he can grab into the film: comic books, experimental cinema, the French New  Wave, the British New Wave, cinema verité street scenes, Antonioni’s Blow-Up (a visit to a  photography studio turns into an impromptu fashion shoot), TV’s Batman (Pow!).

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Posted in: DVD

DVD Discoveries and Rediscoveries 2009

A sexy giallo thriller
"A sexy giallo thriller"

My oh my how spoiled we get. Once upon a time, we cult hounds would hunt through neighborhood video stores to uncover off-brand VHS releases of obscure Italian horror films and dubbed editions of foreign movies, which we would devour no matter how grainy the transfer or censored the print. Now, more than ten year into the DVD age, we have become so… demanding. Uncut prints. Restored masters. Clean soundtracks. And widescreen films should be anamorphic. Otherwise, they look soft and fuzzy when blown up to fill our widescreen HD home theater screens.

The following films are not the necessarily of the finest video or audio quality, but they are all much appreciated releases of forgotten, unavailable or otherwise enigmatic foreign rarities and cult items with irresistible (credentials). Some of these films I knew by reputation only, some I had never even known of, until the DVD release introduced me to the glories of these films. There are surely many other films that slipped by me this year, but these were my discoveries of 2009. This is why I love DVD.

5. Lookin’ to Get Out: Director’s Cut (Warner) – Hal Ashby’s 1982 gambling comedy, directed from a script co-written by star Jon Voight, was a critical and commercial flop on its original release. Seen today, in a longer cut than was originally released (Ashby was pressured to edit it down by 15 minutes by the studio), it’s hardly a lost masterpiece but it is a revelation of sorts, a shaggy dog gambling caper with characters whose eccentricities are so passionately embraced by the performers that they come to unexpected life. Voight is Alex, a hopeless gambling addict with unflagging optimism in his own abilities who sets off to Vegas with his schlub of a best friend Jerry (Burt Young) for a “big score” to settle a gambling debt. Alex is flamboyant, effusive, a perpetual motion hustler racing with out-of-control momentum. Jerry is constantly worried and unceasingly loyal, but at root he’s a good-hearted romantic who takes everyone at their word until they prove their word isn’t worth anything.

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Posted in: DVD, Horror, Science Fiction, Television

Deadly Sweet, She Beast, Jean-Claude and Captain Kirk – DVDs for the Week

Deadly Sweet (Cult Epics)

"Deadly Sweet" from Cult Epics
“Deadly Sweet” from Cult Epics

Shot in England by an Italian director with a French leading man and a Swedish sex-doll leading lady (both dubbed into Italian), Deadly Sweet is advertised as a giallo (an Italian horror with cruel and flamboyant murders) but is really a vague murder mystery romp directed as a pop-art object. Jean-Louis Trintignant stars as an out-of-work actor who spots sex-kitten Ewa Aulin at a disco and rushes her out of a murder scene where she’s the prime suspect. As they flee down the steps of the fire escape, the screen shifts into grainy black and white and fragments into split screens and repeated images while the percussion of the metallic march fills the soundtrack. That’s just a taste of the stylistic playroom to come. Tinto Brass went on to a career in soft-core erotic movies (most notably the grotesque Caligula), but here he’s embracing the creative energy and anything-goes culture of sixties cinema and tossing every impulse into the film.

The story is incomprehensible, having something to do with a stolen diary with apparently embarrassing disclosures, a dwarf who shadows the couple through the city, a group of thugs who kidnap Aulin, strip her down to her undergarments and tie her up in a kinky scene that evokes Bettie Page bondage. And yet it is a film of marvelous energy and delirious imagery. The style is appropriated from comic books, experimental cinema, the French New Wave and the British New Wave, with special attention to Godard and Richard Lester, Antonioni’s Blow-Up (a visit to a photography studio turns into an impromptu fashion shoot) and TV’s Batman (graffiti-esque word-balloon punctuations in a fight sequence). In other scenes, he sends the actors into the streets and shoots cinema verité style, following them through the foot traffic from a concealed camera and building the scene out of snatches reaction shots from the observers. It all ends up at “a happening,” a big counter-culture ball filled with hippies and social butterflies where Brass films the winding progress of Trintignant and Aulin through the crowd as if it were a concert movie. Aulin looks exactly like the kind of baby doll playgirl to be found at such a party, but Trintignant (who mugs it up in other comic scenes) it still pretty stiff and establishment in such a free and freaky atmosphere. It’s miscasting of the highest order and it matters not a whit. Brass is having a great time and it is infectious.

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