No, I am not referring to the 1961 musical by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse, which enjoyed successful stage productions in London and Broadway before being adapted for the screen in 1966. I’m talking about the 1970 satire, Fermate il Mondo…Voglio Scendere! (the title translates as Stop the World…I Want to Get Off! In English), which was the directorial debut of Italian actor Giancarlo Cobelli, based on a screenplay he wrote with fellow thespians Giancarlo Badessi and Laura Betti, a close friend and frequent collaborator with Pier Paolo Pasolini. The film is a frenzied attack on consumerism and the Italian media but its bursting-at-the-seams energy emanates not so much from outrage as it does from a madcap sense of anarchy.
This is not a plot-driven movie but more of a cinematic experiment that takes a basic premise and expands upon it with a string of visual and verbal gags. The main focus is a group of young adults who are co-existing in a cramped apartment which seems more like some kind of dysfunctional commune. Among the roommates are Martora (Enzo Robutti), an impotent, pontificating intellectual, Scilla (Paola Pitagora), his sexually frustrated companion, the elfin Angela (Claude Vega), who sleeps in an inflatable rowboat, Fiorella (Noris Fiorina), a blonde party girl, and Pierluigi (Pierluigi Pagano), an irresponsible ladies’ man. The most important resident in the flat, however, is Riky (Lando Buzzanca), a clueless layabout who is suddenly transformed into an overnight TV celebrity.
Riky’s sudden rise to fame is due to his voice which has dropped from his throat into his stomach due to a parachute incident during his army training days. As a result, his freak condition launches him into a career as a ventriloquist. A group of maniacal TV executives team him up with a puppet, billed as Spazialino, the impish robot and soon the comedy duo become beloved hosts of a children’s TV show. Despite their celebrity, their main function is to hawk products to kids like candy and cookies, which have questionable or even toxic ingredients.
And there you have it. The rest of Stop the World…I Want to Get Off! pushes Riky’s character and stardom to extremes while his flatmates let their own phobias run riot in reaction to the media spotlight on their group. One of the more outlandish vignettes features Riky, dressed in a super hero outfit like Superman and suspended by wires over the city, as he promotes “a new kind of lollipop for the lower classes.” Another bizarre segment follows Martora and Angela as they take LSD and film an orgy in their apartment. At one point during their trip, Angela sees a baby angel in the refrigerator (it is actually a chicken) and promptly pops it into the oven.
There is also a recurring gag featuring Danielle (Barbara Steele), Riky’s hysterical fiancée who is constantly besieging the apartment in an attempt to make Riky marry her. Her increasingly desperate efforts, which includes two failed suicide attempts, eventually pay off in a public ceremony where she and Riky are pronounced man and wife and then blasted into the sky from a canon where their fragmented remains spell out the message “Renew your TV license fee!”
Simply put, Stop the World… is a wild chaotic happening that is alternately pretentious, silly, maddening and nonsensical. It is also visually inventive with a captivating Pop Art production design and an almost overwhelming soundscape of agitated, high pitched voices, strange audio effects and a playful, mostly organ-driven score by Piero Piccioni. It is hard to tell who is dubbed and who isn’t, a situation that is complicated by the fact that Cobelli uses numerous unidentified narrators (TV advertisers, people in the street, reporters) to bombard the viewer with pointedly absurdist dialogue like “The family is founded on TV. There’s no TV without a family.” There is even an in-joke reference to the dubbing; at one point, an on-screen disclaimer states that “due to circumstances beyond our control Paola Pitagora’s voice was dubbed.”
Cobelli would go on to make only one more feature film, a 1973 adaptation of Woyzeck which Werner Herzog would remake in 1979 with Klaus Kinski in the title role. Cobelli’s later directorial efforts were confined to Italian television but he continued to work as an actor in supporting roles. His performance as “The Revolutionary” in Roger Vadim’s Barbarella (1968) might be his most high profile role.
