Mondo Man

Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi are generally acknowledged as the “Godfathers of Mondo” and took a sensationalist approach to documentaries that revelled in bizarre and shocking cultural practices around the world. Mondo Cane (A Dog’s Life, 1962) was their wildly popular debut film and it spawned a new genre that included their later work Women of the World (1963), Mondo Cane 2 (1963), Africa Addio aka Africa: Blood and Guts (1966) and Goodbye Uncle Tom (1971), a critically reviled and polarizing account of the origins of the American slave trade that was filmed as a you-are-there dramatization. What is usually left out of the Jacopetti-Prosperi backstory are the contributions of Paolo Cavara, who co-directed and co-wrote Mondo Cane and Women of the World with Jacopetti. He broke off his association with the other two filmmakers after their second collaboration and went solo with two more Mondo films (Malamondo [1964], Witchdoctor in Tails [1966]) before turning his camera on a fictionalized version of himself in The Wild Eye (L’occhio Selvaggio, 1967), an unforgiving portrait of a ruthless Mondo filmmaker that should be better known today.

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12 Italian Directors on 12 Italian Cities

In 1989 Istituto Luce, the oldest public institution devoted to film production, distribution and archival material in Italy, produced an omnibus film consisting of 12 segments entitled 12 Registi per 12 Citta (12 Directors for 12 Cities). A documentary/travelogue hybrid, the film was made as a promotional vehicle in support of the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Rome and part of its intent was to lure tourists to Italy, particularly to the cities showcased in the film.  The title is not completely accurate; thirteen directors, not twelve, contributed to the project if you count Giuseppe Bertolucci, the younger brother of Bernardo Bertolucci, who co-directed the Bologna section with Bernardo. 12 Registi per 12 Citta is also unconventional in its presentation with each director approaching his subject in his own unique way and the selected cities include some offbeat choices like Udine and Cagliari as well as some major omissions. What, no Venice?

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The Harmonious Sounds of Franco De Gemini

You might not know the name but you have probably heard his music and the unmistakable sound of his harmonica on countless Italian film scores. The plaintive wail of his instrument on Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) was used as a musical motif for Charles Bronson’s avenging angel, who was identified simply as “the man with the harmonica” in Sergio Leone’s landmark film. Yet that nickname really belongs to Franco De Gemini who has brought his distinctive sound from the background to the foreground in more than 800 movie scores in his lifetime.  His talent for expressing conflicting emotions through his music in both minimalist and operatic arrangements is this composer’s secret weapon.

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The Legend of Black Tiger

Chartchai Ngamsan stars as Thailand gunslinger Dum aka Black Tiger in the 2000 cult film, Tears of the Black Tiger.

When it first appeared in 2000, Tears of the Black Tiger (aka Fah Talai Jone), became an instant sensation at almost every film festival that programmed the directorial debut of Wisit Sasanatieng. One of the most ambitious productions to ever emerge from the Thai film industry, Tears of the Black Tiger seemed poised for international success upon its original release but got tangled up in distribution troubles and didn’t receive a U.S. theatrical release until seven years later, despite a great reception at the 2001 Seattle International Film Festival.    Continue reading

Elio Petri’s Portrait of the Artist as Mental Patient

Italian director Elio Petri is probably best known for Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970), which won the Oscar for Best Screenplay (by Petri and Ugo Pirro) in 1972. Yet, most of his other work, with the possible exception of the cult sci-fi satire The 10th Victim (1965), remains overlooked or forgotten when film historians write about the great Italian directors of the sixties and seventies. And 1968’s A Quiet Place in the Country (Un Tranquillo Posto di Campagna) is easily one of his most intriguing and visually compelling films.

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James Bond’s Lesser Known Sibling

The James Bond film craze of the 1960s was responsible for launching a secret agent/spy movie sub-genre that thrived for more than a decade. Some of the imitators like Our Man Flint (1966) and The Silencers (1966) even spawned mini-franchises but the majority of them were strictly B-movies with international casts and exotic locations. One of the more obscure and unusual entries is Operation Kid Brother (1967), which is an entertainingly bad knockoff and sports a genuine Sean Connery-007 connection. It stars younger sibling Neil Connery in his screen debut.    Continue reading

Dreamer Schemer

Vittorio Gassman as the overly ambitious Guido in Il Successo (1963)

Vittorio Gassman as the overly ambitious Guido in Il Successo (1963)

“The worst poverty is not wanting to be rich!”

Something is gnawing at Guido. It’s the feeling that life is passing him by and he will never be anything but average which, to him, is the same as being a nobody. We’ve all known someone like Guido whose desire to be rich, famous and envied by all becomes his all-consuming obsession. Is it because his parents were peasants? Despite that, he still went to college, has a steady, respectable job at a major real estate firm and is married to Laura, a beautiful, talented woman who is on the fast track to success at a public relations firm with high end clients. So what’s the problem?   Continue reading

Faded Delusions of Grandeur: The Desert of the Tartars

The Desert of the Tartars (1976)Each year hundreds of international films never get picked up for distribution in the U.S. and the select few that do are either high profile film festival prize winners like Michael Haneke’s Amour (2012) or popular commercial hits like March of the Penguins (2005) from France and Life is Beautiful (1997) from Italy. So when you come across an austere and haunting cinematic work like Valerio Zurlini’s The Desert of the Tartars (Il Deserto Dei Tartari), you have to wonder how many great films from other lands are out there that you are not going to see…and probably never will.       Continue reading