The sword and scandal genre rarely got much respect in the U.S. during its heyday and it was easy to see why. Aimed largely at indiscriminate male viewers, these action-adventure sagas were usually imported from Italy, poorly dubbed in English and featured some of the world’s most famous bodybuilders of that era (none of whom were known for their acting prowess) along with exotic female sex sirens. The plots were usually dumbed-down bastardizations of Greek and Roman myths or history and the production values were variable, mixing picturesque Italian locations with laughable special effects or papier-mache props. Due to their derivative nature and lowbrow appeal, few of these faux epics ever achieved classic movie status but occasionally one would stand out for its sheer weirdness alone like The Giant of Metropolis (1961), which is set in the year 20,000 A.C. and often looks like a Flash Gordon-inspired sci-fi adventure. Continue reading
Road movies might seem like a home grown American film genre with such famous examples as Bob Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces (1970) and Monte Hellman’s Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) but there have also been plenty of influential representatives from abroad such as Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear (1953) and Wim Wenders’ Kings of the Road (1976). The latter film, in particular, takes a much more introspective and observational approach to character and narrative and such is the case with Vittorio De Seta’s little seen and almost forgotten 1969 feature, L’Invitata (aka The Uninvited). Continue reading
This one sentence synopsis should sound familiar. A group of travelers are stranded during a severe storm at a creepy mansion where the hosts are the most unsettling part of the experience. It’s an audience-pleasing premise has served countless mystery thrillers and horror-comedies from James Whale’s The Old Dark House (1932) to The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) to Stuart Gordon’s Dolls (1987). But The Unnaturals (1969), directed by Antonio Margheriti, is one of the few dark and stormy night movies that stands out from the pack by virtue of its genre resistant narrative which begins as a decadent character study, slowly morphs into a supernatural thriller and signs off as an apocalyptic morality tale. Continue reading
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.
In its own way, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1961 directorial debut Accattone could be seen as the last gasp of the Italian neo-realism movement. It is also a remarkably self-assured first film that blends the lyrical with the sordid in its depiction of life on the outskirts of Rome where pimps, thieves and petty criminals scrounge for a living with little hope of ever escaping their dead-end existence. Based on Pasolini’s second novel, Una Vita Violenta, Accatone successfully launched Pasolini as a film director but also marked the beginning of an acting career for Franco Citti in the title role. What is most interesting is that Una Vita Violenta was again adapted for the screen under that title the following year but it is hardly ever mentioned or revived. Pasolini had no involvement with the production but it did star Franco Citti in the central role of Tommaso, a character similar to Accattone, and the two films would make a fascinating double feature in terms of their contrasting tones and directorial style. Continue reading
The second film collaboration between Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini, Europe ’51 (1952) might be the most overlooked and misunderstood feature of the famous director-actress team during their turbulent and controversial relationship. Between 1950 and 1955, the couple made five features together and one episode for the five chapter compilation film, We, the Women (1953). Although most film critics seem to regard 1954’s Journey to Italy as their peak achievement, Europe ’51 (aka Europa ’51) received a second chance at reappraisal in September 2013, thanks to The Criterion Collection, which released the film on Blu-Ray and DVD in a set with Stromboli (the first Bergman-Rossellini film from 1950) and Journey to Italy (aka Viaggio in Italia, 1953) . Continue reading
When did alienation in modern society become a favorite thematic concern in the culture and the arts, particularly in the cinema? Certainly the films of Michelangelo Antonioni addressed the inability of people to connect, feel or relate to each other in a post-industrial age world as early as 1957 in Il Grido. But by the early sixties, it seemed as if every major film director in the world was addressing the topic on some level. A general sense of malaise was in the air as if the modern world was having a counterproductive effect on humanity, creating a sense of futility, amorality or complete apathy. You could see aspects of this reflected in Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960), Ingmar Bergman’s Through a Glass Darkly (1961), Alain Resnais’s Last Year at Marienbad (1961), Luis Bunuel’s The Exterminating Angel (1961) and Jean-Luc Godard’s My Life to Live (1962). All of these are considered cinematic masterworks of the 20th century but there are also many worthy and lesser-known contributions to the pantheon of alienation cinema and one of the most strikingly is Il Mare (The Sea), the 1963 directorial debut of Giuseppe Patroni Griffi. Continue reading