As for the main cast of Stop the World…, they are not well known to U.S. audiences with the possible exception of Barbara Steele. Lando Buzzanca, in the role of Riky, is a Sicilian actor who specialized in comedy roles such as his James Bond parodies Goldsinger (1966) and The Wacky World of James Tont (1967). With his exaggerated, cartoon-like features, he was ideally cast in domestic satires like Divorce Italian Style (1961), his breakthrough role, and Seduced and Abandoned (1964), both directed by the great Pietro Germi.
Paola Pitagora as Scilla is arguably the second lead in Stop the World… and gets almost as much screen time as Buzzanca playing the most rebellious and dissatisfied of the roommates. Her abandonment by a previous boyfriend along with a sexless relationship with the priggish Martora have prompted her to fantasize about a move to Australia. That obsession is eventually replaced by a desire for spiritual enlightenment from a wandering yogi but we see that fixation also being annihilated in the closing shot of the film.
Pitagora first made a memorable impact as the seductive, incestuous sister of Lou Castel in Marco Bellocchino’s Fists in the Pocket (Italian title: I Pugni in Tasca, 1965) but most of her later work was in Euro genre films like the 1969 thriller Psychout for Murder and crime dramas such as Sergio Rossi’s Policeman (1971) and Sergio Sollima’s Revolver (1973). The other notable actor in Stop the World…is Claude Vega as the diminutive Angela. He is a French actor with some physical similarities to comedian Martin Short. In real life, he was a childhood friend of Francois Truffaut and appears in that director’s 1970 film Bed & Board. However, he was always more famous as a TV performer/host than as a film actor in his native France.
Stop the World…never had an official theatrical release in the U.S. although it is easy to see why. It is such a defiantly non-mainstream film that it is hard to imagine what sort of moviegoer would enjoy it. One thing is for sure. You only have two options when confronted with Cobelli’s film. You can either completely surrender to its frenetic cacophony and go with the flow or you can flee to the nearest exit. Connoisseurs of Italian cinema, however, should check it out for various reasons. The cinematography by Dario Di Palma (Death Laid an Egg, Arcana) has a hypnotic pull that captures Cobelli’s hyper, crazy quilt vision of Italian society in the late sixties. Hand held camera moves, extreme close-ups, speeded-up crowd scenes and drug-enhanced point of views are well integrated with black and white and vivid color segments.
Cult actor Umberto Raho also pops up in a cameo segment as a manipulative bureaucrat who cuts loose doing effete dance moves at a group party. Raho has appeared in over 100 films, usually as villains or authority figures. Some of his most famous roles include the character General Maitland in two back-to-back sci-fi adventures from director Antonio Margheriti – The Wild, Wild Planet and The War of the Planets (both 1966), the police inspector in Umberto Lenzi’s Oasis of Fear (1971), and the sinister butler in the 1972 giallo Amuck.
Last but not least, Barbara Steele gets a scenery-chewing supporting role that is an inspired piece of stunt casting. Here she is in full-fledged diva mode as the suicidal but glamorous Danielle who, at one point, tries to kill herself by drinking laundry detergent. Instead, she turns herself into a human bubble machine that could be effectively utilized on The Lawrence Welk Show. Although her performance is a shrill, one note caricature, it’s fun to see Steele taking a vacation from her typecasting as a Gothic horror heroine in such classics as Black Sunday (1960) and The Horrible Dr. Hichcock (1962). Also, for some strange reason, the ‘e’ has been dropped from her last name in the credits for Stop the World…so it appears as Barbara Steel.
Stop the World…I Want to Get Off! Aka Fermate il Mondo…Voglio Scendere! has never been released on any format in the U.S. although you may be able to find a DVD import from Italy (no English subtitle option) if you possess an all-region player. This is the sort of oddball curiosity which a DVD distributor like Mondo Macabro or Cult Epics or Arrow Films needs to get their hands on and release in a beautifully remastered Blu-Ray edition.
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